How Frieze Projects Curator Nicola Lees Is Making Her Mark This Year

As this year’s Curator of Frieze Foundation, Nicola Lees faces the daunting task of coordinating seven new, site-specific artist commissions for Frieze London, known as the Frieze Projects. Luckily, her expertise with such work prepared her, even when faced with paintballing, an abundance of oysters, and a group of children. Lees selected and supported this year’s featured artists—Andreas Angelidakis, Gerry Bibby, Ken Okiishi, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Josef Strau, and Angelo Plessas—and was on the board for the selection of this year’s Emdash Award winner, Pilvi Takala. Integral not only to the creation of the projects, during the fair Lees oversees as the artists share a space, which will rotate in order to properly feature each artist. Formerly serving as Senior Curator of Public Programmes at London’s Serpentine Gallery, Lees worked with acclaimed curator Hans Ulrich Obrist on artist projects and programming including Serpentine Marathons and two-day agendas packed with lectures, talks, and events. She has built a reputation for her rapport with artists, consistently encouraging them to push boundaries and take on new media.

Artsy: What has been your experience encouraging artists to experiment in new types of media—and how has this experience carried over into your approach for Frieze Projects 2013?

Nicola Lees: In the past I’ve encouraged artists to work with media that might not be an obvious choice for them, such as Helen Marten to make her first film and Beck Beasley her first performance piece. This experience has carried over into my program for Frieze and played out in quite unexpected ways as a shift in practice can also be witnessed in Pilvi Takala’s Project for the Emdash Award 2013: Pilvi has moved from being an observer to a participant. By giving the opportunity to devise and realise the Emdash Award to a committee of children she has become a participant in their project.  

Artsy: What factors did you consider when choosing the seven artists in your selection?

NL: As a curator I make many studio visits and initiate conversations with many artists. Choosing the artists was a relatively organic process; I started with a larger group but ended up working with the people for whom it came at the right time and were able to work within a quite specific concept.  

Artsy: Can you describe some of the dialogues that occur within Frieze Projects this year?

NL: The way the programme is structured, with one space which is reconfigured daily, it was always intended to encourage dialogue between the artists; they will have to negotiate each other’s presence in the space. I am sure that as the space changes and different elements come into focus different connections will come into view; however, some I am already aware of include: Between Rivane [Neuenschwader] and Ken there is a similar exploration of disintegration through accumulation; writing is a common strand between Lili, Josef, and Gerry; finally both Pilvi and Angelo both deal with participants and activities for younger audiences.  

Artsy: What are the challenges organizing such an initiative and, additionally, working with seven artists simultaneously?

NL: One of the challenges is also one of the best things about the programme: it is all new work. Which of course is very exciting, but I cannot know how they will exactly manifest themselves within the fair and since they are very process-led and with no fixed ends that of course adds to that sense of unknown.  

Artsy: How does Frieze Projects interact with other Frieze initiatives, like Frieze Film, Frieze Talks, the Emdash award, if at all? And how has your role expanded into other areas of Frieze London?

NL: The whole programme unfolds throughout the week, with each different strand coming into view at different moments but with an equal significance. The week starts with Frieze Music, on Tuesday the 15th, which seems appropriate as Meredith Monk will be performing, which seems a very appropriate point to initiate the programme as a whole considering her experience with interdisciplinary practice and cooperative ways of working

Artsy: How will your role at Frieze expand upon your previous position at the Serpentine? Has working closely with Hans Ulrich Obrist influenced your own curatorial practice? Have there been challenges in curating in an art fair context versus public programs?

NL: The programme at Frieze is artist-led and Frieze Foundation is not-for-profit; therefore there are a lot of parallels with my past experience. I hugely enjoyed working with Hans Ulrich, and I am looking forward to seeing the Serpentine Marathon this year.

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

1. The Serpentine show, Adrian Villar Rojas, and Zaha Hadid’s new building.

2. Richard Sides at Carlos Ishikawa

3. Sarah Lucas at the Whitechapel Gallery

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

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