Love it or hate it, Frieze London and its famous Regent’s Park marquee is a well-established feature of the international visual arts calendar. Frieze is a fascinating organisation, hugely entrepreneurial and successful commercially, but with a foot in the subsidised not-for-profit sector via the Frieze Foundation, which was established in 2003, the same year as the first Frieze Art Fair.

The foundation is responsible for the annual curated programme at the fair, which includes new art commissions, film and music programmes, and Frieze Talks – as well as family events and the Emdash Award. Previously curated by Sarah McCrory (now director of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art), Nicola Lees is the new curator for Frieze Projects 2013. She has worked on new commissions with six artists and also architect Andreas Angelidakis, who has created a bespoke modular structure as a site and viewing platform for all the Frieze Projects’ activities.

“It’s a bit of an experiment to see what would happen if we brought all the artists together in one space within the fair,” says Lees. “The space designed by Andreas is modular, so we can play around with it and highlight different projects every day, with each artist having more control over the space on their day.”

Interdisciplinary approach

Lees has also collaborated with the Liverpool Biennial on Frieze Music, the offsite music programme for Frieze London, which this year features a performance by Meredith Monk at Cecil Sharp House, and has also involved running a series of workshops over the summer. “It’s not just about the fair this year,” says Lees. “The fair is the moment of presentation, but through the collaborations with different public institutions, the projects will also have a life afterwards.”

As Senior Curator of Public Programmes at the Serpentine Gallery, Lees was known for her interdisciplinary approach and she has followed this through in her programme for Frieze. There are a number of performative works across the fair’s four days, by artists such as Ken Okiishi, who is using a paintballing machine to generate a series of abstract paintings, and the French artist Lili Reynaud-Dewar.

“Lili will be making an immersive bedroom installation, which plays with the idea of public and private. But it also refers to feeling like a tenant. She describes her life as a working artist as sometimes making her feel like the art organisation is the landlord. She’ll be reading texts out loud from her bed.”

Austrian artist Josef Strau presents Letter Tunnels, an interactive work located around the project space. The public will be encouraged to sit on and crawl into Strau’s oversized letters – a W, an A, and a P. “A is for advocate,” explains Lees, “W is for trying to be a writer, and P is for trying to live the life of a priest. Strau often works with lamps [inside the tunnels], and they’ll be text on the walls for people to read. Each letter will have a narrative soundtrack about these different roles and on Friday he’ll be performing these narratives in the space.”

Supporting artists, making new work

Although Lees was previously at a public sector arts organisation, she says that working within the context of an international art fair isn’t dramatically different. “I ran a very public programme at the Serpentine Gallery. All the programming was free, and all the events I worked on were focused on a general audience. I think the Frieze Foundation has a similar remit. It’s about supporting artists and making new work, at a time in their careers when this sort of additional support can have an impact on the direction of their work. Because I’m working in a not-for-profit part of Frieze, I don’t know whether there is that much difference. I’m working with artists in much the same way.”

The process for identifying the artists to commission and work with for Frieze Projects was, she explains, a continuation of how she usually works. “I’ve always done a large number of studio visits. I’m always meeting artists and having conversations, which is a process of research and looking at their work in depth. In terms of Frieze, the conversations are about what might be possible within the site-specific space of the fair. Through those conversations different projects become reality; I really enjoy working with artists to realise new work over a period of four or five months.”

While all of the Frieze Foundation work at the fair is free to access once you’re inside, there is a hefty ticket price of £32 (£34.40 with booking fee) for this year’s Frieze. That’s prohibitively expensive for many, including a lot of artists. Lees, however, doesn’t believe that this infringes on the process or the finished work. “This idea that the commercial world is all profit driven is not entirely true,” she says. “Everything I’m focused on is artist-led.”

Frieze London and Frieze Masters takes place 17-20 October, Regent’s Park, London.

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