EX: 1/30/2012
  >> Search features
>> Confirm subscribe
2014.09.03 Wed, by
Frieze Begs Questions in Beijing

On Saturday, CAFAM was host to an afternoon with Frieze magazine, whose representatives (co-Founder Matthew Slotover, plus a VIP and media management entourage) have also visited Hong Kong and Shanghai on this trip.

The aim is to salute the arrival of Frieze publishing in China. The magazine will be disseminating its voice through the Chinese social networks Sina Weibo and Weixin (WeChat). In entering the Chinese forum, Frieze follows in the footsteps of fellow British art magazine Art Review; but whereas the latter produces a print biannual print edition entirely in Chinese, Frieze will – at least for now – stick to online networks for the distribution of its content.

The afternoon began with a presentation by Matthew Slotover on the origins of the magazine, which he co-founded in his early 20s in 1991 with Amanda Sharp, specifically to serve those contemporary British artists he felt were not being talked about in print. Frieze published the first interview with Damien Hirst, who was then conceiving of his infamous shark in formaldehyde work (“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, 1991). Slotover’s talk went on to introduce Frieze d/e, the German edition of the magazine, and to explain the advent and development of Frieze art fair, which now has 3 separate editions – 2 contemporary fairs in London and New York, and Frieze Masters.

At the close of his presentation, a few questions came slowly from the audience of local journalists filling the CAFAM auditorium. Audience members were interested to know “Why now?”, and why via social networks rather than in print, when Frieze is clearly established as a “serious” art publication. Slotover’s responses emphasised that this entry into China should be not a token, but a meaningful gesture; Frieze, he said, is trying to be very strategic with what they do here and, as an owner-managed organisation, the company is “choosy” about its activities. Brief introductions by VIP and media relations managers closed the initial presentation.

Frieze co-founder Matthew Slotover. Photograph by Lu Peng.

Matthew Slotover presents a brief history of Frieze magazine and art fairs. Photograph by Lu Peng.

During an ensuing panel moderated by Frieze Contributing Editor Colin Chinnery and including Phil Tinari, Wan Jie, Xu Bing, Cao Dan, Dong Bingfeng, Wang Min’an and Wang Yin, broad and pertinent ideas relating to the issue of publishing on art and across cultural and linguistic borders were raised. Prominent amongst these were questions (mainly from Xu Bing) concerning the relative presentation and experience of contemporary art. Xu urged Frieze to be very sensitive to their potential Chinese readership, recognising their innovative capacity. This is because he sees a culture of strict deduction in logic in Western interpretation, whereas Chinese mind sets tend towards the more intuitive – in short, less “serious” – simple and direct understanding. Taking on a similar idea about comprehension – specifically of the sort of philosophical texts is experienced in translating – Wang Min’an focussed on philosophy. Wang posed the question: Why were contemporary artists of the late ’80s and early ’90s so enthusiastic about philosophy? They even talked about philosophers who were unfamiliar to professors in Chinese universities at the time, such as Pierre Bourdieu. (He did not, however, explore the reason for this; perhaps the more interesting question is: Why are artists not more engaged with philosophy now?).

Wang Yin, more simply, called for very clear positions in the magazine on what it is discussing. Cao Dan, Executive Publisher of LEAP magazine and The Art Newspaper’s Chinese edition, had practical comments to make about the changes in how people read and digest content nowadays; the readership is there, but their access and style has changed.

Chinnery was quick to emphasise that Frieze must not simply “helicopter in” content and writers from abroad. There is a distinct need to adapt to the local context in China, its intellectual environment and realities. This was a point echoed by UCCA Director Phil Tinari, in whose experience artists are trying to answer the question “Can there be a globalized discourse on contemporary art?”, and can this traverse boundaries?

Summing up the panel, Chinnery made two main points. First, about the importance of misconception and misunderstanding: we do not need to communicate in the same context, and translations can vary; misconception, he suggested, can in fact play an important role in exchange on contemporary art. Secondly, in order to be practical and to strike a balance in cultural terms, Frieze must face and understand the reality in China.

A view of the discussion panel. Photograph by Lu Peng.

Randian’s Editors’ remarks:
Art and publishing have a complex and deep relationship; simply by looking at artists’ bookshelves, for example, one could trace another art history. Ten years ago, every Chinese artist owned a book by Chen Danqing; artists shared Chen’s hostile attitude to the presence of English language tests in Chinese art education. But during the ‘80s, artists were apt to read Nietzche, Bergerson and Sartre. Through the lens of what they read, then, one might reflect on artists’ self-image and developing role in cultural life.
A number of foreign art media sources have now entered the Chinese sphere – companies – Artforum, Artinfo, The Art Newspaper, and now Frieze. We hope these sources will not merely provide reportage, but prove themselves to be integrated catalysts for new directions in contemporary culture.