Brand new ancients

Simon Wallis, 20.10.2014
Simon Wallis on the mix of contemporary and historic art at Frieze
Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters are a vital, energetic and inspirational focal point for the art world every year.

This year’s edition of the fairs is handsomely and effectively laid out and installed to provide an improved experience of myriad contemporary and art historical works of art, most of which are of museum quality.

Both art fairs offer a wonderful opportunity to meet artists, gallerists, fellow museum professionals from around the world, collectors, patrons and friends.

It’s an opportunity for those who have a passion for art to come together and share enthusiasms and criticisms and to marvel at the ongoing energy and significance of the international art world.

Connecting the two fairs is the Frieze Sculpture Park curated by our near neighbour and good friend Clare Lilley from the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It offers an excellent opportunity to experience sculpture in the beautiful surroundings of Regent’s Park.

This year Franz West’s lurid pink Sitzwust looked extraordinary on the lush green grass with autumn leaves scattered around it. Thomas Schutte’s Aluminiumfrau Nr18 was also a highlight for me, an exquisitely memorable form in wonderful materials.

The fairs allow us to make many new discoveries, often from the ways in which works of art are juxtaposed or develop an unexpected dialogue.

It’s curatorially fascinating to experience what often amounts to unintended experiments where you can, for instance, go between Reg Butler’s sexually explicit and perversely contorted nudes from the 1970s to an extraordinarily visceral and brutally tortured torso of Christ, from the 17th century.


Seeing William Nicholson’s fresh brush work on a superb painting of flowers in a glass vase, opposite his son’s Ben Nicholson’s abstracted still life lodges pleasurably in my mind as I conjure up an imagined family rivalry.

I find it particularly interesting to see the maturing of commercial galleries that increasingly have spaces at both fairs to represent the gamut of the art they promote and sell.

One of the strengths of our offer at The Hepworth Wakefield has been our equal efforts with how we display and work with our art historical collection in dialogue with a programme of contemporary art. The dynamic at the two fairs mirrors this growing tendency that helps contextualise and connect contemporary art to its precedents.

The Focus section of Frieze Art Fair is also vital so that younger up and coming galleries can show what they have to offer.

It provides vital exposure for emerging artists and helps add to our curatorial research at the gallery.

It’s gratifying to see an artist like Des Hughes at Ancient and Modern, who we’ll be working with next summer, in the same fair as Lynda Benglis, one of North America’s major artists whose first institutional UK solo show we’ve organised for spring in 2015.

The fairs allow us to introduce our trustees, patrons and members to the work of artists we’ll be exhibiting, alongside works we’d love to have in our collection.

At the end of my time at the fairs I breathe a sigh of relief that I run a beautifully designed free to enter public art gallery where a full aesthetic experience is possible for the widest of public.

Our opportunity and challenge now is to build on and add to the ambitious collection that Wakefield started in the late 1920s and keep that spirit of enquiry alive and connected to the vitality of contemporary art.

We are reliant upon philanthropy and gifts to achieve this and the art fairs help us develop the vital relationships that allow us to thrive as a public art gallery.

Simon Wallis is the director of the The Hepworth Wakefield