Suitably impressed by the level of work that was presented at the second edition of Frieze Masters, a fair that showcased work made before the year 2000, ranging from the ancient era and old masters to the late 20th century.

As a consequence of the successful, inaugural, edition in 2012, the fair this year was slightly larger as the number of participating galleries increased to more than 150. Dealers who showcased both at Frieze London and Frieze Masters, last year, presented work of the same artist from their stable at both fairs. This year, though, the dealers who showcased at both fairs, didn’t present work of the same artist at both fairs anymore, making their stable of artists work more complementary over the two fairs. Also, more and more dealers displayed only the work of a single artist on their stand at Frieze Masters, such as Alison Jacques who dedicated their stand to Lygia Clark, Victoria Miro to Alice Neel, Timothy Taylor to Sean Scully, and Bruce Silverstein to Aaron Siskind. It was a delight to experience these mini-museum shows at the fair.

Pilar Ordovas, owner of Ordovas Gallery, who mainly programs historical exhibitions, considers Frieze Masters a very interesting fair due to the variety and the scale. “The fair was slightly larger than last year – let’s hope it does not become larger – with many new strong additions in the 20th Century side strengthening further that section,” she comments. “One of the most interesting aspects was the number of British artists wandering around, as soon as it opened, looking at the works. To me, it highlights one of the most interesting aspects: the diversity in work at the fair that attracts them”.

There is talk that, in two years, Frieze Masters is already becoming a serious competitor to Tefaf in Maastricht, although, Ordovas thinks for Old Master, Ceramics, and Sculpture dealers this might not be the case. There is also talk that Frieze Masters, may become a serious competitor for their own contemporary fair, Frieze London. It might be the reason as to why the organizers of both fairs have made a re-design for their contemporary fair. They worked with the architects, Carmody Groarke, on improving conditions for showing and viewing art by introducing larger public areas, wider aisles and new layouts of the galleries. For this to be feasible, the number of galleries has been reduced. Another adjustments is the wooden floor painted grey and the light is not as direct and harsh, as in previous years, as they spanned a white cloth across to the ceiling which filters the light. Walking around the fair has a more relaxed atmosphere: it feels like you’re walking in one space, the galleries don’t feel like separate islands, and, as it is more spacious, you can view and appreciate the art better.

It remains to be seen, though, whether visitors will notice these improvements. One dealer told me that last year visitors who attended the contemporary fair also came to view the Masters. This year, they came directly to visit Masters but didn’t bother to visit the contemporary fair.

The issue is that during Frieze week, there are so many other art events organised in Town. Besides three fairs, there are a lot of great shows in museums and galleries, openings and receptions and auctions occuring. “You are going to cherry pick the best specially if you have a limited time so it is unlikely one would do three fairs”, Ordovas comments. “Many collectors with whom I spoke only attended Frieze Masters. I personally think there are too many fairs and it is not possible to keep the quality and freshness, especially when the same clients visit many of them, unlike in the past when one was tapping into local markets and dealers who could repeat the material but still make it look fresh”.

It is inevitable that those who visit both fairs will make comparisons between them. Those who walk around the fairs may have the impression that some of the art displayed at Frieze London is weird, loud, superficial and immature when compared to the art displayed at Frieze Masters, which is profound, in-depth, and has an appreciation for skill and beauty.

This is not a value judgement. Indeed, it is that the Frieze organisers, who have expanded their portfolio of fairs over the last two years, have created two fairs in London that complement each other and which cater for the taste of whomever comes into town.

Text: Thierry Somers

Alice Neel, Purvis, 1958, Oil on canvas, 96.5 x 66.4 cm, Victoria Miro; Aaron Siskind, Bruce Silverstein Gallery; Lygia Clark, Alison Jacques Gallery; Alice Neel, Sheila, 1938, Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 45.7 cm