Monday, 20 October 2014

I can't believe it ain't Calder!

I thought about writing, the usual, a long, analytical, slightly jaded, thought-provoking monologue about the annual London Frieze art fair (sort of like I did last year*) but then I thought, words don't really do justice to the enormity of over 190 galleries from all over the world all packed into two tents over 225,000 square metres in Regents Park that receives in its three day running over 60,000 visitors (coincidently a number that continues to grow each year, a sign of arts increasing popularity/awareness..?)! One of the biggest, most over-the-top, ostentatious arts events of its kind, it is the one that sees gallery directors, collectors, the rich and the famous buying and investing in art. They also let the public in! And so, what better than to sum-up the showcase, the museum, the spectacle, ...the madness that is Frieze than to go all-out in full Frieze style by bombarding and overwhelming you with a cacophony of images and observations until you're left feeling sick, enlightened, inspired, exhausted, horrified and thoroughly confused as to what this art business is all about.

Welcome to Frieze Masters, Regents Park, London 2014!

It's worth mentioning here that this year I only went to Frieze Masters. Frieze annually is separated into two venues within Regents Park, Frieze London represents contemporary art and Frieze Masters, as I learnt this year, tends to be made of Modern, ancient and classical art (less politely referred to as 'the old stuff''). There's nothing wrong with old mind, as this exhibition set to distinguish the 'fine' in Fine Art and believe me from the work on show it is an accolade well deserved. This is the tent that all the new, emerging artists in the Frieze London tent at some point in their career want to be in. The artists in this tent aren't a passing fad they're here because they've got longevity, a legacy to the history of art. And it is hard to imagine any artist that wouldn't ultimately strive toward that sort-of immortality/recognition. On the opposite side to this though, perhaps there is also a darker price to this immortality which I'll talk about more two images down.    

Each gallery has its own space within the tent and is signposted with their name and, what are usually the names of cities in which they have galleries. As you may expect virtually all the galleries host big names, Paris, Milan, Tokyo, New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin and London etc. Therefore it was really quite touching to see the Hauser and Wirth section boast, 'London, New York, Zurich and Somerset.' I can just imagine the curiosity from the cosmopolitan art elite, 'Where is this Somerset?' Do come and visit, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised, but not disappointed! Hauser and Wirth's offering to Frieze Masters is a series of works by Jean Tinguely. The kinetic sculpture in this image being made up of everything from cogs, wheels, a typewriter, shopping trolley, gate, spoons, a weather vane and even prosthetic leg. Incredibly complex to engineer and visually challenging to draw (believe me I've tried!) I've always admired Tinguely's contraptions although they never inspired me to create something 3D similar, they create an interest in the shapes, forms and design of junk and everyday objects that definitely has had some influence on my own work. In the digital age of engineering and technology its good to keep an awareness of physical, clunky, lumpy, 'useless' objects as a reminder of the potential of making, creating and building.  

Kunstkamer cabinet set up by George Laue with treasures from the Renaissance and Baroque

What is notably different about Frieze Masters is that it's, at times more like a museum, featuring work from Renaissance Italy, churches, classical marble sculptures, 16th century Japanese screens, African art,  Rembrandts, Constables, Turners and work you're more familiar seeing in national galleries then in a marquee. It also offers what I feel is a bit of an alarming insight into what 'the super rich' spend their money on and generally I've always found this commercial side to viewing artworks uncomfortable. I, perhaps naively, always assumed  these works existed and were created for greater good, more inquisitive, meaningful and soul-searching reasons than to be destined to spend their later lives on display in such a manner that only those, like myself, who paid the ticket price to enter, to see them. This is, what I would call, the darker reality to becoming an artist in the Frieze Masters tent; yes it means you are successful and culturally important to the history of art and that by being 'invested' in this way ensures the protection and immortality of your work to continue to inspire and inform future generations, but conversely it also means you're work has now also become a sought after commodity whose audience may be a different, more elite one than that which the artist may have originally intended. It's a tricky one.    

Anotoni Tapies 'Fusta amb samaretta' (1971) Pencil, collage on wood assemblage, 232 x 236cm.

Hard to mistake this giant wall plaster for being anything other than a Tapies.

Maybe one of them is downloading an app that works as a spirit level for that back left painting?

It seemed that if it ain't got a Calder in the collection then it probably isn't a Modern Art gallery with just about every other gallery having one or several of the late American artist's mobiles hanging on display somewhere! How many did he make?! I wonder if it could all be in anticipation of an exhibition of the artists' work coming to the Tate in 2016?

The awkwardness around the commercialism of some art objects continues with the abundance of African art on display at Frieze. Objects that were made for sacred, spiritual or meaningful properties/uses are displayed as objects of appreciation, for looking at, for understanding but from afar. The loss of integrity in its true function bothers me a bit as I feel if you real appreciation and understanding should come from experiencing it in its true context. And with the artist often being unknown for such pieces how do (if any) the profits from sales of such work go back to the people or place where the work originated? Arguably though, they are also being preserved and protected by being displayed in this way, but I am torn to know where this fits ethically. I appreciate it is more complex a debate than what I give it space for now and is why I plan on touching upon it again in a separate piece about this year's Turner Prize, in which one of the artists, Duncan Campbell has made a film piece about the West's commoditisation of African art in response to Chris Marker and Alan Resnais’ 1953 film Statues Also Die.

Richard Prince 'All you can eat' (1996) Acrylic, silkscreen on canvas, 213.5 x 244cm.

I've never come across this artist's work before and retrospectively having researched some of his other work online this morning I'm not that keen on it. Born in America in 1949 his painting and photography explores the pervasiveness of the media often with humour. However, I did find this piece interesting having a bit of a 'thing' for the colour orange and I liked the humour/comic-book panel style to the work probably because in that way at least, it reminded me of a Philip Guston. I won't dwell on it but mention it as a good example of the down-side of only seeing one example of an artist's work and not getting a feel for the greater whole that feeds an understanding of the individual works.

Balance is restored when I came across an American gallery exhibiting a booth full of Guston's!  I've been reading a lot on Guston lately and he is the artist that keeps on giving the more you learn about him. He was an artist that made such a notably significant shift in his practice from work that was received well by the art world to work, more of the likes seen here, which, at the time, weren't met with such admiration. I think this is why he is particularly of interest because that strikes me as a very brave thing to do and his need for making art, for himself as a kind of necessary process over that of satisfying others tastes is very honest. That's difficult to do, but shows here that it really paid off, with the later Guston's being his most accomplished and in my opinion most interesting, most painterly work. A heavy drinker, smoker and obsessive; debatably not the most admirable of qualities, but I do find his tenacity and conviction to making art especially inspiring.

"Art" is not needed for, like living out our lives - it is putting in some time & activity - staving off the "other"- the ultimate form. It is nerve-wracking -the need to fix an image forever -like a Pyramid of the desert...I have known, but did not permit myself heretofore to recognise that art is a death - a death. That the purpose of creating is to kill it or at least get rid of it -once and for all. Now I truly am fearful of creating -such a dread of it. Our processes are so mysterious -I know I'll begin again-to relive the same experience.' -Guston

James Rosenquist 'Highway Trust' (1977) Oil on canvas in three parts with casters, 152.4 x 365.8cm.

One of my highlights of Frieze Masters was that walking around and spotting work by artists whose work you recognise became a fun game. "Is that a Hockney? I spy some Francis Bacon! Look there's a James Rosenquist! Oh, that one looks like a....what was their name...?" It was like a 'Guess Who' or 'Where's Wally?' of the art world and there was still more than plenty I had never heard of! The indistinguishable slick, stylish, graphic boldness of a Rosenquist could be seen a mile away. Whilst clearly I've mentioned I'm not a fan of the commercialisation of art funnily enough I'm not too bothered about art that is about commercialisation or uses the language of advertising to create an image. What Dada did for creating an awareness of everyday objects as art, Pop art continued and brought to the masses by way of a bigger, bolder more graphic style. Rosenquist plays up to the imagery of billboards, shop windows and consumer goods but subverts it slightly with unusual juxtapositions giving new meaning or making the familiar become abstract. 

Kaws 'Small lie' (2013)

The sculpture park at Frieze is free and is actually one of the more dynamic parts of the overall fair. Sculpture is certainly more photogenic than painting which lends itself to best be seen in person.

Matt Johnson 'Baby dinosaur (Apatosaurus)' (2013)

Yayoi Kusama 'Pumpkin(s)' (2014)

Yayoi Kusama with her now 'trade-mark' polka dots on a pumpkin gourd shaped sculpture. Like most things about Frieze, it's a little unsettling how the meaning of her polka dots has shifted from Kusama's deeply psychological hallucinations and visions whereby the dots then became symbols for self-obliteration, the sun, the moon and the universe into becoming a commoditised, almost fashion symbol or brand.

Thus concludes our whirlwind tour of Frieze Masters 2014. Hope you enjoyed the ride! The lived experience is one that is fragmented, bizarre and intense and doesn't sadly allow for the depth of thought and reflection that the art often deserves. If you take it for what it is however, you will be rewarded by a vast, impressive visual array of work of which there are many, many more artists whose work I didn't include here but are worth a mention; Martin Kippenberger, Ha Chong-Hyun, Joseph Beuys and Sigmar Polke (the latter of whom has a major retrospective currently on at the Tate). Try to ignore the crowds and embrace the fact that art remains so healthily popular, valued, enjoyed and you'll have a good time. But neglect a perspective of reality at your peril! 

Read last year's thoughts on Frieze here:

No comments:

Post a Comment