By SOPHIE HILL, OCT. 2014
Frieze London 2014 marked a dozen Friezes and the eggs were certainly out of their box. The Art Newspaper’s first daily edition (15 October) ran with the headline “Galleries go beyond the white cube” as each tried to transform their identical space into something different; it was the trend on everyone’s twitter. With so many galleries to take in at once – 162 fighting for attention – it’s a wonder that it’s taken this long for them to get creative, but this year both Frieze and its galleries certainly took the time to surprise, determined to escape the monotony of the everlasting white wall.
In Frieze 2014 it was all about space: how to fill it, transform it and emerge right out. The fair itself had a new space, with a redesigned bespoke layout by Universal Design Studio. Frieze Live was the fair’s new performance art initiative, with six selected galleries showing performance-based installations at spaces across the fair. Placed at the end of a long row of stands, these enticed the eye just as it was getting tired; stationary art was interspersed by the active – reflecting the growing favour of performance art, as well as providing a welcome change. Waiting at the end of the highly charged row that included Marian Goodman and White Cube was Franz Erhard Walther’s 1968 action-sculpture Sehkanal (1. Werksatz no. 46), presented by Galerie Jocelyn Wolff. Two people carefully and quietly unfolded a long piece of cloth to reveal a hood at each end that they then placed over their heads; once joined in this way, they were able to lean back, supporting one another with the cloth’s tension. Such a subtly moving piece – dependent on trust, one thinks of the games we were made to do at school – took us out of the fair, if only for a moment. From all over the world, Frieze Live installations took us out of London. The UNITED BROTHERS offered us soup made from vegetables their mother had grown close to Fukishima in Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent?; apparently declared safe by the Japanese Farmers’ Association, the question of nuclear contamination was on our lips as it has been on theirs since 2011 (Green Tea Gallery). Tamara Henderson created a space of escape and relaxation in Resorting, casting the tools of modern escapism – a bar, reclined seats, a film – in material that looked as if it had just emerged from the sea. Lush green, imprinted with plant life, her sculpture appeared to be fresh and dripping wet, summoning memories of holidays and nature, far away from Frieze (Rodeo).
Setting the art alive wasn’t only left to these ‘live’ installations; galleries followed suit, going to unprecedented lengths to change the space they had been assigned. Entering the fair, you immediately walked into what appeared a most fantastical children’s playground – a giant toadstool, large scrabble-like letters and an over-sized dice that you could climb inside, all inside pink and purple walls. This was Gagosian’s stand, transformed by the Belgian artist Carsten Höller. Opposite was Sadie Coles HQ, whose walls had been set alight with the flames of an intensely red forest by Angus Fairhurst; a dense thicket of colour. Colour wasn’t only left to the artworks this year; Mark Wallinger curated Hauser & Wirth’s booth into A Study in Red and Green, inspired by Sigmund Freud’s study in Hampstead. Half painted in rich racing green, half in a deep crimson, these stately colours set the scene for an old-fashioned room of contemplation, packed full of provoking artworks. Asleep in the corner – the reality of which was only encouraged by the surrounding academy hang – was Christoph Büchel’s Sleeping Guard. Appearing truly to be snoozing, I learnt later that the man was in fact a security guard who worked nights; he was genuinely tired and determined to escape what surrounded him, creating a parody of which I’m sure Freud would have been proud. Sol Calero turned Laura Bartlett’s stand into the 80s-inspired Cyber Café, all bright colours, geometric shapes and furniture of which to be envious. Stands had become transformative; you were never sure of where you’d be taken next.
Space was also invaded very literally, as galleries added performance to their stands – so much so that sometimes it felt more appropriate to just watch, without going in. Galleries in Frieze Focus particularly pushed the boundaries. Mathew Gallery’s booth played host to daily auditions, with Villa Design Group auditioning members of the public for their film adaptation of the designer Jean Royère’s memoirs. Immersing the hopefuls in a space that would aid their audition, the stand oozed with the luxury of Royère’s designs. Watching the auditions was addictive and awkward; in a place that trained your eye to see everything as art, it was hard not to see these performances as unreal, a pretend game. Barbara Seiler Galerie had Ante Timmermans’ ) Pause ( play continually within their stand – five dancers performing the directions of a ‘pause’, as they understood it mentally and physically. Tireless, these dancers appeared in a constant state of starting then stopping, their actions ranging from the subtle to the expansive, dodging the sculpture with which they shared the stand. Frieze Projects presented a ballet by Nick Mauss (supported by 303 Gallery and Campoli Presti), which to come across felt as if stumbling backstage. Again, we wondered if we were out of place, as Mauss’s ‘living stage’ showed all aspects of the performance – the backstage, the DJ, the dancers stretching at the bar and a dancer overhead (up on a balcony) who was sporadically covered by a moving curtain.
Not all transformations were so immersive; many galleries opened their stand with artworks that challenged our perspective of space. Galerie Francesca Pia created space within the stand, with an installation of rope lines that created imaginary walls. In a similar vein, Galeria Fortes Vilaca had geometrically divided their space with works from Rodrigo Matheus, Iran do Espíritu Santo and José Damasceno, including a giant anchor-like hook, the line of which zigzagged from ceiling to floor. Andrew Kreps Gallery hung the seductively three-dimensional tapestry Backdrop, Bedroom by Goshka Macuga – the angled lines so crisp, you could almost climb in – then extended the bedroom using Darren Bader’s sculptures. Greene Naftali was exhibiting Lutz Bacher’s Alice for the first time: a room within the stand, each wall had an enlarged photo of the same little girl posing with various expressions, the floor covered in glitter-filled bouncy balls. The balls appeared as the littering of childhood, extending the girl’s childish but passionate expressions onto the floor; walking across the room, we became engulfed in our own childish memories.
In an art fair so international and notorious as Frieze, it should come as no surprise that space should be manipulated, played with and pulled, all to catch out our expectations. The Art Newspaper questioned whether such play was good for business, stating that only bigger galleries could afford to make themselves less about sales, quoting New York based arts adviser Wendy Cromwell, “Large-franchise galleries can afford to break the mould and take the risk”. But I saw play right across Frieze, with the Focus section of the fair getting just as involved. The contemporary art world is perhaps more about money than ever before, but art has always been reactive and could this be a reaction to such pigeon-holing? Pieces are selling for record prices, both inside the fairs and out, but that doesn’t mean art can’t still be about changing the space around us, and that’s what Frieze London 2014 was all about. WM
Sophie Hill is founder of postcardwall, an online publication about art inspired by postcards. Sophie has curated exhibitions for galleries in London and New York, and regularly writes text for artists. Sophie graduated from the University of York in 2009 with a BA in History of Art & English Literature; she lives and works in London.
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