ORGAN: FRIEZE WEEK Part 5 – The fair itself, why was it so damn conservative? Did Sterling Ruby and the Gagosian save it all with the help of Joyce Pensato’s giant Mickey?


Frieze London, 2019, Sterling Ruby, (Gagosian)

Was it as opulent this time, was it as big a beast? The sign outside certainly wasn’t as big, no big shiny black mile-high towering sign overlooking everyone coming in this year, instead a more subdued green one, that sign says so much, things aren’t quite so bold in 2019. Is opulent the right word? Audacious? Cocky? Cocksure? Am I right in thinking Frieze doesn’t have quite such an opulent cocksure swagger this year? And it feels a little more subdued inside as well, it took a while before the first really seriously exciting piece of art jumped out at us, the first thing really encountered on the first day and by that time several conversations about Brexit affecting the markets have been overheard (always rewarding to listen to those passing conversations if you want a to grab a flavour or two of what the gallery people and the top leagues of the art world are thinking). There is good art in here, of course there is, with this many artist and galleries from all over the world how could there not be good art? Of course there’s some very good art in here, it doesn’t feel like Frieze quite has that collective swagger this year though, not the collective punch of previous years, and there’s not quite the buzz walking up from Regent’s Park tube station on the Thursday morning like there usually is on the first day the public are let in. Not quite the crowds inside either, not on the Thursday anyway – There are a lot more people in on Friday afternoon when we return for round two, it does get very busy on Friday afternoon but It does feel a little low key by Frieze standards this year, maybe not quite the event it has been in previous years? .


Frieze London, 2019 – Joyce Pensato, Lisson Gallery

Frieze is always by nature going to be a little conservative, are things even more so this year? It feels restrained in here, a little disappointing, it feels a little more low key then it usually is, Thursday feels very quiet, the crowds, the galleries and the art, it all feels a touch subdued, a little underwhelming,  There’s a slightly larger painting over there, an André Butzer piece, a rather intense piece of energetic colour, a rather eye-catching canvas that really is the first thing to demand a little bit more attention and lift us a little, Butzer’s bright jazzy piece isn’t encountered until something like half an hour of exploring the vast vast (vast) space and by that time we’re rather in need of something that wants to grabs us (and I’m not entirely sure if that André Butzer piece would have stood out in previous years?), the André Butzer piece is almost a relief though and there have been other things here and there along the way.. .


Frieze London, 2019 – Andre Butzer

On Thursday we’ve come in through an entrance that means we don’t get to the Gagosian space and the bright yellow rush of Sterling Ruby‘s bright bright pieces that really do rescue the whole morning until we’re a couple of hours in, we don’t get to the Gagosian space until we’re something like two hours spent looking at art and it really is the massive relief, the André Butzer piece was good but nothing had really threatened to take our breath until we turned that corner some two hours in. Turning that corner is such a rush (as well as a relief), such a buzz to walk in to the big open space alive with all those big bold golds and yellows, the big textures, the edges where colours meet, the pieces of fabric (there’s a lot of fabric in Frieze this year, more on that in a moment), a big square of a gallery space  that seems to be bigger that everyone else’s you almost want to punch the air with relief, with delight, at last some excitement, some colour, some art, some life!  And such a good hang, no clutter, no man in a suit (and slightly rebellious tie just to show he’s in touch with art), no slick man on a slick phone sitting at a slick table with his slick books and his well groomed hair,, no well-dressed female sitting at her laptop trying to avoid conversation with anyone she doesn’t already know, the Gagosian space feels a lot more like an actual gallery rather than that expensive car sales room feel that’s found in most of the booths that are housing most of the art “stuff” on sale in here. Sterling Ruby‘s big bold art really is a breath of much needed fresh air on what so far has been a long Thursday morning. Actually The whole dynamic of the fair is changed on the Friday as we’re funnelled in via an entry that takes us straight to the Gagosian space first before anything else – on Thursday it was all about turning that corner and having Sterling Ruby take your breath, turning that corner on Thursday was brilliant, Thirty or so refreshing minutes are spent with all those big bright yellow paintings, and they are very painterly, they’re full of golden energy, alive with texture, beautifully coloured, golden yellows, lemon yellows, whites, greens, lines that meet, edges, love those edges, so uplifting, like stopping for a reboot or something that refreshes everything, boy did we need to turn that corner and see all those big yellow paintings and feel that rush and that yes and that punch of the air, it really is a little difficult to leave the Gagosian cube and carry on exploring, shall we just leave now instead? Leave with Sterling Ruby fresh in our minds?


Frieze London, 2019, Sterling Ruby, (Gagosian)

Before Sterling Ruby there had been Joyce Pensato‘s big charcoal Mickey, a giant drawing, one of several big pieces that Lisson Gallery are showing in tribute to the artist who recently passed away. That big Mickey did grab us, as did the other big pieces that Mickey ushered us in to see, as did the the Stanley Whitney pieces that share the wall and space as they often did in life, “Whitney, a Brooklyn-based painter and close friend of Pensato”.


Frieze London, 2019 – Joyce Pensato and Stanley Whitney , Lisson Gallery

Elsewhere there’s the slightly space rockish flavours of Suzanne Triester‘s Survivor/Space Forest Algorithm, a recent oil on linen piece on the P.O.W.W. wall. New York’s P.O.W.W gallery usually do stand out at Frieze, even P.O.W.W seem a little conservative this year, the smaller Betty Tompkins piece are rewarding, unfortunately they had left the walls by the time we come back for another look on the second day. Actually there’s a lot of switching around and changing of art, things shown on one day and then switched for new pieces before you can drag people to see them on the second day, damn, really wanted to see those Betty Tompkins pieces again on the Friday.  It does requirwe more than one day, you do see so much on the second day that you missed on the first however hard you try to follow the map and see everything, It does feel like you need to work a little harder to find the real treasure this year, There’s several Oscar Murillo pieces that catch an eye several times in various booths, the painting on a shower curtain with the rip hangs well, but then there is a lot in here that really isn’t that exciting, not sure if we really need another Campbell’s soup can on the wall in 2019? Not going to bother seeing who’s work it is, even if it is something that historical context I just don’t need any more damn soup cans.


Frieze London, 2019, Oscar Murillo

Lisa Oppenheim‘s line where sea meets sky is quietly understated and I suspect rather easily missed in all the everything else of the fair, I was going to say all the noise but it really isn’t a noisy event this year, there aren’t any big f**k off punk rock pieces, there’s nothing that grand in terms of scape actually  –  there’s three delicious Lisa Oppenheim pieces on the wall of the booth occupied by East London’s Approach gallery, three beautiful black and white pieces that play with light and your point of view in such a rewarding way. There’s William J O’Brien‘s  “Untitled (Broken Flag)”, another piece that demands a slice of attention, a relatively larger canvas hung-textile piece, a hanging,, a collection of pieces painted on in ink, in oil and acrylic, small pieces of canvas or cloth or fabric held together by hundreds of safety pins in a rather tactile way. There are a lot of textile-based pieces in Frieze this year, fabric pieces hanging in that way only a piece of fabric does, paint or dye within the body of the piece rather than lying on the surface, there’s a lot fabric in here, there’s conversations to be had with gallery people about rust resist and weaving and the nature of a fold – indeed there’s a whole section collectively called “Woven” that offers up quite a few pieces worth a little more time, Chitra Ganesh at San Francisco’s Gallery Wendi Norris is worth a mention.   There’s a gorgeous Mrinalini Mukherjee bronze made ten years later that a dramatically heavy woven rope piece made by the same artist that stands in front of the bronze, the conversation between the two pieces really does affect in the most positive of ways the way you feel about the bronze leaves and the need to touch them, to crumple them like fabric,  there’s a whole booth of Mrinalini Mukherjee pieces, actually New Delhi’s Nature Morte booth is one of the highlights of this year’s Frieze..


Frieze London, 2019, William J O’Brien (Taka Ishii, Gallery, Tokyo)

Not sure what we want from Frieze? Not sure if twenty year old Lucian Freud etchings of a dog are enough? But then this isn’t an exhibition, this is essentially a big sales room so if some gallery from New York wants to flog a rather polite Lucian Freud print of a dog that kind of looks like something every half-descent art student did in their late teenage years, or if some gallery from Italy wants to come to London and flog one of the Tracey Emin paintings that looked so powerful when we saw at her (excellent) show in the White Cube earlier this year but looks rather lonely in their sales room now – but then we did overhear someone trying to buy it for the kind of money that would buy most people a decent sized house on Friday only to be told it had already sold so who cares what we think, yer man in the slick suit with the slick phone from Italy ids off to buy himself a new Ferrari and who cares what’s gonig on in a gallery on the Hackney Road.  You hear conversations again and again about sales, about lack of sales, about money, about “see you in Miami”, “are you going to Berlin?”, “how was Hong Kong?”  Actually, I see from my social media that there was an artist protesting about the whole carbon footprint of the travelling circus that is the giant art fair, didn’t catch Kate McNillan on either day we were there but she does have a good point to make, the whole thing is so obscenely questionable and a little bit of you is thinking in a Don Logan voice “I hope this crashes”


Mrinalini Mukherjee

Rayyane Tabet‘s “Short History of Lebanon” is kind of interesting, dare we say earnestly interesting? Dare we say we’ve seen rather a lot of earnest art that involves pages from old paperback books and highlighter pens in recent times?  Then there’s the 69 slides in the rather deliberately mundane slide show that does kind of have you wondering why a gallery would go to all the expense of hiring a (not very cheep) booth and then exhibiting, as amusing as it is for a moment or two, very little besides a bit of a throwaway joke of a slide show piece? What does it say about Frieze? About the galleries that spend their money hiring very very expensive space and then spend more money flying in to be at Frieze? Why would you come all the way from Lisbon just to show a joke via 69 slides?. Who knows?   I guess it was humourous for a moment or two in amongst the everything else but then you think why? WHY!? You end up wondering why on a number of occasions actually. We have asked the question before on previous years but is there really that much here that we can’t see most weeks of the year in the back rooms and the artist-led shows in various parts of South or East London? With very few obvious exceptions you have to say no, I mean, those prints over there are okay but were they really as good as Julia Maddison’s stripy prints at the Art Car Boot Fair in Margate last week? Actually there was a gallery from Margate here, back for a second year he said, he had no idea what I was on about when I asked him if he’d been to Dreamland for the Art Car Boot Fair last week, do these galleries ever go out looking for the new artists? Or for the artists that have been quietly doing their thing for years in the small galleries  these drawing of birds over there, nice, but are they as rewarding as Cate Halpin’s current work? Do these people ever take a look at the outside world?   .


Frieze London, 2019, Sterling Ruby, (Gagosian)

Sure, there’s a lot of decent pieces, there some really strong pieces,  there’s one or two really rewarding pieces, but there are some things that do have you wondering why? There’s a lot that’s frankly not that impressive pieces of art hanging on white walls – pieces of driftwood, or a broken package case left on the floor, really?  Is that really enough? .There’s a slightly unmade bed with underwear thrown everywhere, well not so much thrown as placed. There’s a decent enough abstract painting over there but where is the real excitement? The attitude? The energy? Where is that swagger you kind of expect? Where is that art that says yeah there are a million things wrong with something like Frieze but look at this damn painting and then argue against it? F**king hell it really is politely conservative in here this year


Frieze London, 2019,, Kembra Ppfahler, Emalin (London)


There is a wonderfully understated little painting (I do hate it when a piece is referred to as a “little painting”, it sounds patronizing, like it isn’t being taken seriously enough to just be a painting, but this is a wonderful painting, a smaller piece that really isn’t “little”, a painting that once again could get lost in all the noise of the bigger paintings and busier booths, a painting by Markus Amm, an untitled painting, oil on board, almost radiant, peacock blue and green, 30 x 35cm, so easy to miss after several hours, almost hidden around a corner in Hanburg’s Galerie Karin Guenther booth – there are rewards if you really do look  Over in the Hauser and Wirth booth there’s a rather fine painting on aluminium by Keith Tyson, another big yellow piece alive with leaves and layers and flowers and line and form and movement and the energy that a Keith Tyson piece so often has (rather enjoyed his central London show back in the summer), but we really are struggling to really really pick things out and get really excited about them like we have in previous years, it does seem very very conservative in here this year/  There’s nothing really big, besides Sterling Ruby and Gagosian, there really isn’t anything that looks or feels big, nothing that daring, nothing that really demands that much. There is the Kembra Pfahler pieces in the Emalin Gallery booth but hey, if you don’t already know about the New York artist I’m not sure if what’s on offer here is really going to tell you why she can be so exciting, why is everything so dialled down? Why is everything so subdued? Why isn’t there one of Kembra’s giant cocks in the middle of the room next to her black metal pentagrams like there was at he last solo show? Or her semi naked red yellow and blue dancers? Why is everything so damn conservatively polite even by Frieze standards? Besides that white cube alive with the glories of those brilliant Sterling Ruby paintings and those big Joyce Pensato drawings and paintings, I’m not sure if there was anything in here that’s anywhere near as as good as the Marton Nemes solo show that opened at the Annka Kultys Gallery on the Hackney Road last Tuesday night.


Frieze London, 2019, Markus Amm

Oh look, there’s a million things wrong with Frieze and all the money and the arrogance of it all, the seemingly uncaring excess and the global footprint and the price of a coffee and the snottiness of some of the gallery people as they look you up and down to work out if your shoes are expensive enough for them to be bothered with talking to you, there’s a million things wrong but for all that it really is the only art fair worth bothering with, it is the one to go to and the thought of going does actually excite me – I can’t wait to see what the supposedly cutting edge galleries from New York or Berlin or those London ones who usually keep themselves to themselves are going to offer, or what’s going to come in from Delhi or Mexico or Oslo. I’m a fan of Frieze and yes it was worth going again and yes we did see some good things, we saw one or two really good things, a couple of really really good things, there was Cindy Sherman, there were those three small Chris Ofili pieces, that “little” Markus Amm painting ,William J. O’Brien‘s Broken Flag hanging there with all those safety pins, the Mrinalini Mukherjee pieces and of course the Sterling Roby paintings but it was far more conservative, it was far more subdued, maybe even the art world is noticing the state of things and maybe the Brexit mess is biting and Trump and Boris and Hong Kong and the climate and the general state of things to come and then we got home to the news of a Banksy piece featuring a parliament of monkeys that has just sold at an auction somewhere for just short of ten million and the sales we over heard and the sorry that one’s sold already and who really cares what we think or what Kate McNillan thinks or what the bloke who works at the chip shop who swears he’s Elvis thinks or… see you next year   (sw)

Please click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show..

8 thoughts on “ORGAN: FRIEZE WEEK Part 5 – The fair itself, why was it so damn conservative? Did Sterling Ruby and the Gagosian save it all with the help of Joyce Pensato’s giant Mickey?

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  6. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze Week, the obligatory top ten list – Jeffrey Gibson, Jadé Fadojutimi’s seven paintings, Ken Currie at Flowers, Gina Birch, Caroline Coon, Lee Maelzer’s beds, Selome Muleta, Emma Amos, that DIS bench, Madeleine Strindberg

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