“I think”, a wearied collector asserted upon exiting the tents, “that the baby has just grown too big.” Founded in 2002, Frieze showcases, in its own words, “the world’s most innovative artists, presented by the world’s most exciting galleries”, and it relentlessly underpins its blue-chip status by its roll-call of participants: Gagosian, David Zwirner, Thaddeus Ropac and Contemporary Fine Arts to name but a few. Given the current unstable economic outlook, and concomitant reluctant buyers, many galleries opted to play safe, rather than showing “art of tomorrow”. How does this translate to the art shown? Well, there were many smaller scale (plus one or two larger) installations; lots of bright colours and manageable formats; Many recognisable artists – the blue-chip crowd often represented by both their American and European galleries; one or two larger pieces accompanied by a raft of smaller, more affordable works – art “to-go”, in other words.
Judy Lübke is bouncing around, enthusiastically holding forth on Eigen + Art artist Carsten Nicolai. While the gallery is sticking, more or less, to the formula outlined above (with a third of the space reserved for the ever-popular Leipzigers Neo Rauch, Tim Eitel, Martin Eder and c.); the remaining space is reserved for “Sound Artist” Carsten Nicolai’s beautifully minimal “Tension Loops” and “Batteries”. The former consisting of wall-mounted Perspex boxes into which metal tape is compressed in elegant arcs, and the latter of multi-layered glass plates with prints of random dots. The Tape Loops hinge on the idea of the potential sound created by opening the casings, which will inevitably destroy the piece. Not a new idea, but beautifully executed.
Javier Peres of Peres Projects is exuberant. “Everything’s really positive,” he beams. “Everyone’s saying that the world is falling apart, but it hasn’t affected certain people, unlike in 2008. In 2008, the most expensive piece we sold cost $5000. We decided, this year, to focus on super-strong painting.” Apparently, then, this year is different in terms of sales as well. Peres Projects is showing a “historic” Dan Colen chewing gum collage (2008), as well as a new find, the Basquiat-esque New Yorker Eddie Martinez, and a wonderfully explicit Dorothy Iannone.
Guido W. Baudach with “no desire to show ‘mixed pickles’ at both Frieze and Paris FIAC” is showing five of Erik van Lieshout’s large scale works on paper: Lieshout has turned scenes from his 2006 Rotterdam – Rostock “documentary” film into large-scale reverse storyboards of scenes from the film. The lack of an “all over and at once aspect” (as they tie into Lieshout’s larger oeuvre) makes for compelling viewing. Baudach’s laptop perches atop a desk constructed from a Lieshout found half-door.
Reinforcing the weighty presence of installations at this year’s Frieze, Galerie Daniel Buchholz is showing Nairy Baghramian’s “Formage de tête” (Capot), which consists of a steel door and latex sheeting. References to Minimal art abound here as elsewhere in London. The look of Frieze 2011, it seems, is either large and in oil, or larger and in everyday materials – wood, steel, rubber. A smallish Rosemarie Trockel in white wood hangs somewhat disconsolately at Sprüth Magers next to a series of small palm tree images by her stablemate and winner of the Preis der Nationalgalerie Cyprien Gaillard. Sprüth Magers is muscularly demonstrating its inclusion in the group of artworld gallery heavyweights, showing Cindy Sherman – handily also up for auction at Christie’s this week – and a small piece by Sterling Ruby. International art fair art here too, blue-chip artists with safe, uncontroversial offerings, displaying nothing of the energetic hedonism of Gaillard’s beeramid in the KunstWerke earlier this year. Contemporary Fine Arts is looking very neon with a pink installation by Georg Herold, and is, in tandem with Gagosian, showing Anselm Reyle. They have gone one better than Gagosian, however: Gagosian just has a painting consisting of a Liechtensteinian oversized brushstroke. CFA has a Reyle sofa. Johann König are bucking the trend: they have turned their stand into a black box, and are showing a single, 12-minute animated film by Jordan Wolfson; providing a welcome respite from the crowds and the noise.
Frieze projects is a programme of works commissioned specifically for the fair. This year, it includes two Berlin-based artists: Christian Jankowski and Oliver Laric. Jankowski is literally testing the waters. In a somewhat specious Duchampian gesture, he’s presenting a motor boat either as “boat only” or “boat art” options. Here, the “art premium” is ostentatiously quantified: if you want it as Jankowski ready-made it will set you back an extra €125 000 (€625 000 instead of €500 000). A crowd of besuited men cast covetous glances at the multi-horsepower machine. No word on sales: despite Javier Peres’ cheery assertions, fair observers are muttering that buyers are holding back this year. Oliver Laric has chosen to marginalise art in his online video piece: it consists of a series of very short videos of mundane Frieze activities, such as cleaning or someone urinating. Pierre Huyghe’s spider crabs, another Frieze project, get a brief look-in.
For edgier fare, one luckily did not have to go far. The Sunday art fair, (“Frieze’s closest competitor” according to some) is held in a vast, empty, hangar-like machine hall just down the road from Frieze. The main room is dominated by some rather intriguing Minimalist book-cases by the Welsh artist Sean Edwards. In its second year, Sunday was founded by the Berlin galleries Croy Nielsen and Tanya Leighton with Tulips and Roses (Brussels) to create a platform for younger artists. Jankowski and Laric were again featured: the former by his Mexican gallery Proyectos Monoclova; the latter by Tanya Leighton gallery. Jankowski here is busy silencing art criticism: having commissioned the critics Roberta Smith, and Jerry Saltz, among others, to expound on Frieze, he is stuffing their handwritten notes in empty booze bottles. The work is more tongue-in-cheek and playful than his offering at the parallel fair. Laric’s presentation at Sunday is a large-scale serial application of holographed gold stickers, featuring Rodin’s thinker and an Ancient Greek discus thrower, produced in China. The shiny, bright pieces would have been at home at Frieze.
Jeni Fulton is a writer focussing in and on the international Berlin art scene. She is currently working on her PhD thesis in contemporary art theory. Having taken her MA in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, she now lives and works in Berlin. She curated Berlin Art Link’s first exhibition at Galerie Open: “antinomies/gegensätze” with artists Allison Fall and Madline Stillwell. The exhibition ran from September 9th to October 22nd of this year, featuring collages, installations and a live performance series.