Thursday, October 22, 2009

Frieze 2009: Small Paintings and Smaller Egos

Left: Tony Cragg's "Bolt", stainless steel, at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac.

What I loved this year about Frieze was the hordes of youngsters, toting cameras and notebooks, looking intently and arguing about the works at the fair. Had the collectors all come and conquered already? No, for here was a tall blonde vaguely Eastern European stunner with her trophy-holder, eyeing works picked for her by a famous art consultant. And there was a nattily-dressed lady, begrudgingly letting me take her photo. All is not lost, long live the art fair!

In contrast to last year's Frieze, several trends could be observed: a fascination with the pedestal, small geometric paintings with a labored hand, less video and shock value, and more conceptual sculpture. Booths were all tightly packed, with even the blue chip galleries cramming in 2-D and 3-D works, on the floor, on the dealer's desk, and in front of other works.

David Zwirner showed a prominent Neo Rauch, a gigantic Luc Tuymans (at right), and a naughtily-pierced Annie Sprinkle portrait by Alice Neel (at left).
White Cube had a crowd-pleasing marble portrait of the "pregnant man" by Marc Quinn, but also a series of twelve small ceramic sculptures by Rachel Kneebone (at right) titled "The Stations", whose intricate and layered meaning counteracted the obviousness of the Quinn work. Carter's black and white paintings were sold at several galleries, as were the dark yet faint Gothic-y paintings of Michael Bauer, the chopped photos of John Stezaker, and small paintings by Phillip Allen (at left) combining delicate geometric areas with borders of gloppy thick paint.

Right: Gareth Moore "Neither Here Nor There" at LuttgenMeijer, Berlin.

A big hit this year was the "Frame" section of Frieze, showing smaller galleries that presented a single artist's work. Gareth Moore's sculpture installation looked great, with no booth walls to interfere with its sea of dismantled chairs. Lisa Cooley presented black and white photographs of knives hand-made by the artist, Erin Shireff (at right), that first looked as old-fashioned as Irving Penn, but still held their own as a documentation of odd objects. Daniel Silver at IBID Projects showed abstracted marble busts on idiosyncratic pedestals, using auto-biographical materials. Even at Frame, there were echoes of art history and a longing for tradition, but re-imagined by younger voices.

Above left: Daniel Silver, at IBID Projects, London.

Right: Peacock lady preening.

Left: Towering heels on an abstracted concoction.

Frieze 2009: The Year of the Broom

On Thursday, the first public day of Frieze Art Fair, a fey rather bored gallerist admired his shoes, and as I was about to turn away from the tedium in his booth, I heard him brag that all the works had been sold within the first hour of Wednesday's private view, so the gallery owner simply didn't know what to do with himself. Bring out the violins indeed!

Right: Hurvin Anderson @ Thomas Dane Gallery, featuring a bucket made of records.

Left: Stella Hamburg bronze at Galerie Eigen & Art.

While Frieze definitely had less brash oversized works, less adventurous installations or booth-deconstructions, and certainly no Icelandic disco (Club Nutz was a bust when I poked my head in), by all reports the art market has survived, and for that we should be grateful. With less bombastic one-offs, but sadly less fun booths, this year's Frieze provided an underhanded sense of humor about the recession, as exemplified by one booth with empty store shelves of white pegboard. At a Polish gallery, a banner screamed "Long Live Capitalism", and the recession-chique theme continued with not one but three (!) sculptures of life-like brooms and mops. One artist even went on about all the analogies in cleaning up/making art, and the exceptionally humble prop was a great wink at art fair glitz. Will Miami Basel bring us Q-tips and sponges?

Left: Richard Hughes, at The Modern Institute, Glasgow. Two mops in resin, with rainbow of peeled paper on the wall.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Zoo 2009-- More Warehouse, Less Wares

This year's Zoo Art Fair moved from the very Royal Academy in London's West End to more decrepit digs in a series of East End industrial warehouses, some from the Victorian era. Although the actual space increased from last year, Zoo was filled with a series of curated exhibitions, and a print selection, to make up for the fact that the number of galleries went from 58 to 22. Aside from the shrunken numbers, Zoo was hampered by its layout--while the spookily unrefurbished spaces lent an air of discovery to the exhibitions, the galleries themselves were squeezed into odd configurations, and the overall effect was of an overhung group show, rather than discrete galleries. I hope that next year they can utilize the space with more expertise, and exploit the adventurous side of London's East End without sacrificing art-viewing.

Mildew on the walls of Zoo.....

The free-flowing champagne at the opening did little to camouflage the relative paucity of decent art. There were some standouts, all British, including Brown Gallery of London, (at left) which covered its space in paintings, and MOOT, an artist-run space in Nottingham.

Bristol's Works/Projects gallery (at right) had an eye-catching booth covered with wallpaper on the floor and walls, and featured photo-based works by Richard Wilson which seemed very sci-fi apocalyptic and yet were made with old-fashioned cut-and-paste and paint.

London's Riflemaker gallery had several old-timey technological works by American artist Juan Fontanive, one using Super 8 film to create an Op-art drawing, and another a hand-drawn flipbook of a hummingbird, both pieces clickety-clacking the artist's clear preference for machines made by hand, as if from 100 years ago.

Left: Richard Wilson, "Earthquake Pavilion."

The message fit right in with the environment: London's East End has gentrified quickly, and yet its underpinnings are as apparent and deliciously unrefined as Zoo's space. There is room for a contemporary art fair that does not require the smooth apparatus of Frieze to function. More art fairs should take risks and find not-ready-for-prime-time spaces. Luckily, London has plenty of them.

Right: Juan Fontanive, "Movement #3".