For the first time in recent memory, New York has been the host to two fair weeks in a single month. After four fairs aligned for New York Art Week two weeks ago, Frieze New York is set to welcome VIPs to its new home at the Shed, the multidisciplinary arts venue in Hudson Yards, on Wednesday morning.
This iteration is the 10th anniversary of Frieze New York, the sister fair to a London event that began in 2003, and it’s the first New York edition held under the direction of Christine Messineo, who joined Frieze last November to run the two fairs it puts on in the U.S. (New York and Los Angeles, which launched in 2019).
She quickly got to work on both fairs. Though the L.A. fair’s exhibitor list was set ahead of its February opening, she was instrumental in helping to flesh out its programming, which included an intervention by Tanya Aguiñiga called the BIPOC Exchange.
On one of her first days at Frieze, Messineo convened a 6 a.m. committee meeting to review the potential exhibitors for this year’s New York fair. “I immediately got a sense of how we make those first decisions,” she said in a recent phone interview.
For Messineo, a grounding in each fair’s host city is essential to the program she’s aiming to build. “I wanted to make sure that representing the city is extended to what we are and what we continue to do,” she said. “That’ll be a theme for the American fairs.”
One way that’ll play out this week is through a strong representation of New York–based galleries at the fair. Over half of the 66 exhibitors maintain at least one space in the city, with the lion’s share of them having been founded in New York. Among them are James Cohan, Alexander Gray Associates, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, Rachel Uffner Gallery, and Lomex.
Additionally, Messineo has sought to draw connections beyond the fair’s aisles, asking herself: “How do we extend our footprint in physicality and architecture of the Shed?” To do so, she reached out to an old friend, the New York–based conceptual artist Tom Burr, with whom she had worked closely when she was a partner at Bortolami, the New York gallery which represents Burr, between 2009 and 2015.
She recalled a powerful work of his, Eight Renovations: A constellation of sites across Manhattan (1997), which had been published in the publication Opening, Periodico di Arte Contemporanea, but had “never had a physical or sculptural iteration,” she said.
The work manifests as “a series of texts that essentially explained and describes the transition of eight different areas of New York City,” she continued. “Tom Burr is one of those rare artists whose work is both visually captivating and at same time has this way with language that is super poetic.”
Earlier this month, Burr began wheatpasting his Eight Renovations across Manhattan, in the neighborhoods—the Upper West Side, the Lower East Side, Chelsea, and Madison Square—that the project describes. (A full list can be found on Frieze’s website.)
Messineo, however, wanted to push this intervention further by thinking through “how do we begin to contextualize this for the present?” And so, Burr has created Ninth Renovation (2022), which will be on view at the Shed and discuss the development and gentrification of Hudson Yards. “It has this overarching theme that’s relevant for today,” she said.
Other initiatives that Messineo has planned for the fair is an iteration of the “Plan Your Vote” initiative, where visitors to the fair can check their voter registration status ahead of the primary and midterm elections this year. (Messineo said that it’s a nod to the Shed’s role as a voting site for the West Side.)
There will also be an online component that those not in town or unable to attend can peruse. Messineo was living in L.A. at the time of Frieze’s first pandemic fair and was only able to browse view its online viewing room. “I hope other people who aren’t able to make it to the physical fair do what I did last year,” she said.
Similarly, Frieze will showcase four New York–based alternative spaces and nonprofits: A.I.R., Artists Space, Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), and Printed Matter, Inc. “These spaces were founded in the 1970s, they were artist-led, and they were founded in opposition to what was happening above 57th Street,” she said, referring to where the era’s top New York galleries had locations.
A.I.R., which was launched in 1972 by a collective of women artists, “was founded around the same time as Roe v. Wade was decided [in January 1973],” she said. “So reproductive rights have always been a part of A.I.R.’s history. That’s particularly relevant at this moment.” For its contribution, the gallery will present a work, titled Trigger Planting, by the collective How To Perform an Abortion that will discuss the current state of reproductive rights in the U.S. The project came together quickly, as a response to the recent leak of a draft of the Supreme Court majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
Frieze wanted to highlight EAI, which preserves and distributes video art, to reflect on how important the organization has been in ensuring the continual importance of a medium that has long been overlooked. Early in her career, when Messineo was working at Renwick Gallery in early 2000s, she recalled delving into EAI’s archive, which she described as “feeling like such a place to learn and to become educated.”
“With an organization like EAI, they’re so ingrained in every institutional show we go to, because often they’re lending the video work. But many people are kind of unaware of them as an institution. How do I show that they are a major connector in the art world?”
At commercial art fairs like Frieze, the intention is to sell high-priced work, but Messineo doesn’t see this setting as being entirely divorced from the work of a nonprofit like A.I.R. or EAI. “They became what I see as the foundation for many of the programs that galleries show today, so I wanted to reflect on that history. So I don’t know that there’s this total disconnect between the commercial and the nonprofit, but I think it’s important to acknowledge the lineage.”
She continued, “Though we have a fair, we are connected to the city beyond just the commercial world. There are social issues that are important to us, to the artists, to the galleries that we work with. We use art fairs to explore the city more thoroughly. I want to make sure Frieze is part of that.”