Whisky drinking, dog walking and gardening: art dealers’ plans for the alternative Frieze New York

There'll be no sunbathing allowed in Frieze New York's online viewing room Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze

It is fast becoming art market lore that, when one art fair is cancelled, another web browser opens. And yesterdays Zoom press conference about Frieze New Yorks online viewing room (8-15 May, with “VIP” previews from today) took roughly as long as waiting for an Uber from Randalls Island Park, the fairs venue had it not been cancelled, IRL, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The digital platform, says Friezes global director Victoria Siddall, was already in the works last year but development was “ramped up” once the New York event was cancelled. It includes an augmented reality (AR) function wherein viewers can try out any work in the viewing room in their own home, says Loring Randolph, Friezes artistic director of the Americas: “You hit the 3D button and point your phone at a wall, it measures it and hangs the work on the wall, in perspective.”

Although Friezes platform does not yet have an e-commerce function to allow people to buy directly through it, Siddall does not rule this out: “This was always intended as a trial product, one that unexpectedly became Frieze New York. We will be taking it down after the fair and developing it further.” She adds: “Because this is a trial and because we are asking for feedback, everything is possible! But yes, it will continue to develop in a way that galleries and buyers want it to.” As Siddall observes: “Its interesting to see how many galleries have added prices, even at the highest levels, which is not normally seen at Frieze fairs.”

Later on yesterday, during the Financial Timess webinar about online art fairs hosted by The Art Newspaper's art market editor-at-large Melanie Gerlis, Randolph said the viewing room would broaden the fairs audience, as: “An online space is a democratised space”. The New York-based dealer Garth Greenan, also speaking on the webinar, concurred: “Theres nothing wrong with looking at stuff digitally: its not dirty. Thats snotty and pretentious”

But, as Greenan also said, fairs have come to act as calendar “markers” for those in the art trade. Rightly or wrongly, we have come to live our lives around the hectic calendar of fairs and auctions—all now upended. We are living in the “coronaverse” now, in Greenans view, and for him, Friezes viewing room is “something to actually look forward to” when there is little else on the horizon.

While sitting at home with a laptop is undoubtedly easier and cheaper than going to a real-life Frieze New York for all involved (the online platform is free for galleries), it cannot replace the experience of being at a fair, and Randolph says: “I cannot wait to hug people again!”.

What will exhibitors be doing instead of traipsing to Randalls Island? Will Jarvis from Londons Sunday Painter will “probably take the dog for a walk” while the Goodman Gallerys Liza Essers will be “sipping a whiskey from my sofa in Johannesburg probably wrapped up in a sweater and longing for the New York spring!”. Meanwhile in London, Lissons Alex Logsdail hopes to be selling Rodney Graham works from his sofa while Mira Dimitrova, director of sales at Londons Stephen Friedman gallery, will “be getting some balance by gardening or playing table tennis with my sons” when not in her home office.

But some are also feeling a little nostalgic for that fair buzz. Valerie Carberry, a principal and partner at the Chicago and New York-based Gray gallery, will miss “taking a pizza and beer break at Robertas” at Frieze but also “the energy of the conversations” and the “overall feeling of reunion with colleagues, collectors, curators and friends”. While online fairs cannot replace any of that, Carberry says, “you can have a longer, more productive exchange with a client who enquires about a work of art, which is typically not possible during a fast-paced, high-pressure VIP day at a physical fair.” Gray took part in Art Basel Hong Kongs (ABHK) online viewing room in March, a valuable learning experience, Carberry says, “but the sales activity was not there—which was by no means any fault of the Art Basel team. The timing of the virtual fair coincided with one of the saddest and most challenging news weeks of the health crisis.” In the Frieze viewing room, Gray will show works by artists including Jim Dine, Theaster Gates and Alex Katz, plus works by the late Chicago artist, Evelyn Statsinger in the fairs Chicago Tribute sector (the viewing room is retaining the fairs traditional themed sections, central to Friezes “spirit” according to Siddall).

The Ethiopian-born artist Tariku Shiferaw will be exhibited in the online viewing room by Addis Fine Art Courtesy of the artist

Lisson gallery also took part in the ABHK online viewing room. On the plus side, it offered “a potentially vast audience” Logsdail says, but he dislikes the passivity of a viewing room: “There is little to no dialogue about the work and seeing a piece in relation to other artwork is diminished. What works about fairs is the conversation and bustle, that is removed when things go online and you are simply looking at a stream of images from hundreds of galleries.” Plus, he adds: “Im not sure a Zoom [client] dinner for 30 people would be very enjoyable.”

However, Lisson is enlivening its online presentation of new paintings by Rodney Graham with “a virtual walkthrough of the show as if it were hung in one of our galleries, a studio visit with Rodney discussing the new works, and use of our augmented reality platform with Augment [on the gallerys own website],” Logsdail says.

Will Jarvis of Sunday Painter also “wont be attempting any jazzy internet dinners”. The London-based gallery is using the online format to show lower-value works by a young painter, Patrick H Jones: “I knew he had been making fantastic new paintings during quarantine, previously his price point ($1,500 to $7,500) would have made it unfeasible to take his work to a fair in the US so this in some way is ideal as it gives us a head start in building a market for him in the US.” While Jarvis will miss Manhattan, “these fairs come with a huge amount of physical effort, economic risk and environmental damage so in many ways this could be considered a better option but ask me near the end!”

For Rakeb Sile, the founder and managing director of Addis Fine Art who is currently quarantining in Addis Ababa, the fairs cancellation came as sad news: “As the very first gallery based in East Africa to have been accepted to exhibit at Frieze, we are naturally very disappointed not to attend the live fair.” The Addis Ababa- and London-based gallery will be showing works by the Ethiopian born artist Tariku Shiferaw and Sile hopes “the virtual event will give collectors much more time to discover every section of the fair…maybe find works and galleries that they would not have discovered in the frenetic pace of a live fair.”

Rodney Graham's Untitled (2020), shown by Lisson Gallery © Rodney Graham; courtesy Lisson Gallery

But the big test, says Liza Essers of Goodman Gallery, “will be if that impulse to buy on instinct translates in the virtual world.” The South Africa- and London-based gallery took part in the experimental online only VIP Art Fair in 2011, “when the technology wasn't able to cater for a high volume of users,” Essers says. But aside from that, this is the first virtual fair experience for the gallery. While Essers is “excited about the possibilities”, she is “also sceptical of its potentiRead More – Source