Sarah McCrory is the curator of Frieze Projects, established in 2003 as part of London’s annual Frieze Art Fair. Running from October 13-16, this year’s program includes works McCrory has commissioned from eight locally based artists and the winner of the Emdash Award for emerging artists outside the U.K., for which she was a member of the selection panel. McCrory also serves on the development committee and board of trustees of the South London not-for-profit Studio Voltaire, where she was formerly the curator.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process of choosing the artists for Frieze Projects? Is there one unifying thread tying them all together?
I couldn’t say how many studios I visited, but I make occasional research trips around the world, trying to fit in as many in each city as I can, as well as seeing artists in London regularly. There isn’t a particularly big push to see more in the research period; I try to see artists all year round. I approach artists who are doing something interesting, whose work seems particularly timely, and look at what it is that unites them in retrospect. It doesn’t make sense to impose a theme on the works in the fair; reacting to or against the context of the fair is challenge enough.
Please describe your work at Studio Voltaire.
Studio Voltaire is one of the most exciting not-for-profit spaces in London, and I joined Joe Scotland (now artistic director) as co-curator in 2008. He is an incredible and thoughtful curator, with an idiosyncratic approach, championing artists who are perhaps under-recognized or underrepresented. Many of the artists we worked with were producing their first London shows, such as Shahryar Nashat, Nairy Baghramian and Henrik Olesen. We also produced a solo exhibition with the incredible Phyllida Barlow, the first show following her retirement from teaching full-time. One thing we liked to do was to return to working with artists for a second or third time—sometimes this made sense just because we felt that the dialogue continued even after they had made a show at Studio Voltaire. For example, Thea Djordjadze and Spartacus Chetwynd have produced several shows and events for Studio Voltaire. When I left for Frieze, I didn’t want to sever my relationship with a space I am really proud to have been involved with, so I joined the board of trustees and development committee to continue to support Joe with his vision for the future of the gallery.
How is the south of London different from the rest of the city? Do you find that the area is starting to attract more artists?
The great South London debate is only useful for the media to try and find a story about “the new.” I am working with a large group of artists from Peckham in South London for Frieze Projects, but they collaborate with artists across the city. There is a great art school community at Goldsmiths and Camberwell College of Arts, and reasonable rents have kept artists down there whereas perhaps in previous years they might have headed to East London post-college. There are still plenty of great party/exhibition/screening-friendly warehouse spaces to be had…
What makes Frieze Projects stand apart from other art fair events that showcase emerging artists, such as Statements at Basel?
Frieze Foundation is a not-for-profit organization established by Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp at the beginning of the fair in 2003. The idea is to commission new works, unconnected with the gallery booth structure—by artists who might be unrepresented, or who perhaps want to comment on or even criticize the art fair and the market. Statements, as great as it is, is still a commercial venture run by the galleries and selected by committee.
When curating at an art fair, what sort of considerations must you make for less conventional mediums? The new-media work of Oliver Laric comes to mind, as he will be creating stock video footage of the fair itself and releasing it into the public domain.
A project like Oliver’s is really risky—I think it’s a testament to Frieze’s commitment to artists who are of the moment, who are pushing an aspect of artistic practice forward, even if it means the project isn’t visible in the fair. I just have to stick with the artists and trust them, and with a great artist like Oliver, I do.
Knowing the ropes a bit better in your second year on the job, what risks can you take? Is there anything you are able to do now that wasn’t possible last year?
Well, I did stick to a few artists I knew well last year, perhaps as something of a security blanket. This year I have perhaps been more ambitious in terms of the scale of one or two projects, particularly with Christian Jankowski’s yacht and broadcasting all the live performances by LuckyPDFs, but overall, the way I work isn’t about making things spectacular just for the sake of it.
The site-specific installations at this year’s Frieze Projects includes an aquarium with a live ecosystem enacting an aquatic performance, by Pierre Huyghe, and a full-size motor yacht being sold from a gallery stand, by Christian Jankowski. What kind of special preparations have those required?
Problems with U.S. Customs (which ended up donating our “star” marine life to a local aquarium in New York), craning Jankowski’s Riva boat through the fair roof, hosting over 60 artists and performers for LuckyPDFs project—to name just a few.