I went to Frieze on Thursday when it opened and again yesterday. The sun was shining on the last day of London’s biggest art fair and an art-hungry crowd descended upon the huge marquee in Regents Park (undeterred by the £25 entrance fee!).
The collectors (and celebrity artists Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry) had already been and gone – most work is sold on the first day, before the fair opens to the public – and by all accounts they are spending big again. Gallerists, haunted by memories of last autumn when art spending slumped as the financial world came close to meltdown, breathed a sigh of relief. White Cube sold “Stations”, a ceramic installation by newcomer Rachel Kneebone, for a reported £200,000.
Ane Buelow of Danish gallery Andersen’s Contemporary told me: “It was horrible last year. We only sold one very expensive piece and that was it. This year we’ve sold a lot. Prices have gone up.” Are we back to pre-crisis levels yet? She pauses, then says: “Yes.”
Rather appropriately, a Communist-style red banner declared “Long live and thrive Capitalism” at the Andreiana Mihail Gallery’s stand from Bucharest. And four short films entitled “The Financial Crisis” by Danish art collective Superflex guided us through sessions with a bespectacled hypnotist “to reveal the crisis without as the psychosis within”. Close-ups of his facial stubble, slowly moving mouth and droning voice made for oddly compelling viewing.
Frieze is a slick affair, especially compared to its smaller rival, the Zoo art fair – which focuses on up and coming artists, cultivating a more cutting edge image, and has moved to four disused Victorian warehouses in the East End this year. But, perhaps in response to Zoo, the Frieze organisers set up an exciting new area this year, called Frame. Located in an annexe, it was populated by younger galleries showing more experimental work – art that has been produced specially for Frieze and hasn’t been shown before.
Most of the fair’s video work was to be found here, alongside Club Nutz, a reconstruction of “the smallest comedy club” in the world, normally located in Milwaukee in the US. The 4m x 4m miniature night club manages to cram in a stage, bar, DJ booth, disco ball and a bouncer. The Milwaukee club is even smaller, says co-founder Tyson Reeder. When I squeeze in, he promises everyone who tells a joke a free beer and proceeds to show a video by Charles Irvin, entitled Membrane Lane, a faux conspiracy documentary on the False Memory Syndrome Foundation.
A split-screen video installation by Laurent Montaron at galerie schleicher + lange next caught my attention. It showed two seemingly identical films side by side that were slightly out of synch. They followed a boy’s wanderings and somewhat peculiar actions. It made me think about parallel universes. As the work’s description says, small discrepancies between the two films make you wonder whether the real film – or reality – is not somewhere in between.
Here are some of the other highlights:
Canadian artist Gareth Moore’s installation “Neither here nor there” (pictured) was snapped up by the Tate in the first half hour last Wednesday. The Tate trust gets to go around the art fair first before the private collectors are allowed in, and bought six artworks this year.
The artist turned bits from discarded chairs he found in Berlin into a series of flags. “They aren’t normal flags – they refer back to the chairs, their character and history,” said Markus Luettgen of the Berlin gallery Luettgenmeijer, which represents Moore. He is reluctant to tell me the installation’s price tag, but says that work of this size normally sells for €30,000. He also thinks that Frieze’s new Frame area has been very popular.
Alan Kane’s collection of his parents’ art – from kitsch ceramic figurines to artificial flowers – suggests that his parents’ collecting is just as worthy as any other art collecting. Free postcards featuring the artefacts were up for grabs. The installation is not for sale – his parents were keen to have it all back in their lounge. “Mum and Dad are coming to pick it up later,” said Ashley Gallant of London gallery Ancient & Modern. Kane is trying to sell the rights to reprint the postcards and has so far had two enquiries from private collectors, but is hoping a public institution might be interested. Any takers?
Elsewhere, in the main Frieze area, Jim Hodges’ “the dark gate” stood out (at the Stephen Friedman gallery). A wooden room was set in a pitch black space. Staggering through the darkness I entered the room, which was lit by a single light bulb, through swing doors. The wall straight ahead had been removed and replaced by long steel spikes which pointed inwards towards a central round opening through which I peered into darkness, a seemingly endless space. The room looked and smelled like a sauna – the tips of the spikes were laced with a fragrance made by the artist to draw attention to this focal point. I got a different feel for the space when I walked around the room in the dark and looked through the spikes from the outside.
I left feeling physically and intellectually refreshed!