On Wednesday, VIP access was opened to the Frieze Viewing Room, the newly-launched online space that will function as the remote version of the annual Frieze New York art fair, ahead of its full public opening on Friday. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, art fairs all over the world have been forced to cancel their in-person proceedings in favor of digital viewing rooms like this, which can be accessed from the safety of one’s home. What that means is that heightened excitement of the art fair environment has been essentially suspended for the foreseeable future, with fairs grasping at any possible way to recreate that atmosphere online. For Frieze, at first glance that seems to involve mostly scrolling passively through reams of beautiful artworks from Temnikova & Kasela, Lehmann Maupin and hundreds of other reputable galleries.
However, there is a feature accessible through Frieze’s online viewing platform that elevates the experience significantly, and it offers data that wouldn’t necessarily be available to the average art fair attendee. On the right side of the Room’s main page, there are a series of search tools to help viewers identify specific galleries by their continent of origin or by their fair sections; these aids are fairly straightforward. Below these, however, are more search tools that allow the user to home in on specific works of art by narrowing down the object’s price range, artistic medium and the gender of the person who created it.
For example, using these tools, I could request to view every work of textile art priced between $100,000 and $250,000 and made by a female person that’s being offered at Frieze New York 2020. (For the record, there are nine artworks which match these criteria, and the most exemplary one is Cuatro paisajes/ Four landscapes, 1976-77, a formidable wool and horsehair sculpture made by the Colombian artist Olga de Amaral that’s being sold by Richard Saltoun Gallery). I also found out that the highest-valued work by a non-binary artist being offered at the fair this year is Jesse Darling’s 2019 piece Virgin Variations Ensemble, which is priced at 50,000 pounds.
Once you start using these search tools, it’s hard to stop playing with them: 1,704 artworks for sale at Frieze New York this year were made by female artists, while 2,007 were made by men. However, there are more photographs taken by female photographers on display (154 total) than by male photographers (102). Additionally, the Viewing Room’s tools serve another important function, one of heightened transparency not normally provided in such an environment; it’s easy to search and see that there’s only one work of art in the entire fair that was made by a transgender artist: Spilt Snake (2019) by Patrick Staff. Surely we can do better than that.
Even though an online viewing room can never replicate the experience of attending a real-world art fair, there’s certainly something to be said for Frieze’s search tools, which paradoxically provide much more data about the fair itself than organizers and gallerists are usually willing to offer in person. Plus, the ability to search for work for sale by artists of a certain gender begs the question of whether such tools would be appropriate if applied to other facets of a person’s identity, such as race, ethnicity or disability status. It’s in our nature to want to know as much about each other as possible, but we should perhaps also be wary of the desire to fit an artist into a particular category in order to love or buy their work.