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Performance art takes centre stage at Frieze London

Published 17 October 2014

Live art – a medium that grew out of opposition to the art market – now takes pride of place at this year’s Frieze London art fair.

  • Performance art came of age in the 1960s partly as a reaction against the commodification of art. How could someone attempt to own/display/flip for a profit, for instance, Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (1965), an event during which the Japanese artist asked the audience to cut off her clothes? The art object had been replaced by an experience in time, ephemeral and not possibly private property.

    So does the Live section in this year’s Frieze London – a new initiative in which a selection of galleries presents performance art – present a kind of oxymoronic climax to performance art’s rise to mainstream status, as the anti-art industry movement becomes central to the art industry’s most celebrated art fair?

    In theory, yes, but then again performance documentation, if not the events themselves, has long been presented and then pocketed from art fair walls. Opposite jubilantly coloured Gerhard Richter squeegee paintings have lurked musty black and white photographic prints of provocative acts; or screens showing lo-fi videos (to be purchased in editions) that, in all their grungy glory, make early performance pieces seem glamorously anti-establishment; or perhaps preparatory drawings, typewritten texts or elaborate sculptural detritus from the live art event that bear some family resemblance – say, third cousin twice removed – to the untouchable action never-to-be-seen-live-again.

  • Frieze London 2014. Robert Breer at Galerie Jocelyn Wolff

    Frieze London 2014. Robert Breer at Galerie Jocelyn Wolff

    Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze

  • Adam Linder, whose work Choreographic Service No. 2 is presented by Berlin’s Silberkuppe, engages with the question of the art market in a canny way. The work, which comprises a Linder jazz-step-shuffling in response to the reading of improvised texts about the fair, can be rented. There’s a price by the hour, another by the day, and you get a certificate as well. The guys who run Silberkuppe, Dominic Eichler and Michel Ziegler, say its up to Linder to agree on the rental, which will prevent any sticky situations for him or his performers.

    One can actually buy the performers presented by Paris’s Galerie Jocelyn Wolff – except blood does not flow through their veins. Instead the protagonists are Robert Breer’s bright white hemispheres that move, imperceptibly slowly, in relation to objects and people. So slowly, in fact, that someone I met at the fair thought they must have broken. But I can vouch that they do move and the experience of watching them is very relaxing, especially in the context of the ever-hectic fair. They are very chilled robots. It made me wish, for a wee second, that I was an automaton too.

  • Frieze London 2014: Rodeo, Tamara Henderon (Live section)

    Frieze London 2014: Rodeo, Tamara Henderon (Live section)

    Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

  • But I was soon knocked out my torpor by a swig from a bottle of grappa, imbibed during a participatory performance presented by Tamara Henderson at Istanbul’s Rodeo. Here a curious gentleman set me various basic tasks (rubbing hands in rosemary, picking up a stone from the bottom of a mini pond, asking me to set a metronome to a speed of choosing) while we had a nice chat about various odd things, including the meaning of the work, whose physical objects included the rudimentary bar on which we leaned and several Surrealism-inspired sculptures surrounding us. This is the kind of work that I’m not going to buy or rent, as I’ve got the memory to enjoy.

    Frieze London 2014 is at Regent’s Park, London, until 18 October.

    Sam Phillips (@SamP_London) is Editor of RA Magazine.