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Meet the Influencer: Jo Stella-Sawicka, Artistic Director, Frieze Fairs


Jo joined Frieze in 2011 to launch Frieze New York as Deputy Director of Fairs. She has worked in contemporary galleries for over ten years and worked as an independent curator and advisor to collections. Hot off the back of this year’s Frieze Week, we caught up with her. 


What was most exciting about this year’s fair?

There was so much! There’s always something new at Frieze. This year, we’re did something we’d never tried before. We created a retrospective section, revisiting seminal exhibitions of the 90s. Everything about the way we think about art now is informed by what happened in the 90s, so although Frieze is generally focused on the zeitgeist, we felt it would be valid to reflect on the moment when everything shifted.


How did you set about revisiting that time for the fair?

We appointed a curator: Nicolas Trembley who selected eleven galleries that were at the forefront of contemporary art at the time (from Paris, Cologne, London and New York). He  worked with them to painstakingly recreate exhibitions. It was a creative challenge as some of the larger works were destroyed, so in some cases, the artists have had to work from old photographs to get the detail right.  I was particularly excited about Wolfgang Tillmans’ exhibition, originally shown in a tiny space in gallerist Daniel Bucholz’s father’s bookshop. They worked together for Frieze to recreate the space, with Tillmans’ photographs displayed just as they were in 1992.  The section also featured work by Richard Billingham and Michael Landy from the UK and international artists Sylvie Fleury and Karen Klimnick amongst others.


You also ran an Art and Architecture conference for the first time this year.

That’s right. We had some really interesting talks and conversations happening as part of that. We heard from artists such as Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco about the garden he is designing for South London Gallery, and Museum a Director Michael Govan (LACMA) spoke with celebrated architect Peter Zumthor. Discussion at the conference focused on living with art, exploring the interplay between space and art. Architecture, art and interior design can and should work together brilliantly.


Frieze is a multinational brand, what’s unique about the London fair and what do you love most about it?

We have three fairs in London and New York but London was the first. What’s unique about the audience in London is that the public here is fairly culturally sophisticated. We have so much free access to art here, with our museums and galleries, that we are exposed to art a lot. Our setting in a public park helps it to feel accessible too and this year’s sculpture exhibition in the park that launches at Frieze, and will run until January, will attract visitors through the winter.  We also have a non-profit programme, Frieze Projects, which has commissioned over 100 artists to create work for our fairs, and this is separate from the commercial work on display at the fairs. It’s unique for a commercial fair to offer artists this platform (and the public the chance to enjoy it).


Which London artists are you most excited by at the moment?

Yuri Pattison, our Frieze Artist Award winner this year is an exciting name to watch. He works digitally, and created a live work using metadata collected at the fair. His work explored trending data, using live information boards, statistics and profiling.


yuri pattison crisis trolley
Yuri Pattison, sketch for Insights (crisis trolley) – working title, 2016. Courtesy: the artist & mother’s tankstation limited, Dublin

Do you think London is still a key incubator for exciting new work?

Absolutely. We have a section in the fair for young galleries called Focus and this year we had five from London in there – two from Peckham, two from Soho, one from Lambeth. Last year there were only two London galleries in there and the year before, none, so there’s definitely a shift happening with an exciting new generation coming to the fore.


What is it that keeps collectors coming back year after year?

Collecting is a habit and once you start you can’t stop. Buying work and following the artists who create it means that the collectors also become part of their world. It gives buyers access to a whole creative community.

The Frieze sculpture park runs until January in London’s Regent’s Park, with 19 large sculptures and structures on show. Download the Frieze Sculpture Guide App to find out more about the works on show.

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