Once a year the green expanse of London’s Regents Park is interrupted by vast tents. The flatness and blankness of their stretched white skin conceals a cacophony and mass of paintings, sculptures, photographs and installations within.
Arranged over a massive repeating grid of ‘streets’ the visitor to Frieze can easily lose themselves amongst the hundreds of galleries from all over the world which temporarily set up shop in what has become one of the largest art events going. And it really is setting up shop, as Frieze is unashamedly rooted in the buying and selling of art, in contrast the many biennales and festivals around the globe which present a more curated and inquisitive approach to art practices.
Getting lost is probably the best approach to attacking this city. Letting the eyes and senses lead from one work to another and allowing curiosity to be your guide in the absence of any curator or narrative. It’s tempting to methodically and diligently traverse the Cartesian streets, and the sheer amount of ‘stuff’ inside leads to a constant nervousness of the fear of missing out something critical, but to abandon the grid and follow your nose makes for a more exciting experience.
While many of the galleries wheel out their ‘blue chip’ artists which attract the buyers and their chequebooks, Frieze is also a great platform to discover new artists and ideas, so even the visitor with a deep knowledge of the art world can come away with a long list of new artists and ideas. You’re never far away from a work by one of the big name artists, but more often than not I found my eyes drifted past those known pieces and settled instead on things I was less familiar with.
One such work was a collection of various receipts by Ariel Schlesinger. An index of everyday and mundane purchases, they had been arranged into a rectilinear arrangement and then exposed to intense light which burnt a dark form across the work, obscuring the transactional details and redacting the legibility.
A lot of the work on show is deliberately loud and clamours for attention, but more often than not it’s the more subtle and delicate ideas which had more of an impact. A very minimal untitled piece by Pieter Vermeesch is a simple study of material, a cream oil paint abstract applied onto a white marble slab offered welcome pause and moment of calm.
While it’s great to see the big hitting artists of the richer and most well known galleries such as White Cube and Frith Street it tends to be the smaller and newer galleries who set up their booths with a more interesting and nuanced curation. This was the case with what I considered to be the most interesting stand, that of Ibid., a gallery based in both London and Los Angeles. A long line of a work by David Adamo dominated their space running horizontally and constructed of a curious mix of industrial components, pendants and metal which all combined to create a compelling and playful composition.
Intriguing sculptural installations by Rodrigo Matheus which hung alongside, the artist using found objects to create narrative-suggesting arrangements straight onto the reverse of old framed canvases. On the floor of the space Christoph Weber’s folded and formed concrete sculptures looked like they were melting and deforming.
The huge grid of galleries is broken up slightly by the introduction of Frieze Projects. Each year a small number of artists are invited to make new work which seeks to respond to the architecture, atmosphere and context of the fair itself. These works not only break the order of the event by not existing to be bought and sold, but they also physically interrupt the repetition and system of the space. So we get to squeeze through a small door which leads down into a space carved under the floor of the fair itself; Jeremy Herbert has created an unexpected space which is dark, unsettling and with a mysterious wind passing through. Unsettling.
Another of the invited Projects was in a space leading off the bookshop. In here Asad Raza sets up a space of encounter in which a youth may engage you in conversation which uses ideas of the ancient Greek god Pan as a starting point for conversations which could meander and intrigue.
ÅYR have set up a linear suite of bedrooms for visitors to relax on and escape the exhausting grid, and Rachel Rose has constructed a scale version of one of the fair’s tents into which you can crawl and experience an other-worldly mix of nature and sensory overload.
The projects are becoming an increasingly important element of Frieze, alongside the curated talks and events. While the main draw of the fair is the mass of right angled streets and the sheer volume of what’s on show, it is these subtle breaks from that order which are the experiences which linger. That a fair so rooted in capitalism and trade can find space for the unusual and playful, which sometimes push against the very market which Frieze represents, is only to its credit.
Words and Images by Will Jennings