LEAP | FRIEZE Art Fair LONDON
Writing a review about Frieze is pretty much like reviewing some sort of megamall. There’s Frieze, Frieze Masters, Frieze Sculpture Park, Frieze Projects, Frieze Family Space, and a whole inven- tory of ancillary events around London. Where to start, and most of all, how to judge? At the tenth edition of Frieze, there were 151 top-shelf galleries set out to sell their most sellable work to the rich- est people in the world.
In other words, Frieze is the epitome of overindulgence. But this year, after seeing thousands of pieces of art I couldn’t help but think that the most interesting -and most photographed- things on display were the security guards at the Gagosian booth protecting Jeff Koons' enormous heart-shaped balloon and rubber duckies. As with the guards at Buckingham Palace, they didn’t move, talk, or question the ridiculous works – they simply did their job. Next to this uberexpensive toys, stern and with fingers on the earpieces, they themselves were an artwork.
It was a timely spectacle. These men were unintentionally addressing issues of surveillance, security, privacy, and protection. Together with this year’s wider aisles and the price of a glass champagne, the National Security Agency revelations were the most debated subject among fair visitors. Just 100 meter down the hall from Koons, a work by Brazilian artist Rivane Neuenschwander, fortuitously materialized these conversations. Her contribution to Frieze Projects – a participatory performance featuring a series of spying devices hidden in the space – brought the issue of surveillance directly to the fore. Such works are what make Regent’s Park so interesting. The Frieze Projects, Talks, Music, and Film sections are al- lowed and even encouraged to address uncomfortable issues about society, politics, and personal concerns. As such engagement isn’t exactly collectable - and if it were, how would it look above your bed or dining table?- it isn’t given prime retail space at the Frieze megamall. But what is important is that space is made for it. The Frieze enterprise distinguishes itself from the rest of the world’s art fairs not with its extravagant clientele or the high price tags, but with the ability, and panache, to present a well-curated roll call of the young and emerging contemporary art world.
And indeed, the fringe activities of Frieze are important indicators of the zeitgeist in contemporary art, a barometer for emerging talent on the international scene. Frieze Projects, curated by Nicola Lees, is coordinated by the Frieze Foundation and Frieze magazine, rather than the fair itself, and is thus that much less dependent on the market and sales. It’s a win-win situation. Giving young emerging artists the chance to present their work at such a world-renowned and authoritative podium posits Frieze not only as a moneymaking art marketplace, but as an art institution. As with any institution, it must offer some sort of ceremonial recognition. The Emdash Award allows an upcoming artist living outside the United Kingdom to realize a work at Frieze Projects. The winner of the 2013 edition was Finnish artist Pilvi Takala, who chose to realize the award in tandem with a group of children from east London, giving them GBP 10,000 to devise the final form of the project (parsed out during a three- month workshop). Takala’s was an aim to establish a collective decision-making process with the potential for children to operate as equals, on common ground and with a shared language. Amusingly, their final decision fused their desires with those of adults: during the fair, the children announced they will use the money to design a “five-star bouncy house”.
Curiously, Takala’s wasn’t the only project with kids in mind. For the first time, Frieze Projects included a site- specific installation commission for the Family Space. Under the title The Temple of Play, Greek artist Angelo Plessas created a multimedia playground for children. While their parents went shopping for art, Plessas invited kids to create a recreational area inspired by the dominance of the com- puter screen in daily life. In video works from American artist Petra Cortright, recipient of the Frieze Film Grant, the commanding influence of the Internet on our lives was also simply wrought. The video performance Bridal Shower, for example, visualizes the voyeuristic aspect of the YouTube generation. In it, a girl named Tara speaks over a soundtrack of cheesy trance music, introducing herself, clad only in a bath towel, to the audience. Then, she goes on to describe the swooning crush she has on the girl in the video – the same sultry Tara we have already come to desire. And so we may begin to infer the zeitgeist Frieze is so uniquely equipped to demonstrate: Internet aesthetics. Frieze co-director Matthew Slotover even called it a trend during a talk at ICA. “In many of the applications I saw there was an emphasis on post-Internet art. There are many works that relate to new forms of communication or have images appropriated from the Internet, for instance.” The use of tools of the Internet era to make sculptures, websites, and videos, abstract as this may sound, can be found in the work of artist Cory Arcangel (at Team Gallery) who applies the Java applet ‘Lake’ to a photograph of P.Diddy -magnifying the pop god’s already illustrious presence with a shimmering effect. At Kadel Willborn, Barbara Kasten’s abstract, colorful contraptions of glass, mirrors and mesh stood out like super- hip, computer-animated ready-mades. Then there was Isa Genzkens’ aluminum media sculpture at Galerie Bucholz, and young Swedish artist Ilja Karilampi’s digital historical excavations at Berlin’s Sandy Brown gallery...this list is easily lengthened. But the zeitgeist is tastefully countered at Frieze Masters, the tangible antithesis of computer-generated art accumulating strongly in nostalgic celebration of the “old.”
It’s only the second year for the Frieze Masters, where all the art is made before 2000, but its success is huge. Ranging from the ancient to the modern, Frieze Masters brings together a wide spectrum of art and audiences. In one direction your eyes might rest on a Japanese ink prints from the last century, and in the other, the large Bruegel The Census at Bethlehem, first purchased and put on public display in 1611. Walking through the park away from Frieze Masters, a passerby asks me the direction to “the real Frieze.” I point in the direction that I’m going, and wonder if I am actually right. Is there such a thing as the real Frieze? Isn’t the power of the Frieze enterprise that they have everything for everyone under one roof? Ah, the British Empire, on which the sun never sets- it has the whole art world covered. Wealthy galleries, hip galleries, collectors exorbitantly rich and powerful, well- curated exhibitions of the freshest art, and a prime selection of the time-tested. One wonders if this sun will ever set, and if not, in which direction is it heading? Frieze Moscow? Frieze Latvia, Frieze Lagos? So bright it all is, the end is not in sight.
Published in LEAP #24 (December 2013)