Thoughts on Frieze Art Fair 2015

What can you say about Frieze? I was there on Friday (the Art Fair as opposed to Frieze Masters), my first visit in four years I think, and not much seemed to have changed. Entering through a massive and rather ominous-looking black portal akin to the gateway to Mordor, the giant marquee itself did seem to have grown significantly larger. But other than containing an even more mind-numbing quantity of artworks than ever, an underlying consistency in the familiar presence of paintings, drawings, photographs, films, sculptures and installations quickly confirmed that all of the above are still alive and kicking in the commercial art world. Above and beyond that it’s down to the vagaries of fashion I guess. I lost count of the number of ceramic sculptures by Jesse Wine on show with various galleries – they’re lovely of course, but variety is the spice of life and other ceramicists are available.

The 'Black Gate' doorway to Frieze.
The ‘Black Gate’ doorway to Frieze.

But let’s not get too cynical about it all. For those seeking the thrill of exciting new work, there’s plenty on offer if you’re tenacious about hunting it down. Heading for the farthest reaches of the tent, we found some gems among the stands of younger galleries: Samara Scott’s shallow pool cut into the floor at Sunday Painter (combining her signature assemblage of durable and ephemeral, organic and manmade objects and media), was rightly drawing a lot of attention. Rachel Rose’s to-scale reproduction of the Frieze marquee invited visitors to clamber inside (we did) where coloured lights and amplified animal sounds created an environment separate to the disorientating one of the main Fair. And I enjoyed Ed Fornieles’ installation of half-human, half-comic-book-character body parts, fabricated in the manner of sort toys, at Carlos Ishikawa.

Amie Siegel's amazing Double Negative
Amie Siegel’s ‘Double Negative’.

But my favourite work of the Fair was Amie Siegel’s Double Negative, showing at Simon Preston Gallery. In this clever and engaging installation, comprising two synchronized 16mm films, a colour HD video projection and photographic works, the Artist plays with inverted (negative) film footage of both Le Corbusier’s white Villa Savoye in Poissy, France, and its opposite, a black reproduction built in Canberra, Australia. This copy houses an archive of material relating to Australia’s indigenous peoples, allowing for a wider reading of the work in relation to ideas of original and copy, the archive and the ‘other’. The work will form part of Siegel’s show in Munich next summer.

Elsewhere in the tent, there were long queues to get inside Jeremy Herbert’s installation, another long low building construction. When the doors periodically opened to let someone in or out, steps could be glimpsed leading down through the floor of the marquee into a netherworld where who-knows-what awaited. Mark Leckey’s Inflatable Felix was making a solid bid for having the most selfies taken alongside it, and an unremarkable doorway at the back of the bookshop was found to lead through an unexpected installation with live actors by Asad Raza, one of this year’s commissioned Frieze Projects. One of my favourite stands of the day was Hollybush Gardens, not least because it offered the opportunity to view three new paintings (portraits, one nestled within an old furniture drawer) by the always excellent Lubaina Himid, currently showing in The Feast Wagon at The Tetley (see my post on 6 October). If I had been buying, and not just window-shopping, my money would have been on these.

Lubaina Himid's work at Hollybush Gardens.
Lubaina Himid’s work at Hollybush Gardens.

On an education level, a trip to Frieze can be a bit frustrating though. On many stands, labels are either non-existent or difficult to locate, and there’s frequently no other information about the artists represented available to the mass of Jo/e Public punters paying the handsome ticket price. Silly you if you don’t recognize the artist. Visitors can book onto a variety of guided tours of course, but these cost extra. Friday’s talks programme was also disappointingly sold out and overall it would be great to see more opportunities for visitors eager for enlightenment to have more ways in.

One of the best things about Frieze is bumping into friends and colleagues, and so it was on Friday (hello to lovely folk Greville Worthington, Simeon Barclay, Roger Palmer, Ellie Macgarry, and Ceri Hand). It was exciting, also, to hear that an artist based in Leeds was at Frieze for talks with one or two overseas galleries expressing an interest in the work. Fingers crossed on that front.

Ambika 3
Ambika 3

At the end of day, we squashed in a quick trip down the road to Sunday, billed as ‘London’s emerging art fair’, housed in an amazing hangar-like space at Ambika P3, part of the University of Westminster. Here, the stands were occupied by younger and artist-led galleries, mainly from London but also including Wysing, S1 Artspace, Spike Island and Focal Point Gallery from further afield. These were all showing print editions for sale, with eminently affordable work by big names allowing a more realistic way in to collecting than most of the work over at Frieze. Although back at the main event, the Allied Editions stand (where limited editions, mainly prints, are sold to benefit a number of publicly-funded London galleries) was one of the busiest, with visitors snapping up some real bargains. Proof that, if Frieze shows willing, a broader demographic of collectors might be tempted in and nurtured.

Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters were in The Regent’s Park from 14-17 and 14-18 October respectively.

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