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17th Edition of Frieze & Frieze Masters (London)

13 – 1​7 October 2021

On-site Frieze Interview 2009

Tim Marlow OBE

Former Director of Exhibitions & Current Director of White Cube, Broadcaster, Art Historian, Artistic Director of the Royal Academy of Arts & Co-programmer of Frieze Masters Talks, Director & Chief Executive of the Design Museum 

Pippa Jane Wielgos

PJW: Tim, you judge many art competitions and critique British and international art, what's your assessment of the works on show at Frieze this year?

TM: Well it's only just opened and it does take you a good couple of days to see everything but it seems that increasingly galleries are bringing their strongest work to Frieze. I think that is something that has been evolving over the last few years and I think now Frieze is certainly established and I would say it's the second most important Art Fair in the world, after Basle, with a combination of the vibrant London markets, the London art scene, London's role as a pivotal a European city – so it looks very strong.

PJW: Which works are the highlights at White Cube?

TM: We've made a slightly distilled and very powerful stand where you have an Andreas Gursky Cathedral photograph opposite Damien Hirst's Medicine Cabinet, in the centre of which is work by a young artist we work with called Rachel Kneebone who works in ceramic which has 14 stations of the cross made out of white porcelain. I think this creates a kind of quasi-temple of contemporary art in a market place which is culturally charged and rather interesting, with a Zhang Huan "Skull" to the left and a Tracey Emin blanket to the right which completes the space.

When you wander around certain galleries, they have a much greater rag bag, a rich mix of different artists with the emphasis on selling. We have opted for a stand that is slightly more pared-down. It seems to work because the Andreas Gursky has sold, the Damien Hirst's on hold and the Fair is only two hours old.

PJW: What type of talent will survive in today's art market?

TM: Talent will survive. The question of who the major artists of our era are is a debate that we can have, but posterity judges in the end.

I have no doubt that Damien Hirst is and will remain one of the most significant artists currently living and working in the world. Jeff Koons would have that status, Bruce Nauman, Anselm Kiefer and others. Those are obvious contenders and I think Louise Bourgeois will very much stand the test of time.

PJW: Are there any significant trends emerging?

TM: No. I have said for some time that the dominant trend is pluralism, not in terms of "anything goes", but more "anything is possible".

I think you can see it in music, in fashion, in literature and in film. But there hasn't been a stand-out trend for 20 years. In painting, the last rites have been regularly proclaimed as strong, but painting has always remained desirable for the market place. You always see strong painters at an art fair. Broadly speaking, major artists are making major paintings.

I think that film and video are here to stay and the quality of film and video art is getting better, with less signs that artists are enamoured with the technology, and more indications that they are starting to use it in more interesting ways.

PJW: Is the world of art critical enough or has commercialism become the dominant factor in art production and representation?

TM: Interestingly enough, the kind of levels of collectors here are high-end works from major foundations and museum collectors. The most commercially viable work in our world tends to be the most critically rigorous.

PJW: Are there any perceived changes at Frieze this year?

TM: There has been a momentum at Frieze. People said that the recession would hammer it. It was better than expected last year just as things were starting to collapse in the broader economy, and certainly the signs right now are that the art market remains incredibly resilient.

Regarding the art market and economy – how has White Cube Gallery been affected?

I think everyone has been affected but we have not dropped prices and we continue to do major deals. We are selling work for seven figures regularly. I think you probably won't see the boom phenomenon that was evident two years ago, but certainly there are people who are buying.

For a gallery like White Cube, which owns all its own buildings, has no debts, has a stable of some of the best artists in the world and is established as one of the best galleries in the dominant European city…we're in a very strong position and what tends to happen in these periods is that the strong get stronger.

PJW: What do you think are the notable things happening in the London scene at the moment with regard to new art, galleries and the economy?

TM: The art market is perpetually renewing itself. There are always new artists emerging and I think there are always young galleries. Frieze has expanded and taken on some emerging galleries and Zoo is a very interesting emerging art gallery fair. That is all part of the momentum Frieze has built up during the past five years.

I can't put my finger on something specific and say there has been a big change this year, but I think the fact that momentum seems to be pretty unaffected by the economic downturn of the last few years seems a remarkable thing.

Of course, the state of the global economy remains precarious and there is no real consensus as to how things will develop – and so it is with the art market. But broadly speaking, I'm cautiously optimistic.

PJW: What is your assessment of the galleries showing from Europe and America this year?

TM: The biggest galleries in the world are European and American. What interests me more is that the Long March Gallery from Beijing, which was here last year and is here again this year, has some really good art. It's the variety and the fact that there are galleries from all over the world who are eligible for Frieze and can cut it in this environment.

There are some very good galleries from Australia, South Africa, Japan, Korea, South America, Iceland and more. It shows that the type of art we talk about is an international phenomenon.

12 October 2009.

1/16 free articles for Culture24.

© Pippa Jane Wielgos.

Image by Phillipa Jane Wielgos

© Phillipa Jane Wielgos.


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