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Frieze & Frieze Mas​ters (London) 

13 - 17 October 2021

Frieze Interview 2009

Interview : Amanda Sharp OBE

Co-founder, Frieze

Pippa Jane Wielgos

Amanda Sharp (41) and Matthew Slotover (40) met one another at a barmitzvah when they were 12, and later launched Frieze as an art fanzine. They co-founded Frieze Magazine two years after graduating from Oxford University, and remortgaged their homes to establish the Frieze Art Fair seven years ago, which now stands alongside Munich and Basle as one of the top three art fairs in the world. Taking time out of her routine, Amanda met on-site at the Frieze Art Fair (2009) for interview. 

PJW: What's the inspiration behind Frieze?

AS: We have always been interested in making art accessible to as many people as possible and when you put out a large event in a major city, with a beautiful park, you can do it in a way that makes it very appealing to visit. 

Here we have 164 of the leading contemporary art galleries under one roof. In just one day you can see work by more interesting, important, innovative artists than you can in every museum show throughout a year. There are probably about 2,000 artists represented at the fair – so for someone who wanted an overview of contemporary art today, this is probably a very good place to start. 

PJW: How culturally and critically imperative was it to establish an art fair like Frieze?

AS: We had been thinking about it for about five or six years before we started the fair in 2003. England was probably the only country that didn't have an international contemporary art fair. We had fantastic museums and a fantastic contemporary art gallery scene in the early 1990s, so as no one was starting an art fair it seemed we should do it. 

Oddly, international markets responded the quickest. In the UK there was some hesitation because there was a long-standing belief that it wasn't possible to have an art fair due to the taxation system and other factors. But our reputations were established and people knew us well and it all really happened very quickly. We had the art magazine, launched at a very difficult time when the dot com bubble had burst. However, I think that if you have a strong enough idea it's possible to launch it at any time.

PJW: What's your assessment of your seventh year?

AS: I feel that we have grown up this year. We have become mature. The fact that the fair has gone so well really establishes us. It's also had a very nice atmosphere this year, which has been particularly enjoyable. 

PJW: There was discussion of the fair being "hammered" by the economic recession. What's your opinion on that?

AS: I think that there was a degree of uncertainty but no-one had a crystal ball. The galleries brought very good quality work, very good collectors come and I think that there are big sales in the main. 

PJW: Did you ever imagine the fair would become this big?

AS: No. The idea of the scale of it was difficult to reconcile. For me, the fair was the size of an A4 sheet of paper that I had drawn it on with the architect. 

When the fair went up, it was a bit of a shock to realise how big it would be. Physically, the scale was massive. It involved hundreds of people building it, miles and miles of walls. 

It worked...but I had no idea it would capture the cultural zeitgeist to the degree it did in London and it amazed me that the public saw it as a place that they could visit just as they would the Tate Modern and treat it as a festival. The programme which builds up around it is very powerful. 

PJW: Did it still surprise you that it became so successful?

AS: It surprises me that so many people helped us and there is still so much goodwill towards the event. I think if that continues it shows that we are doing a good job. 

PJW: What's the recommended business plan for the Fair?

AS:'s not a high risk one – we just have to see that we manage the balance between income and expenditure correctly. We didn't do a five-year plan. We were enthusiastic, optimistic and knew it would work if we did it right.

There is a focus on integrated learning and development of critical culture through the Fair. How do you feel this should be responsibly promoted, and can it complement commercialism?

I think the two aren't mutually exclusive. We have always tried an interesting way of amalgamating culture and commerce and I think the Fair is a prime example of how you can create a commercial model which facilitates a lot of culture. I would hope that would be a guiding principle for anything we do in the future. 

PJW: What's Frieze's main message?

AS: Contemporary art can be for anyone. 

PJW: Is it a case of "watch this space" with Frame (the new section of the Fair devoted to new galleries)?

AS: No, I would say it has arrived! 

PJW: What advice would you give to others trying to launch a similar idea in the UK?

AS: If you have a good idea, don't be scared – just do it well! 

© Pippa Jane Wielgos

15 October 2009


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