It was all about change at Frieze London this year. There was more space – everyone made note of that, a result of the fair’s decision to reduce the number of exhibiting galleries to 153 in 2013 – some 25 less than in 2012. And in terms of works, things were notably less bling than in previous years, though Gagosian was of course on hand to fill one booth with Jeff Koons’ impressively oversized baubles. On the opening day (17th October), Koons was even on hand for photo ops at the booth, as if the artist’s presence was a performance, which made sense thinking about the advertisements Koons placed to promote himself in art magazines in the late-eighties.
Also gone were the ostentatious one-liners critiquing the art fair context (who could forget Christian Jankowski’s gesture at Frieze 2011, in which he sold a luxury yacht for two prices – the yacht’s retail value and its value as ‘art’, which added £10 million to the price tag?). Filling the gaps were more subtle insertions, like a series of waiting chairs produced by Magali Reus and aptly titled Parking (2013) at The Approach booth, which included a remarkable grouping of sculptural pieces by Alice Channer, also presenting at Frieze Sculpture Park. Reus’s chairs hinted at a waiting game, which, in the art fair’s highly frenetic temporal context geared towards hyper-selling, feels at once fast and slow.
In general, emphasis was placed on the usual suspects: painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation art, though fresher perspectives were on hand. In terms of photography, Barbara Kasten’s psychedelic series of photographic still lifes produced in 1983, Construct NYC, stood out at Kadel Willborn, as did Raphael Hefti at Ancient & Modern, and Tacita Dean at Frith Street Gallery, with an enchanting work titled The Book End Of Time (2013). When it came to painting, and what seemed to be the general trend for bad painting or minimalist surfaces, Carl Freedman’s selection of works by Ivan Seal, both abstract and figurative, shone through, as did Charles Mayton at Campoli Presti, not to mention the eerie, hermaphroditic figure depicted in Devin Leonardi’s canvas, The Captive (2013). Leonardi’s work was shown at Broadway 1602, among an impressive selection of historical illustrations and collages by Xanti Schawinsky from the first half of the twentieth century, and a great body of work by Nicola L. Abstract sculpture also abounded, including Zhan Wang’s re-interpretations of Chinese scholar’s rocks at Long March Space, while Anicka Yi at 47 Canal took pressing flowers to another, more sculptural level. Meanwhile, young trailblazer Ian Cheng broke all the moulds at Frame entirely, presenting a series of programmed works – or worlds – that made use of Oculus Rift’s virtual reality headsets.
Galleries presented excellent, nuanced groupings – Andrew Kreps, Anthony Reynolds and Anton Kern formed a golden triangle within the fair plan. Anton Kern brought Jim Lambie, David Shrigley and Richard Hughes; Anthony Reynolds presented an eclectic combination of works by Walid Raad, Jon Thompson, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Georgia Sagri; and Andrew Kreps presented, amongst others, Darren Bader and Annette Kelm, a Frieze favourite in general. Continuing a trend for mixing established and emerging artists was The Third Line, with an excellent and coherent booth showing Sophia Al-Maria, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, Rana Begum, Ala Ebetkar and Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian. Istanbul’s Rampa and Rodeo also put forth well-chosen, diverse selections, as did London’s Pilar Corrias, showing a wide selection of artists, from Leigh Ledare, Tala Madani, Shahzia Sikander and Ken Okiishi (also participating in Frieze Projects 2013 alongside Andreas Angelidakis, Angelo Plessas, Lili Reynaud Dewar, Rivane Neuenschwander, Josef Strau, Gerry Bibby and Emdash winner, Pilvi Takala).
As with all fairs, there were the political statements, at times both subtle and times humourous, as in Dan Perjovschi’s Freedom of speech (2010) at Gregor Podnar, not to mention the presentation of the Forthcoming Title series at Mumbai’s Project 88 by Raqs Media Collective, which included various covers of Tolstoy’s What is to be Done? and Rosa Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital. Over at Long March Space (generally with a standout booth), Zhu Yu showed 192 Proposals for the Member States of the United Nations (2007), proposing various art works or productions in each UN Member state (the UK proposal comprised of a Harry Potter movie in which Harry ends up training in a terrorist camp masked as a boarding school in Pakistan before returning to Hogwarts).
The irreverent relevance in Zhu Yu’s piece recalled Meschac Gaba’s sculptural installation, United Nations – Souvenir Palace (2010) showing at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery – a child’s table painted with the UN logo with six miniature chairs each painted with a flag, the nations of which suggest a proposal for the reformation of the UN Security Council to include Britain, France, Germany, South Africa, Brazil and Egypt. Gaba was also showing at Stevenson Gallery with Project Voyage (2012), in which traveller’s bundles were made from the following flags: the UN, Brazil, League of Arab States, China, Russia, NATO, Vatican, AU, United Kingdom, USA, EU, Tibet and Israel. This was presented alongside Le Monde en Miniature et la Mode en Miniature (2008), an installation of children’s clothes imprinted with various keywords, from ‘Violence’, ‘Money’ to ‘Kalashnikov’.
Gaba’s work indirectly fit into a wider discussion that took place around the fair on a change that felt far subtler than the obvious increase in space produced by the reduced exhibitor list and limited ticket numbers. Yet, despite many commenting on “something different”, no one could put a finger on what was different. Perhaps it was the light, some said, and the starkness of the tent’s white cube interior, made worse by the increased space (which others noted was a total plus). Another possibility was the general sameness of works on show, (though this indeed allowed for stronger booths to stand out), which prompted one director of a prominent institution to sigh, with glazed eyes – “So many things,” on the preview night.
For some, the juxtapositions within the fair resulted in a certain blending that made it hard for many to discern differences between booths or styles. Was this a response to a (overly?) stringent selection process and curated fair design? There were indeed multiple moments of visual crossover, from Rachel Harrison’s solo showing at Meyer Kainer, and a presentation of a Harrison sculpture right across the way at Greene Naftali, to a selection of ironic, play doh constructed ‘ancient’ vases by Bruce High Quality Foundation at Contemporary Fine Arts, which directly opposed a collection of earnest ceramics produced by Steve Caroll over at Cervi-Mora.
One artist noted how this visual bleeding at the fair maybe pointed towards a certain kind of de-territorialization, an interesting view given the unifying language of global contemporary art. With this point in mind, I came across The Breeder’s booth, presenting Jannis Varelas, Vlassis Caniaris, Stelios Faitakis and Andreas Lolis, as well as new works by Antonis Donef, in which maps of the world have been cut into strips and cross-hatched so as to produce abstract collages that feel like ‘meta-maps’ or colour planes. “The maps have been decomposed in order to be recomposed,” explained Breeder co-founder, Stathis Panagoulis. “So in the final ‘map’ there are no regions – everything overlaps.” It was fitting to view these ‘maps’ in light of Frieze’s curatorial overlapping, especially when thinking also about that well-worn critique of the art fair as a homogenising space.
Perhaps there is a danger to such tight framing – or merging. Thinking about the 4–channel video installation, Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Omer Fast shown at Arratia Beer Gallery, is there an issue with producing such an orgy of objects in such a prescriptive, selective frame? Gazing on the bodies interlocking in Fast’s thorough insight into the LA adult industry, the artist notes how the world of the sex industry, despite its projection of sex and glamour, is a mundane one – a bit like working at Walmart. Thinking about the artworks intermingling in Frieze’s stark, white tent, perhaps this was the change so many felt this year but could not name: that potential for such a judgment to be levelled on the art fair itself. Then again, maybe there was just too much good art.
Nevertheless, since 2013 marks Frieze London’s tenth anniversary, more time must pass to see how Frieze London’s new scale and approach might evolve. But with Frieze Masters in its second year and already overtaking Frieze London in terms of popularity and buzz, it seems this fair might have to do more than tighten its selection criteria next year. — [O]