BY Jennifer Higgie in Fan Letter | 23 JAN 19
Featured in
Issue 200

Celebrating the 200th Issue of frieze

We look back on 28 years of publishing by remembering what inspires us

BY Jennifer Higgie in Fan Letter | 23 JAN 19

This is the 200th issue of frieze. Since the pilot copy of the magazine arrived on the newsstands in 1991, a Damien Hirst butterfly emblazoned on its cover, the art world – and, by extension, the world itself – has changed enormously, for both good and bad. A positive: many of the old certainties are wobbling on their foundations. Galleries and museums are more aware of their historical, structural biases – be they gender, racial, sexual or related to class. But, the world being the world, every silver lining is accompanied by seemingly infinite clouds. Depressingly, some things change at too glacial a pace – the achievements of women and people of colour are still sorely underrepresented and most artists, art writers and small galleries still struggle to stay afloat – despite the fact that the art world is more bloated with money and privilege than ever before. I write this in the week that David Hockney’s 1972 Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) was sold for just over GB£70 million: the highest amount ever paid for a work of art by a living artist. Given the rife inequalities that hinder the potential of so many brilliantly creative people and organizations, this is an obscene amount of money, to my mind, to spend on a painting, however great (and it is great). (An aside: in the wake of press coverage, Hockney, who received no proceeds from the auction, hot-footed it to Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum to immerse himself in its major exhibition devoted to the 16th-century artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I can only imagine the solace he was afforded by gazing at the paintings of an artist who reflected on humanity’s foibles with such phenomenal acuity, wit and compassion.)  

While I’m on the negatives, here’s another glaring one: despite the creative industries not only contributing to a healthy, tolerant society but forming a crucial part of many advanced economies, in the years since frieze was founded, funding for the arts – both in education and in grants for museums and individuals – has been slashed in countries from Australia to the UK, the US and beyond. It’s baffling that politicians are, on the one hand, happy to bask in the social and economic benefits of cultural production and yet, on the other, insist on making it so difficult for artists and writers (et al.) to learn – and earn from – their trade. (It begs the question: could it be that politicians are actually afraid of art?)

But, I digress, as this issue of frieze is one devoted to looking on the bright side: it’s a celebration of enthusiasm. For, despite the hurdles that some humans like to place in the paths of other humans’ original thinking, the past 28 years have resulted in a slew of innovations in culture that have changed, for the better, how we understand and experience the world. We’ve invited 200 of our favourite thinkers – artists, filmmakers, writers, curators, art historians, cultural critics and others – to nominate something or someone that or who has inspired them since 1991. Their overwhelmingly positive responses – which we’re publishing across print and online at – range from comic strips and poems to fan letters and artworks. The choices are moving, often funny, sometimes unexpected and always illuminating. They include homages to events as diverse as Hans Haacke’s blisteringly political German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993 and the strange joy afforded by Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher’s wedding; love letters to the Large Hadron Collider, Supreme Court judge Sonia Sotomayor, W.G. Sebald’s books, the films of Steve McQueen and Irma Boom’s designs; the work of an artist collective in Kyrgyzstan, a Michael Jackson remix and a piano company in the Czech Republic; the poems of Anne Carson, the life of Freddie Mercury, the sculptures of Sarah Lucas and Martine Syms’s videos; the last scene in Claire Denis’s masterful film Beau Travail (1999); the neons of Glenn Ligon, Nicole Eisenman and Embah; a YouTube video of a dog meeting a robot; the humanity of an Italian pro-refugee advocate; a production house in Beirut for Syrian filmmakers; and the creation of a degree in Maori visual arts in New Zealand – all, and many more, are honoured here. 

Knowing, however, that these nominations are only a fraction of what has been dreamed up in the past few decades – often against great odds – is sobering and thrilling in equal measure. For all that we’ve covered in 200 issues of frieze, we’ve inevitably missed even more. That there is still so much out there, waiting to be given its due – stuff that makes the world an infinitely more interesting and bearable place to live in – is, surely, something to celebrate. 

Main Image: Douglas Gordan, Remake of the cover of frieze no. 9, 2018, specially commissioned for the magazine's 200th issue. Courtesy: the artist

Jennifer Higgie is a writer who lives in London. Her book The Mirror and the Palette – Rebellion, Revolution and Resilience: 500 Years of Women’s Self-Portraits is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, and she is currently working on another – about women, art and the spirit world.