Frieze 2012: The 10th Anniversary Edition
11-14th of October
The tenth anniversary of Frieze has come and gone like every other year. The hype, the frenzy, the excitement, the noise, the queuing (for those without a press pass…). To celebrate its anniversary in grand style, Frieze has given itself an alter ego: Frieze Masters. Curiosity began to bubble up about this new fair since the press release was circulated earlier in the year. As Frieze itself were not big enough with its ever-expanding number of stalls, this year’s prospect of being offered twice as much worried visitors to quite a degree. Nonetheless, the two fairs were ticketed separately with an optional discount ‘combo ticket’ for those willing to stomach both. Sleekly organised as usual, this years’ “Friezes” proposed a rich program of events and a series of in-house projects to keep visitors enthralled. In the contemporary Frieze, British artist Ed Fornieles, for instance, proposed Characterdate, an interactive ‘situation’ in which visitors were enabled to create fake profiles for the purpose of luring others – practically a match-making site for art lovers. The equivalent of your match would have also crafted a fantasy-profile. More than a pass-time for the fair visitors, the piece worked as a metaphor to the art-world gathering at events like Frieze all around the world. Who is whom? Who is telling the truth about what and what is more interesting and creative than a lie anyway? Nonetheless, has art ever been about truth?
Inside the tent is business as usual. If anything, a little quieter than previous years. Nothing extremely new to report aside from some interesting 3D Julian Opies, a massive Snow White head made from silicon and fibreglass by Paul McCarthy and some recent 3D black and white photographs by Thomas Ruff for which the gallery stand provided glasses. Most notably, there seems to have been more still-life paintings on show than ever before. At least this was my impression. I wonder if this is pure coincidence or if the genre responsible for the transition from figurative to abstract during the early twentieth century may be re-emerging for a more specific reason. On this theme, most interesting were indeed the still-lifes proposed by Ged Quinn (Stephen Fried Gallery, London) in which multiple histories, nostalgia, memory and seemingly unrelated narratives merge together into a seductive mix of realism and surrealism. The colours are vivid and details are obsessively rendered in painterly style that summons Dali at his best. A clash between realism and surrealism was also key to Nandipha Mntabo (Stevenson, Johannesburg), an African artist working with local cowhides to create two-sided life-size sculptures in which the human and the animal merge in a play of horrific and sensual which disconcerts and mesmerizes at the same time.
The most out of the ordinary Frieze project must have surely been the Coliseum of the Consumed by artists Nicolas Party, Alistair Frost, juneau/projects, Bedwyr Williams and William Pope L., in which a circular makeshift structure, half-arena, half market-place lent itself to different activities devised by locals. When I visited, it housed an experimental sound-factory in which vegetables were wired together allowing visitors to produce tunes under the expert guidance of two hosts that for the sake of continuity were dressed up as a carrot and a banana.
Frieze Masters was a bit of a walk away from Frieze. I am not sure why I imagined both fairs to be back to back but a 15 minutes track through Regents Park guaranteed that Frieze Masters would be configured as a stand-alone event in its own right. You could have indeed visited one whilst completely ignoring the other. No frenzied queue outside Frieze Masters was visible and indeed inside, things were very quiet indeed, if compared to Frieze, but nonetheless the ethos of these fairs were entirely different. Aiming at showcasing art produced since ancient Egypt to the year 2000, Frieze Masters has allegedly been targeting the “big spenders of art,” those whom may indeed return home with an original Greek classical sculpture from 300BC under their arm. Whether this type of collector may have any interest in even visiting contemporary art Frieze rests to be seen, for on show, along with plenty of Classical art there were plenty of early modern artists like the ubiquitous Picasso, Warhol and Lichtenstein. The atmosphere at Frieze Masters was of calm contemplation rather than of electric frenzy, and as it would be expected, the demographic was different. On sight were mainly over 50s, formal dress code, either American, Russian, Italian or French seemed to be the general typology. At a glance, it appeared clear that Frieze Masters did not want to come across as a “fair for the elderly” and as far as possible, the clichés of red velvet and deep green have been avoided at all costs, opting at times for modern solutions which demanded a second take.
Most notable was the presence of massive mobiles by Calder which, this year, also contributed to stealing the main fair’s thunder with a rare black piece never before put on the market which, at £12.5 million, ranked as the most expensive work of art ever seen at Frieze. A second take was also demanded by the price tags which at Frieze Masters most regularly did not suffer of the “prize-shy syndrome” witnessed at its sibling, original fair. Whilst at Frieze gallerists at times only bother to scribble almost illegible names of artists on the wall with a pencil, at Frieze Masters, labels are elegantly printed and prices are on full show too. Of course, not listing prices has to do with Frieze’s ambition to be considered more than a market place, when really, let’s face it, Documenta it ain’t. Still surprising, if nonetheless educational was to develop some knowledge on the proposed costs for some four hundred years old paintings which are usually only seen in museums settings or for some Greek sculptures which most of us consider naturally priceless but that at the fair had a price tag too, just like anything else. There is indeed something strange about seeing a price tag next to an Egyptian sculpture or a Classical Greek one. It shows perhaps that money can indeed buy anything. More than anything else, falling short of being able to purchase any of the items on show, the fair offered the opportunity to see some lesser known works by big names or to see some hard-to-find paintings which have for a long while been in private collections.
Will Frieze Masters run again next year or will it become a more sporadically held fair? We’ll have to wait and see. However, the bar has been set pretty high by both fairs….Meanwhile, in the park outside, Michael Landy has delivered what could possibly be the best self-portrait in the history of contemporary art: Self-portrait as a Rubbish Bin.
Giovanni Aloi is an art historian in modern and contemporary art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sotheby’s Institute of Art New York and London, and Tate Galleries. He has curated art projects involving photography and the moving image is a BBC radio contributor, and his work has been translated into many languages. Aloi is Editor in Chief of Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Visual Culture www.antennae.org.uk.view all articles from this author