Frieze Masters Director Victoria Siddall on Why Art Today Would Not Exist Without the Past

“Art today would not exist without art of the past,” Victoria Siddall said—and of course, she’s right. As the director of Frieze Masters, the historic art fair across Regent’s Park from Frieze London, Siddall heads a program that looks the opposite direction from its 21st-century sibling—backwards from the year 2000—to bring contemporary perspective to historic art. “Artists themselves are constantly looking to the past for inspiration and they always have,” she says, an idea which manifests in Frieze Masters’ Talks program where artists—like John Currin and Catherine Opie—examine their relationship with old masters. Siddall names the Talks as an aspect of Frieze she’s most looking forward to, along with solo presentations by artists from David Hockney, Willem de Kooning, and Lygia Clark to Gordon Matta-Clark, and the side-by-side juxtapositions—Russian Constructivism vis–à–vis Pop Art—we’d be shamed to miss.

Artsy: What have been the challenges, and advantages, of approaching Frieze Masters with your non-traditional art background?

Victoria Siddall: The challenge was building relationships with a completely new group of galleries, but in fact many of the best galleries in the world have been incredibly receptive to a fresh approach. Having previously worked mainly with contemporary art has actually given me an advantage since our vision for Frieze Masters was to bring a contemporary approach to a historical art fair. This manifests itself in the program of talks featuring artists and their relationship with old masters; the Spotlight section of 20th century artists, both male and female and many from outside the western world; and Annabelle Selldorf’s minimal and modern architecture.

Artsy: How does your background, having worked as the Head of Proposal at Christie’s, help you in your current role?

VS: The great benefit of being at Christie’s was the broad overview it gave me of different periods of art history. I could be working with specialists from the old master, Impressionist, and contemporary departments all in the same week.

Artsy: How does looking at historic work help us understand modern and contemporary work, and how do you think Frieze Masters sheds new light on this relationship?

VS: Artists themselves are constantly looking to the past for inspiration and they always have. Art today would not exist without art of the past. Looking at work that today’s artists are interested in gives us another perspective on contemporary art. Frieze Masters Talks features Beatriz Milhazes, John Currin, Catherine Opie, and Richard Wright and their thoughts on historical art, I hope this will open up this relationship between past and present for people from both worlds.

Artsy: Are there any lessons you learned from the inaugural year that you’ve taken in its second iteration?

VS: Inevitably there were a couple of logistical things to iron out but on the whole the fair went very well so I have not had to rethink too much. My efforts have been focused on bringing the best galleries and the highest quality work to the fair.

Artsy: You’ve emphasized the importance of a high-quality fair environment. What expectations do serious collectors have and what do you do to meet or exceed those expectations?

VS: The most important element is the quality of the work, of course. Many people commented on how good this was last year and I hope we will exceed it this year. Then the experience of the fair is crucial, I want people to enjoy the fair and to spend plenty of time there. Great food is a key factor—we have two Michelin-starred restaurants operating at Frieze Masters—as well as light and space.

Artsy: Why is the cut-off date for artworks included in booths the year 2000?

VS: Frieze Masters is for everything that comes before contemporary art. The cut off date of the year 2000 indicates that galleries can show 20th century artists. Twenty-first century artists are shown across Regent’s Park at Frieze London.

Artsy: What’s the process in choosing and vetting the works shown at Frieze Masters?

VS: This year we received a high number of applications from galleries; the Selection Committee which comprises of dealers in the fair chooses which galleries to accept. All of the exhibitors have strong reputations so the work will be high quality. We also have a vetting process at the fair—groups of museum experts look at every work shown at the fair to ensure it is what it says on the label.

Artsy: How does the old vs. new concept of Frieze Masters relate to the way collectors mix periods within their homes?

VS: It is very inspiring to see a private collection that combines art from different periods, with ancient and contemporary side by side, for example. I see this more and more, and judging by the interest in Frieze Masters last year this style of collecting may grow. That would be a great achievement.

Artsy: As the works are not hung chronologically, what are some of your favorite side-by-side juxtapositions at this year’s fair?

VS: As you walk into the fair you will see, around the entrance: Medieval sculpture, Russian Constructivism, early Renaissance gold ground paintings, Pop Art, African tribal sculpture, and late-20th-century work. That’s a pretty great introduction to Frieze Masters.

Artsy: What are three things you’re most excited to see at Frieze Masters this year?

VS:

1. Frieze Masters Talks: John Currin, Beatriz Milhazes, Catherine Opie and Richard Wright talk about art of the past with curators and directors of historical museums

2. Solo presentations of de Kooning, Hockney, Matisse, Lygia Clark, Carl Andre, Alice Neel, Edward Burra, Wilfredo Lam, Gordon Matta-Clark

3. Adriano Pedrosa’s Spotlight section brings discovery to 20th century art: solo presentations of artists from Latin America, Africa, India, Eastern Europe and more

Artsy: Your top three things to do/see during Frieze week London this year are:

VS:

1. See Albrecht Durer at the Courtauld

2. Visit “The Portrait in Vienna 1900” at the National Gallery

3. Eat at the Locanda Locatelli and Umu restaurants at Frieze Masters

Learn more about the Talks Program at Frieze Masters

Explore Artsy’s Frieze London and Frieze Masters features and follow our editorial coverage of the fairs.

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