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Rule Britannia! Art This Fall in London
Michael Craig-Martin - The pleasure principle
Tomoko Yoneda - Remembrance of Things Past
I thought California would be different - The 2008 California Biennial in light of the presidential election
Sharon Hayes - The Placeholder for Love and Politics
Second Nature - Tue Greenfort Infiltrates Art With Ecological Awareness
The Anti-Architect - Anish Kapoor at the RIBA in London
Frieze Goes YouTube - An Interview with Frieze Projects Curator Neville Wakefield
Our Success Is Based on Quality - An Interview With Frieze Director Amanda Sharp


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"Our Success Is Based on Quality"

An Interview With Frieze Director Amanda Sharp

Together with Matthew Slotover, Amanda Sharp founded the Frieze Art Fair in 2003. Since that time, the London fair has developed with incredible speed into one of the most important art events around. Deutsche Bank has been supporting Frieze as main sponsor for five years now. Oliver Koerner von Gustorf spoke to Frieze co-director Amanda Sharp about the cooperation with the bank and the fair's secret for success.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf: Why did you decide on Deutsche Bank as main sponsor for the Frieze Art Fair?

Amanda Sharp: I think it was a natural affinity, because we all know that Deutsche Bank has the largest corporate contemporary art collection in the world. One need only think of Deutsche Bank's legacy of supporting contemporary art and its policies for working with galleries and young artists; how pervasive it is just through the existing structures. It is pretty extraordinary when you go into Deutsche Bank's offices and you see art on the trading floor and the offices named after artists-it's not an add-on, it is intrinsic to the culture. I think this is why Deutsche Bank has an understanding and appreciation of what we do at Frieze. And that, of course, contributes to a strong and mutually beneficial relationship.

When you look back over the past five years of cooperating with Deutsche Bank, how has this cooperation changed or developed over time?

It is definitely growing. Our understanding of each other has deepened. And we see that each year, as the bank invests more in the fair and in turn reaps more benefits from it. There are tangible examples of growth, such as the introduction of the Deutsche Bank Education Space, for instance, and the ways the bank uses the fair as an opportunity for hosting many important clients. I think there's a very strong association between the two brands now, both in the corporate and the art world.

Frieze Art Fair has become one of the world's most important art events. How do you explain this tremendous success?

I think it's the focus on quality. When we started the fair, we came from a background of being in the art world for many years, and so it was important for us to launch it as a top-tier fair with no compromises. Luckily, our pre-existing relationships allowed us to go to the best galleries in the world and talk to them about our vision for a fair. Right from the very beginning, they were interested in the idea of a fair that was focused on living artists and on contemporary art in the heart of our vibrant capital.

London becomes especially vibrant during Frieze. Why do you think this works so well there? In other cities, institutions are not as cooperative.

When we were first thinking about starting the fair, the first people we talked to, even before the galleries, were the museums. We told them we'd like the fair to work well for them. We told them that if we get a great list of galleries, the best collectors in the world will come to London and we hoped it would be beneficial for them, too. We asked them if they'd be prepared to put on perhaps their most important shows of the year at that time, and they were very interested in the idea-and that is exactly what they try to do now. I think we also bring a critical background to the fair that makes it different from other fairs. And so we initiated artists' talks, we created artists' commissions, we brought in architects who were very sensitive to the idea of design-we wanted it to be a space where people walked in and felt excited. We tried to make the fair a fantastic place to be in every detail. And most importantly, of course, it's about the galleries and the art. That is the starting point. If you have great galleries and a highly focused, not crazily over-sized fair with an absolute focus on quality in every respect, it becomes something you can do well in a day.

This actually leads us to another thing: the curated program, the Frieze Projects, Films and Talks. What is the basic idea behind this concept?

When we thought about why we like to go to art fairs, we realized that these were places where we meet people, exchange ideas, and generally learn. You can regard them as generative platforms where things can happen. We struggled with the question as to what we could add. Coming from a magazine background, it was a natural evolution to consider creating an ambitious international talks program. We also thought about how to make the fair itself a site for production, where as an organisation you actually facilitate artists in making works. And the commissions program has been one of the most successful aspects of the fair, right from year one. I think the quality of the projects has been extraordinary high. And that becomes clear when you see artists being nominated for the Turner Prize on the basis of a project we do in a temporary art fair. It tells us that this is really a very good program. It's not connected to the galleries within the fair, it is completely autonomous. We even give out an award each year, the Cartier Award, and the number of applications is extraordinary high. Eighty artists came under serious consideration, which is extraordinary out of about six hundred. What would you normally expect, maybe three or four? So, you really see that artists are taking the fair very seriously as a place to do things. It has been very nice to see that complimented by the galleries' approach, as well, where in many instances they think of the fair slightly differently than they do of other fairs. And they create special projects for their stands that coexist very happily with our commissions program.

Let's talk about the competition among art fairs worldwide. There are rumours that Art Basel is going to expand further and that the fair in Miami will become bigger this year. With his real estate company, John F. Kennedy's nephew Christopher is currently buying up art fairs like the Volta Show in Basel, Art Chicago, and the New York Armory Show. What is Frieze's position in this competitive environment?

We are focused on quality. I wouldn't want to dilute what we are doing in any way, or cannibalise what we are doing. So our core position is that we have no intention rolling out or buying out other fairs. I think we are actually at the right size now. Of course, there are a lot of demands from galleries for more space, and I am only talking about the galleries that are already in the fair. It's true: three times the number of galleries we are able to accommodate apply. Many of these are very good galleries that we sadly can't find space for, but I think it's important for us to focus on what we do and to improve that each year. Personally, I am not convinced that this is the time for launching other fairs, even in view of emerging markets and expanding fairs. Basically, you should do what you do exceptionally well.

And what are your wishes for the future?

Quite simply, I look forward to many, many more fairs, and hope that each one will be a little more interesting and a little bit better than the last.

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