Adam Linder’s installation for Silberkuppe Gallery, Berlin, at Frieze Art Fair 2014 comprises several hastily scribbled notes stuck with post-it nonchalance on each wall of the tripartite space. The first page relates an incident, which happened on the first day of this year’s fair. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon was grinding her reverb drunk guitar, replete with amplified groans, over a ballet performance rehearsal, when an apoplectic gallerist crashed in, screaming that they had paid ‘four hundred thousand’ for their booth and demanding an end to the noise.
Whether this actually happened or not, the fact that it is easy or even tempting to imagine, taps into the perceived tension between creativity and commerce, art and the market, the artist and the gallerist that it is readily suggested art fairs represent. This blunt prognosis belies the opportunity unbiased visitors have of seeing work of unsurprising diversity and quality. The vast, multitudinous fair spills out into Regent’s Park with works curated by Clare Lilley, Director of Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, whilst back in the main marquee an extensive programme of talks and performance events curated by Nicola Lees means you could easily spend an immersive afternoon at the fair without actually navigating the labyrinthine booths.
Even the main body of the fair resists standing still for too long. The allotting walls may be fixed, but as Sarah Davies of Contemporary Fine Arts Berlin explained, what leans or hangs in, on or around them can change on a daily basis. This has nothing to do with work being sold; rather it is aimed at creating a mixed programme of exhibitions over several days rather than one fixed offering for the duration. Davies feels that galleries isolate their curatorial choices from the fair at large, focusing on blending the established and emerging artists that they represent to explore thematic or formal congruities.
“Fischl’s surreptitious studies of people at art fairs poised in temporal contemplation amongst the partitioned maze, pop up onomatopoeically amongst the partitioned maze of people poised in temporal contemplation.”
Eric Fischl’s surreptitious studies of people at art fairs poised in temporal contemplation amongst the partitioned maze, pop up onomatopoeically amongst the partitioned maze of people poised in temporal contemplation, reflecting the extent to which art fairs have been ‘absorbed’ by artistic discourse and practice. Artists such as Goshka Macuga present work that reflects on a nuanced interplay between art, patronage, and the curating and display of art in public and private space, with tapestries that dally with being part of the furniture.
Frieze Art Fair launched in 2003 but art fairs such as Art Basel, or FIAC Paris have been around a lot longer, and the extent to which artists have engaged with the display, presentation, context, and commodification of their work is of course older still. It’s tempting to believe that good art detaches itself from or transcends its temporal environment (and that you can enjoy the quiet contemplation of one piece whilst being serenaded by Kim Gordon’s accompaniment of another) but in this year’s edition of Frieze, overlapping proximity isn’t as much of a problem as you might expect. A redesign of the layout by Universal Designs Studio has opened up more space and the majority of galleries seem intent on extending that quality to their exhibits.
Given the migratory free-market flow of the international art scene, you might expect a homogenizing compression of inbred form and content. The Third Line Gallery from Dubai resists this assumption, showing art works clearly connected to the cultural identity and heritage of the region. Laura Metzler explained that many of their gallery artists are originally from the Middle East moving on in their formative years to study, before re-establishing a connection to their roots.
Artist Monir Farmanfarmaian, now 91 years old and originally from Iran moved to New York to study at Cornell University. Whilst her linear, geometric forms might feel connected to the decorative baroque of a Frank Stella piece such as Ctesiphon III, they are deeply rooted in the design and architecture language of Islamic culture. Metzler discussed how their space was curated around the shared emphasis that the artist’s place on using traditional craft techniques as a foundation for their practices. Babak Golkar, another of their artists, is showing a selection of his ‘scream pots’. Contrasting with the tortured lineaments of Munch’s famous wailing interpretation, these graceful, tactile forms are hollow receptacles for screaming into. Anyone using Transport for London on a regular basis, form an orderly queue – who said art has no practical function?
Erica Baum, a New York based artist, is exhibiting photographs that at a glance appear to be a reductive, geometric abstraction. Lines of graphic grass leaning into the wind, these strands are intermittently broken by an image tonally edging into view, giving rise to the understanding that the lines are the edges of pages and we are looking sideways into a book. As Grace Wright from Bureau in New York, who is showing Baum’s work explained, the origins of the images remain enigmatic, although the dated quality of the print, and the dramatized poses in the photographs suggest film compendiums from the 60s or 70s. The theatrical, cloaked narrative transforms the dry op-art sway of the abstracted books into the paused reel of film stock, upending narrative and playing with time and sequence. For visitors who’ve wandered around the fair too long between tea breaks, the flicking through implied by Baum’s work can start to feel like a metaphor for your movement around the fair, where a sense of skimming the surface can take over, the edges of art glimpsed between the bookends of passing booths.
Amongst the subplots woven into the fair, there’s the chance to catch up on contemporary feelings about frames (brushed chrome box frames seem to be in vogue) and plinths (anything but white/normal). As well as the chance to discover artists you are unfamiliar with, you can also see new or unseen work by favourite artists. It’s always a pleasure to have Michael Krebber’s (here shown by Maureen Paley, London and Greene Naftali, New York) rudimentary painterly mumbles whispering into your eye’s ear. At Maureen Paley his work hangs alongside photographs by Wolfgang Tillmans. A show within a show, this fertile conversation between two artists sparring with abstraction’s bequest is a great example of the unexpected dialogues Frieze yields in its myriad loose ends and legacies.
At times the density of visitors gives the impression that the artworks are pinned to walls by the centrifugal force of swarming hordes. Anyone trying to beat a retreat and find the exit sign would do well to linger over the battered exit sign in Jersey, a sculpture by Pawel Althamer shown by Foksal Gallery, Warsaw. Made whilst he was in New York preparing for a solo exhibition at the New Museum, Althamer also hosted art workshops at the museum. Gallerist Alexandra Sciegienna explained that Althamer’s motivation for these workshops was that participants might feel how he feels when he makes art, a process of transference that could easily be extended to visitors of the fair. Apparently a friend of Althamer, a performance artist, had died just prior to the making of this piece, and the story of Lazarus can be read into its rising or receding, in temporal limbo, between the layers of the city’s debris. Proceed to the exit from Frieze with a suitably symbolic slant.
Frieze Art Fair is an artistic avalanche, where the ghosts of art past, present and future gather to speculate and party. Of course there are ripples of commercially viable filler, work with little ambition other than to slide quietly off one wall and onto another. The ubiquity of amorphous ceramics adds nothing to Lucio Fontana’s ceramics of the 40s other than new authorship and opportunities for ownership. Art fairs are the corrosive cultural tide, washing up and washing away. If the waves seem overly similar, well, as Lawrence Weiner might say we are all‘a chip taken off an old block’. Get lost, invite confusion, and exercise your sensual and intellectual capacity for stimulation with a day or two amongst the cogs that make the contemporary art world tick.
Frieze Art Fair Regent's Park, London. 15/10 - 18/10/14 http://friezelondon.com/ https://www.facebook.com/ThePageArtReview