Last year was the first time I’d ever gone and the experience was timely for a number of non-art related reasons.
But the truth is, I really grapple with the whole art fair circus. I mean, I understand its place in the wider ecology of the art world and the commercial art world in particular, and am not such a socialist as to say art should only be that which is available and accessible and interesting and rich with transformative potential for the average punter. BUT, well, I kind of don’t really like the commercial art world. And mostly, that’s because I think its values are a bit screwy.
11 years ago I did an internship in a small but significant commercial art gallery in Chelsea, New York. I had an incredible time – mostly because I was spending my nights climbing into basement jazz clubs and drinking apple martinis at the Met (link) or going clubbing in the Meatpacking District with Macauley Caulkin*. But the gallery experience, while formative, wasn’t hugely inspiring. While I was there they held an extraordinary exhibition of work by African-American artists including Faith Ringgold, Romare Beardon and Benny Andrews, all thumping with colour and form and ideas. But the work they used in all the press and on all the invitations? A delicate, nostalgic pencil drawing by another esteemed artist in the show. Why? Because it was the most expensive work and they wanted to sell it. I get it, I got it, but it depressed the hell out of me. See: formative experience.
|Pierre Huyghe, Frieze Projects Commission, 2011.|
In Sydney I spent years working in an auction house and for a time, at another, truly wonderful, commercial art gallery and I learned a lot from those actually really positive experiences. But they didn’t make me tick (...excepting those fine jewellery sales. There’s a totally different set of rules for accessories.) I like art that surprises the hell out of you. That makes you even ask if it IS art. That gives you a different way to think about/understand/appreciate something.
So in my own small way I’m grateful for Frieze Projects, the commissioned, not-for-sale, projects that attempt to give some
balance to the Westfieldian environment of the Frieze tent. Last year it was
Pierre Huyghe’s aquarium that gave me pause, this year it was Joanna
Rajkowska’s Forcing a Miracle (2012) and the Griezedale Art’s amphitheatre
for food-related spectacles, in particular their Ginger Curator’s Dinner. Yes,
Rajkowska’s work, embedded in the earth and grass of Regent’s Park outside the exit, hit the nostrils before the eyes – in the form of sweet, smoky incense. Transient, powerful, fragile, the wan plumes of smokes were designed to serve as “a physical emanation of thoughts, secret wishes and desires of people coming to the fair and those who are already part of it.” I’m not sure that’s what I took away from it more than simply an appreciation for associative disjuncture between the kinds of houses that light incense and the kinds of houses that decorate their walls with works from Frieze. Can anyone say “mutually exclusive”?
And then, in the tent, in the middle of the aisles, was the Colisseum of the Consumed by Griezedale Arts and Yangjiang Group. Apparently modelled as a cross between a Roman amphitheatre and a cricket pavilion, the structure allowed visitors to ascend a set of stairs to a circular viewing platform, which looked down upon a dining table. When I was there it was being prepped for a dinner exclusively for ginger-haired curators, with a menu of only red foods. It was beautifully, seriously, ridiculous. Several days earlier someone had performed an autopsy on a cake made to look like a cadaverous curator. Yes, really.
Around the outside of the structure were small eccentric stalls selling homemade produce and touting ideas for alternative eating models, through which the action in the middle could also be witnessed. Beyond the gentle absurdity, if nothing else I’m grateful for the fact that thanks to Griezedale Projects I could actually afford to buy something at Frieze this year. Even if it was just a bread roll.
* By "clubbing with Macauley Caulkin" I mean by chance being at the same night club as Macauley Caulkin one random Thursday evening and staring at him from afar across the dance floor. "Kids In America" by Kim Wilde may or may not have been playing at the time.