Frieze was founded by the directors of Frieze Magazine in 2003, starting humbly but quickly growing in its early days, jumping from 27,000 visitors in its first installment to over 100,000 just two years later. From its inception, the fair has been credited with filling a gap in London’s art market, creating a space for emerging contemporary artists to share their work with the world.
The effect of Frieze on London’s art trading market is tangible and measurable. According to artnet.com, Sotheby’s October auction, which immediately follows Frieze, saw £3.6 million change hands in 2003. The 2022 edition, however, brought in £36.4 million, a massive increase that experts have attributed to Frieze’s “transformative” effect on its market.
As the money surrounding the event shoots through the roof, artists and attendees alike are concerned that the Fair is outgrowing itself, leaving its grassroots beginnings behind.
As it has grown, Frieze has become a sort of global art superpower, going so far as to buy out competing fairs in New York, Los Angeles, and Seoul to expand its reach. As it transcends London to break into new markets, it leaves the indie and emerging artists of London with no place to go, with organizers favouring celebrity artists and 1% collectors.
This focus shift is evidenced by Frieze’s 2023 guest list, which included such names as actresses Emily Blunt and Kim Cattrall and Pulp lead singer Jarvis Cocker. Rami Malek also made an appearance, as did Sienna Miller and Andy Murray. Rishi Sunak, whose party’s post-Brexit economic policies have kneecapped the growth of the British art industry, even made a cameo appearance in 2023, epitomizing Frieze’s culture crisis.
With the price tags of its works ever increasing alongside the tax brackets of its attendees, it is hard to argue that Frieze hasn’t transformed from a well-meaning independent festival into an elitist corporate marketplace. With its attention moving away from local artists towards globally sourced talent, Frieze’s intentions have clearly changed, with a new construction topping the honest foundations its brand was built on back in 2003. After having moved into a position of international interest, Frieze London has freed up the space it was created to fill.