“What exactly is stupid?” the ever-entertaining Jennifer Higgie asked John Waters during last year’s Frieze Talks Programming—and hers was exactly the kind of pointed question that sparks the insightful, if not heated, debates that the Talks are now known for. But Higgie, co-editor of the world’s leading contemporary art magazine Frieze, art critic, guest lecturer, screenwriter, and novelist, is more than experienced in inciting great dialogue. This year, she’s taken the lead in bringing together a lineup of groundbreaking artists, curators, and cultural commentators—from composer Meredith Monk to choreographer Jérôme Bel and photographer Stephen Shore. Counting down the days until the Frieze Talks begin, we asked Higgie for highlights, from her favorite memories of past talks to the aspects of Frieze she looks forward to most—and finally, if given the chance, which dearly departed personalities she’d most like to assemble in a dream Frieze Talk (hint: PG Wodehouse and Marcel Duchamp, included).
Artsy: In coordinating Frieze Talks this year, did you have a theme or a goal in mind for the series?
Jennifer Higgie: Not a theme, no. I programmed the talks with my fellow editors Jörg Heiser and Christy Lange. We wanted the talks to reflect current concerns and our interests both as individuals and as magazine. In the case of the amazing Meredith Monk, we wanted to celebrate her 70th birthday!
Artsy: Last year, you participated in Frieze Talks as a speaker, in conversation with John Waters. Can you tell us a highlight of this conversation?
JH: It’s rare to be part of a conversation in an art context where it’s hard to keep your train of thought as you’re laughing too much!
Artsy: And being a panelist yourself, what types of insights may have influenced how you approached your organizer role in this year’s Talks?
JH: It’s always important to select speakers who are not only brilliant at what they do, but who enjoy communicating to an audience, and who are open to questions.
Artsy: Do you anticipate any interesting (dare we say) conflicts between this year’s speakers? In pairing certain speakers, how do you encourage questions that will potentially lead to interesting conversation or debate?
JH: I don’t anticipate any conflicts as such, but some topics—such as “Sexuality, Politics and Protest”—are obviously both extremely timely and sensitive. We always try to match speakers: it’s important that they are both very knowledgeable and very generous in the way they communicate that knowledge.
Artsy: What have been your favorite moments from Frieze Talks of the past? And the most potentially disastrous moments in past Talks?
JH: Since I’ve been part of the team programming them, we’ve had so many incredible visitors that it’s hard to single out any. However, I did particularly love meeting the legendary octogenarian film director Agnes Varda, whose talk was brilliant, insightful, and illuminating. Also, the amazing Brian O’Doherty—friend of Duchamp, shortlisted for the Booker prize, renowned critic and artist—gave the most incredibly generous and entertaining talk last year. I can’t think of anything even remotely disastrous, although crowd control when Yoko Ono came to speak was a slight issue!
Artsy: What aspect of the Frieze fairs do you look forward to most?
JH: I love the Talks program! I also really look forward to the Films and Projects. Nicola Lees has put together a rather wonderful line-up this year involving children and play. It’s also wonderful catching up with friends and colleagues from around the world who come to London for the week.
Artsy: How does this role relate to your role as co-editor of the magazine?
JH: It’s a privilege to have the freedom to invite people to London to be part of the talks program who we've come across during the year, in the course of editing the magazine. We like to think of the Talks Program as the magazine coming to life.
Artsy: If you could sit down any pair or group of people, living or deceased, to talk about the topic of your choice, what would be your dream group and topic?
JH: Goodness! The possibilities with the living are infinite—so I’ll choose the dearly departed.
I’d like to put Artemesia Gentileschi, PG Wodehouse, Marcel Duchamp, Hilma af Klint, Virginia Woolf, Emmy Hemmings, Pina Bausch, Frank O’Hara, Eva Hesse, and Sister Corita Kent around a table, ply them with wine, and ask them to nominate their favorite jokes. I’m sure something interesting would transpire!
Artsy: Your top three things to do/see during Frieze week London this year are:
JH: Listen to Frieze Talks!
Look at Frieze Projects!
Have a long bath with a cold glass of wine and the latest issue of Frieze magazine!