Frieze Foundation Appoints Nicola Lees Curator for the London Fair


One of the most sought-after curatorial posts in London has been filled: Nicola Lees will take over from Sarah McCrory as Frieze Foundation’s curator. The Serpentine Gallery’s former senior curator of public programmes will look after the London fair’s series of artist commissions and sit on the Emdash Award’s judging panel.

It’s a big job, but not one Lees is ill-equipped to take on. At the Serpentine, where she spent the last five years, she worked alongside co-director Hans Ulrich Obrist to put together the scholarly extravaganzas known as Serpentine Marathons: two solid days of lectures, talks, and events during Frieze weekend, gathering practitioners from fields as varied as science, music, art, and architecture. Filmmaker David Lynch, painter Etel Adnan, and writer China Miéville are among those who contributed to the last edition, dedicated to “Memory.”

Although Lees is quick to point out that “the distinctions between public and private are no longer as defined as they used to be,” working within the Frieze context will bring a host of new challenges to the curator, who until then has mainly operated with the public sector, including a stint at Dublin’s Irish Museum of Modern Art. Employed by the foundation — Frieze’s non-profit sister organization — Lees will nonetheless have to operate within the commercially-saturated environment of London’s most thriving contemporary art fair.

“The biggest challenge and opportunity of this role will be to work with the architecture of the art fair and to spot vantage points and frameworks for new works to thrive,” she told ARTINFO UK today. “At the Serpentine, one of the most interesting contexts was the annual pavilion. This provided artists with a new architecture with which to respond to each year…I’m thrilled to be bringing this experience to the Frieze Foundation and to build on my long-standing interest in time-based and performative practices.”

Interdisciplinarity is one of Lees’ preferred modus operandi, and one she was able to fully embrace in her position at the Serpentine. At Kensington Gardens, the curator was, among other things, responsible for the Park Nights series of commissions for the Serpentine Pavilion. She worked with artists including Oscar Murillo (for his riotous “Cleaners’ Late Summer Party with COMME des GARÇONS”), Becky Beasley, and Alexandre Singh — whose mesmerizing evening of storytelling left a vivid impression on those who had the chance to experience it. Lees also commissioned rising star Helen Martin’s first film “Dust and Piranhas” (2011), and sculptor Michael Dean’s first play “Acts of Grass” (2011).

Yet the Frieze shoes remain big ones to fill. McCrory supervised some memorable artists’ interventions — Simon Fujiwara’s mock excavation site “Frozen” in 2010 and Pierre Huygues’ giant hermit crab using a Brancusi replica as his shell (“Recollection,” 2011) to name only a couple. But the challenge is proportionate to the potential importance of the move in Lees’s career. McCrory has recently been appointed director of Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art, and Polly Staple, Frieze’s first curator, has been at the helm of the highly-regarded Chisenhale Gallery since 2008.

It’s still too early to be discussing the 2013 program in concrete terms, but Lees told ARTINFO U.K. she was “committed to an integrated approach to artistic expression.” “I intend to bring Frieze Projects into dialogue with other art forms including film and performance as well as practices normally found under the umbrella-term of ‘education’,” she said. “As part of this approach, I will encourage artists to experiment with new and unexplored aspects of their work through the commissioning process.”

— Coline Milliard, ARTINFO U.K.

This story also appears on ARTINFO U.K.

(Image courtesy Frieze Foundation.)