The days are gradually shorter, the leaves have started to blanket the sidewalks of London, there is a slight effervescence in the air. You’ve guessed it, those are all signs that the Frieze art Fair has opened. Well… to most people, they might be signs that Autumn has started but, to art lovers, the definite end of Summer is a precursor to the centrifugal art force that is the Frieze.
In existence since 1991, Frieze is a giant art market, a posh art opening, a think tank of contemporary art and an excuse to schmooze with the crème de la crème of the art world all rolled into one. With its talks programme, unique commissions, performances, thousands of works on view and other aggregated events over only 4 days, Frieze is also a bit of a nightmare. If you want to see everything, I suggest you reach for intravenous coffee right this instant. If your approach is more moderate – or if you actually work and cannot take 4 days off for the sake of art – there is no need to fret. You can still catch the highlights if you prepare your visit.
Frieze is all about getting the most spectacular piece of art in so as to make a statement in a sea of commercially viable offerings. Yet, in spite of this consorted effort to stand out, there is always some theme or imagery that appears to emerge across the board. This year reads a bit like a jungle or a zoo. Indeed, representations of animals – and actual, live animals – are to be found in every other booth. Indeed, the Max Wigram gallery has a significant input into the ambient soundtrack with Nothing Disappears Only Our Amnesia Arises, a work by FOS featuring two real caged birds who regularly screech and tweet at each other. Recollection, Pierre Huyghe’s own Frieze Project is an aquarium featuring a bevy of crustaceans, including one that has adopted the reproduction of a Brancusi head as its shell. Then in the inanimate category, at the Miro Gallery, Elmer & Dragset’s Tree of Knowledge is a brilliant realist sculpture of a chimpanzee using a pile of books to reach out for a banana suspended just out of reach. A good metaphor for the current views on education perhaps? It doesn’t stop there as you encounter glittery pandas, colorful zebras and many more creatures of the wild.
If you wish art was more relevant to the current social and economical situation, perhaps the biggest, brightest art market is not the place to go but there are still a few high profile works that address the question of money, from the “have” and the “have not” perspectives. Michael Landy‘s Credit Card Destroying Machine at Dane Gallery is a monster of an automaton that chews up and spits out credit cards and produces a signed drawing out the of motion of destruction. If you want to stop living beyond your means, just take your cards to the fair, have them shredded and leave with some art.
Addressing quite a different segment of the art market is the Frieze project by Christian Jankowski: a massive, shiny, expensive yacht which can be bought as a yacht for your personal sailing use for a mere 500 000 euros or it can be acquired as a work of art for 625 000 euros. Why would anybody want to pay more to be denied the use of this shiny speed demon is a mystery. Could this be yet another statement on art as commodity or a comment on the gullibility of rich collectors? The fact is that, regardless of the limitations of the conceptual aspects of the work, the boat itself is a rare object of undeniable aesthetic and financial value.
If you’re a bit saturated after all that, there are options to slowly ween yourself off the art. Don’t forget you are in beautiful Regent Park, close to the London Zoo. Art might take interest in nature but there is no substitute for the real monkeys.
(photos by Tiki Chris)