Phaidon’s Frieze NY interviews – Jo Stella-Sawicka
The Artistic Director of the fair on how to turn curious visitors into lifelong collectors
The paintings and the sculptures, the new names and the lively crowds, give the Frieze Art Fair New York a rich surface impression. Yet the art fair, which opens later this week, couldn’t function without deeply talented behind-the-scenes professionals such as Jo Stella-Sawicka, Artistic Director for Frieze Fairs in Europe, the Middle East, Russia, and Africa. She, and her Americas and Asia counterpart Abby Bangser, ensure that the relationships between the galleries and the collectors across the globe, are smooth, fruitful and stimulating. Read on to discover what she thinks we should look out for across her territories, how the fair turns browsers into buyers, why the NYC hasn’t got a Frieze Masters - yet. . .
In terms of character, how is Frieze New York different from Frieze London? "The particular environment we create at each of our fairs sets us apart from our peers. The work available is not just of outstanding quality, but also represents an extraordinary breadth – alongside prestigious, established modern galleries, our Frame and Focus sections constitute the best younger positions from all over the world; people tell me they are the strongest curated sections of any fair globally. With Spotlight – dedicated to overlooked twentieth-century artists – joining Frieze New York for the first time, we can truly offer something to collectors at every level and of every interest. A visit to Frieze New York lets you participate in our dynamic Projects program, or the series of lectures and discussions curated by Tom Eccles and Christy Lange, or take-in the spectacular view of the city across the East River at pop-ups from New York’s best eateries. It’s an exceptional experience at every level."
Frieze is a commercial fair, but it seems to welcome a non-buying, gallery-going audience in a way that other fairs do not. Why is this? "Frieze is unique in that our fairs take place in two of the most important art cities in the world: London and New York. So, our local visitors are already coming from a place where art isn’t an alien thing, but an integral part of the cultural fabric. And Frieze New York itself is increasingly becoming a part of that fabric – we have 64 galleries from the city exhibiting with us this year. So the distinction between 'insiders' and those with less exposure to the art world matters less and less. We encourage the public to meet galleries, take guided tours, and see how accessible the scene can be. I love the fact that you can come to Frieze New York as a curious visitor, find something you love, and leave a collector."
"We’re also unique in that we take place in a public park, which means we consider park users and non-ticket holders on Randall’s Island. Each year aspects of the Projects program are accessible to park users. This year, both Allyson Vieira’s and Samara Golden’s projects take place outside the fair."
"We also work with the wider community through our initiatives such as Frieze Teens, in which students from across the five boroughs take workshops with New York-based artists and art institutions, and produce projects that are shown at the fair.r."
Why is there no Frieze Masters in New York? "We’re very aware of the huge - and growing appetite – for pre-contemporary work, to which the great success of Frieze Masters in London attests. This year, several New York-based galleries showing modern masters join the fair, including Acquavella, McKee, PACE and Skarstedt. In addition, we’ve introduce the Spotlight section, which originated at Frieze Masters, and will include historically significant but overlooked artists from across the world like the Pakistani-born Minimalist Rasheed Araeen, Antonio Dias, a major figure in Brazil, and Howardena Pindell, who worked with New York’s feminist art space A.I.R. in the ‘70s and paints beautifully. All kinds of considerations come into play when thinking about expanding our presence in New York, but I have every expectation that these additions will prove a huge success, increasing the fair’s depth and context."
What are you personally excited about? "There’s so much! In Spotlight, I’m delighted that visitors can see the work of Ibrahim el-Salahi at Vigo Gallery: he’s an 84-year-old Sudanese painter, who was the first artist born in Africa to receive a retrospective at Tate Modern in London. In Frame, Vienna-based artist Kris Lemsalu will present a riotous performance on an exuberant waterbed installation at Temnikova & Kasela - the first time an Estonian gallery has exhibited with us. It’s typical of the incredible quality, energy and diversity that our curated approach brings to the fair’s younger sections."
You were the art curator for British clothing firm Monsoon, how do corporate collectors' wants and needs differ from individuals or institutions? "In truth, there’s often little distinction between private and corporate collections; in my experience, each one is driven by the vision and ethos of their individual founders and custodians. One of the best things about working with say Deutsche Bank, the Main Sponsor of the Frieze Art Fairs for twelve years, for example, is that we share their commitment to supporting artists. The 2015 Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year was Koki Tanaka, who was given an introduction to the world stage in the Frame section at Frieze London in 2013, and participated in Frieze Projects New York the following year."
When you're in New York for the fair, what else are you planning to squeeze in? "The VIP program will keep me very busy out of fair hours, with visits, tours and talks across the city, and major openings which coincide with Frieze New York, like Yoko Ono at MoMA. Being based in London, this will be my first chance to see the new Whitney Museum, and I’m excited to see Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian’s retrospective at the Guggenheim – her work is also exhibited at The Third Line in the main section this year – as well as Pierre Huyghe’s rooftop commission at the Met. If there’s any time left, I’d love to see Azelia Banks at Irving Plaza and let my hair down!"
For this year's fair go here. For more on this year's fair, read our interviews with Frieze Projects artists, Aki Sasamoto, Samara Golden, Allyson Vieira, Pia Camil as well as the Projects' curator Cecilia Alemani.