Nov 04 2014

Frieze London 2014

by Kevin Jones

Ask most of London’s art scene what they think of the 11-year-old Frieze London art fair and they will likely grit their teeth: too brash, too market-obvious, too self-absorbed. And yet, art-world Londoners flock in droves to the tented Regent’s Park artopolis, as do a seemingly increasing number of culturally curious members of the general public. Like it or not, Frieze London is an institution. But unlike most institutions, it is nimble enough to reinvent itself. Frieze Live, a new segment of performance pieces (undertaken, in most cases, by galleries with little or no background in the genre) seemed to up this year’s ante, as did a palpable push for exhibitors to evolve beyond the ersatz white-cube format and curate spaces that could thoroughly épater la bourgeoisie, without necessarily getting under art-world mavens’ skin.

Curiously, the fair seemed caught in the throes of two opposing currents. One, exuberant and extroverted, was all about spectacle. Deeply curated or high-concept booths maximized the “experiential,” like marketing gone mad—which the programming for Frieze Live and, to a degree, Frieze Projects neatly dovetailed. The other current, self-referential and introspective, ruminated on the very nature of collecting itself, resulting in occasional old-meets-new mixes and a recurring subplot of quiet, thoughtful works, which were particularly evident in the excellent corral of younger galleries in Frieze Focus.

In the aftermath of Frieze London 2014, we take a photographic look back at the opposing currents that were seen at the fair—one path exuberance, one path introspection.

Gagosian Gallery handed over its booth to artist Carsten Höller, who created a children’s recreation zone complete with giant dice-shaped playhouse, oversized scrabble tiles, a teetering mushroom and a spongy octopus. Gallery assistants sporting outfits echoing the booth’s color-blocked walls doted over the tiny collectors-to-be. 

CARSTENLLERGartenkinder, 2014, installed at Gagosian Gallery’s booth at Frieze London, 2014. All photographs by Kevin Jones for ArtAsiaPacific

Artist Marc Wallinger curated Hauser & Wirth’s Freud-inspired booth: one of his self-portrait sculptures, made from marbled resin and shaped like the letter “I,” was the super-ego starting point for a re-creation of the famed psychoanalyst’s Hampstead study. Red and green walls (representing the conscious/unconscious mind-split) served as backdrops for works such as Rashid Johnson’s daybed, Louise Bourgeois’ Arched Figure (1993) and an aluminum suitcase by Subodh Gupta. The entire mise-en-scène was a sort of homage to collecting, referencing Freud’s penchant for acquiring both art and artifacts. Swiss artist Christoph Büchel rounded off the Freudian theme with the performance-based work Sleeping Guard (2009): at intervals through the day, a guard could be found slouched in his chair at the booth, fast asleep, his mind afloat in the treacherous realm of dreams.

(Front) RASHID JOHNSON, Untitled (Daybed 5), 2013; (back) IDA APPLEBROOGUntitled (Woman Lying in Bed), 1982; installed at Hauser & Wirth’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

LOUISE BOURGEOIS, Arched Figure, 1993, installed at Hauser & Wirth’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

Subodh Gupta, Untitled #16, 2006, installed at Hauser & Wirth’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

CHRISTOPHCHEL, Sleeping Guard, 2009, installed at Hauser & Wirth’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

At Lisson Gallery, non-works fought for attention with big, bold statement pieces. New York artist Cory Arcangel supplied the booth’s rainbow carpeting, as well as iPad sleeves, while Ryan Gander customized Adidas sneakers that were worn by the gallery staff.

The rainbow carpeting at Lisson gallery’s booth, which was supplied by New York-based artist CORY ARCANGEL.

White Cube feted Cerith Wyn Evans by displaying one of his chandelier works, along with a Damian Hirst piece, which itself was a statement on collecting. Evans also showed a neon text piece—featuring a misquoted line from a James Merrill poem—which was suspended over a canal, along the Snowdon Aviary in the London Zoo, as part of Frieze Projects.

CERITH WYN EVANS’ chandelier installation, with a Damien Hirst diptych in the background, installed at White Cube’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

CERITH WYN EVANS’ installation for Frieze Projects 2014, installed at the ZSL London Zoo in The Regent’s Park.

Esther Schipper’s thoughtful booth strung together artists whom we never really think of in the same breath (other than the fact that they are all on the Berlin-based gallery’s roster): Thomas Demand, Ugo Rondinone and Tomás Saraceno. 

THOMAS DEMAND’s Hanami , 2014, wallpaper is the backdrop for Ugo Rondinone’s timid installation still.life, 2013.

ShanghArt gallery from Shanghai offered some expectedly powerful pieces made by Xu Zhen, one of which was a mechanical mosquito seemingly sucking blood from a wall. Also featuring insects was Liang Shaoji’s installation, for which silkworms were let loose on a series of heavy iron chains, which then became enveloped in the creatures’ eerie, gauzy embrace. 

XU ZHEN (MadeIn Company), Aphrodite/Tang Dynasty Sitting Buddha, 2014, and The Last Few Mosquitoes, 2009, installed at ShanghArt Gallery’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

XU ZHEN (MadeIn Company), The Last Few Mosquitoes (detail), 2009, installed at ShanghArt Gallery’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

LIANG SHAOJI, Chains: The Unbearable Lightness of Being/Nature Series No. 79, 2003, installed at ShanghArt Gallery’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

As part of the newly instated Frieze Live initiative, Japanese artist-duo United Brothers were serving up soup made by their mom. Who could resist? Yet within the bubbling broth lay an unsettling catch: the soup was made from vegetables grown on Fukushima soil, which was greatly affected by the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

UNITED BROTHERS, Does this Soup Taste Ambivalent?, 2014, installed at Green Tea Gallery’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

Removed from the big spectacle and eco-threats, Rampa Istanbul showcased Turkish artist Gülsün Karamustafa’s work in a moving booth devoted to both collective memory and intimate chronicle. Notions of collecting, compiling, memory and nostalgia run through both her sculptural and the textile works.

GÜLSÜN KARAMUSTAFA’s Sanctuary, 2010, in the foreground and An Ordinary Love, 1984, in the back, installed at Rampa Istanbul’s booth at Frieze London, 2014.

Similarly, Kolkata’s Experimenter gallery provided thoughtful interrogations on memory and fiction through the work of Canadian artist Hajra Waheed. In her series “Our Naufrage," 2014, Waheed accumulates tales around a true story of nine Hajj-bound pilgrims who went missing.

HAJRA WAHEED, “Our Naufrage,” 2014, installed at Experimenter’s booth at Frieze, London, 2014.

The Sculpture Park at Frieze London was the site of two rather politically-charged works, which were in counterpoint to more light-hearted installations, such as Martin Creed’s zany video installation and Yayoi’s Kusama’s ubiquitous dotted pumpkins. Reza Aramesh created a marble sculpture that crystallizes an uneasy tension between monumentality and helplessness. The 3/4-scale human figure is based on a real-life image of a man who was arrested in Israel for protesting in support of a hunger strike held by Palestinian prisoners. His shrouded head recalls religious figuration, yet his vulnerable position and proud posture, and how they relate to power dynamics, is straight from regional news imagery.  

REZA ARAMESH, Action 137: 6:45pm, 3 May 2012, Ramla, 2014, presented by Leila Heller Gallery at the Sculpture Park, Frieze London, 2014.

Further down the Sculpture Park was Lee Seung-taek’s Ppira installation (c. 1970s), which recalls the propaganda-delivering balloons (filled with leaflets that contain political propaganda or government criticism) that have been jockeyed between North and South Korea since the beginning of the sixty-year ceasefire between the two nations.

LEE SEUNG-TAEK, Ppira (c. 1970s), presented by Hyundai Gallery at the Sculpture Park, Frieze London, 2014.

Back at Frieze proper, artist Sophia al-Maria punctuated the goings-on of the fair with some sci-fi, ultraviolet disruption. Conceived within the Frieze Projects program, her performance (which led visitors on a tour of the fair) took a swipe at the art world by “revealing” subliminal messages scattered throughout Frieze, via handy UV flashlights. It was a piece that asked whether or not art—or perhaps even the art fair itself—is some kind of insidious method of mind control. 

SOPHIA AL-MARIA’s performance for Frieze Projects, 2014.