Visitors to this year’s edition of the Frieze Art Fair (on view at London’s Regent’s Park through October 17) encountered some curiosities as they made their way through the tent’s crowded, art-lined aisles. Frieze Projects, an annual series of nine commissioned artworks organized by the London-based curator Sarah McCrory, is meant as an antidote of sorts—a focused experience, a nod toward art market detractors, and a way of telling Frieze visitors and patrons that not everything at Frieze is technically for sale (though we’re sure it doesn’t hurt to ask…).
Brit Matthew Darbyshire’s Everything Everywhere: A Ticketing Experience for Frieze Art Fair 2010 transformed Frieze’s ticketing booth into something akin to a neon-lit AT&T store. London-based artist Spartacus Chetwynd staged a game show-inspired performance in which two teams—“Women Who Refuse To Grow Old Gracefully” and “The Oppressed Purée”—squared off. And the New York-based British artist Nick Relph situated hig- concept charity boxes throughout the fair (the great irony being that while Damien Hirst’s The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths—several large-scale display cases containing hundreds of fish preserved in Plexiglas—sold for $5.6 million within the first hour of Frieze’s VIP preview, these boxes remained relatively empty, even three days in).
The centerpiece of these curated presentations is a sprawling installation by the British/Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara, the winner of this year’s Cartier Prize. Titled Frozen, Fujiwara’s work is built on the whimsical (and entirely fictional) premise that a Rome-like ancient city had been discovered beneath the site of the fair. To that end, Fujiwara crafted remarkably authentic excavation sites that are scattered throughout the space. Some are covered with glass panels, descending deep into the ground; others are presented as relatively functional. Fujiwara’s biggest site is staffed at all times by an archeology student who carefully extracts items from the ground (revealing intricate mosaic tiling) and cleans them gingerly with dental tools under the illumination of a magnifying light.
Fujiwara’s fictive city is said to be a onetime “hub of art and commerce,” the extraction of which is meant to show that “today’s art market is just one manifestation of an ancient and intrinsic need—to create, preserve, sanctify and fetishize art objects.” Given the art market’s still-in-recovery-mode climate, the piece seemed to suggest something else entirely: a literal clawing at the bustling marketplace that was and, as far as the dealers are concerned, an acute nostalgia for the good old days—the days of years-long waiting lists and selling out before the fair even opened. But, much to everyone’s delight, this year’s Frieze offered glimpses of those times-past early on with healthy buzz, a steady stream of bigwig collectors (Roman Abramovich, Steve Cohen, Eli Broad, and Dakis Jonannou among them), the occasional celebrity sighting (Claudia Schiffer, Keith Richards, Tracey Emin, and hotelier André Balazs), and millions of dollars in sales long before Frieze opened to the public on Thursday.
As per usual, the fair offered a hit parade of salable work by market-friendly artists—photographic panels by British duo Gilbert & George, large-scale abstract paintings by Georg Baselitz, small B-list Warhols, two big-ticket Hirsts (one of which, a $6 million mirrored display case filled with Viagra, had yet to sell at Gagosian by Friday), and photographs from the likes of Andreas Gursky, Thomas Struth, and Marilyn Minter. But there were some surprises. Among them: Barbara Gladstone’s tight presentation of wonderfully tactile clay sculptures by Ugo Rondinone and the debut of a frenetic new video by art world boy wonder Ryan Trecartin at Elizabeth Dee.
Thanks to Frieze Frames, a section of the fair dedicated to emerging galleries and artists, there were several welcome new faces, as well including British artist Mark Aerial Waller of Istanbul’s Rodeo gallery, whose stunning video installation featured black-and-white film footage projected onto a massive glass-plated sculpture that resembled open book. It garnered several “oohs and ahhs” but as one passer-by noted, “To be here and look at the art and not think it’s about selling would be foolish.”
Rachel Wolff is a New York-based writer and editor who has covered art for New York, ARTnews, and Manhattan.