Here’s What You Should Know About London’s First Digital Frieze Fair

Eva Langret knows London’s artists in a way not many do. The new Artistic Director of Frieze Fair London, Langret moved from France to England in 2005 as a recent graduate and soon found London was a place where she could make a mark on the contemporary art scene. “I owe a lot to London”, she says, “it gave me opportunities as a young curator and chances in ways that possibly I wouldn’t have had in other cities.”. The move was a dedicated effort to experience a more progressive art world. “In Paris, I felt that the kind of art history that I was being taught didn’t really look like me”, she says, “but being in London was different.”. Fifteen years on, and Langret has helped give a platform to some of the city’s most exciting artists, curating for galleries and institutions, and in her new role as Artistic Director at Frieze London, is platforming the true breadth of London’s art scene.

The idea is to “create a more inclusive environment in the arts” she says, an objective that runs across a lot of Langret’s work. After moving to London she worked as a curator at 198 Gallery in Brixton. Located on Railton Road, the gallery was founded in 1988, originally named Roots Community, by John “Noel” Morgan and Zoe Lindsay-Thomas. During her time there, Langret worked on exhibitions with Larry Achiampong, Michael McMillan and Mónica de Miranda. From there she moved to the Delfina Foundation, an independent not-for-profit institution running artist residencies in the UK, the Middle East and North Africa, before joining Tiwani Contemporary, a gallery space in Mayfair that represents emerging and established artists with particular focus on Africa and where Langret worked on the landmark London exhibitions of painters Joy Labinjo and multimedia artist Zina Saro-Wiwa.

How did she go about programming an art fair in the middle of a pandemic? “For us, this edition of Frieze was about having a hybrid model that allows people to see what we have on offer safely”, she says, “digitisation will also allow audiences and those who can’t travel to access all the content online, which is a benefit.”. For Langret, there are positives in the fair going exclusively online, “It’s definitely a strong and powerful tool for us to be able to reach out to audiences regardless of the circumstances, this has been accelerated by the current climate.”. 

Joining Frieze in September 2019, Langret’s appointment marks a new direction for Frieze London. Making the fair more inclusive was a key objective. This year, Frieze London represents a much broader scope of artists than it has in previous years, particularly in the off-fair programming. In this year’s Live event, which features performances and interactive work, six out of the eight artists are BAME, in the viewing room Possessions, an exhibition on spirituality curated by Chisenhale Gallery Director Zoe Whitley, eight out of the ten artists are BAME. Langret also recently revealed a new initiative to readdress the lack of inclusivity in senior art industry positions, the Frieze x Deutsche Bank Emerging Curator’s Fellowship, which awards an emerging Black or POC curator a 12 to 18 month paid placement at Chisenhale Gallery in East London.

Recently the lack of diversity in senior staff positions within art institutions in the UK has been challenged. “When I was studying in Paris,” Langret says, “I didn’t see anyone that looked like me in senior positions.”. In the fashion industry, initiatives such as the Black In Fashion Council have launched to tackle inequalities in staffing at companies, successfully working with brands and institutions to make them more diverse. “Arts organisations need to hire more black people, period” Langret says, “Diversity must be thought about structurally and programmatically. Fixing the art world’s diversity problem should not be the burden of the few people of colour in visible positions in our industry, but there are things that we can do.”.

Langret’s is one of the top jobs in the industry yet her approach has remained hands on. In her role at Tiwani Contemporary, she was sometimes helping paint the walls of exhibitions the night before they went up and was liaising with artists on a day to day basis. This has come in incredibly helpful at Frieze, “I completely understand the prep cycle, the curating cycle, the working with the artists, all the various elements that are involved in gathering and presenting art.”. A highlight of this year’s fair for Langret is Alberta Whittle winning the 2020 Frieze Artist Award. “She’s made a new work which is about having a phantom limb. It’s also about Black Lives Matter and racism, and the various complex ideas that were engaged with in this moment.”.

Thinking in terms of “artists not regions”, Langret regularly uses Instagram to find talent, something that’s come in particularly handy during lockdown, ‘“I do think it’s good for finding people, it makes art much accessible.”. On how emerging artists will function amid Covid-19, Langret thinks it could democratise the art world a little. “Something that has come from this situation is that there is actually a lot more transparency now in the art world. Everyone is much more willing to share as much information and knowledge as they possibly can, and get the world out there to see what they’re doing.”.

Frieze London runs from 8 – 11 October 2020 online.

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