|Yes, it is famous, annually anticipated, and thousands flock to see it, but I’m not sure the Frieze Art Fair, held in London’s Regents Park, this September 2008, was worth all the hype and international coverage… Art fairs are, simply, showcases for anyone who wants to get involved with art in some active way, with the theme depending on the art displayed, and on the organizers. Frieze showcases international, contemporary art from burgeoning, young artists that continue to re-interpret its boundaries, to vested paragons of talent whose creative works are still as relevant today.|
Arhan Virdi on London’s 2008 Frieze Art Fair
Yes, it is famous, annually anticipated, and thousands flock to see it, but I’m not sure the Frieze Art Fair, held in London’s Regents Park, this September 2008, was worth all the hype and international coverage…
Art fairs are, simply, showcases for anyone who wants to get involved with art in some active way, with the theme depending on the art displayed, and on the organizers. Frieze showcases international, contemporary art from burgeoning, young artists that continue to re-interpret its boundaries, to vested paragons of talent whose creative works are still as relevant today. As such, fairs are a great way to highlight real talent; encourage new interest in the art world; create an enjoyable experience for viewers old and new; allow the media to continue its contentious conversation on creative subjectivity; allow artists to view what’s popular in the modern market; and offer buyers, with ready wallets, opportunities to help keep it all afloat!
Frieze 2008, in the end, turned out to be difficult viewing that didn’t totally inspire such potentials. The feeling of walking around aisles of genuine artistic craft and talent, which one would hope fleshes out the body of any, good, fair-going experience, was mostly amiss.Which leads us to ask: how far did namesake alone carry the weight of this year’s fair? A question best answered by reviewing both the range of works displayed, as well as the impact of those most contentious in the range…
You know its contemporary art you’re looking at when old favorites crop up, like Julian Opie’s printworks, as exhibited by Krobath Winner. The simple, cartoon-like bodies he is famed for drawing, as in earlier works This is Shanoza 1 and 2, now have adapted postures, and make use of colour – where before there was only a thick, black outline of form. The simple pieces had an immediate presence, not least because they were recognizable, but because they exampled a common thread of expression to do with the human body, one not just about form but also about movement.
This came across in Henry Moore’s stand alone sculptures of smooth and curious play between two, interloping and poised bodies, exhibited by Hauser & Wirth Gallery, which recollect the curiosity, style and artistic intrigue of any Giocometti piece. The contentious, often-pornographic and mutilating bondage photography of the female form by Japanese born Nobuyoshi Araki, exhibited by Jablonka Gallerie, carried on the theme in a third, and final, punch of famed contemporary artists as hinges for the show to rest its laurels upon. In this way, the Frieze Art Fair had attracted names that could justify its status as world class. But, what about how the show itself managed to create a space that was the right fit for these kinds of artists, and their famous works?
Some excellent examples of contemporary pieces that buttressed such giants came from the Galleria Raucci / Santamaria, which displayed Spiritual Self Help No.2 by James Yamada: a large, white canvas simply made with miniature photographs of a hundred front covers from today’s self-help books. A full scale exposé of how modern culture and the, now popularized, individual quest for enlightenment is almost a caricature of itself. In this way, the capacity for art to be a satirical play on social norms, and world media, was acutely executed. One of the arguable talents of contemporary art is to make such points with effectiveness and ease, and as such this piece continued the powerful interplay between the exhibited talents, both old and new, well.
In the same vein the Untitled secret messages of Adam McEwan’s short, printed mobile phone texts on black canvas, as exhibited by art concept, exposed the underbelly of an intimacy between two faceless and nameless people – in the space of faceless and nameless exchanges. It was a good piece because it was eye-catching, immediately impacting and easy to get involved with; it also made use of contemporary methods of communication that the public can relate to. Here the idea that art itself is most curious and interesting when hidden, disclosed, and subtle depths are shared in the context of intimacy was cleverly highlighted. Aside from these examples however, there were many galleries and artists that made it less easy to believe in the thought-provoking and immediately impressive nature of contemporary art. It appeared that in an attempt to be more controversial, the capacity for art to move and inspire had been compromised.
From light and video installations to sculptures and printworks, the ill-mapped, and labyrinthine setting of the Frieze Art Fair was difficult to navigate around, with a growing sense of continuous interest in the range on offer. Georg Herdel’s Shovel exhibited by galleria juana de aizpuru exampled some of the lesser enjoyable works on view; created, as it was, from numbered caviar eggs embedded with resin on a large white canvas. Although there is no doubt a story behind this, and a concept, the most powerful impression art can make is immediately, and to any viewer, without the need for explanation and context. The secondary interpretation of the viewer therefore creates the art as much as the art is inspiration for its own creation. Other pieces, such as the surreal and disjointed mix of video installations by the Taka IIshii Gallery left an emptiness in dialogue between the viewer and the art; free of connection to its mix of unconnected images, and therefore free of depth. Although provocative, it was not enjoyable viewing.
In this way, the pieces that boggle before a context is laid down, seem to occasionally make a mockery of the contemporary genre by being controversial through creative and intellectual untouchability, rather than being thought-provoking and relate-able through feeling and unifying theme.
The sheer number of artists exhibiting delirious works that evaded comprehension, abounded at the fair. And, this is where a gap was felt. A sort of vacuum between other pieces that stood out as interesting and inspirational; where media, art space, light, texture, form and message were manipulated cleverly, often piercingly, and with humor. Such as Blue Placebo by Sturtevant, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, which made excellent use of the installation space in its two-toned setting of brilliant white walls flanking a mesmerizing, sparkling blue, makeshift sea – constructed from sweet wrappings. And nothing else.
Perhaps there isn’t an immediate message in this, but the impact of the work was awe-inspiring. The way the space looked, and the feeling of immediate position in front of an idyll beach. A perfect white sandy beach, with a dappling and melodious spread of multi-coloured blues creating a clear ocean-like vision, one that seemingly stretched out for miles, was spectacular. And, that is contemporary art. That is provocative, simple, and powerful as a vision. It takes a small detail about the human experience to a new level using very nouveau means, and original talent. It was not baffling, nor too complex.
Art doesn’t have to be complicated in order to be good, so that only a small range of tastes are able to therefore be developed. Yet, such works seemed to make up the greatest part of Frieze 2008. In this way, the enjoyment of contemporary art by a niche few served to give the less appreciable pieces more important positions in the trade. Perhaps this is comment on a culture of buyers that must need to feel intelligent to accompany a sense of earned wealth, people that often provide the financial backing to an often-elitist industry.
As a result, one questions whether Frieze was so heavily-anticipated by namesake alone, and not because it was good. For the above reasons, with the range of works that were truly impacting and powerful, bright, clever and original at a minimum, I believe Frieze failed to really get involved in the art it should have been about, instead catering to the concentrated few that will likely also fund next year’s event.