Frieze Art Fair Contemporary Mothership Changes Direction – Review

The Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters ended on Sunday with many of the exhibitors packing up their stock to move on to FIAC in Paris next week. The fair recorded record attendance figures with people queuing for up to two hours to get a last peek at London’s biggest and best art fair. 

Frieze and Frieze Masters reported strong sales especially on the upper end of the price ‘Richter scale’. Frieze London is now a serious contender to Art Basel in Switzerland/Miami and TEFAF Maastricht, competing as an event, featuring cutting-edge and 20th century works on a grand scale. There are also rumours of a Frieze Design fair to launch in the future. It was a stroke of brilliance to extend the fair into the lucrative masters market, as it has now clearly put London back on the map as the leading centre of the art-world.

Frieze 2012, the contemporary mothership, moved direction this year. One thing noticeable at the main contemporary fair was that the galleries were far more restrained. Large scale installation and mural sized paintings were out, with pieces embracing a domestic scale very much the flavour of the day. I think this made for a far safer fair, but with lots of great quality work on offer. There was still plenty of innovation and galleries made an effort to be welcoming and cordial, for a change. Frieze Projects were also of a high standard this year. Gone was the gimmickry of five years ago and up on the wall was visually exciting art! This year’s offering had enough installation, video art, sculpture, painting and photography to cater for all disciplines and tastes.

Highlights for me, were Ryan Ganders brandish wall piece at Lisson, The Chris Ofilis at Victoria Miro and Billy Childish’s large self portrait, which looked fresh on Lehmann Maupin Gallery’s stand. Hauser & Wirth reportedly sold Paul McCarthy’s 2012 “White Snow Head” (2012) for £850,000 and Victoria Miro sold Yayoi Kusama’s pink and gold canvas “Universe RYPK” (2010) for £350,000.
Also of note was the Grisdale Arts Project ‘Colosseum of the Consumed’ the performance piece that I witnessed was the dissection of an art critic where a life-size  cake depicting the spitting image of Rob Tufnell was cut up and shared with the audience. Even the Tate spent £150,000 on new acquisitions from the fair including paintings by the late Japanese artist Hideko Fukushima (“Ko 8,” 1963) from Tokyo-based Taka Ishii Gallery and Jack Whitten (“Epsilon Group II,” 1977) from Antwerp’s Zeno X Gallery. The museum also bought  an oil and graphite work by Caragh Thuring (“Arthur Kennedy,” 2012) from Thomas Dane Gallery of London, and a large sculptural installation “Balindile I” (2012) by Nicholas Hlobo from South Africa’s Stevenson gallery as reported on ArtLyst last Thursday.

Frieze Masters was by no means a perfect fair. The sparseness of the surroundings did little to excite one’s senses. The fair used the same stock tent as most other London fairs from ‘Affordable’ to ‘Haughton International’ or the Battersea Decorative Arts and Textile fair”. The minimal approach, which works well for contemporary art, does nothing for period art. The organisers should have a look at TEFAL Maastricht or even Masterpiece in London for inspiration. To give an example of how sparse the fair was,  there was no signage above the front information and catalogue desk, let alone a flower arrangement or greenery visible in the Annabelle Selldorf designed pavilion and galleries seemed to only be allowed to paint their stands in various shades of grey. For the prices the organisers were charging the exhibitors, the overall effect was bland and unexciting for the collectors. The argument might be that you are here to look at the art, not the fair. The problem with that line is, art is a luxury item and it demands more atmosphere then this fair delivered.

Did I mention the art? Well, I was completely enamoured. The best stand by far was Helly Nahmad’s. It included a six-metre Alexander Calder mobile, “Rouge triumphant”, the red and black planes moved effortlessly in the airless tent. The work was accompanied by two other Calders and a large Joan Miro canvas,“The Sorrowful March Guided by the Flamboyant Bird of Desire”. It was set in a white triangular installation, which worked well. If you blurred your eyes you could pretend that you were at the Maeght Foundation in St. Paul de Vence, France. Thomas Gibson also continued the Vence theme with his stand stuffed with Giacometti sculpture and paintings. Also of note, Weinerroither & Kohlbacher Viennawho had a superb collection of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt works on offer. There were world class dealers at Masters, some of the big ones like Pace ,Lisson, Victoria Miro and David Zwirner taking stands in both venues, no doubt at a discount. With hundreds of millions of £££/$$$ worth of museum quality work on the walls and floors this fair was world class, and yes it was all for sale!

Photo: Helly Nahmad Gallery © ArtLyst 2012

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