Notebook - Rosie Millard

Frieze has forced the epicentre of contemporary art to shift from public to private

In the olden days, the British commercial contemporary art world was rather quiet and private. If there was a shop window, it was largely in and around the silent aura of Cork Street. All the excitement was in the public sector. Buoyed up by an eclectic recipe including the Turner prize, the Lottery and young British artists agreeing to be outrageous, the centre of the commotion was at the Tate, even after its bisection into Modern and Britain. There was the London Art Fair, which tried hard to claw back some sex appeal, hiring the likes of Paloma Picasso to open it, but it didn't succeed, even if it made a lot of money.

Now there is Frieze, which for the third-year running has opened on a wet October weekend in the middle of Regent's Park, and forced the epicentre from the public sector back into the private arena. Why, even Nicholas Serota, director of Tate, was reported to have left his own opening party at the Jeff Wall show at Tate Modern, for the Frieze event at London Zoo.

At Frieze's VIP opening, the mood was young, chic and moneyed. Its gargantuan-tented home had been designed by British architect David Adjaye, who managed to cope with the rolling terrain of Regent's Park by constructing a heavy wood floor, sometimes as much as two feet off the ground. The style of the VIPs was uniform: roll-necks and architecturally designed jackets for the men, black, tailored dresses and spiky bags for the women. There was lots of smoking, and people waving catalogues, shouting "Titus!", or "Nein, nein!"

In the Wrong Gallery, 50 Chinese people stood in lines, wearing grey sweatshirts. They were the exhibit. Meanwhile, I kept on bumping into Nigel Slater. Claudia Schiffer wandered past, wearing skinny jeans. She looked beautiful but as my friend said, should probably have avoided the jeans since, I feel forced to report, she has terrible knock knees.

Frieze is very international, with over 150 galleries picked from over 450 applicants. This, of course, is the handle to Frieze. The selection committee includes some of London's most notable gallerists, who won't risk "bringing down" the show by including the unhip. Galleries must work at being fashionable. It's worth it; over 50 per cent of the art trade takes place at fairs.

Trying to avoid encountering Slater again, I worked my way to the Kerlin Gallery's stand, which is exhibiting work by the wonderful painter Elizabeth Magill. The artist herself was standing a little way off, wearing red Mary-Jane shoes, and ringlets. "Frieze is one of the three major fairs of the year for us," says David Fitzgerald from the Dublin-based Kerlin. "The others are Basle, and the Armory in New York. We used to do the London Art Fair, but we gave it up. They haven't got it right." How much would I need for a large Magill? "That one over there is £16,000." I wish him well with it. "You don't need to. It's sold."

I bump into a fellow hack. "I'm counting celebrities," he said. "Apparently Bowie is here, and Gwyneth Paltrow, but I've only seen Schiffer." Really? "Oh, and Nigel Slater." A motorised trolley bounced past, full of crates of Krug. A man was doling out a bottle at each stand. It was only 4.30 in the afternoon, but why not? The work is here, the collectors are here and trade is booming.

Rosie Millard was previously Arts Editor for the NS and a Theatre Critic. She was the Arts Correspondent for BBC News for 10 years and is now a broadsheet columnist. She lives in London with heaps of small children, which may partially explain her love of going to the theatre.

This article first appeared in the 31 October 2005 issue of the New Statesman, Democracy and demons