A weekend at Frieze
by ANNA VAUX
I went twice. No, actually, four times if you count Frieze London and Frieze Masters separately, which you probably should do since they are housed in separate venues, a fifteen-minute walk apart, and you buy tickets separately – £32 per day for each, though you can get a package deal: £50 for both. (I was on a press ticket.) And I’ll probably go again before the four-day event is over. How else can you take it all in, or even a fraction of it?: 152 exhibitors in one, 130 in the other, over 1,000 artists, from Tokyo, New York, Berlin . . . from antiquity to yesterday.
How can you see what’s what, especially at Frieze London, where I stood bewildered on the other side of the security, wondering which way to go, what to look at, right or left? Thank goodness for Americans with loud voices, I thought, as I took a steer from one shouting at another: SO many DRIPPY paintings this year! They rushed determinedly by, surely on their way to somewhere, perhaps to where the drippy paintings were because there were certainly none where I was standing: traffic cones, totems, perspex discs, neon tubes, but no paintings, no DRIPPY paintings, by which I’d imagined he had meant Jackson Pollock-y drippy.
But perhaps he hadn’t, perhaps he’d just meant drippy as in “feeble” or “sad”, or even “abject”. And I could maybe see his point as I wandered past a white clay block by Tracey Emin on which a weeny swan floated and into which she had scratched “HUMILIATION” in block capitals. Or her embroidered blanket into which is sewn a rough sketch of a naked woman, her legs spread wide, and the words “You made me Feel like nothing”. Or Ron Mueck’s hyperrealist miniature sculpture of “Woman with Shopping”. Or Elaine Sturtevant’s video “Trilogy of Transgression”, in which we get to see a vagina – or perhaps it’s a bottom – stuffed with a can of coke.
Then again, perhaps the man was being ironic. Maybe it was a pose. A line. Because let’s not forget how much art here is ironic, nor indeed how much people from the art world pose, just how very fashionable they are, how much more glamour – how much more money – there is in the art world than in the book world, whose chief event in London, the London Book Fair, was recently described by the super agent Andrew Wylie as “like being in a primary school in Lagos”. Just look at the clothes! The shoes! – in pony hair or calf hair, shearling and suede, strapped and buckled, fringed and studded, wedged, sculptured, sharpened, blocked. Nothing tired or abject or humiliated here, unless perhaps you count the shoes the men at Frieze were wearing, shod like infants with brightly coloured laces and neon soles. I half expected to see their feet light up as they walked.
But then, of course, the art at Frieze is not without its infantile side. Some of it is actually made out of toys, I noted (or string, or sand, or flowers, leaves, butterflies, driftwood). Some of it is made to look like toys, most notably the work of Jeff Koons, whose display features a shiny upside-down lobster like a beach inflatable, a set of Tweety Pies swinging in a tyre, a metallic blue-wrapped Easter egg the size of a mobile home, which gave me a headache just to look at it. For a second I felt bulimic, overstuffed with candy colour.
It was a relief, then, to walk in the autumn sunshine through Regent’s Park for a cleansing fifteen minutes, up the gently sloping ramp to Frieze Masters, where it’s all grey carpeted avenues, low lighting – and quiet. Elegant couples sat in Marcel Breuer chairs; low tables supported ice buckets, bottles of champagne. Men in dark suits paced softly, speaking quietly but firmly into their mobiles. Ah, so this is what money sounds like, I thought. And it’s mostly French! Non, non, Cherie, je suis a Frieze . . . plus tard, mon brave, parce que maintenant je suis a Frieze . . . .
The art here seemed wonderfully hushed and still: abstract work in dull whites, browns, greys, Robert Motherwell, Robert Ryman, Mira Schendel, pen and inks by Matisse, a huge piece by Richard Long constructed of pale stone. The colour, when it comes, is quite astonishing: the yellows and oranges of a stunning Josef Albers, green, black and orange in a tiny Gerhard Richter, Dan Flavin’s fluorescent tubing, small, vibrant Picassos, a vase and an apple, a cup and a teapot, like jewels, Alexander Calder, Joseph Kosuth, Martin Barré. Rows and rows of extremely beautiful art. A stand where I wanted everything: Lygia Clark, Mary Martin, Jeffrey Steele, Bill Culbert, Franz Weissmann . . . . This must be the most beautiful place in London, I thought for a moment.
At least, that’s what I thought that day. It was different when I went the next time. I suppose each of the four days has a different flavour, a different timbre, and Friday afternoon at Frieze Masters seemed a little tired – and a lot more Italian. I sat for a while on the plush circular seating near where you come in (and go out). If I come back, I thought, I’ll look at more, at the Philip Gustons I’d missed, at the Bob Laws, back to the stand where I’d wanted everything. I thought of the Yayoi Kusama piece, which had rewarded me for my fetishism, with fifty pairs of ghostly white shoes stuffed with soft phallus like forms. My own feet were tired. I looked down at them. (Clogs, I expect, will be big next year.) Looking at art is exhausting. And buying and selling art must raise quite a sweat. People were queuing for cups of tea at the café. The tables were full.
This tent did not have the stamina of the other, which, it became clear to me when I went back, could party all night, especially on a Friday. Back in there I leant against a panelled wall and scribbled on the back of an envelope. Americans were planning their evening (at Shoreditch House). A dark-haired model in an Alexander McQueen dress walked by with her entourage. There was a smell of face powder and hairspray. She was “interviewing artists”, I overheard. No expertise needed. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks or says. “She’s definitely going to win the Turner Prize”, I heard someone say in front of a display by an artist who is not, as it happens, on the shortlist for this year’s Turner Prize.
On the way out, the security man checked my bag thoroughly, long fingers separating the pages of a folded newspaper, a small torch illuminating the inside of my Frieze press pack. “No stolen artworks in there!”, he chortled, which gave me pause for thought. I mean, I probably could have got away with a small piece from Frieze Masters. I probably should have. But I’d never get away with my favourite piece from Frieze London, “Four in a Dress” by James Lee Byars, in which four people sit on a plinth holding hands underneath a black silk valance up to their necks, in quiet conversation. It would be funny if it didn’t look so tragic.