Hollywood Agency WME Buys Major Stake in Frieze Art Fair

The agency has been busy.

WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - JULY 16: Actress Erin Foster and Talent agent Ari Emanuel attend the Amazon Prime Summer Soiree hosted By Erin and Sara Foster held at Sunset Towers on July 16, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Amazon)

In another sign that the art world’s appeal has caught the eye of Hollywood bigwigs, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, or WME-IMG, has bought a major stake in Frieze Art Fair, which will launch its fifth New York edition early next month.

According to various reports, Ari Emanuel, the Entourage-esque “super-agent” who runs WME-IMG with co-CEO Patrick Whitesell, are the first outside investors in Frieze, though the size of the investment stake was not disclosed. Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, who founded Frieze in 1991, will still manage the fair.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell appear backstage during 'The Next Intersection For Hollywood with William Morris Endeavor's Ari Emanuel, Patrick Whitesell and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson' at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on November 9, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images for Fast Company)

NEW YORK, NY – NOVEMBER 09: (L-R) Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell.
Photo by Ilya S. Savenok/Getty Images.

WME-IMG will “expand the resources and expertise available to Frieze’s clients through events, media, and technology,” a press release states. The agency will also help to support the Frieze Tate Fund, which provides $200,000 to acquire art for the Tate Museum from Frieze’s London edition.

Sharp told the Financial Times that WME will help advise on how “digital can support live events,” and said the investment would allow Frieze to “start realising innovations we have been developing over the last year.” However, she did not provide details.

When asked if fairs beyond London and New York are a possibility, she responded “Never say never.”

Two years ago, WME acquired IMG in a deal worth $2.4 billion, a purchase that gave the company an expanded presence in sports and fashion. Since then, WME-IMG has been busy. It acquired Global eSports Management in 2015, a talent agency focused on video game-related events. In addition, the company recently sold a stake to Softbank the Japanese group, in a deal valued at $5.5 billion including debt.

The Frieze deal is the latest in a series of unusual investments, along with Professional Bull Riders and the recent acquisition of the Miss Universe pageant from Donald Trump.

Until now, WME did not have a presence in the art world. Emanuel and Whitesell called Frieze “an incredible offering for the global art community.”


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