The Guardian offers the first clues to the story behind WME-IMG’s investment in Frieze. The first detail is that the deal was driven by Ari Emmanuel. It was Emmanuel who fixated on art as an opportunity and drilled down to Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, Frieze’s founders:
Sharp told the Guardian: “The deal came out of left field. They came to us. No one was expecting it.” Emanuel, Sharp adds, “treats us like artists, and he put us in the driving seat”.
The Guardian also makes a point that Emmanuel is less interested in the art fair as an alternative to galleries than he is in expanding the universe of art:
“Ari is very clear: he doesn’t want to compete with the gallery system,” said Slotover.
How might the event and talent powerhouse achieve that? Well, that’s where the Frieze folks and the Guardian get a little … well … unconventional:
Part of any expansion, Frieze anticipates, will be in the digital realm, where Slotover sees room for expansion – with access to WME-IMG’s deep pockets and digital experience. Agencies such as WME-IMG are already active in VR, and there’s no reason why techniques being developed for live-action, 360-degree virtual reality content couldn’t be applied to, say, performance art.
“Nobody has cracked the digital component in art. Many are trying, like Artsy and Paddle 8 [two online services for collectors and art fans], though they’re not really selling a lot online, maybe because art is physical,” Slotover says. Virtual reality, for instance, could begin to change that, or at least change the experience of viewing art through a computer. “Since we’ve got a magazine and an art fair, we need to improve what we’re doing online. It’s easy to spend money online and get little in return and they know how to get eyeballs.”