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October 2010, Frieze Art Fair

Frieze Art Fair, Regent's Park, London
Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze.


Frieze 2010: The House of Pleasures?

Frieze Art Fair
Regent's Park
14 October through 17 October, 2010

Is this year’s Frieze any better than the previous? Well, actually it is. And it is surely bigger. This year Frieze counts 170 stands, a marked increase if compared to the previous year’s exhibit of 130. The suspicion that this year’s edition is larger creeps on as, like every year, you find yourself lost, and wondering if you had been in this exact spot before. This is the ‘Blair Witch Project Effect’ for which Frieze has become rather famous. So, don’t you take the trouble, for as much as you scream “Josh, Josh!” you just will never find him again in here… I am not sure how many people are here this morning but seeing the art on the walls is a challenge indeed.

As we know, quantity does not necessarily equate to quality and Mies van der Rohe's famous maxim “less is more” echoes louder in Frieze’s tents than in any other exhibiting space in London. However, Frieze is not an exhibition of contemporary art, as far as visiting could also be understood as “enjoying art”. The aim here is to sell. The key factors are visibility and salability. Forget about curatorial knowledge, this is a supermarket of art and as such it is designed to work exactly within the framework of consumerism. Dreams are made, nicely packaged, and sold to you. Frieze showcases products, some of which are good and some of which are bad, or, at times, have passed their “sell-by date”. What is the point in exhibiting Andy Warhol here, I wonder? I actually wonder that every year. Surely his work just simply sells. The opportunity to see the truly new and relatively underexposed work of artists who have already reached a certain stage in their careers is the reason many visitors come, not to see Warhol. Most, and I include myself amongst these, do not have a big enough wallet to detach anything from the exhibiting walls, but with the opportunity of seeing art from 29 different countries, at least Frieze proposes a very interesting snapshot of what goes in the world beyond London, Paris and New York.

Simon Fujiwara, Frozen City, 2010

Frieze Art Fair, Regent's Park, London
Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze.

Most interestingly, the true highlight of this year’s edition is the project by Simon Fujiwara. Frozen City is an extremely believable ‘spoof archeological excavation’ happening at different places through Frieze’s mega-tents. Beneath the floor, the remains of an ancient ‘pleasure parlor’ (made of painted polystyrine) are protected by the kind of thick glass used to protect real archeological displays. One recovered section is called the House of Pleasures and complete with its informational card, it presents viewers with a bust (Pompeii style) displaying a large erected phallus. The reminder of instant gratification made by this installation resonates with a provocative tone through the fair’s space. What are we here to look for? And what do we find instead? Pleasure? Pain? In the central section of one tent, a pretend archeologist is busy recovering a mosaic floor. Very keenly, he answers visitors’ questions in consistent and professional ways leading many to think that the excavations are real. Many believe him! The idea of authenticity is also, of course, at play. How gullible are art audiences? Effectively, Frieze has become an institution in its own right and as such its credibility relies on the claim that what is on show is some of the best and original work around. However, this promise lies beneath the words of the stand-holders and the reputations of their internationally renowned galleries. The more powerful they are, the more we believe that what they have to show is worthy of our attention, or even of our money. Is there any certainty about quality, value and veracity in this place, and in the functioning of the art system in general?

Damien Hirst, I Want You Because I Can’t Have You, 1992
Frieze Art Fair, Regent's Park, London
Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze.

In keeping with the theme of “belief systems” presented by Simon Fujiwara, the first thing visitors see upon entering Frieze is a large mirror by Jeppe Hein. The mirror, in its size and orientation reminds us of the format typical of history paintings. The theme of history as presented by the spoof archeological remains underlines the concept of certainty and truth. However, as we have learnt with Frozen City, certainty is not an intrinsic quality of the art market. This uncertainty is reflected in the mirror by Hein that, as we look at ourselves in it, starts shaking with a worrying intensity, blurring every potential certainty in its reflection. Afterwards, and maybe because such first exposure is so memorable, we notice the presence of many other mirrors through the fair. Is this the result of Anish Kapoor’s influence?

Aside from its disconcerting size, the show does not reserve many more surprises. The usual suspects are more or less in the same places they were spotted the previous year, at times generating a rather unsettling Déjà vu. However there are some not so known names that have gained some good and well deserved exposure. Marcus Coates, an artist who has developed a reputation on performance and video work proposing his antics as a shaman communicating to a dead animal world was given a rather prominent display at Kate MacGarry’s Gallery. White Cube did not disappoint but, well, it is difficult to do so when you have under your wing one of the most impressive rosters of contemporary artists alive. So off you go with the usual Damien Hirst and Gary Hume which, however, do disappoint.

Sarah Jones, The Rose Garden, 2007
Frieze Art Fair, Regent's Park, London

Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze.

Of particular interest were the still-life collages by Marcel Odebach, an artist who has in his work criticized German society. Sarah Jone’s photographs of rose bushes seen from the wrong angle, or decaying, were also of particular note. There is a crispy quality to this aesthetic challenge that reminds us of painterly surfaces, whilst the difficult point of view the artist adopts makes us wonder what we really know about nature and what lies behind the surface. Angela de La Cruz, a nominee for the current Turner Prize is presented by Galerie Krinzinger (Vienna) with a selection of works that seems to have been directly borrowed from Tate’s own display. The artist investigates the relationship between the bi-dimensionality of painting and the corporeal presence of chromatic sculpture, engaging in a dialogue between the two realms through the creation of ‘hybrid art objects’. The result is something of an artistic car-crash from many perspectives. Otherwise, the show stealer is again Ugo Rondinone who was given something of a personal show by gallery Eva Presenhuber. Rondinone offers a moment of minimalist peace in a perfectly white, enclosed space where a few objects scattered around build a poetics syntax typical of Arte Povera. This moment of calm is most welcome after having wandered for hours through what resembles Oxford Street on the 24th of December, more than anything to do with an art environment.

Outside, to phase your descent back into the real world where archeological remains are meant to be authentic and mirrors tend not to shake, is the sculpture park. In the park, scattered around are works by Ceal Floyer, Marie Lund and Franz West. Highest levels of attention have been given in the press to the installation by Wolfgang Ganter and Kaj Aune: Trash, literally consisting of a pile of trash emitting sounds and smoke. Gavin Turk has for the occasion created an installation of 15 bicycles available for visitors to ride around the park. What a relief, after bathing in people for so long, to be able to get away from it all and to be able to do so fast, on a bicycle!


Wolfgang Ganter and Kaj Aune, Trash, 2010
Frieze Art Fair, Regent's Park, London
Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze.

Gavin Turk, Installation View, 2010

Frieze Art Fair, Regent's Park, London
Photo by Linda Nylind for Frieze.

Giovanni Aloi

 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

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