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FRIEZE 2011: Sarah McCrory

The art fair's project curator reveals which emerging artists we should be paying attention to and what we can expect at Regent's Park this year

Frieze, mainstay of the art calendar, throws open its doors once again this Thursday for four days. In addition to the 1000s of artists and 175 galleries exhibiting in the lines of booths, it's Frieze Projects we're excited about. Sarah McCrory took the curatorial helm in 2010 championing projects by artists including Spartacus Chetwynd, and has earned a reputation for supporting new talent in gaining international recognition. This year she's put together a line-up of both emerging and established contemporary artists, united in their brief of exhibiting new projects within the art fair environment.

Perhaps none more responsive than Christian Jankowski, whose yacht is being sold from a booth as either artwork or just a boat (it's 25% more expensive if you buy it as an artwork), or Oliver Laric, whose open source archive of high-spec stock footage taken at the fair will be available for free download from the Frieze website as an alternative to sites like Getty Images (think a droplet of water falling on a sculpture later being used in a promo video for a Sussex health spa). We caught up with Sarah during installation to see what we should keep our eye out for this year in the Frieze labyrinth…

Dazed Digital: What was your vision for Frieze Projects when you began?
Sarah McCrory:
 Last year felt a bit different as it was the first year and I was quite interested in seeing how performative works would exist in the fair because it is a big performance in a way. Also I was trying to avoid producing large scale sculptures or anything that had a high production value because at the time no one really knew what the effects of the recession would be and the effects of that on the art world, the art market and artists overall. I don’t approach something with the idea of 'OK this year I'm going to look at this thing', I think it has to work in reverse. If you pick out artists that are interesting and whose work suits the context, you look back then you notice that there's some kind of developed theme.

DD: The works being shown seem to negotiate that line between being present in the space yet also being something that the visitor can choose to engage with or not, is this an important balance?
Sarah McCrory: So many projects are fighting for space and in the fair they have to either shout a little bit louder or they have to remove you from the situation you're in. With LuckyPDF and Peles Empire they have their own small tent so you actually have to leave the fair, similarly with Pierre Huyghe's aquarium you have to go into a different room and from looking at the chaos of the fair you have to look at an aquarium that has an artwork in it, so you're drawn into looking at something on a macro level rather than being bombarded.

The thing I learned from last year is that the really successful projects have to make a big statement in removing you from the situation in how you're looking at art. Bik Van der Pol's big scaffolding structure provides a subtitle for your activity at the time through the quotes it flashes up, and that's such a big presence that it works, whilst Cara Tolmie is making a performance outside, so again it's taking people outside of that environment and then they'll go back in. I hope that separates the way people look at, remember and take in the projects.

DD: Christian's Jankowski's yacht project also appears to encourage a critical distancing?
Sarah McCrory: We are in a position to allow artists to criticise the environment, the market and the fair, though that is something I consciously wanted to move away from because I felt like it was a bit of an over investigated area. It's about how you remove people from having their 'fair' head on.

DD: How do your conversations with the commercial art world go with regards to Frieze projects - is everyone really responsive or is there any friction?
Sarah McCrory: Gallerists are so busy when they do the fair, it’s a really stressful time for them and they have a responsibility to the artists that they're showing, so obviously if there's someone gadding about trying to organize a project in front of their booth there's going to be tension, but we go out of our way to make sure everyone's happy.

Last year Spartacus Chetwynd's performance was really loud - it wasn't supposed to be - but it was like a house party, just kept getting louder and louder and someone kept secretly cranking it up so we had to apologise to the galleries around there and they were really understanding. It’s a great relationship I think, it's just about being cautious.

DD: If I were a gallerist I think I'd feel initially resistant to Christian Jankowski's conflation of yacht and artwork…
Sarah McCrory: Well the guy who's selling the boat is a real boat dealer and does boat trade fairs, so Christian is highlighting what an artwork means as a luxury product or as a luxury item which in a way is offensive, but he's also saying when you buy that piece as an artwork it means much more and is much more important than if you buy it as a boat. He's questioning it but built in is the answer - if you buy it as an artwork it enters into art history, but if you buy it as a boat and ride it around the Med it has its own short life.

DD: In an ideal way how will this year's Frieze projects be remembered?
Sarah McCrory: Maybe this time next year I'll be able to look back and see more connection, but in the middle of installation you just hope everything works!