Style is performance — a proposition rarely better illustrated than at the flurry of art fairs that descended on and around New York last week. Frieze New York, the exuberant London export that draws flocks of youthful visitors to Randalls Island each May, reinforced the point, the five-day event a showcase for sartorial self-expression of a type often intended to eclipse the artworks.
Gallerists, collectors, random visitors and curiosity seekers dressed competitively, vying, it seemed, to outshine one another, their attention often straying from the exhibition walls to the theatrical scene in the aisles of the tented enclosure.
A few dressed in self-conscious deference to the pieces on view. But some tried for spontaneity, pulling together what at least appeared to be a ragtag assemblage of vintage treasures, personal mementos and baubles retrieved from their wardrobes. The idea, they acknowledged, was to make a statement worthy of Instagram — and the notice of their peers.
“An art fair is theater,” said Leslie Diuguid, a 31-year-old fine art printer. “You could even call it a masquerade.” She had knotted a red-and-blue Western shirt over a flower-patterned dress and wrapped a bandanna around her hair, her look a heightened version of her day-to-day style.
“Here at Frieze, I feel like you can kind of get your kooky out in whatever way you can,” Ms. Diuguid said. “It’s such a brief encounter that you want to make a splash. Who knows, you may run into a client. Your outfit is your calling card.”
She was scarcely the only one who had dressed to impress. “The scene here becomes part of the culture,” said Aminata Conteh, a 19-year-old art student and metalsmith. “Everyone dresses up. You can count on it. The fashion and the art are almost equal in status.
“Personally I think that’s great,” she said, “because fashion is a form of art. When you think about your outfit, it’s like you’re creating an art piece yourself, a collage.”
But a well-considered turnout requires some rehearsal. “I make sure to get together all of my clothes for this weekend,” said Emilio Martinez Poppe, 34, an artist and member of the Frieze education department. “I often think about how I’m going to perform my outfit. As an educator, you like to be visually engaging and at the same time have people see you as who you are.”
At Frieze the stage is set. “There is a hyper-awareness of everything, from the artwork and the walls to the gallerists, the security guards and even the trash bins,” Mr. Poppe said. “Once you enter this space, you know you are here to be seen.”