Left, David Shrigley’s “I’m Dead” (2010); Right, I have no idea who made the fluorescent lumpy piece, which I mention in #4. (images by the author) (click to enlarge)

This past weekend was the annual Frieze Art Fair, held in London. Featuring over 150 galleries from all the best Western nations (and maybe a few others), the Frieze Art Fair is one of the largest and most notable in the world. This was my first outing to Frieze, and people keep asking me “How was it?” I think “how it was” can best be summed up as the top 5 parts of Frieze I actually remember (presented here in no particular order).

1. The transformation of a portion of Regent’s Park into your (a)typical white cube warehouse space. London is chock full of rolling, luscious parks, and Regent’s is yet another very lovely one. Frieze, however, is way too well-funded to let you be aware of the chillier elements of London weather. You are initially herded into the Frieze tents through a long, maroon colored hallway to wind up in sprawling mash-up of hundreds of gallery spaces in miniature. It’s heated better than my flat, and the bathrooms resemble those of restaurants that I can’t afford, with carpets, solid wooden doors, and fancy bowl sinks. The only giveaway that you’re not in a multi-segmented brick-and-mortar gallery are the disjointed floors. If you stand still, you can watch the more delicate sculptures wobble incessantly.

Another favorite of mine was Kutlug Ataman’s “Column” (2008) (photo by the author) (click to enlarge)

2. The very well-intentioned talks and their less-informed audiences. I attended Amar Kanwar’s talk on an upcoming project of his, which featured a series of nebulous stories about a somewhat spiritual creative journey of his, parts of which deal with the current conflict in Burma. During the Q & A, audience members then proceeded to ask what exactly he meant and if it was hard to articulate his creative thoughts in English. Embarrassed laughter ensued. (English may not be Kanwar’s very first language, but it’s one he’s probably been speaking most of his life.) I will admit that Kanwar’s was not the easiest train of thought to follow, but Frieze very conveniently put recordings of each talk on their site, the act of which I appreciate more than the talk itself.

3. David Shrigley’s whimsical pieces. So many works suffered from what felt like poor curatorial choices or issues with the allotted space. There were quite a few installations and film projections in what felt like oddly shaped closets, as well as works along over-trafficked corridors that got ignored. David Shrigley’s pieces, however, are the first that come to mind when I picture work that I saw, and were pretty popular. Perhaps the sheer quantity of jokey text drawings helped, but the iron gates that spelled “DEATH DEATH DEATH” [“Death Gate” (2009)] on one side and “WE’RE IN PRISON PLEASE JOIN US KEEP SHUT” [“We Are In Prison” (2010)] on the other, really filled up the notably large Stephen Friedman Gallery space instead of just occupying it. And everyone loves a taxidermy animal.

4. The fluorescent dung. There were a few thought-provoking pieces, and some pieces that were nice to look at, and then there was a lot of stuff I don’t have any feelings about at all. And then there was an object from an Austrian gallery that stood out. It could have resembled a grumpy cloud being propped up by a hand, but the fluorescent paint plied to the creases of its lumpy form too well and there was the unfortunate presence of an unaffiliated group of flies. I like to give everything a chance, but Frieze crams so much in that you learn to just give up and poo-poo some things.

Simon Fujiwara’s “Proposal for Frozen” (2010) at the Frieze art fair. (image via freeartlondon.wordpress.com) (click thru for more info)

5. Simon Fujiwara’s “Frozen” (2010). I have to say, I’m a sucker for a clever and enveloping installation. Winner of the 2010 Cartier Award, Fujiwara presented a site-specific installation of a fictional Roman archeological dig. Throughout the fair, there were segments of the floor replaced with glass, which looked down into different “sites.” Each was accompanied by museum placards with text giving the anthropological background of the artifacts within, which combined elements of classical and ancient cultures with the modern. My favorite of the series was of a skull, apparently choked by a shoe, surrounded by coins and jewelry. The text details the doomed love story of a female patron and an artist told through fragments of letters found, drawing parallels to the complex relationship art has with money today. Being the only piece present outside of the artist-gallery-collector structure of Frieze, it seemed to also be the only one willing to undermine it. Click here for a map of Fujiwara’s Frieze installation or here for an image of what the final project actually looked like.

Overall, what makes the Frieze Art Fair so underwhelming for me is its innate structure, which perpetuates the passive consumption of art as commodity. The Art World treats the fair as a showcase for what’s new, but how different is an art fair from a dressed up flea market or more creatively inclined car show?

Janelle Grace is the #TalkBackTuesday editor of our tumblelog Hyperallergic LABS. In some of her previous professional lives, she's written essays for the Studio Museum in Harlem, coordinated gallery talks...

2 replies on “5 Observations from London’s Frieze Art Fair”

  1. Great article! Did you see the open air site where a presumed archaeologist was scribbling down notes about the “artefacts”? Some girl watching told us like an expert that the whole thing is real :-S
    Dressed up flea market filled with cons!

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