How Downing Street Celebrated The Visual Arts And Frieze London's 20th Anniversary

By Maria Bregman

On October 10, 2023, the UK government opened the doors of Number 10 Downing Street to the art world, hosting a series of events to mark the 20th anniversary of Frieze London Art Fair, one of the most influential and innovative platforms for contemporary art.

The day began with the presentation of the Robson Orr TenTen Award 2023, a collaboration between the Government Art Collection, Outset Contemporary Art Fund, and philanthropists Sybil Robson Orr and Matthew Orr. The award, which commissions a unique limited edition print by a leading British artist each year, was given to Turner Prize nominee Anthea Hamilton, whose work explores the relationship between art and popular culture.

Hamilton’s print, titled “The Lovers”, features two figures embracing in front of a colorful backdrop of geometric shapes. The print is inspired by the artist’s fascination with the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and his Memphis Group, a collective of architects and designers who challenged the conventions of modernism in the 1980s.

Hamilton said: “I’m delighted to be part of the Robson Orr TenTen Award and to have the opportunity to create a print for the Government Art Collection. I wanted to make something that was joyful and optimistic, and that reflected my interest in design and architecture.”

The award aims to support emerging and underrepresented British artists, as well as to enrich the Government Art Collection, which displays artworks in UK government buildings around the world. Fifteen editions of Hamilton’s print will be added to the collection, while eleven editions will be sold to raise funds for future acquisitions.

The award ceremony was followed by a roundtable discussion on the future of the art market, moderated by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and attended by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Minister for Arts and Heritage Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, and representatives from art galleries, museums, and auction houses across the UK.

The discussion focused on the challenges and opportunities facing the art sector in the post-pandemic and post-Brexit era, as well as the government’s vision and strategy to support the growth and prosperity of the creative industries, which were worth £108 billion to the economy in 2021 and supported over two million jobs last year.

Frazer said: “We are in a golden age for British arts and culture and the government will do all we can to continue to maximise the potential of our creative industries, which boasts talent the length and breadth of the UK. The roundtable was a valuable opportunity to hear from the experts and stakeholders in the art market, and to exchange ideas on how we can work together to ensure its resilience and innovation.”

Sunak added: “The UK is the second largest art market in the world, just behind the US with 18% of sales globally. It is larger than the rest of Europe combined. The art market is not only a vital source of income and employment, but also a showcase of our cultural diversity and excellence. The government is committed to supporting the art market and its recovery from the impact of Covid-19, as well as to promoting its international competitiveness and reputation.”

The day concluded with a reception in the evening, where the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary welcomed artists and art professionals to celebrate the achievements and contributions of the visual arts to the UK society and culture. Among the guests were Frieze London directors Victoria Siddall and Eva Langret, Tate director Maria Balshaw, Serpentine Galleries artistic director Hans Ulrich Obrist, and artists such as Lubaina Himid, Isaac Julien, and Yinka Shonibare.

The reception also featured a display of artworks from the Government Art Collection, curated by Outset Contemporary Art Fund, which highlighted the diversity and dynamism of British art from the past and present. The artworks included paintings, sculptures, photographs, and prints by artists such as David Hockney, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, and Helen Cammock.

The event coincided with the opening of Frieze London Art Fair, which runs from October 11 to 15 at Regent’s Park. The fair, which attracts over 60,000 visitors each year, showcases more than 160 galleries from 35 countries, presenting works by over 1,000 artists, ranging from emerging talents to established masters.

The fair also features a curated programme of talks, performances, films, and commissions, as well as Frieze Sculpture, a free outdoor exhibition of sculptures by 30 artists in the park. This year, the fair celebrates its 20th anniversary with a special section dedicated to the galleries that participated in the inaugural edition in 2003, as well as a tribute to the late critic and curator Matthew Higgs, who was instrumental in the founding and development of the fair.

Siddall said: “We are thrilled to be back in Regent’s Park for our 20th edition of Frieze London, and to be part of the vibrant and diverse art scene in the UK. We are grateful to the government for their recognition and support of the visual arts, and for hosting this wonderful event at Downing Street. We hope that Frieze London will inspire and delight our visitors, and that it will contribute to the recovery and regeneration of the art sector and the city.”

The event at Downing Street demonstrates the government’s support for the visual arts as a key part of the success of the wider arts sector, which is a major contributor to the UK economy and culture. It also reflects the government’s commitment to fostering collaboration and dialogue between the public and private sectors, as well as between the national and international art communities.

The event also celebrates the achievements and innovations of Frieze London Art Fair, which has become one of the most influential and respected platforms for contemporary art in the world. The fair not only showcases the best of British and global art, but also creates opportunities and networks for artists, galleries, collectors, curators, and audiences.

The event at Downing Street and the fair at Regent’s Park are both testament to the vitality and resilience of the art market and the art world, which have overcome the challenges and uncertainties of the past year, and have emerged stronger and more creative than ever.