Frieze: the Art Mecca
And so it was! After much anticipation, on Wednesday, 15 October, the doors opened to the 12th edition of Frieze Art Fair, the art mecca of international contemporary (and modern) art. Confronting the audience at its doorstep was Gartenkinder, a Walt Disney-like installation by artist Carsten Höller, strategically located and hosted by Gagosian Gallery
Since its inception in 2003 Frieze has grown incredibly, adding major components to its core programming thus creating a strong diversity in the art on offer. In 2012 Frieze New York and Frieze Masters were initiated, the latter to run concurrently with Frieze London in the purpose-built structure at the Regent’s Park premises.
To optimise the space in this tent-like structure (assembled every year a few days prior to the event and then collapsed and packed right after the fair is over), the Frieze management invited Universal Design Studio this year to introduce a new colour-coded layout that was easy to navigate thanks to fluorescent banners indicating the various sections of the fair. From fuchsia to orange and green, the additional colour-coordinated components of Frieze 2014 are ‘Focus’, dedicated to galleries up to 12 years old; ‘Live’, dedicated to performance and participatory works; and ‘Frieze Projects’, curated admirably by Nicola Lees, which included commissioned works and performances scattered around the city of London.
This leading international art fair attracts collectors, art connoisseurs and the general public from all over the world; it is a powerhouse of the art market as well as an open window to the contemporary art scene, though, primarily from the West. In fact, out of the 162 galleries selected for this edition 30% are from the United Kingdom, accompanied by an equal percentage from Germany and the United States. Few, if any, were galleries from Asia and the rest of the world, which is rather disappointing considering that contemporary art is no longer the province of Europe and North America, an argument that Frieze should strongly embrace given the supposedly international approach of the fair.
Among the few non-European galleries, Gallery Rampa from Istanbul offered splendid photographs and video documentation by artist Nilbar Gures (b. 1977, Istanbul). The remarkable abundance of textile in the staged images by Gures offered a matter of fact representation of the history and reality of the place of women in Turkish society.
As part of the experimental section of ‘Live’, two fascinating presentations caught the attention of the public: UNITED BROTHERS (Green Tea Gallery, Iwaki) and well-known artist Robert Breer (gb agency, Paris).
The latter is a restaging of the historical piece Floats, originally created for Experiments in Art and Technology at the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka. Floats is made of dome-shaped self-propelled structures. The slow motion of these structures engage the viewers with the disarming sensation that they themselves are moving while staying motionless.
Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent? by UNITED BROTHERS is on the other hand a performance executed daily at 1 pm, which involved the offering of portions of soup to the audience. The concoction, cooked in loco by the artists’ mother, contains various plants and ingredients including vegetables grown within the regions of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The ingredients have been certified safe but their use still poses the ethical question of safety and consumption.
Two of the ‘Frieze Projects’ off-site events that attracted particular attention were the series of ‘occasions’ hosted by artist Isabel Lewis (b. 1981, Dominican Republic) in collaboration with ICA London and The Old Selfridges Hotel, and the one-night performance at the same location by artist Korakrit Arunanondchai (b. 1986, Thailand), as well as Cerith Wyn Evans’ (b. 1958, United Kingdom) exhibitions at the London Zoo and Serpentine Sackler Gallery.
Since its opening in 1909 Selfridges has been committed to supporting the arts. Following this motto ICA has been using the former hotel premises over the years to host art events. Addressing the Asian community in London, Korakrit Arunanondchai collaborated with ICA to stage The Last 3 Years and the Future. This work stems from a series of ongoing performances and video presentations by the artist at various locations, including, recently, MoMA PS1, New York. Arunanondchai left his native Bangkok to study in New York City. His dual perspective as insider and outsider on Thai culture prompts him to produce engaging works that relate to cultural issues in his native land.
The major solo show by Cerith Wyn Evans at Serpentine Sackler Gallery, which coincided with his ‘Frieze Projects’ installation at the London Zoo, is an immersive light and sound installation conceived by the artist to respond to the rough, textured space of the gallery covered in brick walls. Wyn Evans described the exhibition as “responding to the spaces which examine the transformative ‘Site/Sight/Cite’ effects that light, sound and duration can have on both spaces and their occupants…”
Overall, the public attendance of the fair was overwhelming in terms of number, engagement and, apparently, sales. However, while Frieze sets the bar one notch higher every year, there still seems to be space for improvement as I gathered from Lorenzo Rudolf, founder and director of Art Stage Singapore, when I asked him what he felt was the best and the worst of Frieze this year: “The best was Helly Nahmad’s installation at Frieze Masters of a collector’s apartment in the 60s. Perfectly done with a wonderful mix of works to show that collecting art should first of all be a deep passion and not an investment. The worst was to see quite a lot of mediocre works at Frieze.” “Is it enough,” Rudolf pondered as he regarded specific works presented, supposedly, as humourous, “to be funny to be considered (good) art?”