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The Rebirth of the Frankfurt Art Fair

Deutsche Bank Art at Frankfurt's fine art fair, Photo Alex Kraus

Art Frankfurt is dead, long live the fine art fair frankfurt! In his final report for the premiere of the art fair, that had high & low as it's motto, director Michael Neff let the numbers speak for themselves: 48 galleries are showing 65 artists; 10,700 visitors wandered through 150,000 square feet of exhibition space bathed in the brilliant light of 420 spots. A fire department band provided the musical background for the opening. Mayor Petra Roth and government minister Roland Koch gave speeches. And works of art were sold for around 1.4 million euros.

Opening event: Fire department band Butzbach, Photo Alex Kraus

With his new concept, Neff, the Frankfurt-based gallery dealer and art consultant, is banking on a radical break with previous fairs, which were caught up in a slow but steady downfall. "Less is More" is the new reformist motto: the number of galleries was drastically reduced and a strict selection process installed to guarantee high quality; one-artist shows were introduced to replace the local focus and modest profile of past fairs. Instead of the usual carpeted fair booths, the art was shown in open modules. These spacial elements, which were designed by the architecture firm Kühn/Malvezzi , were installed on the bare industrial floor of hall 9. As it turned out, however, the 48 galleries invited were not enough to fill the fair hall, and so visitors seemed a bit lost in the vast expanse of space, especially during the first few days.

f.l.t.r.: Galerie Mark Müller (Zürich), Laura Mars Grp. (Berlin),
Galerie Krinzinger (Wien), Photo: Gundula Schmitz

Meanwhile, in New York, the Armory Show took place parallel to the fine art fair. And that, of course, prevented some of the larger international galleries Neff would have liked to have in his list of exhibitors from participating in Frankfurt. As cancellations trickled in, the press began issuing loud, dark forecasts announcing the premature failure of the fair and its ambitious director, degrading the event to a local German affair. But Neff remained steadfast; on the contrary, he invited the young designer Alexandra Papadopoulou to design the fair logo from his initials, signalizing confidently – and not without a certain measure of vanity – that he stood behind the project 100%.

Fritz Panzer at Krobath Wimmer,
Photo Achim Drucks

Everyone, of course, was waiting to see if Neff’s new concept of a "curated" fair would work. And it did, despite all expectations – maybe not as a burst of inspiration, but as a kindling idea capable of laying ground and even, perhaps, of providing direction. At first glance, the hall seemed too tidy. Upon closer look, however, the mixture between minimalist austerity and experimental play appeared to work. The cool ambience proved ideal for the presentation of larger installations. Contemporary Fine Arts from Berlin built a pink fortress that Jonathan Meese and Tal R. decorated with a wild collection of sculptures reminiscent of aliens, Neoexpressionist paintings, enlarged family photographs, and puzzling slogans such as End of Beef. The soundtrack was provided by a young Neo-folk bard who sang sad songs for hours to the sound of his wandering guitar. The Viennese action group Gelitin – formerly Gelatin – plundered the kids’ room for their large room piece Balonie. The massive blend of stuffed animal, wood, and molding clay was created for the Meyer Kerner Gallery. Berlin-based Laura Mars GRP showed a three meter-high plywood construction by Philip Wiegard – a cross between a ghetto blaster and a washing machine. A video by Turner prizewinner Martin Creed at Johnen turned out to present a real challenge. Visitors with strong stomachs could enjoy a young heavy metal fan vomiting noisily on the shiny white floor of a studio. Fritz Panzer’s fine wire pieces were far more subtle, shown in the module of the Viennese gallery Krobath Wimmer – floating three-dimensional drawings of a chair, a suitcase, or a whole kitchen counter.

Deutsche Bank Art: Talk-Talk-Lounge, Photo Alex Kraus

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