“Who sounds like they’re somewhere fun?,” Loring Randolph asked me and her colleague, Frieze’s director of Americas and content Rebecca Ann Siegel, over the phone last week. It was the latter, who was at SoHo’s longtime art-world haunt, Fanelli, with the editors of Frieze magazine, resisting the urge to throw back a martini. It wasn’t 5:00 p.m. just yet, but Siegel, who took charge of the art fair, not to mention Randolph, had more than earned a break. The pair managed to make the 2021 edition of Frieze New York a reality, even right on time in May. (The fair’s L.A. counterpart, which they also head up, was canceled earlier this year.)
Meanwhile, Randolph was at work at New Lab in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The former director of Casey Kaplan Gallery and Frieze New York runs the fair’s programming. Additionally, she headed up a tribute to the Vision & Justice Project, an exploration of art’s role and contributions to understanding the relationship between race, citizenship, and society in the U.S. (This year saw one other major change: Fair favorite Leonardo DiCaprio was a no-show, though David Byrne, Christy Turlington, Agnes Gund, and Roxane Gay did come through.)
Frieze L.A. is up next, but first, it’s time for some self-care (and email purging). Siegel and Randolph are also planning to reunite sometime soon. “We have kind of a girl crush love life outside of our work-life,” Siegel said. Here, they share how they made the fair a success—tickets sold out, as did many of the 60-plus booths—along with their culture diets.
How close did you get to calling off the fair?
Loring Randolph: I was much more relaxed about it than Rebecca; I’m more optimistic than she is. But Rebecca was in the weeds, dealing with all the different potentials that could’ve happened, given all the various scenarios and unknowns we were facing. I was out and about, on the streets, in and out of galleries, and the vibe I felt was positive leading into it, but I think what really changed it was the election and the Biden administration coming in and rolling out the vaccine at a faster pace than anticipated. It gave everyone more confidence.
When did you first start planning?
Rebecca Ann Siegel: We started rethinking what this coming May was going to look like in July of last year. It took us a while. Finding a great home at The Shed, which happened in late summer and early fall, was definitely an early part of the process. And then Loring led the charge on programming, and I did all the health and safety work. We had to figure out how we could divide and conquer to make sure all this could happen.
Why did you decide to move to The Shed?
Rebecca: The pandemic presented real challenges in terms of building hundreds of thousands of square feet of tent space. It just wasn’t the right year for that.
What are your main takeaways now that it’s wrapped?
Rebecca: For us, the thing that was really exciting was the hybrid model, having this amazing event with fantastic work in person, and then all the opportunities from the Frieze Viewing Room platform [online] for a lot of our international audience and galleries. New York is the first time we’ve done a fair and had a digital component, and I think that taught us a lot about ways forward. The conversations we had with galleries who were really struggling during the pandemic throughout the year, maintaining that constant dialog and valuable relationships, taught us a lot.
What works would you say were the standouts?
Loring: I always like when what’s shown at the fair corresponds to exhibitions that are seen at institutions throughout the city. You had Dawoud Bey’s show at the Whitney and in Sean Kelly’s stand, and Lorraine O’Grady at the Brooklyn Museum and Melvin Edwards at City Hall Park in Alex Gray’s stand.
Rebecca: Marian Goodman’s solo presentation of Annette Messager. I think one of the things that fairs can do with someone like her, who’s had an extensive and incredibly impressive career, is focus on them in solo booths.
How did you discover Precious Okoyomon, winner of this year’s Artist Award?
Loring: To be honest, I had not anticipated how incredible they are, both as a person and in their art-making practice. They are amazing, a superstar. We restructured the way the artist award was positioned this past year so that the jury is made up of experts in contemporary performance art who put out an open call. We both went to Precious’s performance, which was a whole afternoon of readings that crescendoed toward the end. I think the video [which you can see here] is almost even more interesting because it’s a lot of layered sounds and you can catch a bit more of the strings and what individual people were saying.
Getting into the Culture Diet questions, what’s the first thing you read in the morning?
Loring: My calendar. I deal with multiple schedules, like my kids’ schedules, so I’ve got to mentally prepare myself each morning for what they each have to do.
Rebecca: I do the New York Times mini crossword. It’s like my personal test in the morning to make sure my brain is working. And then I have a lot of daily emails.
What else have you been reading?
Loring: I’m culturally void right now because I just had a baby. You want to talk about culture diet? I’m like culture zero calories, except for what I do for a living. But I have managed to read Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime, and Robert Storr’s [Philip] Guston survey book, A Life Spent Painting.
Rebecca: The most recent one is Rachel Cusk’s new book, Second Place. I happen to love her writing—I’ve read everything I could get my hands on—and I think this might be her best.
Loring: Rebecca’s a more interesting person than me. [Laughs.] No, but in case it’s not coming across, we’re actually very good friends.
What shows have been keeping you up at night?
Loring: I haven’t watched TV in four months, but the last thing was The Queen’s Gambit, which was so good. Nothing like a girl shattering glass ceilings.
Rebecca: I feel like I watch all television, you know what I mean? If it’s on the internet, I’ll probably give it a try. The story of the pandemic is which series I was watching at any given time. I’ve made my way through a lot, from I May Destroy You to Normal People to It's a Sin to the fourth season of Call My Agent. I’m a culture junkie in a lot of ways.
What song have you been playing on repeat?
Loring: Almost every morning, when we get up with the kids, my husband has been blasting Huey Lewis’s “Stuck With You.” There’s one I like to play when we’re gearing up for a fair: “Eye of the Tiger.” It’s a proper basketball, NBA warmup jam.
Rebecca: I just listen to “Under Pressure.” I still want to turn music to full blast and pretend that I’m 16 in a car, so I still do.
How do you get your news?
Rebecca: I’m old school—I listen to NPR and I get the New York Times delivered, like the actual, physical paper. If it’s election season, I watch CNN. I get the Weekender. Love the New York Times, but I also read quite a bit of the Guardian and FT. I still really love reading print, so I end up with stacks of magazines and subscriptions. I still get the New Yorker and Harper’s and a bunch of other stuff in print.
Loring: We moved to my grandmother's house during the pandemic and she had all these Life magazines and tons of books, some of which are probably 100 years old. It was super interesting to dive through the archive. I also love those magazines because you can see the life advice people used to dole out, like dieting advice. The old diets are like, only eat bread and pasta. Don’t drink coffee—drink Coke. Take amphetamines! [Laughs.]
Rebecca: Exactly. It’s like a recipe for heart disease. My grandmother had one of those that was something like, How to make your husband feel important.
What’s the last thing you Googled?
Rebecca: The weather in Turks and Caicos. I’m going there next week. It’ll probably be raining. [Laughs.] But I’m letting it go.
Loring: I just looked, and alright, I’m just going to tell you: The instructions for my Perifit. You can figure out what it is.
Is that a fitness thing?
Loring: It’s a fitness thing. [Laughs.] It’s a smart kegel exerciser, which is pretty cool. My cousin got it for me and I just started to use it. I guess a lot of people know about it in New York but not a lot of people use it here because they don't care about women’s postpartum health in the United States, which is a tragedy. You play a video game while you do your kegels, and I play a game where a little birdie flies around and gets coins. There’s nothing I like more than winning games. It’s something Rebecca and I have in common—we love winning.
What was the first gallery or museum show you saw amid the pandemic?
Loring: I saw Salman Toor at the Whitney. I love most of the things that does.
Rebecca: Probably Howardena Pindell, when we went to the Shed for a site visit.
What’s the last piece of art you bought?
Rebecca: I got an Alex Da Corte [winner of Frieze Projects 2016] from the fair. It’s a little painting on paper from Matthew Marks Gallery.
Loring: I bought an Alexis Peskine from the viewing room, an edition from October Gallery. One-hundred percent of the proceeds go back to benefit the Vision & Justice Project.
I was going to ask what art world scene-y spot you’re most looking forward to revisiting, but I guess you’ve already crossed Fanelli off that list.
Rebecca: I went to the reopening of Bemelmans on Tuesday night. That had a lot of good vibes for me. I’m looking forward to Lucien and more Bemelmans.
Loring: Rebecca and I both love going to The Odeon, too.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Rebecca: I have to read. I have a really hard time going to sleep without reading first.
Loring: Oh god, I’m a late-night worker. I’m working right up until the last minute before going to bed, and then I try to take a shower to wash the day off. I also have to pump before bed, which is not so glam. That’s another aspect of my day: I’ve got lots of bodily things happening. [Laughs.] When you push a baby out right in the middle of your busiest work period, everything merges together. You don’t take any maternity leave and you just... deal.
Rebecca: That’s her decision, not Frieze’s policy. [Laughs.]