$100K Worth of White Gloves – Frieze Art Fair

On May 12, 2013 by S. A. Hawkins

  Frieze  ballondog

While many of us that exist within the fine art world have had the opportunity to attend an art fair, the majority have not been privy to the excitement/franticness that is the “setting up for the fair.”

I recently was given a behind-the-scenes pass to one of the largest art fairs that I have ever attended, the Frieze Fine Art Fair in NYC.  My role in this art fair was as an artist’s “studio manager.”  I was in attendance to oversee the installation of one of our large bronze sculptures in the Frieze Sculpture Park and two of our large wall sculptures inside the tent.  This position allowed two great things to happen… 1- I was given full access to all areas of the fair  2-My role was limited to the interaction with only my studio’s art, so this gave me plenty of time to explore.

As an Angeleno I have been to a multitude of art fairs at the Barker Hanger or at one convention center or another.  Simply put, this was not the same thing.  The scale alone was mind-blowing; every art fair that I have attended in L.A. could have fit inside this tent.  Even the term tent is misleading, and underwhelming.  This “tent” was designed by New York firm SO-IL Architects and is made from metal I-beam construction and is basically a small self-sustaining city, the term “eighteen tennis courts in length” seems to be thrown around a lot while describing the Frieze tent, another seeming homage to the 1%.

From my understanding there are obviously many stages in the set-up/planning to an event like this, but for our sake I will narrow it down to 4 main stages.

  1. All set-up, this is 95% of the preparation, finding locations, getting permits, assembling the tents, deciding which galleries to accept, so on and so forth.  This is by far the most time consuming and least exciting aspect to the fair.  To put it in perspective, the tent alone takes two months to install.

  2. The installation of the Frieze Sculpture Garden. This takes place one week before the fair, when the final tent preparations are being finishd.

  3. Installation of the artwork inside of the tent. This happens for one and a half frantic days before the fair opens. The most intense and exciting part of the fair—high risk and high reward.

  4. The opening of the fair. This happens for the VIP preview opening on Thursday evening and then open to the public from the following Friday through Monday.

In order to translate my personal experience, I will focus primarily on the third point in the list; the installation of the main tent.

IMG_3016 IMG_2998 IMG_2997  IMG_2979

As I walk up to the entrance to the Frieze art fair I am following a long line of people.  Some are dressed in amazingly elegant clothing, some wearing florescent orange and green construction vests, others parking large box trucks full of crated art.

As I enter security, it seems more like a visit to the president rather than dropping off some touch up paint to the gallery’s booth.

The first security tent needs three things, your name on a list, your id to confirm that you are said human, and then confirmation from the gallery that you are a part of by someone currently already in the tent. Once receiving your “credentials” you are free to roam based on the color of your wristband.  Every time in or out of the tent, or when accessing the sculpture garden you are asked to show your valid “credentials.”

First to the sculpture garden to inspect the thousand pound bronze sculpture that I had overseen installed days earlier.  Everything looks perfect with it, placement, patina, levelness, strength, etc.  Sigh of relief, we are good on this front…

Off to visit the Gallery’s booth to see if our crates have arrived yet.  As I walk up the ramp entering the tent, a woman shouts “ sir, sir, credentials!”.

Inside the tent I am instantly struck with a very different sense of energy.  The sculpture garden was calm, serene, with the cherry blossoms, elegant sculpture, all overlooking the east river, with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop.

Inside the tent is another story. It is intense; the hustle and bustle of people moving with determination, stacks of art crates as far as the eye can see, all holding unknown treasures, the excruciating squealing beep of multiple scissor-lifts going up and down as giant pieces of art are being hung from the I-beam rafters, the thump-thump-thump of impact drivers hanging screws on temporary walls.


The tent is filled with frantic energy, everyone is on a mission, running here, running there.  All determined to finish their task, not caring about anything outside of their small cubicle.  The sounds of drills, the hum of forced air conditioning, packaging tape ripping, gallery directors shouting orders, if you “live for the moment” then you are in heaven!

The thought that crossed my mind is “how many millions of dollars are in these crates?,” as I continued to explore the tent, the $’s seemingly jumped to hundreds of millions, and within an hour I had come to the realization that it simply was… How many billions?

This is one of those events in which the global art world converges on one location for one weekend, and for this weekend, Randall’s Island, NYC is the place to be.

When you only attend the fair, it is still awe-inspiring the grandeousness of the production, but when privy to the behind-the-scenes preparation that goes into these global art events, one statement continues to ring in my head—at any expense.

      IMG_2972 IMG_2991IMG_2743

*almost all pictures by S.A. Hawkins.




2 Responses to “$100K Worth of White Gloves – Frieze Art Fair”

  • Darlene

    It’s is making me smile as I write this, realizing how far removed I am from the world you command. Not that one is better than the other…diversity is great. We are proud of you, Seth and I’m grateful to Donna for sharing your achievements with us.

  • Rosanna Finley

    Seth, it’s a pleasure to follow your accomplishments and experiences. Your article was interesting and fun to read! Thanks for sharing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Protected by WP Anti Spam