Frieze is vast, we say it every year but Frieze really is stupidly vast, how on earth can anyone be expected to take all this in in just one day? And love it or hate it, it is an important event, that fact surely can’t be denied? Although the way some people go on you’d think nothing else ever happens in terms of art for the other 51 weeks here in this always busy exciting art-filled city of London. Love it or hate it, Frieze week is a big big week, an exciting week, Frieze is a big big deal, Frieze is exciting, you might hate it, me? I kind of love it, I look forward to it, bring it on, bring it all on, art excites, I can’t wait…
First public day then, “Premium Day”, the mid-morning crowds are pouring out of Regent’s Park tube station, heading up the road to the giant pavilion in the park, to the vast vast pavilion, Frieze really is stupidly stupidly vast. Inside, once you get through all the security and walk along the big tunnel and into the belly of hte art beast, you’re hit with the white walls and bright lights of galleries from all over the globe, galleries from New York, Milan, Berlin, Sao Paulo, London, Hong Kong – galleries presenting what you’d assume they deem to be the most exiting cutting-edge ground-breaking contemporary art they could find to present and represent their cutting-edge premier league frontline ahead-of-the-other-galleries gallery at this important showcase of an event- that is what this is all about right? Presenting us with the very best cutting edge art? Telling us you run the gallery, you run the one finger-on-the-pulse outstanding gallery that really does have the best shit to be found anywhere on the planet? Surely? This is all about the exciting art your gallery is on top of isn’t it?
So what to make of it all? Are fingers on pulses? Is this the frontline in terms of fresh exciting art? What are we to make of this year’s vast vast Frieze monster and all the art inside? What are we going to find on the first day of Frieze 2017? Walk up the road from the Tube station, little buzz of excitement in the air, pick up the press pass, well you didn’t expect us to shell out our hard-earned and waste good paint and canvas money on getting in here did you? Nah mate, they invited us, we can’t afford these ticket prices! In we go, feed us art…
I do like going to Freeze, for all that it stands for, for all that’s wrong with it, I do like going to Frieze, and yes, I will admit it is exciting to be walking up to the giant pavilion. Exciting art is anticipated, we’re expecting to see good things, exciting things, we’re expecting to feel we need to get back to our studios and up our own game, we’re expecting a piece of art or two to really grab us and tell us why this is it. Let’s go see what Frieze has to offer this year, we expect exciting art, we always walk up to Frieze full of anticipation and excitement. What are we going to see? What will they have in there? What will the cutting edge premier league galleries offer us this year? Bet there’s a Felix, Felix the cat is always in there…
Already busy in here, we did get here early, Frieze is vast, Fieze is busy,… Men in suits, expensive suits, never a tie, can’t have a tie, rebellious open collar, never a tie, all these men rebellious men without their ties, tie-less men running their gallery spaces, tie-less men and well dressed women, their assistants hanging about…. Piles of books, big piles of books, big books, piles of big art books on every desk, what’s with the books? White booths full of art, plenty of space, the art isn’t crowded, they set it out well, lots of space in here.
Not very friendly in here, head buried in laptop, I’m doing something very important, far too important to make eye contact with you, I don’t want to talk to you, you can’t afford to bother me…. complimentary copies of the Financial Times given out at the door, it is all about te art in here isn’t it? How much for a cup of coffee? Talking loud in your New York voice, my pile of clever art books is bigger than your pile of clever art books…. there goes a pop star…. movie actor… bankers everywhere…. what is with those piles of books, check out my pile of books! Apparently this is Premium Day, I assume the serious collectors have already been let in to a private view, today is apaprently the selling day, it feels expensive in here, and you do overhear people buying obscenely priced pieces of art like you or I might buy a pair of shoes or a new coat from Primark (or maybe te Savation Army shop)..
A great big heart full of chips? Really? is that it?! There’s some very bad art in here, the bad is grabbing the eye as much as the good is – is that heart full of greasy looking chips really the best you could come up with to represent your flashy front-line international cutting-edge gallery? There’s a lot of very good art in here thoughh, of course there is, how could there not be? We have what I guess are considered to be the best of the front-line establishment galleries from all over the globe in here, how could they possibly fail to gather a collection of decent exciting thrilling cutting-edge art between them? There’s some very good art in here, one or two excellent pieces, occasionally a seriously exciting piece really grabs your attention in amongst the never-ending onslaught of canvas and installation and print and photography, occasionally something really does grab you. occasionally soemthing really kicks at your emotions – occasionally, not often – there’s so so much that’s underwhelming (and those yellow butterflies are looking very very tired now Damien). There’s art in here that does feel good, art that does grab you, but so so much of it has you thinking things like “so what?” or “Why?” or “is that really it?”. And then something grabs you in a possitively way and off you go again, bring it on, give me more, what’s that over there? i don’t want chips or fading yellow butterflies, feed me exciting art…
It is very easy to come to Frieze with a cynical smile, to arrive with several chips on the shoulder along with a whole load of artist rage (or is it evny?), and yes of course this vast monster in so so many ways is so disgustingly obscene (especially is you’ve been to that Legacy of Wat exhbition over on Brick Lane this week, now those are powertful paintings on the walls of that Legacy of War show, try looking at those without feeling something), but I do secretly like going to Frieze, I do quielty like the honesty of it all, no one here is pretending to give a flip, no one here is pretending they give two shits about the artists or the people who can’t afford to spend thirty thousand on a couple of paintings, non of the curators or dealers – the gate keepers – can be bothered with actually searching out the potentially far more exciting artists to be found down the back streets and in the DIY galleries in warehouses and artist-led group shows, of course they can’t, no one is pretending to care, Frieze is the most up-front and honest art fair of them all, no pretence here, no bullshit, it does what it says and couldn’t care less what you or I think
In truth, the reality is that Frieze 2017, in terms of the newer recently created art on the walls, is very very conservative and nowhere near the cutting edge, this is a great big safe-option very comfortable comfort zone and the only things in here that feel anything like the cutting edge are the things like the 1970’s Betty Tompkin Fuck Paintings or the brilliant Dorothy Iannone pieces from the late 60’s – art that really only excites in terms of the historical context? Hardcore posters? That’s surely no more hardcore than a soupcan however relavent the artist might have been back there in his day, not in 2017. I guess the really edgy stuff isn’t going to sell at an art fair like this? I guess these galleries are really only here to sell, this a fair, not an exhibition Wonder what it says about Frieze in the complimentary copy of the Financial Times? There’s an eight page pull out telling us what to collect, I’ll read it later
And you get the feeling that the people buying art in here, and yes you do hear them buying ir like you or I buy a new pair of shoes or a bunch of bananas, you get the impression that they would never lower themselves to buy anything for a couple of hundred pounds from an artist-run art space off the Hackney Road, it would devastate them to do something like that, they need the gate keepers to tell them where their tastes lie. But I do secretly like Frieze, I do secretly like being here behind the lines and seeing what these frontline galleries have to offer, I do like that there’s no pretence, that there’s no bullshit here, there’s no press release telling us how in touch with the people the world of Frieze is, none of that annoying Moniker bullshit we’ve encountered this week (more about that tomorrow, we’ll go to the Moniker Art Fair tomorrow)
There’s no pretense here, these people breeze in from their galleries in Hamburg or Los Angeles or from their hidden signless unwelcoming not-for-the-likes-of-you spaces of London and then breeze out and back to their own perfumed worlds again, worlds a million miles away from us working artists of Hackney or Peckham or Salford or Glasgow, but for all that, I do like Frieze, I do like the people watching, I like that Frieze is honest, that it doesn’t pretend, it doesn’t dress itself up as something it isn’t and in amongst it all, amongst all the money and the well dressed art-peddlers and merchant bankers and the gate keepers who can’t be bothered to come see what we great unwashed artists of the back streets do, I like the fact that in there with all the underwhelming art, there’s always some beauty to be found, there’s always some excitement, there’s always something that makes going to Frieze worthwhile, there’s always going to be an unexpected encounter with a brilliant Thomas Scheibitz painting…
Love that Thomas Scheibitz painting , could have stood in front of that one for hours, although this year, if it wasn’t for the Brilliant Sex Work, we might be saying there wasn’t quite so many exciting pieces at this year’s London leg of Frieze as there has been in previous years – “New for 2017, Sex Work: Feminist Art & Radical Politics is curated by independent curator and scholar Alison M. Gingeras. The section features nine solo presentations of women artists working at the extreme edges of feminist practice during the 1970s and ‘80s, all sharing a focus on explicit sexual iconography combined with radical political agency..”
– Sex Work is brilliant, the dozen or so galleries gathered together in one area of Frieze, the A.I.R timeline wall is excellent, the information here along with the actual art is a triumph for Frieze, the whole brilliant enpowering provoking inspiring thing really needs to be somewhere like the Tate or the Barbican for a lot lot longer than just these four unaccessible-to-most-people days, the Sex Work area really is where it all is at here in Frieze 2017, more in a bit, Sex Work deserves far more than just a passing mention in a piece like this, more in a bit, it dereves a piece dedicate just to it, surely this isn’t the only time this collection and that brillaint timeline is going to be seen? Surely not? Sex Work is brilliant
So yes, most of the interesting pieces in Frieze 2017 are interesting or exciting in a historical sense, those Allen Ruppersberg posters that are probably a little bit old hat now, the brilliant Dorothy Ianonne pieces, the challenging at the time Betty Tomkins paintings, the excellent pieces from the 90’s from Carolee Schneemann and Suzanne Treister at the always interesting P.P.O.W Gallery (New York) space. We’re not seeing anything that exciting with a dateline from the last five years on it, and once again there’s very very little in terms of a hint of What might street art flavoured besides Brooklyn’s Kaws.
There’s mile after mile of art in here, things jump out, the Judith Bernstein paintings, those shirts of Eric N.Mack, well not really shirts, that piece of art and the painted fabric of Eric N.Mack is a little more than just a rail of shirts – occasionally the gate keepers do let something though – Emma Hart ceramic television satellite dishes (shown by London’s Sunday Painter gallery), Emalin Gallery‘s mouth has a bit of wit about it, as does the semi-playful ceramic work of Russian artist Evgeny Antufeiev – Emalin are one of the more interesting of the signless London galleries of recent times (there’s a rather interesting Nicholas Cheveldave show in their Shoreditch space right now if you can work out where the door is). The Haegue Yang geometric piece stands out as you wander on down the busy streets and past booth after booth, although the stylish man in the red suit might have helped bring out the colours in that particular piece of art…
And yes, admit it, people watching is part of being at Frieze, that and eavesdropping on snippets of conversations “as I said to John Lydon back in 1991…” said someone very loudly (was he a performance artist or just a bit of a prat?), “I’ve just seen some old friends from prep school” said someone’s very loud poshboy English gallery assistant, surely poshboy was part of some performance to amuse the New York gallery the poshboy was supposedly working for? He had to be a performance piece, surely?. Is it very white in here, besides they guys pushing the carpet cleaners or dealing with the traffic outside? “Thirty thousand each, how much for the two?” more men in suits at desks with piles of books, no tie though, those tie-less art dealers like to live dangerously, no ties here, look at my pile of books! Loads of books! Overheard quote of the day was in the Sex Work area, a gallery person talking of one of the feminist artists in her space – “she’s really old and frail now but if she gets annoyed she can still throw a dildo or two at me”.
Besides the Sex Work thing and especially the glorious everything of Dorothy Iannone, besides the whole brilliant Sex Work thing, besides that, the truly good and the occasionally exciting, Frieze 2017 really is swamped by the somewhat underwhelming, the feeling at the end of day one’s exploring is a feeling of is that it? Is that really it? But it is worth it, it is worth seeing what they have to offer, what the gate keepers and their premier league galleries have for us, it is worth exploring, it is worth it just see that occasional something like the big Thomas Scheibitz flower or the Mack shirt piece or those Emma Hart pieces or that very bright Eddie Peake painting – you start to go a little art-blind in the end, three and a bit hours in and you’ve had enough, you start to think about how you might argue for Hirst and his wheel, you start to lose focus, you start to think about how you’d maybe like to eat and you know you can’t afford to eat anything in here, you start to think about how the whole thing might be one great big giant hoax, one great big performance piece, how this surely can’t be real? You start to get just a little bit angry, you start to lose that excited buzz you arrived with, you start to think it might be time to call an end to day one and go have a pint or better still, go throw some paint at a canvas. one last look at that Thomas Scheibitz painting just to leave on a positive note, we’ll be back tomorrow, we’ll be back with more words, we’re bound to have missed something on day one, Frieze is vast, we’ll probably be back with one of those cheesy best ten things we saw at Frieze lists that the internet demands, did kind of enjoy day one, the Sex Work thing and one or two really good pieces made it all more than worthwhile… (sw)
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show from the first day….
4 thoughts on “ORGAN THING: Frieze, day one, Sex Work takes the day, the big yellow flower excites and of course there’s a Felix, there’s always a Felix…”
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