Blenheim Palace is one of the UK’s most beautiful country houses. Built in 1702, it has been home to nobles and political leaders. It’s even the birthplace of Winston Churchill. And now, after all that history, it’s home to world class contemporary art exhibitions, and Michael Frahm is the man in charge. He’s overseen major exhibitions of work by Yves Klein, Jenny Holzer and Maurizio Cattelan, all to major international acclaim. The Cattelan show was also an integral part of the launch of Arte Generali. Somehow, Michael also has time to be a leading art advisor as one of the founders of Frahm & Frahm. How does he do it? We asked the questions to find out.
So to start, could you tell us what you do? All the roles you take on and all the hats you wear?
I would say that what I do is twofold. Since 2014 I have been the director of Blenheim Art Foundation, overseeing a large-scale contemporary art exhibitions programme at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. We produce a major solo exhibition every year, inviting who we consider to be the most significant and influential artists of our time to Blenheim and giving them carte blanche to present their work in the Palace and its grounds. I also work with important private collections worldwide, advising my clients on acquisitions that are tailored to their ambitions, offering market expertise and strategic advice, as well as facilitating displays at private foundations and securing loans to international museum exhibitions. No two days are the same!
How did you first get into art, what was your art journey?
I have always been drawn to art since a young age. It feels like part of my DNA. I come from a family of art lovers, and I spent much of my childhood in Denmark visiting the Louisiana just outside of Copenhagen, which remains one of my favourite museums. However, my professional entry to art came later through China and the Asian contemporary art scene, which significantly impacted me in the early 2000s. I was incredibly excited by what I saw happening in Asia at the time. My focus has since broadened to a more international perspective, but I still have strong ties and contacts from that period of my journey.
How did you get into art advisory, and what does being an art advisor actually involve?
As an advisory, we facilitate an A to Z service when it comes to collection building. A tremendous amount of work goes on behind the scenes for every artwork bought. It starts with identifying, researching and sourcing the perfect works for our clients. The most challenging thing for a collector is to get access to major pieces. This industry is driven by supply and demand, and with the increased attention that the art world has received over last decade and the dramatic growth of its market, gaining access to major artworks has become increasingly difficult. The art world is a jungle and can be challenging to navigate. We give our clients access to the best works and put a big emphasis on education and learning opportunities to enable them to make informed and discerning acquisitions. As well as shaping these collections, we of course look after every logistical aspect, from shipping, insurance and installation, to storage, framing, and conservation. It can turn into a full-time job if you are collecting ambitiously and do not have an advisor. Our job is to save time and money for our clients. They enjoy the fun part, and we take care of the rest.
Tell me about Frahm & Frahm, how it came about, what the company does.
Frahm & Frahm is a company I founded with my brother Nicolai Frahm. We wanted to champion the enjoyment of great art by bridging private collecting and public-facing institutional exhibitions. Today we are proud to be leaders in the fields of art advising and exhibition production, two sides of the company which Nicolai and I head up, respectively. We feel very fortunate to work with some of the world's most exciting collections and produce exhibitions by artists we consider among today's greats.
Tell me about your role with the Blenheim Art Foundation.
Blenheim Art Foundation was started in 2014 by Edward Spencer-Churchill, son of the 11th Duke of Marlborough. He brought me on as director to launch a programme of annual contemporary art exhibitions at Blenheim Palace, an eighteenth-century stately home and UNESCO World Heritage site in Oxfordshire, UK. We started the Foundation with the desire to challenge the conventional “white cube” presentation of contemporary art by integrating artworks directly into the Baroque interiors and surrounding grounds, creating some pretty extraordinary dialogues between the past and the present. My role is to invite artists whose vision I believe will bring something exciting and profound to the setting, and oversee the realisation of their project from start to finish. Our programming is very considered, in particular with regards to its impact on Blenheim. Showing contemporary art in such a space is challenging but also thrilling, rewarding and still radical. With eight shows now under our belt, I think we have done a good job.
You've curated shows all over the world. Do you have a favourite show you've curated?
I hold our exhibitions at Blenheim, in particular close to my heart. Each has been so different from the next, and each has stayed with me long after it closes, it would be impossible for me to choose a favourite.
I also understand you're a collector - how do you choose the pieces you buy?
I look for pieces that will stand the test of time. You see many market trends come and go so fast these days, but I acquire pieces that I believe have a timeless quality and will stay impactful, regardless of what is popular at a given time. I often find myself standing behind works that carry a message. Art shouldn't be afraid of being political, and I admire artists who do bold, fearless work and seek to change the world. Every piece I own inspires me or triggers some kind of emotion.
What's a single piece of advice you'd give to every art collector if you could?
Buy one great work rather than ten mediocre ones.
Interviewed by: Eddy Frankel, author of ARTE Generali