ORGAN: Frieze, day one, did it impress? Was it enough? Was Jeffrey Gibson or those big bold Jadé Fadojutimi paintings or Selome Muleta’s pieces enough? And what about that elephant again…

Frieze London, Day one, October 12th, 2022 – Now and again you find yourself asking why? Why I we here? Why am I writing this? Why has that gallery from Shanghai gone to all the effort,of bringing that rather boring, rather conventional still life that wouldn’t stand out in a village fête art show all the way to London? What is that doing there? And why has that renowned London gallery filled their space with those paintings? Why Sadie? Gawd they were boring! And what the hell were the parrots about Galerie Noah Klink? There are lots of whys? The main one is why is everyone ignoring the elephant in the room once again this year? There is rather a lot of underwhelming art in here but then, as is the case every year, there is so much of it, there’s always going to hits and misses, and thankfully there is good art as well. 

There is so much of it, miles of it, never ending, you’re legs ache, have we walked around this part already? Didn’t we pass that painting a couple of hours ago? Have we been down here? It is a little overwhelming and no, surely no one can possibly claim to have seen everything. It really isn’t until you get home and check your notes, you look at the hundreds of (rather bad) photos you’ve taken and remind yourself of that really good piece you saw about two and a half hours in to the five you actually spent in there before you could take no more. It isn’t really until you look at what you almost forgot in the avalanche of it all, in the onslaught of never-ending paintings that you recall the sittle things as well as the bits of rush and the whoop and the over there, look at that and yes there are sugar rushes (paint rushes?).

Jeffrey Gibson

There was the sugar rush of Stephen Friedman Gallery, having already made a couple of very strong Frieze week statements over in their West End galleries with Anne Rothenstein and especially Caroline Coon, Stephen Friedman hit you with a massive rush of colour, an instant hit of excitement with the triumph of their booth featuring Jeffrey Gibson’s rather exciting “Indigenous Futurism” (not my description but we’ll go with it, it fits almost perfectly, we’ll have it), with his bright bright colour, his strong statement and yes, his Native American patterns, with his dizzying geometric designs in bright purples and radiant greens and glowing yellows, his “yes” and his beans and his beads and his punch bags, and love it, brilliant! One of the highlights, probably the highlight, genuinely exciting. Gibson is a Brooklyn-based artist, an American Mississippi Choctaw/Cherokee painter, and sculptor (see , we can use Wiki like the best of ’em), and his takeover of the big Stephen Friedman booth is, in a different way to Deborah Roberts last year, is the thing that finally, after a couple hours of searching for that “thing”, it is the thing that finally ignites Frieze 2022.

It had been a little slow until Jeffrey Gibson, we knew Gibson’s brightness was coming, we had caught glimpses in the advance publicity we had mostly tried to avoid. There had been good things before that, how could there not be with a beast this big? How could there not be with so many galleries, over 280 galleries from 42 countries (one country short!), of course there’s lots of good art in here. There’s a group of paintings presented by Addis Fine Art, a gallery of both Addis Ababa and London, a group of paintings by Selome Muleta – “one of the most exciting young female artists to emerge from the Ethiopian visual arts scene in recent years, Selome merges portraiture with still life in a meditative exploration of womanhood and interiority” – her paintings are full of so much, they quietly stand out, if you give then the chance in the noise of it all, they quietly pull you in, the faces, the colour, the way the paint is used in such a powerfully positive way, the cats, actually Selome’s paintings really stand out. 

Selome Muleta

And almost inevitably, Gagosian have done it again, there they are in their big dog spot laying down a marker with some big bold Jadé Fadojutimi paintings and handing out a a challenge to everyone else again from their now traditional spot by the main entrance – pissing contest won once more by the gallery and the energy of those large Jadé Fadojutimi pieces that really do ignite the booth with an almost immersive zest, those seven big paintings turn the environment into something that almost envelops and cuts you off from everything else that’s happening all around you, there may be paintings everywhere and while you’re still wheeling from the experience of walking in and being called from the left of the right, these seven paintings do grab you. They did it in 2019 with that set of Sterling Ruby‘s big yellow paintings, and Gagosian do it yet again here, Fadojutimi’s paint flows, it slashes, it cuts, her movement excites, her work is alive with an almost timeless energy, it really is exciting. Those seven paintings demand, they engage, and yes, they hold you, they don’t let you go, they may be making a lot of noise, they may zing, but there is so much depth here. Are we seeing growth? Fresh layers? She is compelling, they are compelling and yes, they are maybe a touch confrontational, mostly she’s just exciting and that’s why we’re here. These are supposedly the biggest and best galleries the world has to offer, Jadé Fadojutimi‘s paintings have got us off to an excellent start, come on then, bring it on, excite us, hit us with more of it, come on, let’s ‘ave it! 

Jadé Fadojutimi

It isn’t all about noise and big dogs and pissing contests though and on your way home to Hackney (via a broke down Lizzy line train, already, that didn’t take long!) you remember that gorgeous smaller (not little, never little) painting, that small painting behind the table that East London’s The Approach Gallery were showing (if only you could get around their table to see it properly), a painting by Tom Allen, Two Reds, an oil painting on a very big 33x27cm canvas.  Elsewhere Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery deserve a name check (did we name check them last year as well? Pretty sure we did? More about them tomorrow), and there’s a beautifully calming painting from Kim Bohle, a piece called Towards, a painting from 2022, that hits just that point where the sea meets sky, that line that has been painted (many) many times by many painters and captured perfectly here by this one, it really is a beautiful moment of calm in the middle of the noise and the attention seeking of the fair, a painting from Korea presented by Gallery Baton. 

Hang on though, can’t go that much further without bringing up that giant elephant that is once again right there in the middle of the room. Last year the acknowledgment of the massive massive problem that is climate change, the number one thing we’re all facing now whoever or wherever we are, last year the acknowledgment was at best tokenistic, this time the policy or the feel or the vibe or the whatever seems to be to let us all pretend it just isn’t happening, that Pakistan isn;t flooded, that our weather is all over the place, let’s brush it all quietly under the carpet, shussssh now, no one mention it, nothing to see here, move along, what elephant? There’s nothing here this year in terms of climate change, not here on the actual floor of the actual fair, not a damn thing, too close to home? There might have been a small token of something of other offered at ticket point of purchase, something about which cause you could vote for Frieze to support or some kind tokenism, the tiny bit of a hint of what looked like nothing more than green-washing or a token bit of offsetting. Hey, a little bit of way-too-quiet offsetting really isn’t anywhere near enough and  unless it was hidden in a quiet corner again (like they did last year) and we didn’t find it, there’s not a single serous mention of the massive Climate Change issue at this year’s Frieze when it surely should have been in everyone’s face and impossible to miss? We’re facing a massive problem, art surely can’t bury itself? Art can’t just ignore it? Things like Frieze are surely part of the problem, how many flights were made for this? Where’s the circus off to next week? The issue should surely be front and centre and yes you do have to ask if it is even right that this giant globe-trotting art circus that Frieze is a massive part of should even exist and happen in this form in 2022? (or that we should be here covering it?)  

And hang on, did we see one single Ukrainian flag, not one single hint of that either, did the organisers or the galleries feel a little uncomfortable with that one? Were they worried about upsetting Russian money maybe? Surely not? Actually there weren’t many flags from anywhere, there’s usually a stars and stripes or a tiresome Union Jack or two, indeed there were very few words or slogans, thankfully the graphic word play and the tedious one liners seem to have finally (thankfully), save for a few stragglers, become all rather last year. And very little neon either, it had become so so tedious hadn’t it? Yes there is one Tracey piece, but that is almost something of a greatest hit, something very much on sale from a gallery as a piece of past work, almost something for Frieze Masters rather then Frieze itself? And yes, the Tracey neon is next to one of her more recent rather strong – It may not be considered that cool to say it, but we won’t have a bad word uttered about Tracey Emin‘s more recent paintings and yes, the parade of bitterly jealous not quite so successful artists may bite at us for saying so (yet again, we got dogs abuse for that last White Cube review a couple of years back), always good to see her work (and when did we ever give a flying flip about who or what’s cool this week anyway, (well besides the return of proper painting, we like that, that’s cool).

Actually, when you think about it afterwards in the pub you conclude that there’s not much being said about anything much this year at Frieze, there isn’t anything overtly feminist, do we feel we don’t need it now? There’s certainly a lot of strong work from female artists, surely the glass ceiling hasn’t been smashed quite yet though? Are we collectively thinking things are suddenly that much better on that front? There’s not really that much in terms of strong statement about anything really, not a collective statement, of course there is from individual artists, individual pieces, but there doesn’t feel like there are any really big collective statements or points being made about anything much. Is it all rather superficial? No, that would be a lazy thing to say but there are no massive statements and overall, highlights aside, it is all maybe a touch too conservative?   

And yes, as we’ve said several times before at previous Frieze gatherings here in London, there’s not that much here that’s any better than, or indeed in many cases as good as the things we see in back street artist-led spaces and studios here in the parts of South or East London where artists are still hanging on. There’s nothing that stands above the things we see in the galleries or at the shows the establishment never go anywhere near (do they even know about them?) Would that Emma Harvey ribbon piece that hung from that big tree in Finchley over in North London last month, or indeed her new paintings that are emerging at the moment, be out of place here? Would (as we’ve said before) a Julia Maddison piece or one of Madeleine Strindberg‘s always challenging paintings (actually Madeleine painted a rather strong Ukrainian flag recently, Frieze could have done with that, I doubt any of these galleries have any idea who she is though do they?). Would a big Melike drawing or one of Mark Burrell‘s seemingly endless pieces or one of those Sofia Martins Gray Polaroid self-portraits that are frankly way way (way) more exciting and out near the edge than the rather boring Polaroids that are actually on the wall at Frieze this year – would any of those artists be out of place here? Do any of these galleries, especially the London galleries who are supposedly here on their own ground, do any of them have the faintest of clues about anything that actually happening under those turned up noses? When did any of them ever go to an artist-led show in an old shop in East London? Actually one of the best things we a today was the show we went to on the way to Frieze, the just opened Lee Maelzer solo show and those beds of hers that say so much, more of that in a moment, Lee is one surely one of the Frieze week highlights?

Kudzanai Violet Hwami

On with it, that Kudzanai Violet Hwami piece, Ngochani Mumhuri, a piece in oil and acrylic, that Victoria Miro are showing, now that does demand attention, the point does still stand though, there’s nothing any better here than the art we can see on any given day of any given week down here in the London undergrowth where we spend most of our time.

There are lots of interesting pieces here, of course there are, 280 or so galleries, how could thee not be?! Your eye is constantly caught as you head off at obtuse angles, and oh look, and what’s that over there and oh, hang on, did you see that one? But it did feel almost as conservative this year as it did last year though, conservative, safe, polite. I guess the galleries do have to recoup the astronomically high costs of it all, they do have to play it a little safe don’t they? Not quite as conservative as last year maybe? Not quite as annoyingly so as last time? On the whole, as an overall generalisation, there’s are some damn good pieces of art in here this year, but is does mostly feel polite, safe, there’s nothing that really truly grabs you quite like Deborah Roberts did last year, yet, as one collective whole, does the art feel a little better this time around than it did last time? 

Tom Allen

And, like we’ve already said, is there more actual painting this year, it feels like there’s more actual painting? Is there less bulshit? Is that it? is there far less bulshit in here, and was there really only one annoying New York gallery intern this year? There’s usually at least four or five. Textile based art is reasonably well represented again, there’s some healthy hangings, again mostly rather conservative though, nothing too radical, Ibrahim Mahama‘s Jute Sacks, courtesy of White Cube are worthy of mention, a piece (or a couple of pieces) called Twice As Tall.

Would it be reasonable to say there is quite a bit that doesn’t really impress that much but that this year there is just enough that does? That Claudia Comte piece presented by Konig for instance. Konig gallery usually throw in something good. Actually are there one or two familiar gallery names missing, where’s that LA cutting edge this year? And where’s that lot from New York who usually have a strong presence? Did we miss them or are they just not here this time?  Oh, P.P.O.W were here, now their website has been checked I do recall seeing what they had to offer, guess it just didn’t grab us enough on the day?  

Hey, Pop Art imagery is thin on the ground this year as well, did we really (thanfully) only see one Mickey Mouse all day? And that street art influence on things, the so called urban artists are pretty much not here is any kind of shape or form this year either (they’ve never have had much of a presence at Frieze, not even a hint this year though). It is mostly refreshingly decent painting, is painting really back in vogue? is ‘proper’ painting back? Is there less cheese maybe? And is there less posing from the galleries this time? Not so many stacks of look-at-me-and-all-I-know books ‘casually’ left on tables, and what about the trophy gallery assistants decorating the booths while their bosses pose in expensive suits and never a tie? Was there less of that crap this year? Is there really less bulshit or have I just got used to it? Gawd, I hope not! Has Frieze developed a collective hint of something we could almost call taste this year? Nah, Frieze has never ever had good taste, does feel like the crap has been cut just a little bit though doesn’t it? That failure on the climate change front is a big fat stinking turd of an elephant poop right there in the middle of the room though, that really is a big pile of steaming bulpoop right there in the middle of it all and there surely should have been an acknowledgement of the wrongs of what is happening to the people of Ukraine right now? Was that just a glaring omission or was it really a case of just not wanting to alienate a Russian art market? There were the poseurs of course, but is it just a little less annoying this year isn’t it? Gawd, I’m not getting used to it am I?

Who are all these people who go to Frieze anyway? There thousands of people in here, it seems even busier this year and this is supposedly the quieter preview day? We’re at galleries most nights, beside one or two people working the booths of the London galleries that are showing here, there’s hardly a familiar face in the gaff? Where do all these people come from and do they ever go to anything else? is this their one art fix of the year? Oh, look there’s the big sponsored black and white op art Tobias Rehberger bit, fun for a moment or two, good to Instagram I guess, better than the corporate Hirst wank of last year but then how could it not be? No idea how much the food or drink was, didn’t dare look, and no idea how much a ticket will set you back? An arm and several legs i imagine? You didn’t think we paid did you? We’re press mate, perks of all this, Blaggers ITA, we’re all in black, Inter City Jibbers, to pay is to fail! 

And that was it, day one, five hours or more behind the lines on you behalf. No time for Frieze Masters today, we’ll take that one on later in the week, was Frieze London 2022 any damn good. Well yes, yes it (probably) was, there is always something. Was it any better than any given Thursday afternoon wondering around Cork Street? Well maybe the overseas galleries add a little something you don’t get in the West End (although did they add as much this year?). Yes, it was conservative, and yes we all know there any many (many) things wrong with Frieze, with the notion that something like Frieze should even exist in these times and yes we do know it is mostly about money and the investment made in the work sold here means most of it will probably stay in a vault as someone’s asset, a price ticket on a list somewhere and yeah we know about all that crap, but yes, there was enough good art, there was a pleasing amount of painting, it was in truth a little better than expected, a little better than last year, and yes, if you do get a chance, you probably should go.  Yes, you pretty much know before hand you’re not going to get that danger, don’t be expecting “danger, outrage and obscenity”, utter bulshit to think you might get that and utter crap to complain when you don’t get it. You know beforehand it will mostly be conservative but you know you’re going to see enough good art and that one or two things are prbably going to b a lot more than just good, you know you’re going to want to know more about someone like Jadé Fadojutimi or Tom Allen or that you’re going to need to find our more about Selome Muleta or what Ingleby Gallery are going to do next up in Scotland and you’re definitely going to want more of Jeffrey Gibson’s Indigenous Futurism somwhere along the line

Yes, with quite a few reservations about what Frieze itself is about or what is does (or doesn’t) stand for in 2022, there was enough good art to say, yes, day one of Frieze was kind of alright, yes, day one was pretty good.  What about that big footprint though? What about that steaming pile of poop and the carbon footprint the elephant left in the middle of the room? Should these great big art fairs really be happening in 2022? And why did that gallery from Shanghai go to all the effort of flying that rather boring rather conventional still life all the way to London? There was a lot that kind of underwhelmed and you are thinking is that the best you could come up with? You are asking why rather more than you should be. (sw)

And here we go with a bag load of (not very good) photos, do click on an image to enlarge or to run the slide show. We’ll be back in a minute to title them all

4 thoughts on “ORGAN: Frieze, day one, did it impress? Was it enough? Was Jeffrey Gibson or those big bold Jadé Fadojutimi paintings or Selome Muleta’s pieces enough? And what about that elephant again…

  1. 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

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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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