Thanks to a bursary from PAC Home I went to London to visit Frieze and the Other Art Fair with the idea of reporting back on the experience.
Despite living in London from 1991-2004 I’ve never been to Frieze or any other art fair for that matter. Living in Plymouth, as I have since May this year, it seemed somehow more important to get a gist of what is currently going on in the art world. Perhaps this is also due to the path my own work has taken recently which leads it more to a gallery than the street projections and expanded cinema of my past.
First off Frieze is really big, the 7 hours I spent there were not enough to see everything. Second It is not the cutting edge art event I had expected or the litmus test of what is contemporary in art. Surprisingly few works had any engagement with technology, environment, experience or space. The expected tropes of ‘contemporary’ 2D art were in abundance, Disney, toons and symbols, multiples, collages, grids, clowning up historical paintings, packaging, and abstraction to a polite tedium. In fact I started to have trouble with what felt like the meaninglessness of so much of the work. Could it be that the shear volume starts to drag the work down or batter the senses into submission? I think not I’ve spent 2 weeks watching films back to back at festivals without such an effect. Perhaps it was the generous salting of really spurious work that had neither grace or ingenuity nor edge. Whatever it was it didn’t feel exciting.
While Frieze did have a lot of new work and some I loved like Farhad Moshiri’s Coloured Knives on Black (2013) there was a lot more from the stable of known entities. Galleries representing at Frieze pitched up with some old but very sellable work. Karel Appel from the 50’s, Eva Hesse from the 60’s, Sigmar Polke from the 80’s, Hirst’s fish in formaldehyde (Elements Swimming in the Same Direction for the Purpose of Understanding) dates back to 1991 and reportedly sold for 4million on the first morning. Frieze, let us be clear about this, is a trade fair. According to all the gallerists I asked it is the most important one, alongside Art Basel, for some of the most important commercial galleries and dealers in Europe.
Over 160 galleries, mostly European and American with a smattering from the rest of the world, set up stall in a series of temporary spaces in white marquees in Regent’s Park. As a Frieze first-timer and having spent a great chunk of my life as a film curator I was curious to see how different galleries chose to represent their artists. Most complied with the white box and chose to present a large roster from their stable in it. For White Cube the result was sadly like walking into the glass section of a department store.
Hauser & Wirth took a more interesting tack and had Mark Wallinger curate their stand, ditching the ubiquitous white for sensuous red and dark green walls stuffed salon-style with art accompanied by a guard sleeping in the corner. Equally stuffed with visitors it clearly had more appeal than the clinical white spaces.
A few chose to represent a magic 2 or 3 artists and their stands held more interest such as the Marianne Boesky gallery NY, with Diana Al-Hadid, Pier Paolo Calzolari, and Svenja Deiningel. David Zwirner did justice to Francis Alyss with a series of 42 sketches for etchings and other large projects alongside Oscar Murillo and Wolfgang Tillmans, but the most interesting stands for me were the ones that had made a show of just one artist. The Spanish Helga de Avear Gallery chose to show Ana Prada her sculptures, amassed from small everyday items, ( left with a group of school age kids peering into the forms and what they were made of polystyrenen plates, haircombes etc) required repetition and space and got it.
However two galleries; Meyer Riegger Berlin and Gio Marconi Milan chose to conspire against the work of the artist they both came to represent in a joint show of Rosa Barba film installations. These were unfortunately presented in a brightly lit white space. Reducing the work to a series of mechanical contraptions where at times the projected images disappeared entirely Colour Studies (2013) suffered most where 2 x16mm projectors are supposed to project colour film front and back of a small screen. What was bizarre for me was to see the sort of structural materialist films that were being made and shown at the London Filmmakers Co-op regularly from the 1970’s onward at Frieze in 2014. The only difference was you couldn’t see the work because it was not in a dark space and it had a price tag. Curious to understand the logic of obliterating the work with light I asked one of the gallerists if the artist had intended for it to be shown like this, no was the answer in fact she was unhappy about it but wouldn’t you, he asked, rather be in a nice white space than in the dark …no was my reply but for the sum of £40,000 you could buy the mechanical apparatus along with Roas’s film for your own living room and turn the lights out.
Frieze tried to bring something else to the event with the live projects but they were hard to track down and the talk I went to Feeling Used: The Appropriation of Sexuality had the potential to be a real kick ass but was in fact diminished, frustrating, low level and frankly boring.
Attending the fair is an education in how the art market works and how business is conducted. I’d certainly go again, where else can I get to peek at the underbellies of several art worlds all in one day. I felt like a zoologist studying some strange creature. Ear wagging my way round the fair the catches of conversation probably best sum up the values at Frieze “reminds me of the All Saints logo”, “What about the resale value … they could go on to be incredibly famous”, “I need some ideas for the students”, “lets keep it top secret we are going to be ground breaking... ”
If only it were just about sales, the names and the hooha but when you look at the bigger picture it is really about something we have all bought into. In seeing it up close for the first time, what I did find disturbing is the curatorial and acquisition influence these taste-makers have on our national publicly funded collections and the extreme proximity of the big fish who all swim and play in the same London-centric pond.
To end the day on a high note the impressive and very large Tacita Dean gravure Quaternary (2014) was one of my single stand out pieces of the fair.
but if there was one artist I could bring back to show in Plymouth it would be the late Hudinilson Jr. an outsider and transgressive artist from Brazil. His solo show stood out for its economy of means and as a simple beacon to an honest mark; fractured photocopies of the artists body stuck to the wall, fragments of cloth in a glass case, a dice game, ‘reference book number XIV’ one of a series made throughout his life form the zeitgeist of a life undercover; cultural restrictions, heroes and horrors. Galeria Jaqueline Martins São Paulo, created a space in which to engage, they clearly cared about and understood the work of the artist they were representing. Even now large parts of his oeuvre can only be shown outside of Brazil, but it looks like Hudinilson Jr. will reach a wider audience soon. In stark contrast to a lot of what was on show these works had real power and meaning for me.
Frieze kindly agreed to give us 2 copies of the show catalogue, which will be available at PAC Home for anyone who wants to have a look. It was impossible to take in the whole fair in one day and the catalogue is yet another experience, equally interesting and can be taken in more leisurely.
The Other Art Fair 2014
While Frieze is the high end of the art market in microcosm The Other Art Fair is quite a different beast; random, a bit rough round the edges and not too cool to be touting its wares. It has all the smells and sounds of a street market, there's a bar blasting music in the centre and a burger bar out on the roof terrace wafting the smell of burnt meat and onions around the place. 130 artists representing their own work, stand like market traders in rows of white studio boards splitting the second floor of the old Truman Brewery into temporary stalls. It is tightly packed, squeezing through the throngs, artists have to sometimes duck so that you can see their work. Having learned my lesson from Frieze i had a quick pace round to get an overview of the size but realised it would only take an hour or two to see the whole thing. The immediately apparent low side of this fair is the overwhelming number of artists producing batches of work to sell, many variations of essentially the same stylised product, soulless and when they are really bad depressing. But there were exceptions and a few people stood out;
French artist Albane Courtiere had papered her space with gently sabotaged pages from a 19c book instructing the bourgeoisie daughters of Paris on the skills required of them to become companions, housekeepers and hostesses. Book artist and printmaker Dolores de Sade presented a group of etchings inspired by 17-18c engravings of exotic vistas, fictional places feeding the fashion for travel and exploration of the time. In her etchings the flora are from her own locale, messing further with the notion of truth. In another strand of work old style engravings are poised between humour and peril, not to be passively consumed her work stands interrogation.
While Benjamin Parker works on stone, wood or paper with layered fragments of etchings rubbed on by hand, marks and symbols, words bleed through from the other side - and finally a simple pencil line brings together his delicate weavings of mythic, psychic and corporal realities.
Talking to the artists who participated this year I got the impression that the experience was a good one, sales, connections, friends and exhibitions for the future were all made. Advice on the street is you can’t guarantee to break even but if you can afford to it is worth doing. Artists are invited to submit work for selection for The Other Art Fair (spring and autumn) if you are interested in participating in future. see details below.
What I learnt most from the trip was that to get the most out of London Arts Week you need a week. Next year I’ll be planning ahead so that I can go to the full range of events. The line up is impressive, here’s just a sample of what makes up London Arts Week and likely to be repeated next year plus of course the annual Jerwood Drawing and Turner Prize shows.
Frieze London 15-18 October 2014
Frieze has become a catalyst for focusing the cities artists, curators, audiences and buyers on the 3rd week of October. 15 Oct (Professional Day, premium tickets only) Public Thursday 16 – Saturday 18 Oct 12pm – 7pm Regent’s Park, London
The Other Art Fair 16-19 October 2014
The Other Art Fair, takes place in spring and autumn each year. It bills itself as a place to discover artists who are emerging and serious about their practice. Artists rent space at the fair to promote and sell their work directly. Next edition is scheduled for 23-26 April 2015. Unrepresented artists can apply online for selection. Stands cost around £1,000 for the 3 day event with no commission levied on sales. Truman Brewery 15 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR Tickets £8 NB 2 tickets can be got for free with any purchase from CassArtLondon
Multiplied : Contemporary Art in Editions Fair 17-20 October
Multiplied is the UK’s only fair devoted exclusively to contemporary art in editions; encompassing print, digital art and multiples, artist’s books and photographs, it reflects the whole spectrum of contemporary publishing, from established galleries to start-up spaces and artists’ collectives. Hosted annually by Christie’s South Kensington it takes place during Frieze week with a programme of talks and a ‘live printing studio’ with daily demonstrations. Christie’s, 85 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington London, SW7 3LD. Entry Free #Multiplied2014
Kinetica 16-19 October
In its 6th edition Kinetica Art Fair’s new autumn date and now coincides with Frieze. A platform for galleries, curatorial groups, design studios and artists working at the convergence of art and technology showcase their work. Entry £16 adv. £20 door
Sunday Art Fair 15-18 October
A gallery led art fair created as a platform for 20 young international galleries to present work by a diverse range of artists in a more laid back environment. 3rd Edition. Ambika P3, Marylebone Rd, Baker St Station. Entry FREE
Moniker Art Fair 16–19 October
5th Edition, spotlights emerging and established talent, celebrating “the finer side of the street art movement and its related subcultures”. Ely's Yard, 15 Hanbury Street, London, E1 6QR Entry £8.80
We Could Not Agree: Frieze Week Show 14-19 October Daily 12-8pm
This annual event likes to challenge and fosters a sense of unpredictability. 10 curators select over 100 artists and include sculpture, film, photography, painting, site specific interventions and live art in circular 20,000 Sq ft multi storey car park beneath Cavendish Square. W1G OPR . Entry Free @WeCouldNotAgree
BFI London Film Festival 8-19 October
This year the annual strand of artists’ film & video Experimenta focus weekend was programmed to coincide with Frieze Art Fair. An excellent line-up of talks, screenings retrospectives and artist presentations.