LONDON — If all art is subjective, mirrored art is doubly so. If there is one tendency at the Frieze art fair this year which cannot be ignored it is the use of reflective surfaces, as if to cause you twice as much grief in judging the work. Mirrors are, of course, nothing new at Frieze and certainly nothing new in art. Jan Van Eyck and Parmigianino, to name but two, knew all about their silvered mystique. But 2013 could go down in art fair history as the year this fascination with reflectivity finally jumped the shark.
Walking the aisles of London’s biggest art fair, you could see a broken mirror stitched back together as if to ward off bad luck, a chandelier hung above a mirrored bed, a ruffled silverfoil ‘painting’ animated by a hidden motor, a mirror bearing the inscription Hocus Focus. And all serve to remind the visitor that any impressions of this fair will, doubtless, say more about me and you than about the art. Gavin Turk sticks a bin bag on his mirror and dedicates it to Pistoletto. It might annoy the spectator, but all they can see is their own irritation.
303 Gallery represents Doug Aitken with a mirror piece that gets right to the point. It is a shiny geometric relief in which the word “You” appears twice, once light, once dark. This is an emblem for all the other pieces in the fair; if you are buying, it is indeed about you. But the irony of Aitken’s piece is that, given the angles of his surfaces, you may not see yourself in this confrontational work at all.
Incidentally, the story is the same in the sunlit Sculpture Park. Out here the mirrors and mirrored surfaces can reflect the greenery and the sky. They gesture toward infinity. In its largest incarnation to date, the Park features reflective work by Elmgreen & Dragset, Jeppe Hein, Marilá Dardot and, to best effect, Gimhongsok. The Seoul-based artist has delivered a crumpled three-dimensional sheet metal rendering of Robert Indiana’s iconic Love design. So the park is certainly a highlight this year.
So far, so dizzying. But if you are looking for a less metaphysical thrill from this year’s fair, the micro trend for doors will not help. Anton Kern gallery props a resin door by Richard Hughes against the wall of their stand and reveal that this light blue domestic portal has a far out name: Cosmic Background Radiation. Not to be outdone, Laura Bartlett Gallery have a double door by Ian Law. This was once in place in a garage and now makes for a disruptive objet trouvé. Better still, Greene Naftali has installed the vast rear doors of a truck trailer, a piece by Gedi Sibony. The bright yellow and orange paint is at odds with the heavy duty, fixed purpose nature of this particular point of entrance or exit.
There are more doors in a piece by Oscar Tuazon, who is represented by at least two galleries here. One of his ad hoc combinations of wood, metal, paint, and glass features two apparent conservatory doors. They seem to lead nowhere, but in the fevered mind of a collector who knows what may be glimpsed on the other side. Architecture, by way of a fashion this year, is most in evidence at Lisson Gallery’s stand, which features a full size pavilion by Dan Graham, the doorless and transparent Groovy Spiral. As we all know, things haven’t been groovy for about 45 years.
Despite the doors and mirrors, diversity is the real hallmark of this year’s fair. Galleries stand out for many different reasons, with some, like Lisson, opting for a full-blown installation. One of the most colourful and arresting sights was “Mop” by Sam Keogh, courtesy of Kerlin Gallery Dublin. This was a kaleidoscopic vinyl, littered with detritus said to pertain to Oscar the Grouch. Another showstopper came by way of Stevenson Gallery from South Africa. Their display by Meschac Gaba featured row after cheerful row of wall-mounted junior-sized clothes, each garment printed with a malaise of African life, from cholera to dictatorship. This too was as bright as it was alarming.
But if you’re wondering about the biggest revelation at Frieze 2013, it might just be the novel sight of plenty of open space and visitor-friendly seating areas. It seems at last organisers have realised how exhausting the fair can be for those without VIP passes. The new format, which still embraces 150 exhibitors, was developed with the help of architecture firm Carmody Groarke, who can, quite aptly, list galleries, restaurants, and memorials among their previous work.
The Fair’s annual commission program has a new curator in Nicola Lees. And, in another surprise, Frieze Projects are in a designated zone as opposed to spread throughout the fair. They even have their own “mutable architectural environment,” as the press release so helpfully points out. Seeing works cheek by jowl is barely less confusing than stumbling upon them in the aisles. But two works which are well worth the visit are those by Lili Reynaud-Dewar and Ken Okiishi. The former reads a steamy novel on an oily bed; the former has programmed robots to fire paintball guns in a tribute to the Shooting Pictures of Niki de Saint Phalle.
More guns crop up in Frieze Talks, courtesy of Uraib Toukan. The Palestinian artist lectures on the discovery of hundreds of films at an abandoned Soviet Cultural Centre in Lebanon. Among those found here are several by the Palestinian Film Unit, a media arm of the PLO. Sensational footage takes in a training camp for teenage resistance fighters and an encounter with a guerrilla unit in the hills. It is strange to be watching what some have classed as terrorist propaganda at an event geared towards the super-rich, who presumably have no interest in upsetting the status quo. The sponsor here is Deutsche Bank, and hard to say whether this is a brand manager’s dream or nightmare. Not far from the VIP lounge is a painted, pixelated, hazy rendering of the German bank’s logo by artist Mark Flood. But if you can afford it, it is probable that you and your own bank are on good terms.
Frieze Music 2013 proves much less contentious. US composer, singer, and performer Meredith Monk gives an enthralling presentation on her life and worth, together with film of previous projects. Generously, she treats us to a live rendition of two songs which incorporated clicking sounds and the vibrations of a Jew’s harp. Monk wraps things up for a delighted audience with a quote from poet Gary Snyder: “Art takes nothing from the world. It is a gift and an exchange. It leaves the world nourished.” We go away happy, but as another artist puts it in one of the few textile pieces on show this year: “Sew the wind. Reap the whirlwind.”
The Frieze 2013 art fair continues at Regent’s Park (London) until Sunday, October 20.