It might be hard to believe that Frieze magazine launched its inaugural issue in summer 1991 and staged its first art fair, in Regent’s Park, London, twelve years later. The global art powerhouse has since revolutionized the contemporary art market and expanded its tentpole fair program to the global stage with highly successful and buzzed-about editions in New York and Los Angeles. Though it seems cruel that fairs are off-limits on its 30th birthday, Frieze is undeterred and pushing ahead with new, future-looking digital programming to engage the art world in today’s socially distanced reality.
Kicking off the festivities is Anniversary Sessions, a three-day digital festival (Feb. 17–19) that features intimate yet wide-ranging conversations between celebrated artists like Matthew Barney, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Anicka Yi, and Kara Walker. For an optimal digital experience to be enjoyed long after the festival wraps, Frieze enlisted chefs and bar managers from Dante NYC, Frankies 457 Spuntino, Locanda Locatelli, Rita’s, and Roberta’s to provide video tutorials on mixing cocktails. An acoustic set by Arlo Parks will close out the program on Friday evening.
Anniversary Sessions coincides with the unveiling of an entirely new visual identity designed by Pentagram. In recent years, Frieze’s scope has expanded beyond the magazine and four art fairs to encompass the digital platform, Frieze Viewing Room, alongside a multitude of other editorial initiatives like podcasts and talks. According to David Lane, Frieze’s creative director, the refreshed brand identity reflects the expanded breadth of the organization’s activities and offerings.
“It was a true design problem—how to bring together disparate visual identities into one coherent system that retains the DNA of what has come before,” he says of the typeface, a set of narrow uppercase characters that create a natural continuation of the font used in the magazine’s masthead. “Branding cultural organizations is hard. Too much personality and you overshadow the content, too little and you end up with something void of individuality.” Luke Powell, partner at Pentagram Design, further describes it as “a no-nonsense typeface that can both voice an opinion and also let content speak for itself.”
Perhaps most notably, Frieze is rolling out an annual membership program that offers access to dedicated content, its online archive, special events such as digital talks and virtual viewing rooms, and priority booking to future Frieze fairs. The program is launching in two tiers: Frieze In Depth ($50 per year) and Frieze In Print ($65 per year), with a third, Frieze 91, planned to roll out once in-person events are permitted to return. The membership will provide support for Frieze’s various positive-impact initiatives. A portion of funding for Frieze’s Emerging Curators Fellowship Program, which aims to support BIPOC curators by creating paid placements at public institutions, will be made available through Frieze 91. In Print and In Depth will contribute to a new writing program, Frieze Summer School, that will give ten aspiring writers the opportunity to develop their skills under the tutelage of the Frieze team.
“Joining Frieze will give members an introduction to the world of fresh, critical perspective and debate that has characterized our past 30 years,” Matt Holt, Frieze’s commercial director, said in a statement. “We’re all living in a situation right now that requires us to find new ways to connect, and prompts questions about how communities can, and should, be defined. Frieze is responding to this need in a new way, giving members the opportunity to discover and engage with some of the most relevant artists working today.”
After a tumultuous year, it’s exciting to see headlining art fairs reinvigorate with programming that ventures beyond the confines of the virtual viewing room. Hopefully other fairs follow suit.