With the entire international art world roaming the spacious halls of the Frieze Art Fair (and the rather cramped hall of the Zoo fair), London galleries were all but deserted, with staffers on the phone to their booths ("Ill be right over. . . "). As for Londons museums, they seem to have responded to the fair by programming important contemporary shows to coincide with it.
Bruce Naumans project Raw Materials at Tate Moderns Turbine Hall, for instance, had all of London talking, mainly because, for the first time in the four-year history of the Tates vast entry space, there is nothing to see there. Nauman has installed a veritable catalogue of his sound works from the past 30-some years along the hall, using 40 speakers mounted on the walls (and one hanging from the ceiling).
Naumans hard-edged humor was much in evidence -- the first message, positioned right by the Tates voluntary donation box, is "Thank you, thank you, thank you," repeated incessantly, like the rest of these looped tracks. One rather amusing spectacle was to see visitors gabbing away on their cell phones; surely Naumans strange soundscape was audible in the background. As Guardian critic AdrianSearle observed, Raw Materials is sculpture in that it serves to make one "totally aware of the volume of the space and where you are in it."
Providing a comic counterpoint to Naumans alternately broody and manic sound bytes was an auditory installation by Martin Creed in the elevator of Hauser & Wirth gallery. Whereas Creeds piece in the gallerys main room -- a group of colored balls, rolling about -- was a merely a bit of romper room art, Work No. 371: Elevator ooh/aah up/down (2004) stole the show. As the elevator heads up, a crescendo of oohs plays, as it descends, a decrescendo of aahs. The track is impeccably produced, the voices crisp and professional. Based on his 2001 Turner prize win for Work 227: The lights going on and off, Creed became one of those artists people love to hate, labeled by many as a charlatan. But it is impossible not to delight in these oohs and aahs -- there may be something to Creeds work after all.
The Serpentine Gallery organized a survey of elegant, psychedelically colored paintings and contasting blobby, rough-surfaced sculpturesby the 2000 Turner Prize nominee Glenn Brown. The work looked lovely, and ranges from his early sci-fi fantasy scenes to appropriations of works by Rembrandt, Fragonard and Van Dycke done in swirls of acid hues.
The Royal Academy presented a massive group exhibition of hot young talent, titled "Expander" and organized by artist Mustafa Hulusi, that set forth with no more focused theme than to "showcase the work of a new generation of London-based and international artists, who are opening up original perspectives on painting, sculpture and video."
Opening on the same night as the Zoo fair, "Expander" trumped Zoos rather scrappy look with a group of works that were nothing if not slick -- Neal Rocks weird, colorful, wall mounted blob sculpture, Work From the Polari Range RB/75, made from pigmented silicone and mixed media that resembled cake icing; Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexsander Vinogradovs luscious, large 1994 painting Big Paradise; Dee Ferriss Turneresque canvases; a lovely, hypnotic video featuring floating abstract forms by Haluk Akakce; Christopher Orrs diminutive figurative canvases, among others. At the opening, a group of youngsters played Cory Arcangels video games most recently shown at the Whitney biennial. A playful show indeed.
London private dealer Thomas Danes new space -- he opened his first public gallery in April -- is a bit difficult to locate. Its over on Duke Street, sandwiched between several Old Masters galleries. His gallery may be modestly sized, but Dane had quite an important show on view, the UK premiere of American video maestro Paul Pfeiffer. The show included works using sports imagery, like Caryatid (2004), a digital video loop of soccer players tripping and falling on the field. More interesting was Morning after the Deluge (2003), a projection loop on a wall-size screen that merges a sunrise and a sunset, creating the sublime image of a sun hovering on the horizon. New York will soon have a double shot of Pfeiffer -- simultaneous exhibitions at Gagosian Gallery and The Project are scheduled for next month.
The young London-based artist MarkTitchner, who had a show at Tate Britain last year and is included in "Expander," had work on view over at VilmaGold in a solo show titled "20th Century Man." The centerpiece was Understand the Weapon Understand the Wound (2004), a three-panel screen constructed from 3,500 individual, hand-painted wooden blocks with a pixilated image of the Nagazaki A-bomb.
Other works in the show were banners with utopian messages such as "We Want Commitment and Enthusiasm," "We Want to Admit Our Mistakes" and "We Want Mutual Respect." Titchners work packs a powerful graphic punch, and carries propagandistic messages against a backdrop of high-concept graphics; hes riffing on the punchy language of marketing. Last spring Titchner had ten billboards installed in the Gloucester Road tube station, where they must have looked striking. In January hell take a solo turn at PeresProjects in Los Angeles.
American painter BarnabyFurnas was having his first London show across the street from Vilma Gold, at ModernArt. Furnas powerful battle scene paintings, which were in the last Whitney Biennial, just get better and better. At Modern Art were more ultraviolent battlefields, with splashes of red paint standing in for blood. Now joining Abe Lincoln in Furnas cast of Civil War-era characters is anti-slavery militant John Brown, who is shown coming down a road wielding a gun, with explosions that look like blood or fireworks. The large Untitled (Battlescene) (2004) on the gallerys back wall is a showstopper, as is Duel (July 4th) (2004). Furnas large-scale paintings with their quintessentially American subject matter may well have been the best show up in London during Frieze.
Down the road at Wilkinson was a group of paintings by Dresden-based ThoralfKnobloch, yet another youngish artist from former East Germany whose works have been popping up at the art fairs recently. He is also in the contemporary and modern art collection of publisher Frieder Burda, which opened the other day in a Richard Meier-designed building in Baden Baden. Last year Knobloch was in a show at Sandroni Rey in Los Angeles with Tilo Baumgartel, Martin Eder, Jorg Lozek and David Schnell, highlighting the emergence of Leipzig and Dresden as artistic centers.
(At this point, the rise of the new East German painting is a commonplace. "You know whats happening in Leipzig now," said a freelance curator passing the Frieze booth of Eigen + Art. "Collectors are flocking there and demanding paintings, and they cant make them fast enough.")
Like the British painter George Shaw (who also shows at Wilkinson) Knobloch paints scenes from his hometown -- suburban landscapes in and around Dresden. His paintings stake out a middle ground between abstraction and figuration. The paintings here had a rather desolate feel, but the color was exquisite. Knobloch works from photographs, which gives his compositions a cropped-off snapshot quality, and he retains the flatness of the photographs.
Maureen Paley Interim Art had a modest one-room show of Paul Noble. The centerpiece was one of Nobles giant egg-shaped sculptures covered with a drawing, a twin to the one at his current show at Whitechapel Art Gallery. The show at Paley was really just a warm-up for Whitechapel, which fully explored Nobles Boschian, Crumbian world, which he calls Nobsom Newtown. Fully realized fictional worlds are no new thing -- in literature, Thomas Hardy had his Essex, William Faulkner his Yoknapatawpha County -- and Noble has spent the past decade fleshing out the strange, post-apocalyptic-seeming Nobsom Newtown in large scale pencil-drawn cityscapes. While Nobles show includes a DVD, a vaguely swastika-shaped mirror sculpture and an embroidered screen, the obsessively detailed drawings are the heart and soul of his project.
Upstairs at Maureen Paley was the haunting film Placebo (2002) by Saskia Olde Wolbers, the young, Dutch-born, London-based artist who won this years £24,000 Becks Futures prize and has had shows at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and Tate Modern. Placebo was shown most recently at the Aldrich Museums show of new British sculpture. The film, Wolbers sixth, is based on a true story, a tale of a woman who was taken in by her lovers false identity as a doctor. Its set in spooky, nondescript hospital rooms, where white liquid drips from the walls -- incredibly, Wolbers filmed the entire production underwater, using a digital camera. The films entrancing, oneiric atmosphere would keep anyone in the gallery for several loops.
Over at Sprth Magers Lee, George Condos new suite of "Religious Paintings" was proving immensely popular -- it had sold out. In addition to Picasso, Condo seems to be drawing on myriad art historical references in these paintings of single figures and multifigure compositions, taking his cues from Picasso as well as Ingres of the Turkish Bath and the weirdly intermeshed bodies of Czannes late bathers in works titled The Orgy and Nocturnal Figure Composition. As if to point up this historical angle, the gallery had painted its walls taupe and dimmed the lights, showing Condos ornately framed pics in a kind of kitsch-ironic museum setting.
Best in show is The Cracked Cardinal, which may be a wink at Velazquez. The fellow is clearly nuts -- his savage-looking, square shaped mouth hangs agape. According to Condo, the cardinal could be seen as "power reduced to a pathetic game of exploitation and a grotesque sociological charade." ("The recent religious scandals are not the subject of these paintings," the gallery says.)
Itinerant curator and art dealer Kenny Schachter has found a London home for his Rove Projects. After many months of planning his move from New York, Schachter has settled in at Hoxton Square, where he is currently occupying a building (with a specially designed exterior of parti-colored planks by Richard Woods) around the corner from White Cube; hell eventually tear this structure down to make way for architect Zaha Hadids first building in the UK. Schachter opened on Oct. 16 with a group show -- paintings by MelissaBrown, BenjaminButler and BrendanCass and installations of dolls and whimsical vehicles by MisakiKawai.
The standouts here were Kawais lighthearted installations. A massive one of these, Orange Yeti Drive Inn (2004), was installed at Schachters second space around the corner on Kingsland Road (come January, this venture, Rove 2, will be moving to a new Vito Acconci-designed space on Britannia Street opposite the new Gagosian Gallery space). At $45,000, it was the priciest piece in Schachters two shows; Kawais work was also the most affordable, with one of her playful mixed-media-on-cardboard works priced at a mere $800. Schachter was on hand for his opening, beaming and looking surprisingly well-rested for someone with such a hectic schedule.
Surely timed to coincide with the hoopla surrounding Frieze was a sizable show of recent work from by Turner Prize-winning ceramicist GraysonPerry at Victoria MiroGallery. Fourteen of the pots on view were made since the cross-dressing Perry (altar ego, Claire) won the Turner, and a standout was the baldly self-referential A Network of Cracks (Turner Prize Award dinner 2003) (2004) which listed, on the side of a pot, the names of various art world figures. In Miros project space were some Henry Dargeresque drawings by Perry, as well as shards from pots displayed in glass vitrines.
In the shadow of the Frieze and Zoo fairs was the Scope hotel fair, which had its first London run this year. Scope has become known for piggybacking on the success of bigger fairs, whether its the ArmoryShow in New York or ArtBasel in Miami. MichaelSellinger, one of Scopes producers, hinted that the fair would be dropping its Los Angeles edition. "We did it twice," he said. Instead, Sellinger said, Scope may launch a Venice edition, to coincide with the Biennale.
Scope London was conveniently located at the MeliaWhiteHouseHotel, just around the corner from Frieze, but it was still a bit difficult to find. Unlike Frieze, which had huge red banners facing the Regents Park Tube station, Scope had no such blaring signage, and relied on tiny handmade signs to direct visitors to the fair. Plenty of people found the opening night party, however, which raged well into the wee hours.
Otherwise, things seemed a bit slow. The San Francisco gallery Blasthaus, which specializes in new media art, was negotiating the sale to a museum of a multimedia sculpture with its own custom software by Shirley Shor. Collectors also liked the small, cute self-portrait drawings by Kyung Jeon at The Proposition. New York dealer Caren Golden sold a few pastel and oilstick sexy figure drawings by Amy Morken. "Scope doesnt have the buzz yet," Golden said. "But its been fine."
Also on view, elsewhere in London -- German artist Gregor Schneider, he of Dead House Ur, had transformed two houses in Londons East End into his signature creepy labyrinths and titled them Die Familie Schneider. Artangel, which organized the event, was only letting one person in at a time, and the houses were all booked up. . . . . "Pilot:1: International Art Forum" took place Oct. 16-18 at the Old Limehouse Townhall. For the show, some high profile curators, writers and collectors picked their favorite underrepresented artist. Selectors included supercurator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Zoo organizer David Risley, artist Bob and Roberta Smith, writer Sally OReilly, artist Jeff Wall and many others.
SARAH DOUGLAS is associate editor of Artnet Magazine.