Stefan Ratibor and Millicent Wilner On London’s Frieze Fairs and the Proximity of Paris+ par Art Basel

Two of Gagosian's senior directors share their insights into the fair market and London's art scene.

This week marks the opening of the second edition of Paris+ par Art Basel, but galleries are still reflecting on last week’s edition of Frieze London, formerly the one and only star of the fall fair season. Bloomberg’s James Tarmy called first-day sales “not auspicious” but galleries are keeping a stiff upper lip and staging ambitious programming that features tried and true market stars.

Gagosian senior directors Stefan Ratibor and Millicent Wilner. Courtesy Gagosian

This certainly describes the activities of Gagosian during Frieze week, and we recently had a chance to catch up with senior directors Stefan Ratibor and Millicent Wilner to hear more about the ambitious shows they staged at the fairs and at gallery spaces across the city—all of which will remain open for at least another month, if you had to dash off to Paris right away.

At Frieze Masters, your booth focused on Franz West works on paper, selected in part with Oscar Murillo. What was it like working with Oscar? Did he have a unique take on West?

SR: It was a wonderful experience from beginning to end. Oscar’s intuitive installation worked out brilliantly and it was fascinating to see the connections he made between the different works. He was incredibly generous with his time, and his involvement made our presentation more relevant to today.

Gagosian Gallery at Frieze Masters 2023. Photo © Lucy Dawkins Artwork © Archiv Franz West, © Estate Franz West

Generally speaking, how were the fairs, in terms of sales? What kinds of collectors did you see there, compared to last year’s presentations?

SR: We had both seasoned Franz West collectors buying works, as well as collectors who were new to his work. A group of works was acquired by a museum, which we are extremely delighted about. We are happy with the result given this was the first collaboration with the Estate of Franz West and the Franz West Foundation.

SEE ALSO: Younger Galleries Stole the Show at London’s Frieze Fairs

MW: The 20th anniversary of Frieze created a tremendous amount of energy that drew established players as well as a new generation of collectors. The opening day was as active and engaging as we could have imagined. Damien Hirst’s new paintings attracted a truly international audience and we were thrilled to place all of them in important collections.

What’s one thing about the London art scene that might surprise an American reader?

SR: How international, open and outward-looking everyone is. There is huge interest and great energy.

Millicent, your booth debuted a new painting series by Damien Hirst. How did fairgoers respond? Can you contextualize them within his larger oeuvre?

MW: There was no better artist than Damien Hirst to commemorate the impact that Frieze has had on the London art scene over the past twenty years. We were thrilled to have the opportunity to debut this exciting new series whose unveiling was met with tremendous interest and enthusiasm from a global audience.

The Secret Gardens Paintings is a new body of work that is both aesthetically distinct from Damien’s previous oeuvre but fits within the trajectory of his diverse artistic practice. The works engage with themes and ideas seen in Damien’s Fact Paintings (which he began in 2002 and has continued to explore for the past two decades), his Veil Paintings (2017) and the Cherry Blossoms (2018-20). The series also develops techniques he employed in the Coast Paintings (2019) and Seascapes (2021).

Damien Hirst with two of his Secret Gardens Paintings. © Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved, DACS 2023/Artimage 2023 Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd

The gallery also staged a fascinating show of early works by Christo at the excellent building at 4 Princelet Street. What was it like to do such an ambitious show outside of the gallery context?

SR: The Christo exhibition inaugurated Gagosian Open, our new series of off-site projects. Rather than squeezing artists’ ideas into our existing footprint or a particular schedule, the program allows for greater freedom and an opportunity to present remarkable artworks in unusual contexts.

The Grade II-listed Georgian house in Spitalfields that we selected was not only beautiful but the history of the house—originally constructed in 1723 to house Huguenot migrants (the UK’s first refugees) and since home to migrant families from Ireland, Poland and Russia and most recently members of Spitalfields’ large Bangladeshi community—was an ideal setting for Christo’s early works given his own history as a self-identified outsider.

The response to the exhibition has been incredibly exciting—over ten days (half the run of the show), we have had almost 8,000 visitors, including a lot of students and members of the local community. We are already looking forward to bringing the next Gagosian Open project to life.

You also staged shows by Richard Prince at two of your gallery locations. What do you think a British context does for such an American artist?

MW: The subjects Richard Prince was exploring in his early photographs between 1977 and 1987 (the dates of the works in the show) were so astute and prescient, that they have tremendous relevance in a British and global context today. The expansive exhibition features many of Prince’s iconic series, including fashion photos, girlfriends, gangs, cowboys and other images culled from advertising. While the images derive from an American vernacular, their relevance has only grown and expanded in today’s culture where imagery is proliferated and ubiquitous.

We’re now in the second year of Art Basel’s Paris+ fair, which is quite close to Frieze in terms of time and geography. How do you think the neighborly presence of that fair has affected London Frieze week?

MW: I think both fairs support and encourage one another. Each has its own distinctive personality, but the power of the combination, which draws the attention of the international art community for two weeks in October in Europe creates an incredible opportunity for exhibitors and collectors alike.

Stefan Ratibor and Millicent Wilner On London’s Frieze Fairs and the Proximity of Paris+ par Art Basel