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View of Rampa gallery's booth at Frieze Frame, featuring works by Nilbar Güres
View of Rampa gallery’s booth at Frieze Frame, featuring works by Nilbar Güreş

Frieze Art Fair

by Rachel Corbett

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In 2009, Frieze Art Fair masterminds Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover launched Frame, a special section for galleries less than six years old. The move, along with the straitened economy, spelled the end for the smaller, artist-led Zoo Art Fair, a satellite event located just on the other side of Regent’s Park from Frieze. About a third of Zoo exhibitors defected to its eminently upscale big brother.

Nevertheless, some Frame exhibitors are less than happy. The 26 Frame galleries, each displaying a single artist, were relegated to a back corner in the vast Frieze Art Fair tent complex, which boasts more than 170 exhibitors in all. The remote location caused doubt among some Frame dealers that their potential sales might not offset the crating, transportation and accommodation costs.

“I’d like to know how much people are actually selling here,” said one Frame dealer who asked to remain anonymous. It's especially difficult to capture the attention of the weary, overwhelmed visitors who do make it to corner of the fair which houses the Frame booths. “We’re like a sideshow,” the dealer said.

Then again, the biggest, boldest pieces are sometimes the hardest to sell. Paul Johnson’s life-sized temple sculpture made of yellow papier-mâché at the booth of London’s Ancient & Modern gallery got good reviews, but failed to find a buyer during the run of the fair.

Zoo was less market-driven and generally more fun, and is now looked back on with some fondness. Possibly the best candidate to succeed Zoo, then, is the new Sluice Art Fair, Oct. 15-16, 2011, organized by critic and curator Ben Street and artist Karl England in a space in Mayfair. They’re trying for a “relaxed, unpretentious, unpushy atmosphere,” Street said.

Like the Independent art fair launched in New York in 2010, Sluice presented 14 exhibitors across two open loft spaces, without individual booths. The offerings ranged from a 3D video of iconic images from the 1950s-1970s to maquettes of large-scale installations and a Bruce Nauman-inspired squash game streamed lived at the fair from an artist’s studio.

Sluice attracted mostly nonprofits, like Shift Gallery and studio1.1, and artist-run galleries. That’s why Street and England struggled with even calling it a fair -- a decision that’s not gone without some criticism, Street said. Some exhibitors weren’t selling works at all, while others posted prices conspicuously, which Street said surprised him a little at first.

Catherine Bagg of A Plan Projects said she made “some sales” but that wasn’t the point. “It was less of a financial risk to be involved, so the pressure to sell was not as great,” she said. “We approached it primarily as an exhibiting opportunity with a high footfall.” About 1,200 visitors attended the two-day event.

But galleries are increasingly expected to have a presence on the international market these days and Sluice’s exhibitors came from England almost exclusively. At Frieze, Mehtap Öztürk of the Istanbul-based gallery Rampa said they had exhibited at Art HK and the Venice Biennale in the past but wanted to expand further into the European market -- so they came to Frame. And it was worth it, she said. By Saturday, the gallery had sold the first edition of a video by Nilbar Güres and several photographs.

“For me it’s totally worth it because I just put my paintings in a taxi and drove them over here,” said Rob Tufnell, who was showing a series of small abstract paintings by Joel Croxson for around £3,000- £4,000. “Plus £5,000 for this much space is a pretty good deal.”

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The Sluice Art Fair on Molton Lane in Mayfair

View of Rob Tufnell's booth at Frieze Frame, featuring paintings by Joel Croxson
View of Rob Tufnell's booth at Frieze Frame, featuring paintings by Joel Croxson