Frieze art fair is overwhelming in every way- the lights, the fashion, the sheer volume of artwork and people. But if you look hard enough, and walk slowly enough, in between the 1615 pieces presented this year, you can spot some artworks worth wading through for.
The fair is only in its eighth year but dominates the London art scene in the month of October, with major galleries scheduling openings in the very same week. This year those included Gerhard Richter at the Tate Modern (he also had work exhibited in the fair) and Wilhelm Sasnal at the Whitechapel Gallery, amongst others. 173 galleries exhibited at the fair this year, mainly from Europe and North America, although galleries from Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Istanbul were also present. The focus is primarily on commerce over art as an opportunity for critical thinking. Indeed, the fair brings together dealers and collectors with the sole aim of making a sale, and therefore the works on show at the fair are not necessarily representative of contemporary arts practice, but are instead works most likely to sell. A huge temporary structure, this year designed by up and coming architects Carmody Groarke, was assembled on London’s Regent Park to house the exhibiting galleries, a bookshop and numerous cafes.
Some things that were notable were California-based Doug Aitken’s Mirror #2, a big, brash three-dimensional font, constructed from mirrors and spelling out the word ‘now’. British art darling Grayson Perry showed a huge, garishly colourful, cartoon-like quilted tapestry called Map of Truths and Beliefs, his own irreverent take on world history and geography. Outside of the fair’s temporary structure, was a sculpture park, scattered around the green fields of Regent’s Park, which during Frieze week was bathed in sunshine. Of these works, Gavin Turk’s Ajar, a bronze-coated door in its frame, left open and leading nowhere in particular, stands out.
Some of the more interesting works presented at Frieze this year were specially commissioned projects from a variety of artists at very different stages in their career. Given the space to reflect on the fair itself, these works provided a more critical stance. Lucky PDF, a young collective based in South London, created Frieze TV, a live daily broadcast which they shot at the fair, featuring interviews from many of the artists presenting work. In the piece Recollection Pierre Huyghe attached a bronze cast of Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse to a crab who is left to wonder his aquarium in a strangely beautiful, haunting dance. While in the world outside of the fair the Eurozone crisis deepened and the occupy Wall Street protests gained ground, the presentation of Christian Jankowski’s luxury boat as either an artwork you can buy for £625,000 or a boat you can buy at it’s regular selling price of £500,000 may have seemed in bad taste. Yet on the other hand it also makes a clear statement about the endless commodification of art.
The winner for the first Emdash award, a prize for a non-UK-based artist under 35 to create a new commission to show at the Frieze Art Fair, was awarded to German artist Anahita Razmi. Razmi, who is interested in the ways the meaning of an artwork evolves depending on its context, recreated the choreographer Trisha Brown’s 1970 performance Roof Piece.
The British art press reported that a certain level of austerity was felt at the fair and that while sales were steady there had not been the same frenzied buying as in previous years. However, there was also a palpable buzz at the fair and a return to older mediums- with more painting and less photography showing. The big, punchy sculptural installation by Michael Landy, a device made from mechanical parts and whirring cogs which crushes credit cards in exchange for a signed drawing produced by the contraption, worked as a seemingly tongue in cheek reference to a chaotic global economy and an art market that continues to march staunchly on.
Leili S. Mohammadi