This review was originally published on Art-Agenda in October 2013
The ecosystem of Frieze Art Fair in London keeps growing, like a healthy family of good-looking siblings. That is, indeed, exciting, but it is also a real tour de force for visitors, who since last year have not just one, but two highly distinct fairs to enjoy (the main one and Frieze Masters, focusing on the work of more historical figures), as well as an increasing number of side projects and parallel programs, ranging from film screenings, conversations with artists, and musical events.
My journey already commenced on a crisp and sunny Tuesday afternoon, when I scouted out the Sculpture Park, which boasted a rather eclectic selection of outdoor works, encompassing pretty much every artistic style and genre from medieval gargoyles to the shabby chic aesthetic of the artist Oscar Murillo. As I began my stroll, I ran into Judy Chicago, shuffling the blocks of her aptly titled piece Rearrangeable Rainbow Blocks (1965). Not too far way, Jeppe Hein’sGeometrical Mirrors (2011) merged elegantly with the surroundings (disappearing or resurfacing depending on the light and the position of the viewer), and offered the right portions of aesthetic and participatory joy appropriate to such venues, the theme parks of the Instagram-friendly art crowd.
In Frieze Masters, the Spotlight section delivered yet another solid selection of solo stands of artists active in the second half of the twentieth century, with an inclination towards geometrical abstraction, spatial experimentation, and conceptual gestures (including work by Julio Le Parc, Alice Aycock, Anna Oppermann, and Liliana Porter, among others). The display of works by Lygia Clark at London’s Alison Jacques Gallery was an absolute delight of intricate geometries; it included a carefully edited collection of metallic sculptures (her well known “Bichos” series), photographs, and wooden maquettes, as well asComposiçao (1953), an extraordinary oil on canvas in pastel hues. The booth’s museological feel was an intentional anticipatory gesture for Clark’s upcoming exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where the first major retrospective outside her native Brazil will be launched in May of next year. Nearby, Thomas Solomon from Los Angeles presented a group of rare Gordon Matta-Clark works, of which a set of drawings were the most surprising, unveiling an unknown (at least for me) link between his “performance architecture” and the colorful biomorphic paintings of his father, Roberto Matta. But the revelation came courtesy of Berlin’s Johann König, which exhibited a collection of paintings and flat vinyl sculptures by the Austrian artist Kiki Kogelnik. They were absolutely mind-boggling in their euphoric use of color and popular culture references, from fashion to feminism, from science fiction to pulp. I left feeling uplifted by the overall quality, ambition, and rigor of the displays seen at Spotlight.
The following morning, heavy showers ominously poured from the sky, with women twisting their ankles on impossibly high heels and suited men ducking under folded newspapers as they dashed to the gates of Frieze London. Upon entering, the main section—featuring the usual roster of blue chip and established galleries holding court in gigantic booths—greeted visitors with works like Jeff Koons’s bombastic set of massive, shiny sculptures and canvases at Gagosian Gallery. Rather predictably, two-dimensional works seemed to dominate the first section—both painting and photography, with Ryan McGinley exhibiting his “You and My Friends” series (2013) at New York’s Team Gallery and London’s Alison Jacques, for example.
From the perspective of someone who goes to the fair to look and not to buy, the main section initially offered little incentive. But as I progressed eastward in the tent, racking up meters of carpet like sky miles, things seemed to pick up. The local Stuart Shave/Modern Art presented a theatrical display of sculptural works, including objects by Lothar Hempel, Matthew Monahan, David Noonan, Eva Rothschild, and Ricky Swallow, among others. Their frontal arrangement, imbued with several layers of depth, generated a clear, scenographic aura; the works were treated like characters and props on a stage—a bit sensational, perhaps, but it worked for me.
São Paulo’s Galeria Luisa Strina did not disappoint with her showcase of Portuguese and Brazilian artists, which included an installation by the consistently beguiling Leonor Antunes, whose pieces occupy a rewarding liminal space between architecture and sculpture, the enduring and the delicate. On the other side of the booth, an installation by Fernanda Gomes riveted my total attention despite its understated delicacy—no small feat in the midst of the fair’s loud racket. Employing wood, metallic string, and matchboxes as a kind of material degree zero, Gomes conjured a space of suspended time and heightened awareness.
Two galleries with beautifully balanced group arrangements were Berlin’s Supportico Lopez and Rodeo from Istanbul. The former presented sculptural works by Michael Dean and Christina Mackie (whose work was nabbed by the Tate as part of their Outset/Frieze Art Fair Fund purchases this year) and a painting with soundtrack by Natalie Häusler. Alternatively, Rodeo initiated a compelling conversation between the museological rhetorics of Haris Epaminonda, a patchy figurative painting by Apostolos Georgiou, and the sculptures of Ian Law and James Richards, who mounted a couple of waxy wood panels printed with oneiric diagrams on the wall, which was an engaging point of departure from his previous moving image works.
Around the corner, Cabinet delivered another theatrical set. However, unlike Modern Art’s collective cacophony of artistic voices, this was entirely artist Mark Leckey’s doing. On a low, white stage Leckey combined several elements, including a couple of cardboard sculptures in the shape of electric towers, a poster, a LED light box, a video on a small flat screen, and a backdrop depicting a highly artificial natural landscape. The main protagonist was an original drawing by the late writer and artist Pierre Klossowski, which conveyed what appeared to be a libidinous clergyman luring a young man into a bed. As I admired this powerful pairing—Leckey’s play on nature and artifice and Klossowki’s painfully acute critique in pastel colors, a committee carrying a gigantic bottle of Pommery champagne and a load of smiley faces came to announce that the gallery had won the Stand Prize of this edition. Sipping idly from a small bottle of champagne that someone in the commotion had planted in my hand, I wandered away in search of my next stop.
In Frame, the “younger” section of the fair, two stands featuring the work of both neglected and not-so-young artists stood out for me. Madrid’s Maisterravalbuena, for example, showed recent works by Néstor Sanmiguel Diest. A member of the late 1980s Spanish artistic collective A Ua Crag, Diest abandoned his performative practice and took to painting two decades ago; he has since been producing highly obsessive and intricate drawings which sit somewhere between outsider art and a sort of hand-made post-internet art avant la lettre.
Aanant & Zoo from Berlin showed a group of works by the Croatian writer and artist Vlado Martek, made in response to the Yugoslav War of the 1990s and his own struggles with poetry, which for him, is much more laden with contradictions than the visual arts. The exhibited pieces, with media spanning from drawings, collages, photographs, to text-based works, had a playfulness and tenderness about them that compelled me to linger. There is something especially appealing about artists who embrace their inner contradictions, and funnily enough, I could not think of a better place to ponder those conflicts than at this art fair, which dares to juxtapose artistic endeavors with the unforgiving demands of the market. As I discovered those inconspicuous, but brilliant works in the smaller galleries, my mood evolved from a jaded sense of déjà vu to growing excitement; Frieze manages to cater for all types of art audiences, from the troupe of globetrotting wealthy collectors to aspiring artists, which is perhaps the key to its continued success.