In 2001, John Tusa, the former managing director of the Barbican Arts Centre in London, wrote a volume of essays entitled Art Matters. In these thought-provoking compositions, he discussed the so-called existential doubt that surrounded the art world at a time its authority was questioned. Is art important in a world where the unmeasurable is not valued?
Mr Tusa's reply, needless to say, was explicitly clear: the arts matter because they are "universal and non-material; because they deal with daily experience in a transforming way; because they question the way we look at the world; and because they offer different explanations of that world."
Over a decade later, in a world where the major nations are struggling to produce effective economic policies, Mr Tusa's words still resonate strongly. Art not only offers answers, new ways of thinking critique and escape, it can exist, it can grow and it can thrive.
This optimism can be seen with the ambitious expansion of the Frieze art air. On May 4th, Frieze will launch its inaugural New York expo, which also marks the beginning of its efforts to create a physical presence overseas. Ten years since the first fair launched, Frieze has cemented itself as one of the most important contemporary art exhibitions in the world. As the Financial Times noted, this enduring quality is not to be underestimated, given the fact that during this decade Chicago's stalwart fair has disbanded, Art Forum Berlin was forced to close its doors after 15 years and Haughton has had to downsize from eight to two fairs.
Frieze has, therefore, bucked the trend with not only the launch of the New York expo – which will feature 180 contemporary art galleries from 30 countries – but also in its planned launch of another fair in London this year. Dubbed Frieze Masters, this is a decidedly retrospective concept, with the focus being on art that was produced before 2000. Needless to say, Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, co-founders of this apparently growing franchise, have grand plans for the brand (the New York Fair comes just after the cult, informative and engaging magazine underwent a radical redesign), whatever the economic order of the day might be.
As is testament to the growing confidence of Frieze, the actual fair is taking place on Randall Island Park in Manhattan, a decidedly atypical location not associated with the city's art hotspots. In the spirit of adventure, the actual tent in which galleries will showcase their work is said to be innovative in its design – courtesy of SO-Il Architects – and capacious in scale: 250,000 square feet.
That space will be taken up by galleries including White Cube, Metro Picture, Galerie Praz-Delavallade, Team Gallery, Vilma Gold, Broadway 1602, the Approach, Herald St, the David Kordansky Gallery, Marc Foxx, Air de Paris and Frith Street Gallery. Frieze New York will provide them with a forum to engage with other galleries, regardless of their size, in which there will be ample opportunity to engage in artistic discourse and share best practice.
Amidst the incessant tête-à-tête, visitors will be able to cast their attention on the actual artwork on show. Not only is it a venue for showcasing emerging talent, it is also a stage for galleries to demonstrate their clout in curating genuinely interesting artists. Some particular highlights include work from Adrian Ghenie's Study Self Portrait; Paul McCarthy's White Snow Dwarf, Ai WeiWei's Coloured Vases and Mark Wallinger's White Horse.
Frieze is making a bold statement. It doesn't conform, it doesn't pander to outside influence, and it most certainly defies expectations. It doesn't hide behind the pretension that the real value and purpose of the fair is purely cultural - there is, by virtue of some of the artwork being put up for sale, a decidedly commercial aspect of the expo. But don't let that fool you. As Ms Sharp told the Guardian, Frieze doesn't want to be part of the old hegemony. Why? Because art matters.