The best way to lose your interest in art is to visit an art fair. There is too much art, all lumped together in too small spaces and there are too many beautiful women. Art fairs reduce all artworks to merchandise. Everything becomes aesthetic. Subversion is just another style, reflection a clever marketing strategy, cynicism a pose. For this reason art fairs can be depressing, but then again, so can a day at the office, even when the walls are adorned with art.
Because there is so much to see and everything is presented as equal, art fairs can also be a source of joy and discovery. Title and name tags are often omitted, so you have to enquire with the gallery owner or assistant to learn whose work it is. This adds to the democratic nature of art fairs. As a visitor your only guide is your own sense of judgement, which is as it should be.
This year was the first year that I had a chance to visit the Frieze Art Fair. And I must say I greatly enjoyed it. In less than a few years the Frieze Art Fair has become one of the most important contemporary art fairs in the world. It is hard to believe that this year is only the fifth edition. With some 150 exhibitors the fair is huge. The number of applications is even larger, but the strength of Frieze is that the organizers like to create an eclectic mix of established powerhouses and young galleries representing emerging artists.
The Frieze effect has totally transformed London’s cultural landscape. In the wake of Frieze, other art fairs have sprung up and international art fairs are establishing London satellites. Commercial and public galleries alike time exhibitions to coincide with Frieze, department stores and designer boutiques invite artists to create window displays and all fancy restaurants are fully booked weeks in advance.
With the fair guide in my hand I systematically toured the fair. It was pretty hot inside and I regretted not having left my coat at the cloakroom. The stand by Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, which had been transformed into a flea market by artist Rob Pruitt, was definitely the most fun. A dj was spinning music on a vintage turntable. You could get a haircut, buy second hand clothes and even some works of art.
Tripod a new work by Thomas Hirschhorn at Barbara Gladstone, which includes news photos of people blown to bits in Iraq, shows that art can still have impact on some people. To quote from the Frieze edition of The Arts Newspaper: "Just looking at the work at all seemed to be beyond many at the fair yesterday. US Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle, who was with his wife Maria, declined our invitation to even view the Hirschhorn. 'I prefer to separate art from politics,' said Tuttle, adding that he and his wife liked art that was 'aesthetically pleasing'." It is interesting to note that the work is shown by a commercial, US, gallery.
The work that I loved most was a sculpture of a foal by Berlinde de Bruyckere at Hauser and Wirth. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the fair it looked even more vulnerable and lost.