Gareth Bell-Jones on Frieze London Art Fair, Regent’s Park: Art Agenda Review

12Oct12

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View of Michael Budny at Raster Gallery, Warsaw, Frieze London Art Fair, 2012.

Frieze London Art Fair
Regent’s Park

October 11–14, 2012

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I actually enjoyed going round the Frieze fair this year, which I think is a first. I’ve always felt like a trespasser taking up valuable booth space, dealers looking over the shoulder of my second-hand cardigan. But with this review to write, I had a legitimate reason to take up space. On the day of the preview, I arrived at two o’clock, by which time most of the real business had been done. I just caught the remnants of the bronzed elderly ladies with tight faces and pert breasts shuffling towards main sponsor Deutsche Bank’s champagne lounge (and separate VIP exit). As the day wore on the serious money trickled out as the artists and curators arrived.

Of the tweaks and changes to the format of last year, Frieze Masters is the most prominent and heralded change. The additional art fair in a tent north of the main marquee in Regent’s Park contains artworks made prior to 2000, from African masks and Old Masters to works you used to think were contemporary, placed among the hushed grey and black walls and grey wall-to-wall carpeting. Amid the sea of tweed and pearls, I was pleasantly surprised to find one or two booths that would have felt very much at home in the main fair. A striking example is the carefully considered presentation of works by Mladen Stilinović at Paris’s Galerie Frank Elbaz and a selection of concert photographs, engraving collages, and ink prints by Bruce Connor at Michael Kohn Gallery.

Meanwhile, any age goes remained the principle of the main fair with the very established players still holding their ground. Waddington Custot Galleries always seem to have a Barry Flanagan hare in their window on Cork Street and they didn’t disappoint here either.

At times, the ambition of the young galleries in the Frame section is particularly apparent, taking the opportunity to show off what they are capable of. Typifying this is the installation by recent RCA graduate Ed Fornieles for Carlos/Ishikawa, a London-based gallery barely a year old. Fornieles’s work Charactergate invites viewers to take on a new pre-determined personality and try it out at the fair. Deliberately ridiculous, I wonder how many will take him up on the opportunity. The booth is a mess of digital imagery, leopard print, projected holograms, and florescent pink walls.

The Focus section on the whole felt more closely considered and was a pleasure to stroll through. A solo show of Michał Budny at Raster Gallery collected a selection of formal wall-based works with austere constructions on plinths and wooden shelves which warped under the weight of non-existent books. The booth was devised with the artist and installed to his specifications; it gave the feel of walking into his practice, a rarity at an art fair.

That said, the solo and two person shows are in greater abundance than in recent years, although the pick-and-mix approach still dominates. The propensity overall is for a more restrained style and considered selections of work. There are less major statements from the booths than usual—Oscar Tuazon’s massive construction for Standard (Oslo) being a notable exception. The moving image, too, is in rather short supply but MOT International undertook great efforts to install Elizabeth Price’s film West Hinder, a shipwreck of luxury cars. Team Gallery host a fantastic two-person show of Ross Knight’s sculpture and Marc Hundley’s ink on paper works that I would have gone out of my way to see if in a gallery elsewhere. Dépendence display a striking show of Josef Strau, Nora Schultz, and Henrik Olesen. At Galerie Fons Welters a selection of work by Magali Reus, David Jablonowski, and Gabriel Lester combine brilliantly. Casey Kaplan hosts a well-installed exhibition by Geoffrey Farmer, and Andrea Rosen gave over an entire second booth for a new installation by Ryan Trecartin. It would seem that these booths are being treated as serious gallery spaces.

The logic of this mode of display was taken to the extreme by Cabinet Gallery, who chose to not show any artwork at all. (Surely, a first in art fair world history.) Having just taken on John Knight, they dropped their plans and offered up the entire booth to him. Knight decided to devote the space to a wall text advertising his upcoming exhibition. I suppose the magazine has been selling ad space for years, so why not the fair?

As with last year’s fair, Frieze Projects felt somewhat marginalized on the whole. Aslı Çavuşoğlu is shooting an art whodunit in real time with cast and crew mingling with the audience. It looks like a brilliant project but it is stuck right out at the perimeter. One of the curated projects, however, has really delivered on intervening into the structure of the fair: Yangjiang Group in collaboration with Grizedale Arts, an art center based in rural Cumbria, have constructed a miniature cricket pavilion in the center of the fair. The structure hosts a series of food-related performance and booths for artists and community groups (such as Coniston Youth Club). If there is greater compartmentalism in the structure of the fair at large, here it is taken to an extreme. I took the opportunity to make my first ever art purchase from Frieze—a £2 Fererro Rocher cover knitted by elderly Coniston resident Sheila Gates. The whole project is a great deal of fun and refreshing in its rejection of the surroundings.

Despite the quality of the projects, the talks, and the film program on offer, I get the impression that after ten years of existence the fair has built up enough credibility not to depend on them for intellectual weight. Whilst the introduction of Masters and Focus may support the goal of offering something for every collector, these moves have also created a greater stratification at the fair. It used to be a pleasure at the opening to see the major collectors and vacuous celebrities being shown around with limitless booze and drunken artists staring on. Those days are long gone and despite the engaged efforts of Grizedale, the model is now of increased separation and hierarchy. And why not? It is an art fair after all.

Gareth Bell-Jones is a curator and writer based in London. He currently works as Artists and Programmes Curator for Wysing Arts Centre.

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