How do gallerists curate their own booth? At Frieze Art Fair, 200% asks the question to Daniel Buchholz, Buchholz gallery, Anna Helwing, Hauser & Wirth and Sadie Coles, Sadie Coles Headquarters – winner of the Best Booth of the Frieze Art Fair 2010.
200%: How do you decide which artist to represent at the Fair, with which work?
Sadie Coles: Initially, it starts with the artists. On a regular basis I ask all of my artists what new work they are making, and what is in their studio: then, often, there will be two or three key works, new works, that have been made by them and these will form the framework for the booth. In this booth, for example, the work “Still Life (Johns Fireplace)” by Ugo Rondinone, we decided that we would like to show this work and that basically helped us decide the stand lay-out, the flooring, the lighting and then, to a large extent, what other works to display with this piece as it is so dominant. When you’re doing a booth design you often have one or two dominant things, which then push the concept in one way or another. Thus, the moment you have this big fireplace in your booth, the walls of the booth then start to feel a little bit like walls of a house, like a big domestic space – so we decided to go a little bit with that.
Daniel Buchholz: We install our booth almost like a curated show. We make a plan and think about what looks good together. We’re using new work to exhibit at our booth, but that depends on the artists’ work that is available, or if there is new work in their studio. Thus, we discuss it with the artists together. We are not following the public, but we just do what the artists want or what we want. That’s the best way to do it because when I think what to display on the basis of “Oh, the English like more that” and the “Americans like more that” I believe that never functions.
Anna Helwing: It depends on many things, including which Art Fair, in which context, in which part of the world. We also think about what is the focus of the Art Fair; is it a contemporary, young Art Fair like Art Brussels with collectors who like to collect younger, less expensive, more experimental artists, or, Art Basel where all the big collectors in the world come. For Frieze Art Fair – which is definitely a fair for contemporary art, younger artists – we bring a selection of our program. Sometimes, though, artists are also busy with other exhibitions, like museum exhibitions, so they can’t always make a new work and, therefore, we have to see who has a good piece. We put together a list of outstanding pieces and we make a plan of how the booth will look and where the pieces will be displayed: in reality, however, it always looks a little bit different. You have to feel it in the booth and sometimes you have to replace a piece because it does not work with other pieces. We also change the works during the Fair. On an opening day you have a different clientele to those whom you have on a weekend. On a weekend we wouldn’t display a piece that is maybe half a million dollars as it wouldn’t make sense, necessarily, to put a piece up on a wall for the weekend clientele as the major collectors attend during the week. In the first days you have the more exclusive works in terms of finances because that is the clientele you have then.
200%: Do the works you display at your stand have to work in a complimentary way?
Sadie Coles: Oh yes, the John Currin work – which is actually a secondary market work from 2003 – obviously looks fantastic with Ugo’s fireplace because it is a still life painting of flowers that sort of feels domestic; the blue colours in the Currin painting picks out the blue of Ugo’s fireplace – it looks incredibly tasteful.
Daniel Buchholz: Yes, but that would be difficult to explain, it’s more intuitive. It’s not historical or chronological, but more like “why are you putting Morgan Fischer next to Cosima van Bonin”? We try that out before the Fair, but when it comes to installation and it’s seen in the flesh we might alter the display.
Anna Helwing: Not necessarily – it can also create a kind of a friction or an attention that they are playing off each other. There doesn’t always have to be harmony.
200%: Do commercial objectives influence which artist and work to display at your stand?
Sadie Coles: They influence it a lot because at the end of the day I’m a shop and this is a professional fair to sell art, it is a trade fair. Thus, it does have an influence: then, you also need to make your booth look interesting and dynamic so there will be some works in here that are, to some people, quite uncommercial. Film and video, for example, is much more difficult to sell, but the work by Hilary Lloyd [a video and film artist] here in this booth really adds something to the program of the gallery and it’s a very beautiful piece, and I’m trying to educate the more conservative collectors about different aspects of my program. Somebody might come to this gallery to look at John Currin but I will end up talking with them about Hilary Lloyd and that will hopefully start a dialogue. Things have to very mixed up and a bit organic.
200%: Do you make a small mock-up of your stand beforehand to see what work is going to hang where at your stand?
Sadie Coles: Yes, we make a model to see how it looks.  Sometimes, though, that can be very misleading as the volume of pieces can feel very different once you are actually placing them together: actually we did change the stand design quite radically in the last few days before installation. Initially, we didn’t have any flooring as we thought it would be better for the sculptures and everything to be on the bare wooden boards, but when we got here and put the works in, the floor was too busy. As everything we exhibit in the booth needs to be quiet, at the last minute we had the vinyl floor laid in to calm it down. Thus, your intention can sometimes be completely different.
Daniel Buchholz: Yes we’re making a mock-up to see which pieces work together – so we have a plan for that.
Anna Helwing: No, not really a model-model, it’s more like a printed plan, not a three dimensional model.
200%: Do you walk around at the Fair and look to see how other galleries have displayed the works of their artists?
Sadie Coles: Yes, absolutely and I can learn a lot from how other people are working. Things change every year; one year you can have a favourite booth and then the next year the same gallery, pretty much with the same program of artists, present a booth that you don’t like at all. There are, though, one or two galleries who are very consistent in terms of the effort they put, for example Cabinet, Gavin Brown and Jeanne Greenberg. They always have a good booth. There are certain people that always have a good booth at which I can look. Through the years, I’ve learned a lot also: when you are a very young gallery you actually are not quite sure of how to put/present your artists best together.
Daniel Buchholz: Yes, I do, because I’m on the selection committee of the Frieze Art Fair, and we, a group consisting of 6 or 7 people, are looking at all the applications from the gallerists. We decide which galleries comes in or have a bigger booth. I’ve been on this committee for four years. During the Fair we’re meeting here at 09.00 and we look at every booth so I will definitively see every booth and see what the colleagues are doing.
Anna Helwing: Maybe – not in terms of how they are installing their booth, but more as to what do they display. It is of interest to stay on top of things, to be informed, what’s in view, to see interesting work, and, if something is really standing out in terms of booth layout or booth configuration, of course it gets noted as well.
200%: What does it mean that you won the 2010 Frieze Art Fair Stand Prize – the best booth of the Fair?
Sadie Coles: We were totally thrilled because the jury who voted for us, the three judges – Jerry Saltz, Beatrix Ruf and Stuart Comer – I really respect and admire them. Thus, for them to pick us means a huge amount. At the end of the day, however, they are really choosing our artists and that’s a really fantastic feeling: they like the artists that we represent.
Interviews written and conducted by Thierry Somers & Marie Drysdale (10/2010) 
Picture: Booth of Sadie Coles Headquarters

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