Issue Number: 112
Frieze Art Fair has set London abuzz every autumn for almost ten years and, despite the economic climate, there’s no sign of that changing. Art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston assesses its impact and tells us what’s on around town during Frieze week
© Stephen Hird/Reuters/Corbis. Photography by Lind Nylind courtesy of Frieze Every autumn, it rolls into London like some travelling circus and pitches its tent on the perimeter of Regent’s Park. The art world turns up en masse, abandoning white cubes to camp out under canvas. Gossip swirls as madly as a Damien Hirst spin painting. Opinions are as outspoken as a Tracey Emin piece. Queues for the private view will stretch down the pathways, ending way beyond reach of the requisite pair of Manolos. But if, for those waiting doggedly under dripping umbrellas, the name Frieze might sound a great deal too literal, the elect on the inside are delighted to feel cool.
For four days in October, the Frieze Art Fair turns London into a cultural Mecca. ‘Its impact has been tremendous,’ declares Glenn Scott Wright, co-director of Victoria Miro gallery.
‘It has certainly been among the most exciting additions to the art world’s calendar,’ Maureen Paley, an equally long-standing gallerist, agrees. And yet, less than a decade ago, Frieze did not exist. It was only in 2003 that Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp, university friends who were running the stylish contemporary art magazine of the same name, filled a gap in the market that had been prised wider and wider by the combined forces of the phenomenally successful Brit Art movement, the rocketing popularity of Tate Modern and the City’s financial boom.
‘We were only responding to what was already happening,’ Slotover says. ‘Where once pretty much the whole art world could fit into a pub,’ he says, by the end of the 1990s, ‘you no longer felt you were a lunatic if you talked about art to a taxi driver. You no longer had constantly to argue about what art was.’ Contemporary art was flourishing.
‘People started to feel as if they ought to go to exhibitions so as to have an opinion about them,’ says Scott Wright, ‘and gradually they found themselves getting engaged and then, if they had money, they wanted to collect. They were no longer collecting just to decorate their homes: private spaces began to open up.’ In the past decade or so, he estimates, the number of British buyers who come to his gallery has doubled.
These art lovers were prepared to trot the globe in search of treasure, to jet from Cologne to Tokyo, from the Venice Biennale to the Basel Art Fair. But London had nothing to compare until Frieze came along, putting our capital at least on a par with – if not above – New York, where an American arm of this fair is opening in May 2012. ‘Frieze has cemented our international kudos,’ says Paley. ‘You may not need to be in London at any other time, but you must be there for this slot.’ Frieze week, as it has become known (the name was apparently first given to it by restaurateurs who noticed sudden record profits) is a must. You might not be able to get a table – or a taxi – during it, but what you can be sure of getting is plenty
Frieze calls the contemporary tune. Commercial galleries and auction houses tie their activities to it. ‘Buying has increasingly become event driven,’ explains Scott Wright. ‘Art fairs have become an important social event. Collectors like to meet each other. And they are often competitive. That’s why they find auctions so compelling. That’s why they love Frieze. They like to run around and ask, “What have
© Stephen Hird/Reuters/Corbis. Photography by Lind Nylind courtesy of Frieze It may not suit everyone. ‘Some people say: “God, it’s awful. Once you could have your pick but now you can’t get what you want”,’ adds Slotover. Competition hoiks up prices and dealers can afford to be snooty. They want their artworks to find the most prestigious homes. Woe betide the brash city boy who wants to make a punt. He won’t prise the Kapoor piece from the VIP client.
But where old-school collectors used to have to trawl the galleries, now they can see everything in one place. They can move from Shanghai to Berlin in the length of one corridor, whereas before they would have had to spend months on the road. ‘As a place to see what’s going on all over the world right now, it’s hard to beat Frieze,’ says Slotover. And where it differs from rival art fairs, Scott Wright suggests, is that Frieze puts a stronger emphasis on the cutting edge. ‘That gives it a sense of excitement. People feel that they can make discoveries.’
The hottest new discovery, apparently, is history. Old masters are the new masters, it seems. This year’s Venice Biennale brought Tintoretto out of the hallowed spaces of the Accademia and gave him star billing in the central pavilion. Now Frieze follows suit. It has announced the launch, next year, of Frieze Masters: a satellite fair that will sell art from every period up to 2000. ‘We see the contemporary as a continuum of the historical,’ Slotover says, ‘but with the great contemporary boom, some sense of that continuum has been lost. We would like to re-emphasise it.’
‘This ancient-versus-modern discussion has always been there,’ says Paley, ‘but it has become more and more relevant to contemporary art,’ she suggests, citing the example of the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans who recently showed his work at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool, hung alongside historical pictures from the permanent collection. Frieze once again has its finger on the pulse. And once again it’s financial as much as aesthetic. In falling markets, as buyers worry that the contemporary bubble was rather overinflated, the historical begins to look like a rather safer bet.
Frieze Art Fair Regent’s Park, London, 020 3372 6111, www.friezeartfair.com , 13-16 Oct.
TACITA DEAN RA
Surely it’s Britain’s most daunting commission. The monumental task of filling the vast spaces of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall will be undertaken this autumn by Berlin-based British artist Tacita Dean. For the first time an artist who works primarily with film is chosen.
Tate Modern, 020 7887 8888, www.tate.org.uk , 11 Oct–9 April
Wilhelm Sasnal, 'Roy Orbison 1', 2007, at Whitechapel Gallery Courtesy of Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York. WILHELM SASNAL
Anything, from Roy Orbison to Georges Seurat’s Bathers, can become a subject for this Polish artist whose work ignores the boundaries conventionally set up between Realism and Romanticism, between the figurative and the abstract. This is his first major show in Britain.
Whitechapel Gallery, 020 7522 7878, www.whitechapel.gallery.org , 14 Oct–1 Jan, 2012
Slow down and study those usually overlooked details of life. The Albanian artist Anri Sala, known for work that examines the relationship between sound and image, creates a site-specific installation that will make you see this Kensington Gardens gallery afresh.
Serpentine Gallery, 020 7402 6075, www.serpentinegallery.org ,
1 Oct–20 Nov
In her first London exhibition since her 2009 Tate Modern retrospective, the American Roni Horn, known for bringing a sensual touch to minimalism and ethereality to the monumental, will show new work, and the sequel to a key photographic series from 1994 called You are the Weather, in which she returns after 15 years to focus on the face of a woman that alters with the changing climate .
Hauser & Wirth, 020 7287 2300, www.hauserwirth.com , 9 Sep–22 Oct
The talk of the 2009 Venice Biennale was a Swedish-born, Berlin-based artist who sculpted dark fantasies out of Plasticine: fairy tales turned horribly wrong, which she filmed and then set to music composed by her partner Hans Berg. Now her unnervingly perverse and obsessively violent vision comes to Britain in her first major UK show.
Camden Arts Centre, 020 7472 5500, www.camdenartscentre.org , 7 Oct–8 Jan, 2012
Alexander Calder, 'The Lookout', 1957, at the Pavilion of Art And Design London Private Collection RYAN GANDER
The venue – an East End warehouse – may be open but, with the wilful opacity that one might expect from this intriguing artist, the show will seem to be closed. The spectator must act like a detective, to assemble the fragments of a narrative in ‘Locked Room Scenario’, the latest in Artangel’s series of site-specific commissions.
Londonnewcastle Depot, www.artangel.org.uk , 30 Aug–23 Oct
The fêted Chinese film artist exhibits his latest video: a multi-screen projection that lands a discombobulated spectator in the centre of Shanghai’s old town in the middle of the night.
Parasol Unit, 020 7490 7373, www.parasol-unit.org , 13 Sep–6 Nov
THE MUSEUM OF EVERYTHING: EXHIBITION 4
The Outsider artist comes into a crowded emporium as the Museum of Everything takes over the shop windows of Selfridges. The private worlds of people with development disabilities go on public display in an exhibition that is sure to be as striking as it is viscerally moving.
Selfridges, 020 7957 5325, Sep–25 Oct
THE PAVILION OF ART AND DESIGN LONDON
This art fair, which was set up to coincide with Frieze, pitches camp in Mayfair’s Berkeley Square. Around 50 international exhibitors will lay out wares which come from the world of high-end decorative arts, while galleries show painting and photography to emphasise the relationship between art and design.
The Pavilion of Art and Design London, 0033 1 53 30 85 20, www.padlondon.net , 12-16 Oct