Curators Jacob Proctor and Fabian Schöneich give an insight into the selection process for Frame and Focus and what they have been noticing about young galleries and artists in their research for the fair. The Frame section features 18 galleries, founded in or after 2009, presenting solo projects, while the Focus section features 32 galleries, founded in or after 2004, showing either one-, two-person or three-person presentations.
Paul Teasdale Fabian and Jacob, you’re both curators at institutions connected to schools: Portikus to the Städelschule in Frankfurt, and the Neubauer Collegium to a research institute at the University of Chicago respectively. Can you explain your involvement with the Frame and Focus sections?
Fabian Schöneich We advise on Frame and Focus, helping the Frieze New York committee to decide which galleries to include in those sections. It’s important to mention that Frame and Focus are not curated. We’re not commissioning as such, rather we’re helping the committee to select from the proposals they receive. At the end of the day it’s a fair, so it about the galleries, their programmes and their artists.
Jacob focuses on galleries in the Americas and parts of Europe and Asia, and I cover Europe, the Middle East, Africa and some of Asia too. We both travel a lot and look out for the young galleries that are relevant in their local or regional context, in the landscape they’re active in, and also galleries who we feel are interesting and strong enough to be presented within the context of an art fair.
Jacob Proctor I think it’s about striking a balance of identifying galleries that have an energy and are setting the agenda in their own scene, but who also have international ambitions. It’s not necessarily an easy thing to do, to come to an international art fair and stand out.
FS As well as advising the Fair committee on the galleries who submit applications, we also encourage galleries who we personally feel are strong to apply. With them we discuss the artists they might consider applying with, and especially with younger galleries to think about the concept they might come up with that works for both the gallery and for Frieze.
JP Frame is really proposal driven, it’s the specific projects being proposed, whereas Focus is a little more about the galleries themselves and their programme more generally. In both cases we’re often discussing with those galleries ahead of time what kind of proposal makes sense.
PT When do you start to see the overview of the projects and artists being presented and how they all fit together in their respective sections?
JP We have an idea throughout the process but really it comes together in the layout of each section.
FS It’s different to the Spotlight section. Spotlight, the section dedicated to solo historical presentations, is put together thinking more about the entire section. The way we deal with Focus and Frame is to start with very strong individual presentations, then arrange it so that the individual projects function together. It’s a bit like putting together a group show: making sure each participating artist has the space and context to present their work in the best possible way.
PT Each gallery is trying to sell their own artists’ work, and wants their booth to stand out, but it must make a huge difference for all participating when the section looks good as a whole.
JP Our experience as curators definitely helps in the planning. We’re thinking about how to make works amplify each other rather than cancel each other out. We are trying to make the sections look, if not necessarily coherent, then at least cohesive as a grouping. Some projects are very good neighbours and help each other and others can be quite the opposite. That’s where having the overview helps as we can look at the plans and the proposals and anticipate where to place galleries.
PT As part of your research, and on your travels, have you noticed a difference in the way that young galleries are working now as opposed to, say, a decade ago?
FS It’s interesting, I’ve definitely noticed that young galleries are working on a highly professional level right from the beginning. But its also a trickier climate for young galleries to be starting out in now compared with ten years ago when the conditions were a bit more welcoming for younger galleries and young artists.
JP I also think there’s a geographical component to it. In cities where the financial stakes are maybe a little lower, there is a bit more room for experimental spaces to grow, and then become commercial spaces – you see that in Berlin, for example. Both of the galleries in Frame from Chicago essentially started out as artist-run project spaces and only recently made the transition to becoming more commercial ventures. I think there’s more room for that in a city like Chicago or Berlin. Los Angeles, which used to be like that, feels like it may be going the other way. As Fabian says, galleries are coming into it already having a very high level of professionalism.
PT Do you feel young artists are also becoming more professionalized in their approach?
JP I think that the internationalization of art schools and the increased communication about what is being exhibited, and also seen online, has had a huge impact. But I think that just because an artist thinks they have a fully articulated practice or project doesn’t mean that it actually is. In a lot of MFA programmes, artists are not necessarily learning how to make things, they’re learning how articulate what they’re trying to do. It’s not necessarily a new development, but I think it’s reflective of a huge shift in the way that art schools function.
FS I’ve seen the same development. It’s true that schools have something to do with it. It’s also something to do with the increased speed over recent years at which art circulates. A lot of artists are doing a lot of things very fast because of their increased visibility and the danger is that they get quite strategic and controlling about how they want their work to be perceived – but it varies from case to case.
PT Perhaps because of the global connectivity of contemporary art today, it seems to me there’s a yearning for more localized community networks. Is that something you’ve noticed?
FS I don’t think it’s a new thing necessarily. You’ve always had artists working together and sharing ideas. Group Material consisted of a set of individuals, each with their own practice, who made this other kind of work as a group. The Kitchen in New York wasn’t just a space but also a community. You’ve had these developments in a variety of communities and cities. I think the difference now is that these groups are very professional in promoting their work as strong community projects.
JP I think in a way it’s just more visible as a result of the speed of everything in the art world now. Whereas 15 or 20 years ago we might not have been aware in New York or London about what’s going on in Vilnius or Buenos Aires or Zurich. Part of it’s the ease of travel but it’s also to do with the ease of distribution and the interaction of local scenes with each other. But these things have always happened. Think about the way that conceptual art spread and the relationship between European and American conceptual artists in the late ’60s and ’70s. That was very much a community where everybody knew everybody else.
FS I would also question the idea that there really is a strong community as such. Artists work collaboratively together but it doesn’t mean everybody is specifically standing behind a project or believes they are part of a community. It’s more of a networking relationship.
JP It’s like a physical manifestation of a social network, with the same kinds of loose connectivity.
PT Have you noticed any trends in the artists and works that galleries have been proposing to bring this year?
FS I’ve noticed some galleries are bringing artists with more of an interpretative approach to sculpture, using lighter more natural materials. It’s evident in galleries from different continents and artists of different generations too, but it seems very contemporary. These artists are using a lot of things already well discussed but are taking a fresh interpretative approach. It’s almost like a Biedermeier revival but not quite so conservative!
JP It’s not so different from larger trends in contemporary art, but I’m noticing experimentation with new kinds of production technologies and also new ways of dealing with identity. Not in a ’90s “identity politics” way but more a concern with articulating the fluidity of gender identity. It’s definitely something that can be felt in a number of projects this year, both by young artists but also historical work that people are now becoming interested in.
PT Is there anything you’re especially excited about in this year’s Frame and Focus sections?
JP In both sections there’s a nice geographical mix. In Frame there’s a diversity of approaches without it feeling cacophonous. Sometimes you’ll go to an art fair and you can spot the three things that you have to include to be legible as contemporary art that year. I think we’ve managed to avoid that. There’s very little ticking of boxes this year.
PT Looking through the list of artists and galleries there’s some I know about but also a lot I don’t, so for me that’s intriguing. Do you still find proposals and artists and galleries that surprise you?
FS For me there are a lot of surprises.
JP I think if you combine our knowledge bases we cover a lot of ground but its always nice when someone throws you a curve ball. Maybe it’s a space that you know applying with an artist that they’ve just started working with …
FS Or it’s an artist you know but a new project or new group of work. It’s the same with galleries too. Galleries that you know and trust can suddenly surprise you with a new artist or a new direction.
PT Can we expect many experimental projects?
JP I think there are some more experimental presentations this year. It’s important to have those positions. Obviously it’s a balance but it’s important to be able to support those more ambitious proposals when you get them.
PT What are you most looking forward to seeing?
FS I’m curious to see how some galleries are received in New York. For example, it’s the first time for Truth and Consequences from Geneva. I think it’s a super interesting young gallery. It’s a Swiss gallery but it comes from the French part of Switzerland that’s not really part of the Zurich/Basel scene that’s been so visible over the last few years, and they’re bringing two really interesting artists, Dewar & Gicquel, who have also not had much exposure in New York. I’m curious to see how they are received. It’s also the same for Jan Kaps, a young and ambitious gallery from Cologne, who is building up a programme of artists that not many other galleries work with. It will be fascinating to see how that will work next to galleries like Regards from Chicago, another first time participant. There are some interesting combinations.
JP I’m really happy with how many first time exhibitors are in Frame and how many very young galleries there are this year. Living partly in Chicago I’m looking forward to seeing both Night Club and Regards. They’ve both been doing really interesting things that I don’t think have been represented in the fair before.
Fabian Schöneich is currently Curator of Portikus in Frankfurt am Main, an institution for contemporary art, which is connected to Städelschule, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, one of Europe’s most influential art schools. Prior to moving to Frankfurt, Fabian worked as Assistant Curator at Kunsthalle Basel and as Curator of LISTE’s performance project.
Jacob Proctor is Curator of the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, an institute for humanistic research at the University of Chicago, where he also teaches. A regular contributor to Artforum, he was previously Curator at the Aspen Art Museum and at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.