Art for arts sake: London’s Frieze Art Fair

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Tracy Emin, 'I whisper to my past, do I have another choice' (2010)

The  weekend before last saw the return of the Frieze Art Fair in London, so we thought we should take a look for ourselves and see what the fuss was about. Frieze art fair is a pilgrimage of sorts for art lovers and dealers; an almost sacred spot to pose while you peruse the finest offerings from the worlds’ leading fine contemporary art galleries.

Lorna Simpson, 'Staircase' (1998)

Lorna Simpson, 'Staircase' (1998)

I’d never been before, despite living in London for five years and realised why as I sat on the Eurostar leaving Brussels leafing through my info on the event. Priced at £25 a day ticket, the fair was a luxury event. Despite this quite saddening comprehension (naïve maybe but wasn’t modern art supposed to be by the people for the people?) I was excited as I realised the sheer number and breadth of galleries on show; from small indies that I had seen in London to the monsters of the art world such as Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth. But even this list couldn’t prepare me for the overwhelming plethora of art in all forms that hits you as you enter the bustling arena.

Daphne Wright 'Swan' 2007 © Copyright 2008 Frith Street Gallery

Daphne Wright 'Swan' 2007 © Copyright 2008 Frith Street Gallery

Busy doesn’t cover it: even the most dedicated art follower would be ambitious to think they’d be able to visit all the galleries on show such was the sheer number of them. But through the mass of what can only be described as banal gimmickry, unoriginal imitations and prescription irony, shined through great feats of artistry. Delicate skill could be seen in Daphne Wright’s swan crafted out of resin and marble dust exhibited by the Frith Street Gallery. The morbid statement of the dead swan with its stark off white, matt gloss of the marble mould reflected the light hauntingly.

Thomas Saraceno, Hydrogen Cloud Exploding (2010)

Thomas Saraceno, Hydrogen Cloud Exploding (2010)

Interesting set designs for the Peter Kilchman Gallery, Zurich showed off the wonderful Fabian Marti photography and Francis Alÿs studies to their best. While at the White Cube, Christian Marclay’s seven and a half minute video titled Telephone (1995) was an amusing and whimsical series of clips with telephones used from classic movies, new and old. The breadth of artistic medium was really demonstrated at Galerie Fons Welter with an extensive array of artworks. Particularly interesting and eye-opening was Gabriel Lester’s ‘The future chasing past the present’ (2010); a conveyor belt with scale models, by Marco Giacomelli, glued on rain in a darkened room while lights from different angles created a silhouettes in motion on the four walls. The shadows of urban planning, trees and figures falling away was dramatic and the whole piece arrestingly alluded to the passing of time.

Sanchayan Ghosh, Doosra- The other maze (2010

Sanchayan Ghosh, Doosra- The other maze (2010) Ⓒ Linda Nylind for Frieze

The sculpture park offered some delights as the autumn light bounced off the reflective surfaces of Tomas Saraceno’s untitled pieces. The most startlingly effective sculpture was a piece by Sanchayan Ghosh named ‘DOOSRA- The other maze’ (2010). On my way to the art fair I noticed many people clutching white flowers attached to thick wooden sticks- on arriving I realised they were in fact part of Ghosh’s artwork. A cordoned area floored with metal shape punched throughout with holes. I realised that the flowers I had seen people holding were in fact from this artwork, which asked the viewer to take a flower from its place if one wished. By the time I had reached it, all I saw was decimation of what I could only imagine was a beautiful field of crafted flowers using an ancient and now dying artform of Shola (pictured). Some remained, however, broken or trampled upon, unworthy of being collected by avid visitors. All that struck me was the environmental polemic, signalling human over consumption but maybe I was being cynical. Either way, it was disheartening and saddening and the feeling lingered all weekend. Art at its most effective.

To say the least, the Frieze Art Fair was somewhat of an emotional experience, making me smile and laugh one moment and incensing sardonicism another. If you think about all the entrance costs you pay to get into these galleries (plus the air-fare!) it’s actually a snip. But what makes it really worthwhile is the fact that it’s a haven of all things modern art, showcasing the best contemporary galleries the world has to offer  and  leaving you with a big smug smile of cultural accomplishment.

I traveled by Eurostar from Brussels to London on 15th and 18th October.