The night before the first Frieze Art Fair opened in London's Regent's Park in 2003, co-founder Matthew Slotover had a terrifying dream. Instead of a large white minimalist tent, housing dozens of international galleries, he arrived at the fair to find a big-top circus tent. Instead of clean, smooth flooring, there was grass.
The nightmare is telling because art fairs are so often referred to as circuses, garish horror shows of conspicuous consumption. This year, 152 galleries will rent a booth at Frieze and display their wares: artworks created since the year 2000, ranging from traditional paintings to crazy installations that challenge the bounds of what art can be. Rather than the cool Zen of the White Cube, the aisles of the fair are harshly lit and crowded. And the impetus is on selling.
Gallerists will hope to woo the mink-wearing, spike-heeled, yacht-owning international elite into buying a Richter or a Hockney. These oligarchs and technocrats and popstars might simply want a painting that matches their kitchen décor. In this way, the fair is a bit like a giant Ikea where nothing is remotely practical or affordable. Alternately, they might want a sculpture that speaks of the bitter existential nothingness of contemporary life. At Frieze, they can have both.
Why do people buy art? For the rush of acquisition? The pleasure of exercising good taste? Maybe. But they also want a piece of that ephemeral, fiery thing – the force that goes into the creation of a work of art, the power that separates artists from us mere mortals. Inspiration? Genius? The heavenly muse, bottled? It is the quasi-mystical quality of the work of art that persuades collectors to splash the cash. The idea of purchasing meaning rather more than another boring old Bentleys to block up the drive. Plus art can be a really good investment – not that I know from firsthand experience; I've never been able to afford it.
Last year, Frieze Masters opened for the first time alongside Frieze London. Frieze Masters sells work from the classical age to the year 2000, featuring 130 galleries. Unlike other fustily traditional fairs around Europe, it seeks to explore the old through the lens of the new. “No one had done this before,” Victoria Siddall, director of Frieze Masters, tells me. “It was incredibly well-received.” Indeed, it was – a huge success with an emphasis on elegant, contemporary curation. The number of galleries wishing to participate in Frieze Masters has doubled this year.
Siddall is particularly excited about a series of Matisse ink drawings from Thomas Gibson Fine Art and erotic Japanese prints from Sebastian Izzard. While the term “Masters” may evoke all that is elitist and exclusionary about art history, pointing to the dominance of dead, white, male artists, 50 per cent of the artists represented in the Spotlight section will be either female or non-Western.
Victoria Miro will be showing an enigmatic range of paintings by the American artist Alice Neel (1907-1984). Overlooked for much of her career, Neel was a committed Leftist and painted street scenes of depression-blighted New York as part of the WPA government-relief programme in the 1930s. She was an important figurative painter, lost amidst a generation of masculine Abstract Expressionists, and rediscovered by the women's movement in the 1970s. Particularly intriguing is Mimi (1955), an oil on canvas of a woman with smudged, hollow eyes wearing a sunny yellow pencil skirt. The painting is characteristic of Neel's ghoulish eloquence as a portraitist.
LA gallery Blum and Poe will be showing a sculpture called Centred Infinity (1992) by Japanese artist Kishio Suga. Comprised of a metal cross on a wooden board splattered with blue paint, the work is characteristic of the Mono-ha art movement, which rejected the idea of creation in favour of blunt materialism. Blum and Poe will also be returning to Frieze London after an eight-year break, one of a wave of big US galleries attracted to the city's ever-expanding art scene. Marian Goodman, doyenne of New York contemporary art, will be returning after four years, ahead of the opening of her new gallery in Mayfair's Golden Square.
Goodman's booth at Frieze New York earlier this year was acclaimed for housing not paintings on makeshift walls but a “constructed situation” by British-German Turner Prize nominated artist Tino Sehgal, in which a young girl recited Heidegger. Visitors were enthralled. Frieze New York opened on Randall Island for the first time last year, and was deemed a huge success. As Slotover told me on the phone, “London is being seen more and more as a very important art centre.”
But what of the recession? According to Slotover, who also founded Frieze magazine in 1991, along with his business partner Amanda Sharp, “the art world has not been as badly hit as people expected”. While sales are less extravagant than the 2006 “bubble period”, “we haven't seen the kind of swathes of gallery closures that some people predicted”. It is the high-end galleries that have continued to prosper. Like the rest of the society, “the rich have got a lot richer”.
What kind of sales are they expecting this year? Siddall explains that most galleries are “very discreet” about figures. Many sales are completed post-fair. However, she can tell me that a Miró went for $20 million last year, and a Picasso for $9 million. “I love the fact that we can organise a really successful commercial event but also cultural events as well,” she says. Many of the artworks will be moving from one private collection into another so Frieze is an opportunity to see them – briefly – on display.
Indeed, most of the 60,000 visitors who go to Frieze each year are members of the public who simply want to see the art. Despite the cattle-market ambience, the fair is about creativity as much as commerce. Due to popular demand, Slotover tells me that they had to cut the number of tickets on sale this year by 25 per cent so that the fair will be less crowded. “Anyone who's been to the fair will walk in this year and see a huge change,” he says. There is more public space. “It's a much cleaner, more even environment.”
The phenomenon of the art fair has expanded alongside the biennale since the globalisation of the art market in the 1980s. Fairs are distinct from biennales because you can buy art on the spot. And it's not all for oligarchs. East End gallery Limoncello will be exhibiting at Focus, a section of the fair dedicated to young galleries. While artists are often absent from fairs, allowing their dealers to do the work of selling, Jack Strange, Jesse Wine, and Sean Edwards will all be present, sitting at a round table ready to discuss their work with prospective clients.
Projects specially commissioned to run throughout the week serve to enhance the atmosphere of a festival that Slotover and Sharp intended. These include a film by exciting young LA artist Petra Cortright, member of The Nasty Nets Internet Surfing Club. Cortright's webcam videos have been called “glitch art”: work that uses the internet and embraces the faults and failures of software. Slotover cites this kind of “post-internet art” as one of the predominant trends of new work at the fair. New York artist Patricia Lennox-Boyd's film will focus on the use of hands in the on-screen marketing of consumer goods. It will “touching”: literally, about touch.
Like the great patrons of the Renaissance, Frieze sponsors talent in a way that can't be viewed too cynically. Finnish artist Pilvi Takala has won this year's Emdash Prize for emerging artists living outside the UK. Contrary to the fair's spirit of acquisition, she handed £7,000 of the £10,000 award over to a group of 12-year-olds from a Hackney Youth Club and let them decide how to spend the money. Takala has guided the kids during workshops over the past few months. Is this a Lord of the Flies in the making? Or democratic decision-making that would put adults to shame? The results are top-secret for now, but will be revealed at the fair.
Takala is interested in “questions of value”. While the kids are mostly oblivious to the value of so much money, the fair is about “symbolic value” as much as wealth. Rather than buying and thereby possessing art as a precious object – an expensive painting or sculpture – Takala tells me that some collectors are now investing in more ephemeral art forms such as video by funding its production process. In this way, collectors feel as though they are supporting artists while eschewing more traditional notions of property. This seems to be art patronage at its best.
Frieze encourages both raw capitalism and raw art. For Slotover, “the art market allows small producers to make a living. All art exists somewhere along the spectrum of critical value and monetary value.” This is true, but where's the conflict? “I don't see it as a conflict at all,” he says.
Frieze Week 2013: How to make the most of it
By Alice Jones
Rooftops, tunnels and car parks have all been popular venues in past Frieze weeks. This year's non-traditional space sensation is set to be 180 The Strand, a Brutalist block-turned-arts- hub. During Frieze week it will host two ambitious shows. The Moving Museum's Open Heart Surgery will let 31 young London artists – including James Balmforth, Shezad Dawood and Lucky PDF – run amok in 25,000sqft of former office space (12 October-15 December; themovingmuseum.com). The basement will house BRUTAL. For the past three years Steve Lazarides has staged his free street art extravaganzas in the Old Vic Tunnels, now closed. This show, featuring graffiti from Pose, photographs of LA gangs from Esteven Oriol and new work from Mark Jenkins, Antony Micallef and Doug Foster, promises to be just as dark (15-27 October; lazinc.com).
For more urban grit, Big Deal No 5, a non-profit show of up-and-coming artists will be held on Level 3 of a multi-storey car park just off Oxford St (18-20 October; deal-big.biz).
Remember there are other fairs
Frieze has seen various satellite fairs come and go over the past decade. Strarta is the young pretender for 2013 – up and running at the Saatchi Gallery and featuring 30 international galleries with work ranging from £250 to £250,000 (To 13 October; strarta.com). PAD continues to cater to the luxury end of the market with a marquee crammed full of Picassos, Kandinskys and champagne on Berkeley Square (16-20 October; pad-fairs.com). The Other Art Fair shows 100 of the best unsigned artists as selected by a panel including Yinka Shonibare, director of the Saatchi Gallery Rebecca Wilson and founder of Paradise Row, Nick Hackworth. This year it shares a venue, The Old Truman Brewery, with the urban art fair Moniker who will show work from Shepard Fairey and D*Face among others (17-20 October; theotherartfair.com; monikerartfair.com). Sunday Art Fair returns to Ambika P3 for a fourth year with a credible line-up of 22 young galleries from Berlin, London and New York (17-20 October; sunday-fair.com). Finally, The Animal Art Fair, opens a pop-up at 273 Fulham Road for all your gorilla etching and duck sculpture needs (14-19 October; animalartfair.com).
Just a few minutes' walk across Regent's Park, the Frieze Sculpture Park provides a breather from the commercial and celebrity frenzy of the main fairs and, unlike them, is free to the public. This year it has work by Yinka Shonibare and David Shrigley. There will be one of Rachel Whiteread's sheds and photo opportunities to be had with Elmgreen & Dragset's But I'm on the Guest List, Too! an oversized VIP door that leads nowhere but is guarded by a bouncer.
Book in for a blockbuster
As usual, London's galleries and museums are bringing out the big guns for Frieze week. Tate Modern is staging the UK's largest Paul Klee retrospective in a decade, which will draw fans of Bauhaus and colour (16 October- 9 March 2014; tate.org.uk). Dulwich Picture Gallery is catering to the influx of foreign collectors with An American in London: Whistler and The Thames, a wide-ranging survey of the artist's time in the city with paintings and drawings of Wapping, Chelsea and Battersea Bridge (16 October-12 January, 2014; dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk). And treasure can be found at the British Museum, whose exhibition Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia will dazzle with 300 exquisite objects from South America's lost city of gold (17 October-23 March, 2014; britishmuseum.org).
Watch out for artists doing odd things
Frieze week is prime time for artists to experiment. The Chapman Brothers will showcase their musical talents with a gig at Fabric. Dinos's audiovisual project, Luftbobler, will make its UK debut, supported by brother Jake's band, Heimlich, and Jarvis Cocker will be manning the decks (17 October; fabriclondon.com). Aslı Çavusoglu will screen a three-part crime drama, Murder in Three Acts, that she shot at last year's Frieze Art Fair (Delfina Foundation; to 25 October; delfinafoundation.com), while Rodney Graham will play psychedelic guitar at David Roberts Art Foundation (17 October, davidrobertsartfoundation.com). And at The Serpentine, Carsten Höller is among the artists taking part in the gallery's 89plus Marathon, a two-day festival of ideas. As the first public event to take place in the Sackler Gallery, it's a good excuse to have a poke around Zaha Hadid's newest building, too (18-19 October; serpentinegallery.org).
Go for a group show
Try a group show at a commercial gallery for a fair experience in miniature. Gagosian's The Show is Over will examine “the end of painting” via Fontana's slashed canvases, Richter's Grey paintings and pieces by Lichenstein, Warhol and Yves Klein (15 October-13 November; gagosian.com). Thirteen at Alan Cristea Gallery will show brand new work from an impressive stable including Gillian Ayres, Michael Craig-Martin and Julian Opie (To 9 November; alancristea.com). And at The Dairy, Ai Weiwei, Takashi Murakami, Cindy Sherman and Julian Schnabel are among the artists meditating on Aldous Huxley's utopian last novel, Island (To 8 December; dairyartcentre.org.uk).
Frieze week is as much about the art as it is about the art world making a spectacle of itself. As such, there are ample opportunities to become part of the art, should you wish. Stuart Semple has taken over a £14million townhouse by Regent's Park for his show Suspend Disbelief. Among the works spread over four floors will be an installation of smiley clouds and a giant bouncy castle room (16-21 October; stuartsemple.com). At Frieze itself, several commissioned projects will be interactive, including a game of Battleships using fair visitors and a piece by Ken Okiishi that will examine the “poetic potential of paintball”. Representing Southard Reid Gallery in the Frame section of the fair, the London artist Prem Sahib will open a Soho nightclub. Elsewhere, The Other Art Fair will hold free taxidermy demonstrations for Polly Morgan wannabes (17 -19 October; theotherartfair.com).
Keep an eye on the auctions
Canny art lovers know that auction houses are the place to go for close encounters with modern masterpieces in Frieze week. Phillips is now showing £20million-worth of Kiefers, Basquiats and the like in its showroom ahead of sales on 16 and 17 October (phillips.com/auctions). Both Christie's and Sotheby's will stage their usual contemporary art sales next week. In addition, both have exhibitions in their brand new London venues. Christie's will stage a show of British Pop Art, When Britain Went Pop! in the old Haunch of Venison gallery on New Bond Street (To 24 October; christies.com) while Sotheby's has an exhibition of 12 Joseph Beuys works in its new S2 gallery on St George Street (To 15 November; sothebys.com).
Eat, drink and be merry
An art army marches on its stomach and fairs are now foodie destinations. Restaurant partners at Frieze this year include Hix and Caravan, but it is the street food offerings from Yum Bun, Pitt Cue and Pizza Pilgrims that will likely see the biggest queues. Visitors to Frieze Masters will be catered for by the more classic Locanda Locatelli. At Sunday Art Fair, the always buzzy bar will be run by Art Review, Jack Beer of Arbutus and George Howard of eatpeckham.com. Elsewhere there is an endless whirl of parties and private views to crash – this year's glitziest is likely to be a VIP dinner at Café Royal, sponsored by fair associate, Alexander McQueen.
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