where’s the frame? describes itself as a one-stop URL for discovering and learning about vanguard art. Providing a unique understanding of, and affiliation with, the new generation of painters and printmakers, the website functions to connect audiences with emerging artists, acting as both an educational resource and commercial gallery for those looking to purchase contemporary art. RUBY ANDERSON interviewed its founders GIANINA IVODIE and MARIBELLE BIERENS about their motivation behind the platform.
The title of where’s the frame? makes reference to a phrase from Brian O’Doherty’s 1986 book Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. O’Doherty poses the question, ‘where did the frame go?’, something which founders Gianina Ivodie and Maribelle Bierens had been asking themselves since graduating from Central Saint Martins. ‘While studying amongst the most creative minds, we saw so much exciting art being made, but no platform connecting these individuals to each other and bringing their work to the world at large’. The pair sensed a lack of community between the art schools in London, and between the other facets of the creative industries, believing that artists, curators and writers should be in conversation with each other. They also noticed that people outside of the arts were interested in learning about its production: ‘People want to know what’s going on right now, what art our generation is making and where to collect it. ‘Countless times people have asked our advice on where to buy fine art, as they didn’t know where to start. So, we wanted to create a space that champions artists from our generation. We were missing a space that brought these practices to outside audiences’.
wtf? focuses on showcasing 2D media. ‘Installation based conceptualism has reigned for a couple of decades now’, the founders explain. ‘Artists have been gravitating towards conceptualism in installations, sculpture in the expanded field, or have tried to dematerialise art entirely. It makes sense that artists turned to these mediums; they provide a lot of freedom, with nothing holding them back. However, this has made it harder for artists to take up more traditional mediums such as painting’. Yet the founders note the endurance of painting despite the recent emphasis on dematerialisation, with part of the reason they set up wtf? being their surprise at the disappearance of painting in most contemporary art galleries, despite its omnipresence in art schools. ‘There is still so much you can explore in painting, so many things you can communicate’.
Ivodie and Bierens place a refreshing emphasis on storytelling and getting to know the artists behind the works, believing this personal connection is the key to making art accessible to new audiences. ‘A personal approach is a more relatable approach, and that is what excites people and draws them in’. The pair feel as though many art institutions have drifted towards approaching art in an increasingly detached, academic fashion, as if one has to have a degree of knowledge in critical theory to decipher what is going on. They disagree with the presumed death of the author, the denying of any artistic intent placing all emphasis on interpretation into the hands of the viewer. ‘We want to provide the opportunity for artists to tell their own stories, to tell you what their art is about’.
The founders describe the process of choosing which artists they work with to be very intuitive. They discover new talent by scrolling through Instagram, DMing each other pictures of new works. ‘It’s about finding artists whose style is different and refreshing, but that also feels current. We’re looking for the sweet spot in between’. As a digital resource, the founders recognise the bountiful potential of social media and online platforms in the showcasing of art. ‘On Instagram’, for example, ‘artists have full agency to show their work through multiple platforms and do not necessarily need the help of brick and mortar galleries to showcase their work’. However, they also recognise the downside to this method of display: ‘some artworks just have to be experienced IRL [sic]. And the platform censors nudity. And with all the white noise in the gram, it’s hard to stand out’. While it might not all be ‘sunshine and rainbows’, Ivodie and Bierens appreciate the importance of Instagram as a way for artists to put their works out into the world.
The founders have noticed that there are a few recurring themes that unite the work being produced at the moment. For example, they have noticed that artists are increasingly dealing with the complexities of the human condition in the digital. ‘This makes sense;’ the founders continue, ‘artists are always responding to the world around them and tech has been infiltrating our lives more and more’. They have also seen a rise in artists creating dynamic abstract art exploring the act of painting. ‘Looking at this from an art historical lens, in highly political times, artists have often turned to abstraction as a means of expressing personal resentments’.
Operating in a very transparent way, wtf? is currently focusing on supporting fresh graduates who may be struggling during the Coronavirus pandemic. ‘A lot has been mishandled during the pandemic. It really sucks for artists graduating in 2020 that they didn’t have the usual format of showing their work,’ despite, as the founders note, the digital alternatives being impressive spectacles in themselves. ‘On the one hand, we think that IRL exhibitions are still very relevant [sic]. There is nothing like a physical show. However, artists are adapting to make this difficult situation work and we are embracing their work online. Millennials and Gen Z tend to consume and learn about art in a quick and easy way anyway, so online exhibitions have actually proved to be a great way to reach an extended audience’.
wtf? was also founded in response to the changing atmosphere of the art world as a whole in the wake of this global catastrophe. ‘All of the layoffs are devastating. The art industry was already very competitive and with all of the closures and cancellations, it is frightening to think about the long-term effects’. As we enter a new period of formal lockdown, the pair wonder if the survival fund from the government will suffice. Thinking more positively, however, the pair note that the period of contemplation lockdown allows for is valuable: ‘many artists had room to pause and think about what ways they really wanted to go with their practice. Many have told us that it made them go in a direction that actually worked better for them’.
Ivodie and Bierens are almost at the point of launching their first collection of art. People have had to wait until the launch to see which artists they are working with and how their unveiling will take place. They can now disclose that the collection includes art made by the 2020 graduates of Central Saint Martins, the Royal College of Art and Goldsmiths. ‘We want wtf? to be the favourite gallery of recent grads, their first choice to solidify the earliest stage of their careers. We want it to be a vibrant inter-art-school community space. We want it to be the number one platform for audiences to immerse themselves in the newest generation of vanguard art, the newest, freshest, most current art being created by artists right at this moment. We have lots in store!’
where’s the frame? can be found online at www.wherestheframe.com, or @wherestheframe on Instagram. Their first collection, ‘Lick the Future’ will be released 04.12.20 and will feature the works of six different artists from Goldsmiths, CSM and RCA.
Featured image: Teo Burki, Post cards on isolation 1 (Diptych), A3, 2020.