Powerless against the magnetic force towing them in to the bowels of Regent’s Park, 60,000 visitors to the eighth edition of the Frieze Art Fair were faced with a decision. What to buy from an array of works whose combined price came to $365 million?
Would it be The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths, a sprawling Damien Hirst cabinet containing a school of pickled fish, priced at $5.6 million? The huge work turned out to be the star sale of the fair, as was widely reported, when it was flogged immediately from the White Cube stand during the Frieze preview. Apparently, the cynical press refers to the vernissage as "Billionaires Day," and indeed, attendees included Claudia Schiffer, Charles Saatchi, Steve Cohen (a first timer to the fair) and Dasha Zhukova.
Other choices for the art aficionado included Paul McCarthy’s bonkers Hammer Head, a misshaped bust wearing a Guggenheim Museum model as a turban, which sold at Hauser and Wirth for $750,000 on the Friday of the fair; or Endless Endless by Des Hughes (b. 1970), a cast-iron rusting sock man or a medieval effigy, depending on which way you looked at it, on offer at the booth of Ancient and Modern gallery for £12,000; or possibly large color photographs of nubile nudes by Ryan McGinley at New York’s Team Gallery. An image of a sinewy young man running naked into a tunnel, offered in an edition of three, sold out quickly at $35,000 a piece.
London’s Ibid Projects, which did so well at last year’s fair with a show of portrait busts by London sculptor Daniel Silver (b. 1972), presented the same artist’s eerie The Smoking Silver Father Figures (2010) in the Frieze Sculpture Park, selling them all for £65,000 as soon as the gates were open.
So powerful has Frieze become that commercial galleries, public spaces and auction houses now tie their activities to it more than ever. Off-site auctions saw Phillips de Pury selling David Hockney’s Autumn Pool for $2 million and Christie’s flogging Andreas Gursky’s photograph of the New York Stock Exchange for $700,000, almost three times its estimate.
Hauser and Wirth upped the ante by opening the largest commercial gallery space in London on Savile Row with a melancholy and acutely personal museum-class exhibition of fabric works by the late Louise Bourgeois. Coming up at the gallery in January 2011 is a kinetic neon "monument to mothers" by Martin Creed.
Harry Blain and Graham Southern, former directors of Haunch of Venison, inaugurated their new gallery, BlainSouthern, with "Creation Condemned," a hypnotic and troubling show by Mat Collishaw of images of pole dancers, frenzied burning butterflies and the great ravines that were left when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas. Fusing symbols of decadence and decay, Collishaw makes lithophanes -- in this case, images etched in thin, translucent Corian, lit from behind with slowly pulsating lights. Blain and Southern afterwards invited the art world to the Ivy Club until the early hours of the next morning.
Then, it was onwards and upwards to "The House of the Noble Man," a super-slick exhibition in an 18th-century Cornwall Terrace townhouse near to the Frieze site (an address, according to the Art Newspaper, thought to be being prepped for sale to former U.S. president Bill Clinton) that was co-curated by polymath artist Wolfe Lenkiewicz and Victoria Golembiovskaya. The show felt like serious money, including as it did Andy Warhol works I’d never even seen images of before, plus things by Poussin, Manet, Cézanne, Picasso, Hirst and Kippenberger.
Over its five floors, "Noble Man" also housed work from the Saatchi Gallery's "New Sensations 2010" exhibition of graduating students. Stand-out pieces included So Over, a room full of animal hides by Kate Surridge, a sculpture student at Slade School, and I Used to Think, an exceptional cautionary film about the bleeding-eyed X Factor generation by a man called Lee Holden. Amazingly sinister, the slo-mo montage included images of Britney Spears, a live lobotomy, a childlike Japanese robot and a woman suffering paranoid delusions, all to a haunting soundtrack of modern music and computer sounds.
Also during Frieze Week, Tate Modern’s almighty Turbine Hall revealed Ai Weiwei’s "Sunflower Seeds" -- a grey sea of 100 million sunflower seeds made of painted, unglazed ceramic -- a metaphor for all humanity, surely -- that visitors were initially allowed to walk and crunch across. The interactive aspect was quickly shut down, thanks to potentially dangerous levels of dust from the replica seeds, which were handmade in China. Did the famously activist Chinese artist turn his Turbine Hall project into a metaphor for China’s past export problems on purpose? Rumor had it that too many art lovers were pocketing the miniature kernels, but so far none have turned up on eBay.
Back to the fair to to join in with the always enjoyable, slightly geeky Frieze Projects, which were selected this year by freelance curator and sometime art dealer Sarah McCrory, who commissioned British sculptor Matthew Darbyshire (b. 1977) to turn the ticket hall into a throbbing pink mobile phone concept store, complete with LED screens showing silhouettes of enthusiastically dancing people.
Darbyshire wanted to fill the ticket tent, he said, with "buzzy accents and terminology." In fact he transformed everyone’s first point of call, making each and every visitor a participant in his work, and every visitor had it rammed home that they were entering a "corporatized cultural nightmare," as he called it.
Unless that is they took a turn round the park’s Inner Circle on bicycles provided by Gavin Turk for his Les Bikes du Bois Rond, as I did. Wobbly, ropey brakes, but a breath of fresh air after five days of watching the hard sell.
Cycling past Turk’s beautiful egg sculptures Giant Sized Guinea Fowl Egg and Giant Sized Goose Egg (both 2010) in the Frieze Sculpture Park, I was struck by the day’s bike-with-egg theme. I’d earlier seen a Darren Lago sculpture titled Happy Shopper (2004) at the Annely Juda Fine Art stand. A bike with a giant egg perched on the seat.
If Frieze knows it is a corporate souk, it has also always thrived on sending itself up. Running with a distinctly otherworldly and performative theme this year, it continued to play with illusions of permanence. Another of the nine Frieze Projects, and the recipient of the Cartier Award, was Frozen by Simon Fujiwara (b. 1982), his installation of fictional archaeological digs that implied there exists a lost city underneath the fair, with its own artist studios, market squares, brothels and artifacts revealing an entire lost civilization.
Walking over Plexiglas, you could observe the fragments of this now-subterranean world at various points throughout the fair. I am glad I was in the marquee early on Thursday as I got to see Boris Johnson, the recondite London mayor, meeting one of Fujiwara’s fake archaeologists. Boris, author of The Dream of Rome, a seminal text on the Roman Empire, asked said "archaeologist," "Have you discovered a pink film of ash from 60 AD?" The archaeologist looked blank.
"Boudicca had major parts of London burnt down in 60 AD, surely you've found evidence of this," snapped the mayor.
"We're only halfway through the dig, as we've been interrupted by the Frieze Art Fair," Fujiwara’s assistant retorted, then went on to explain to Boris that he was uncovering a Roman market square, and began to describe the different parts, including, "the middle bit."
Rome authority Boris snorted. "The middle bit?! It has a name you know!" and stalked off.
Other-worldliness trundled on in the ever-popular Frieze Talks section with California artist and Fortean Times writer Jeffrey Vallance, as he directed five psychics to channel the spirits of Marcel Duchamp, Vincent van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Jackson Pollock and Leonardo da Vinci. Covering their backs perhaps, the psychics warned, "There might be some problems with electricity," and right on cue, the internet crashed during the séance, thus throwing a spanner in the works of a planned live web broadcast. It was the "forcefields" that were to blame, apparently.
Another star attraction was the daily performance by the rather mental bricoleur Spartacus Chetwynd and her troupe of performers. It was titled "A Tax Haven Run by Women (A Luna Park Game Show)." What was she doing?
"No one likes to talk about tax or money in financial world," said Spartacus, "or in places like Frieze. In a tax haven, you have to isolate yourself from society. This is a goofy tax haven, complete with a scary arsehole cult leader gone wrong." It was chaos in rags. With a "Cat Bus." And human seals.
Back out in to the (sort of) real world, to the very early morning breakfast and talk between Sir Peter Blake and Serpentine gallery supremo Hans Ulrich Obrist at the magnificent Museum of Everything, now in its second year of showcasing the untrained, the unintentional and the undiscovered creators of society.
"Victoriana" was the theme, courtesy of museum founder James Brett and Blake himself, whose collections provided most of this temporary museum display. Walter Potter’s dioramas of taxidermied animals were there, some lent by Damien Hirst, depicting vermin having a pint or watching a boxing match, but a room full of deliciously awful seashell ornaments and a series of clown Plaster of Paris wall hangings were my favorite.
Blake explained his mass collection.
"Collecting began when mum would bring me presents on Friday nights, before the war. A box of lead soldiers for example. Then war intervened and there was nothing, so by 1945, I seemed to be mad for it again."
Found in a junkyard in his teens were a picture of the Queen Mary, a papier-mâché tray and a complete edition of the works of Shakespeare, which are the centerpiece of what is the largest temporary art installation Peter has ever created.
"I’m shocked by this exhibition, to be honest," he said, "shocked by what I’ve got. In ‘The Corridor of Unusual People’ there are over 200 postcards of only dwarves and midgets. I didn’t know I had them. I’ve also started to build the worst doll collection in the world. And I don’t even collect dolls. A proper doll collector would jeer at me. Perhaps even hit me.
"I go to the car boot fair on the first Sunday of each month at Chiswick. I just look for black and white things for my Museum of Black and White. I have a horrific little collection of perfume bottles now."
Hans Ulrich Obrist later asked if he "did" eBay.
"I only ever bought one thing -- an early edition George Grosz for £85," replied Blake. "It never turned up. That’s a sign, I thought. . . . I just know it would kill me if I started. Occasionally I look over the shoulders of people who are on it, but I daren’t even go there."
On the benefits of being in the twilight of his career: "When I was 65, after my residency at the National Gallery, I announced my conceptual retirement. Not from work, just from the game, from ambition, avarice, jealousy, greed. The National Gallery show was like a finale -- the ultimate show in 1996. Anything after would be an encore. When I was 75 I thought I’d have a stencil made saying "Late Period." The idea of that would be to give me the freedom of being a mad old man. So I have a double license to do what I want, i.e. I’m retired and I’m in my Late Period."
Then it was onto Shezad Dawood’s show at the re-opening of Paradise Row gallery in a gleaming new building on Newman Street. Shezad found out that day he had won the Abraaj Capital Prize.
Luckily for me, what with the Frieze Week blisters and the public transport ennui starting to form, the arts journalist and broadcaster Ben Lewis and his girlfriend, video artist Maria Marshall, gave me a lift in their G-Wizz car, designed by Tobias Rehberger. The car is so small and so quiet that if a lorry had so much as clipped us on the Camden Road, we’d have been dead, and then not made it up to the Zabludowicz Collection, in a former Methodist chapel in north London, for British sculptor Toby Ziegler’s wonderful and vast installation, "The Alienation of Objects." Abstract oxidized aluminum sculptures composed of triangles, and flanked by readymades including a gigantic weather balloon and a mechanical bull.
Ziegler also chose a number of works for the show from the Zabludowicz Collection, including Mathilde Ter Heijne’s Woman to Go, a series of 180 black-and-white postcards featuring found images of 19th-century women. Printed on the back of each is the mismatched biography of a different woman of that age.
Talking of Anita Zabludowicz, the uber-collector wrote a piece for my anthology, A Hedonist’s Guide to Art, and came to its launch at Hix Restaurant in Selfridges, along with writers Barry Miles and Lynn Barber, curators James Birch and Bridget Nicholls, and artists Keith Tyson, Mat Collishaw, Polly Morgan, Gary Webb, Keith Coventry, Kerry Ryan and Bob & Roberta Smith. I was shocked at the turnout, and therefore had rosy cheeks and couldn’t speak for much of the night.
The next day back at Frieze, I noticed that I had begun frantically and autistically switching off any plug sockets I could see that were at the "on" position but that didn’t have plugs in them, for no other reason than mild OCD, so I decided to get out and "go clubbing." Well, at least go next door to Frieze, to the former church, One Marylebone, for the non commercial show "Club 21: Remaking the Scene."
Curated by ex-Lounge Lizard Steve Piccolo and Art Apart’s Oxana Maleeva, the show was asking the question, "what could the art and club scene be like in the 21st century now that art scenes seem to have stopped being created?"
A crucible of works in progress, "Club 21" contains pieces from New York in the ‘80s, Perestroika-era Russia, and the English and Caifornian punk scenes. Marc Kalinka’s hilarious Still (Nothing) video is "eight hours long with a lunch break" and features the artist sitting behind a security guard’s desk (a former job of his).
"This is my job," says the voiceover. "I have to stay here nine hours a day. I know what you are thinking. Why don’t I stand up and walk? In judo one of the first principles is to maximize the result with the least effort, and the result here is to do absolutely nothing. Do you know what I’m thinking? Nothing, fucking nothing!
"Every fucking minute behind this table is worth 0.0075 euros."
After meeting them that day, Piccolo, Maleeva and Kalinka were kind enough to turn up at "Plus Art," a show I helped produce in east London that included original works by the unforgettable Franko B, Tracey Emin, Declan McMullan, and Tim Noble (for the first time collaborating with someone other than his partner Sue Webster, i.e. Scarlett Carlos Clarke). On the launch night Racky La Roo brought out his much missed bathroom cabinet to wear and performed with his band Winnie the Poof. Then came 100% Beefcock and the Titbusters, the best live band I have seen in 15 years.
Back at Frieze, I loved Jennifer Steinkamp’s Orbit 8 (2010), a vid of digitalized trees and plants at Lehmann Maupin’s stand. I later found out it sold for $55,000. Sweden’s Galleri Magnus Karlsson carried the best pottery, namely Klara Kristalova’s fairytalesque figures. In Frieze’s fizzing Frame section, I was pleased to see the gentlemanly curator and writer Rob Tufnell for the first time presenting at Frieze (in the Frame section), with London artist Ruth Ewan’s found children’s books, on which she draws with marker pen, and Anti-bell (2010), a melted fragment of a decommissioned church bell, originally cast in 1835 for St John the Evangelist, Worsthorne.
My favorite Frieze Project ever has to be Annika Ström’s Ten Embarrassed Men, for which ten performers acted the role of embarrassed men for five days, wearing identical outfits of chinos and white shirts, stumbling around the fair, even traipsing to the loo en masse -- a bundle of darting eyes and flushed cheeks. On the last day of the fair, I was rummaging in my by-now scorched brain for questions other than "Why are you embarrassed?" but couldn’t think of any. They were making even me self-conscious -- I must have been reflecting back their shyness. Perhaps that was the point.
Strom said, "We always try to be so professional and put on our public faces. I think it’s beautiful that suddenly, we are just standing there, vulnerable, shivering with our emotions. . . and we do it all together in a public place."
LAURA K. JONES is a journalist based in London. She has written for the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, the Saatchi Magazine and artforum.com.