Bad Madeleines

Raul de Nieves and Erik Zajaceskowski (aka Somos Monstros), Thank You / Thank You, 2018. Performance view, Frieze New York, Randall's Island, 2018. 
(Photo: Mark Blower/Frieze)

IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (primary school to this Brit), when candy was currency, anyone who showed up with some new or unusual confection ruled the roost—at least until the prize was shared, stickily, among a dozen instant mates or wolfed down defensively by its owner. So it was particularly impressive when a classmate arrived one Monday morning with three never-before-seen treats. The brands were familiar, but the bars themselves were prototypes—experimental trial runs for yet-to-be-released products. To our sugar-addled minds, they were gold. The source of the bounty? A parent’s visit to a food trade fair. Our minds were boggled by this early taste of exclusivity. A couple of years later, I attended my very first fair.

In childhood, these events were, for me, distinguished by a unique atmosphere—I was there without the burden of workaday responsibility. Even the venues, convention centers or event spaces of one kind or another, had a special attraction. Their corporate scale and aesthetic anonymity only added to their blank-canvas potential. They were liminal zones of exploration that seemed to exist outside of memory, as temporary as a fort built from furniture and bedding.

Of course, I’m waxing nostalgic, but could an art fair—a trade fair by any other name—offer so much as the slightest Proustian evocation of these early experiences? Could it transcend the here and now to evoke not some evermore profitable future but a differently meaningful slice of the past? Of all the current brands and variations, Frieze New York would seem the best bet for a bit of much-needed escapism; it takes place in a tent on an island, after all. And headed to the earliest preview––to which I was, well, not invited exactly, but allowed into––things did seem momentarily promising. But then I discovered that my millennial cab-mate was a numbingly verbose “digital influencer,” and in the line for the ferry I made the mistake of engaging a cantankerous “seller” (I think he meant dealer but perhaps had become bored of the term). On the boat itself, I sat next to a former boss.

Inside the tent, the mild anxiety lingered while the fair itself looked, vaunted new layout notwithstanding, pretty much the same as ever. Indeed, the most noticeable difference between this year and last was the dysfunctional air conditioning, an operational snafu that reportedly affected sales, as some delicate souls left early to find more perfectly controlled environments. In the context of a greater-than-usual level of griping about the economics of fairs in general, even such a minor operational misstep (it wasn’t that uncomfortable) seemed to hint symbolically at the beginning of the end for this particular, peculiar way of shifting product, or at least to its established pricing structure. (Acknowledging that while mega-galleries still turn a quick buck, the rest take a deep hit to keep up appearances, David Zwirner recently suggested that top earners such as himself should pay a higher rate in order to subsidize booths for smaller operators. He even seemed to get some support for the idea from Pace Gallery’s Marc Glimcher, among others, though Team’s Jose Freire, who recently swore off fairs altogether, was a lot less sure.)

Sean Kelly, too, seemed to be making a case for change—or at least evolution—by devoting part of his time and space on VIP day to a series of interviews with major collectors. Bothered by a perceived dearth of genuine connoisseurship among contemporary collectors, the gallerist pitched the talks as part of a campaign dubbed “Collect Wisely,” aimed at shifting the conversation from money to ideas. (VIPs were invited to listen in on the first set of encounters as they were being recorded in the booth; everyone else could hear them later in their final podcast form.) Kelly’s drive to deepen the conversation seemed genuine and well-intentioned—I’ve long since lost count of the number of times people have complained to me about a lack of critical discourse in the commercial gallery world—but could a more reflective attitude catch on among shoppers? Would it become cool to care?

Answers were elusive, but while checking names off my mental cheat sheet in the tent’s pretend pub (where a single option, Stella, made for the world’s easiest bartending gig), I finally grasped a fundamental truth. Insecurities and disappointments notwithstanding, I was simply too much a part of this world of white walls and black apparel to experience it with fresh eyes. It’s true: You can’t go home again.

Tim Saltarelli, director of Miguel Abreu Gallery.

Loic Villepontoux, manager of Pharrell Williams’s nonmusic projects, and Peggy Leboueuf, senior director at Galerie Perrotin.

Alejandro Jassan, associate director at Alexander Gray Associates. (Unless otherwise noted, all photos: Matthew Carlson)

Jeffrey Grove, director at Sean Kelly Gallery.

Jeffrey Peabody, vice president and director of Matthew Marks, with Jacqueline Tran, senior director at Matthew Marks.

Alexander Richards, associate director at STEVENSON Gallery.

Gary Garrido Schneider, executive director of Grounds for Sculpture, with dealer Peter Nagy of Nature Morte and Daniel S. Palmer, associate curator at Public Art Fund.

Dealers Alberto Fiore and Rafaella Cortese.

Collectors Lee and Andrea Hutter.

Artists Valentine Goroshko and Elizabeth Clark, aka Liz-N-Val.

Collectors Jill and Peter Kraus.

Dealer Leslie Tonkonow with Klaus Ottmann of the Phillips Collection.

Collectors Shelley Fox and Philip Aarons.

Dealers Ludovica Barbieri and Roberto Moiraghi.

Ingenuity Festival director Emily Appelbaum and friend.

Curator Emily Liebert and artist Dan Levenson.

Dealer Irina Protopopescu with Barbara MacAdam, deputy editor of Artnews.

Brenda Valansi, cofounder of ArtRio, with dealers Alexandre Gabriel and Maria Ana Pimenta.

Dealer Anton Kern with his gallery’s senior director Christoph Gerozissis and associate director Brigitte Mulholland.

Laura Blanco, chairwoman of the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and art advisor Fran Kaufman.

Dealer Marcio Botner and friend.

Artist Tom Anholt with dealers Derek Eller and Abby Messitte.

Jonah Disend, CEO of Redscout, and Andrea Cashman, director at David Zwirner.

Franklin Sirmans, director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, with dealer and curator Amir Shariat.

Halley K. Harrisburg, director at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery.

Dealer Inna Xu with artist Dongfan Chen.

Vincent Fremont, CEO of Artnews, with Mariska Nietzman, director at Paul Kasmin.

Filmmaker Eva Aridjis with friend.

Dealers Nicky Verber and Andrew Kreps.

Dealer David Fierman with Emily Ruotolo, director at James Cohan Gallery.

Dealer Loic Bénétière.

Megan Yuan of Paul Kasmin Gallery with Benjamin Godsill, art advisor.

Dealer Rachel Lehmann.

Curator Andrea Schnabel and dealer Stefan Stux.

Artist Peter McGough.

Stijn Huijts, artistic director at the Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht.

Journalist Funmi Akinyode.

Collector Eva Livijn.