Bizarre Booths at Frieze Masters Are All About Brand-Building for Dealers

Oft-heard words at the fair: "Where is Helly Nahmad?"

'The Asylum' is based on a concept by Helly Nahmad, designed by Robin Brown, and produced by Anna Pank
Photo: courtesy Helly Nahmad Gallery
'The Asylum' Helly Nahmad at Frieze Masters Photo: Amah-Rose Abrams

Helly Nahmad’s installation, ‘The Asylum,’ at Frieze Masters.
Image: Amah-Rose Abrams

As it has in prior years, Frieze Masters offers some interesting takes on the traditional art fair booth. In the past, galleries such as Lisson and Helly Nahmad have always ensured that they made a statement and the trend has been spreading with some galleries such as Timothy Taylor exhibiting works that are not for sale.

In 2013, Lisson Gallery showed a huge Richard Long work and last year Helly Nahmad blew everyone’s minds with their stand “The Collector” which saw them recreate the house of an imaginary 1960s art collector in intricate detail. The same year Galerie Gmurzynska was selected as the best booth at Frieze Masters, recreating an early 20th century Frederick John Kiesler display of the work of Wifredo Lam.

Helly Nahmad always has to raise the bar. In doing so this year, the gallery created Asylum, an installation inspired by the Art Brut movement that recreated a 1940s mental hospital, throughout which the work of Jean Dubuffet was displayed. People flocked to the booth in droves, furiously posting on social media. Although there were many sold stickers on the artworks at the stand, all the focus was on the installation and it was all people spoke about.

When bumping into people on the way into the fair, the parting gambit was, “Where is Helly Nahmad?”

Ray Johnson <i>Buddha's Fingernails</i> (1973)  and Bernardo Daddi <i>Saint Dominic</i> (1342) were on display at Richard Feigen <br> Photo: courtesy Richard Feigen

Ray Johnson Buddha’s Fingernails (1973) and Bernardo Daddi Saint Dominic (1342) were on display at Richard Feigen
Photo: courtesy Richard Feigen

This year, Richard Feigen collaborated with JP Molyneux Studio to create the atmosphere of a collector’s palazzo, showing works which spanned many eras by Joseph Cornell, Bernardo Daddi, Max Ernst, and Ray Johnson, echoing Helly Nahmad’s stand from this past year, but with a very different overall effect.

Carmen Herrera, Diptych (Green & Black) (1976) Photo: courtesy Lisson Gallery

Carmen Herrera, Diptych (Green & Black) (1976)
Photo: courtesy Lisson Gallery

Lisson Gallery is displaying a career-spanning selection of works by Carmen Herrera, celebrating her centenary. But only some works were for sale, and even those were only available to select institutions and collectors.

“If a discussion of a sale takes six months, that’s fine,” Ossian Ward, head of content at Lisson, told artnet News, highlighting that quick sales were not the gallery’s primary concern.

It seems that although Frieze Masters is an art fair, primarily for the buying and selling of artworks, dealers increasingly see it as a good opportunity for either strategic publicity, to raise profile, or to change perception.

For more on Frieze Week, see our What Sold on Day One at Frieze London, 15 Artists to Watch at Frieze London 2015, Helly Nahmad Stages a Mental Asylum with Jean Dubuffet Art Brut Works at Frieze Masters, Insider’s Guide to the Best and Worst of London’s Frieze Week 2015 and be sure to make use of artnet News’ 5 Tips for Every Art Fairgoer. Also, see photos from Ken Kagami’s saucy fair intervention, as well as the top booths at Frieze Masters.

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