Frieze Editors Look Ahead to Arts in 2022

From accessibility rights to environmentalism, three frieze editors look ahead to what should change in the art world in 2022

BY Carina Bukuts, Marko Gluhaich AND Vanessa Peterson in Opinion | 21 JAN 22

Marko Gluhaich Going into 2021, one of the biggest questions for everyone was: Were the changes that had to be made in the previous year going to be permanent, or were things going to return to how they were before the pandemic? With the vaccine rollout and loosening of travel restrictions, it began to feel very much like the latter. And then in the second half of last year, there was a quasi-normal feeling at Frieze London, Basel and FIAC, among others, and high attendance at gallery openings. It seemed that in the art world at least, the process of returning to a pre-pandemic normal had been expedited.

Looking forward to this year, with so many postponed biennials and art fairs now set to open again, it seems that this movement back towards normality will accelerate even more.

Carina Bukuts Yes, in early 2021 people were still more reluctant to travel as much as they used to. There was a sense, though, that everybody was enjoying this break from the rhythm of the annual art calendar. However, we’re now looking forward to a year with the Venice Biennale, Manifesta, Whitney Biennial, Berlin Bienniale and documenta, so it will be interesting to see how the industry responds to these events after the pandemic. Do either of you know of any ways that museums or biennials are reflecting on their carbon footprint?

Claire Vivianne Sobottke, Velvet, 2019, performance documentation, Gropius Bau, Berlin, 2020. Photo: Eike Walkehorst

Vanessa Peterson There’s Reimagining Museums for Climate Action, which was an AHRC-funded research project created for COP26 in Glasgow in November last year. Also, the Gallery Climate Coalition, which frieze is a founding member of. Both projects interrogate issues like travel and the transportation and storage of artworks. In terms of British institutions, the directors of Tate declared a climate emergency in July 2019, marking the beginning of its programme to help effect and inspire change on environmental issues.

And there's another organisation, Julie’s Bicycle, which works with Arts Council England to help mobilise nationally funded arts and cultural institutions to make positive changes in relation to the climate. Involvement in these kinds of programme is optional but I feel like there are at least some small movements being made towards a broader organisational awareness of the importance of making real changes.

MG Through the influx of online programming and galleries realising how easy it was to simply post artworks on their websites, art became more accessible during the early months of the pandemic. You didn’t necessarily need to travel to attend gallery shows and fairs, so shows that may had been overlooked because of where they were now had a certain reach they may not have had before.

CB I think that might be a good way to branch into something we’ve also discussed in our pre-conversation: the question of accessibility. As you said, Marko, if you put something online you are able to reach audiences beyond the art hubs, and you can decentralize yourself in the art world.

Christine Sun Kim, Echo Trap (detail), 2021. Photo: Axel Schneider

VP Something I’ve heard many people comment on was the ability to access talks and seminars from around the world. However, many have been asking for this kind of access for a long time. It was bittersweet to see that things that people had been asking for, in terms of remote lectures at universities or other organisations, were suddenly possible. But there’s a real danger now of having all of those gains being lost just as quickly as they appeared. This relates to a broader conversation about access that writer and artist Jamila Prowse’s frieze column on access intimacy has covered extensively.

MG I wonder just how conspicuous these losses might be? I can only hope that now these new forms of access have been facilitated, people will protest against their potential loss. And speaking to your point about Jamila’s columns, something I found so effective and encouraging about the initiatives she’s been involved in is how directly practical they are. She points to resources like Carolyn Lazard’s Accessibility in the Arts: A Promise and a Practice (2019), an online guide that lays out specific requirements for enhanced access, such as childcare and audio description – things that all institutions should offer and advertise. Although strides have been made in the past couple of years, perhaps more momentum is needed inside institutions on accessibility initiatives of their own – I’m not so optimistic about that, though.

CB This reminds me of a couple of exhibitions I saw in 2020 and 2021, in which two institutions presented work that attempts to raise consciousness on issues of climate change and accessibility. In Berlin, 'Down to Earth’ at Gropius Bau and ‘Sun Rise | Sun Set’ at Schinkel Pavillon both looked at our relationship with the environment. While the process of producing ‘Down to Earth’ was 100 per cent carbon neutral, the show at Schinkel Pavillon featured a painting by Henri Rousseau that was presented in a climatically-controlled vitrine. It felt pretty absurd to me that one would mount an exhibition on the topic of climate change but then do something so counterintuitive like that, to make a choice that actually harms the planet.         

The recent show ‘Crip Time' at MMK Frankfurt featured works by, among others, Jesse Darling and Carolyn Lazard, and dealt with questions relating to accessibility. In addition to art works on this theme, the museum also made efforts to make the building more accessible, like installing handrails and signage for orientation, which didn’t exist before. So, the museum not only curated an exhibition on an important issue but actually also addressed it in the physical structure of the institution.

VP It makes me think of a piece we published online last year by Juliet Jacques, on an edition of the Turner Prize that celebrated the turn towards the collective in artistic practice. As Jacques noted, it seems that there is a risk of the art collective doing the work that the state should actually be doing, in terms of providing support to local communities on the ground. But that kind of work shouldn’t be in lieu of a functional societal safety net, of adequate state support. These things should be happening concurrently – not as an either/or.

CB I find it interesting that more and more programming is dealing with questions of care. In September, Gropius Bau, for instance, will open the exhibition ‘On Caring, Repairing and Healing’. However, I’m aware that this institution hires many of its employees on the basis of nine-month contracts only. I find it frustrating when we see institutions using the term ‘care’ in such a performative way.

VP There have been lots of conferences and panel discussions on the idea of care. I’m also reminded of Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung’s recent book The Delusions of Care (2020). The book interrogates the appropriation of the word ‘care’ – and identifies that there is a danger care is being used to mask certain harms and ills in an institution or workplace. As well as being discussed, care should also be reflected within the organizational processes of the places that host these discussions.

Anne Duk Hee Jordan, Into The Wild, 2017–18, performance documentation, Gropius Bau, Berlin, 2020. Photo: Eike Walkehorst

MG There can be a certain hypocrisy in many arts institutions in terms of the performance of their activism – in this case, with regards to accessibility and environmentalism. They promote the urgency of these issues, but compared to the initiatives of more forward-thinking spaces, they haven't done anything concrete to enact positive change.

That said, at least in the US, the success of the unions has been quite encouraging. In 2021, Dana Kopel’s ‘Against Artsploitation’ in The Baffler illuminated many of the conditions that people working in a museum context currently face – but also how it was these conditions that led to their collective action and subsequent success in forming a five-year agreement with the New Museum in New York. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but this example represents the fact there’s a burgeoning labour movement within the arts that could eventually broaden to effect across-the-board institutional change.

VP At the end of last year, staff at many British universities voted to go on strike with union backing. The casualization of some academic jobs leads to zero-hour contracts and precarious long-term prospects. You have to look at what’s happening on the ground to find pockets of solidarity. I think that’s where I find some sort of hope – in the power of striking and withdrawing labour. Not just for your own benefit, but for those coming after you as well. One recent example of this is at Slade School of Fine Art, where students under the umbrella of ‘Slade Action’ occupied the School in December to raise awareness of racism and discrimination.

CB Exactly. The solutions to so many of these issues seem to lie in engaging across the board, in all the different arts institutions that we’re interacting with on a regular basis, setting standards for each other and keeping each other in the loop. It’s difficult, because there is a lot of power and money behind these institutions, but if there are enough voices that are advocating for something different, that’s a good example of positive change – and we’ve seen many in the past year and a half. That’s how things have got done, and hopefully will continue to get done.

Main Image: Monira Al Qadiri, Divine Memory, 2019, video. Courtesy of artist

Carina Bukuts is associate editor of frieze. She is based in Berlin, Germany.

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

Vanessa Peterson is associate editor of frieze. She lives in London, UK.