Article by Hatty Nestor // Nov. 05, 2014
I found myself, for the fourth year running, immersed within Frieze Art Fair in Regents Park, London. It was the VIP private view, Tuesday evening, and the crowd was a vibrant array of collectors, artists, and buyers, all fighting the queues for their entry to the large marquee housing Frieze. The wealth was seeping from the walls and peoples’ wallets: their clothes were expensive and so were their demands. Everyone entered with great urgency, already over stimulated by the noise, colours, and atmosphere. I’m always slightly disoriented upon my arrival at Frieze.
It’s a spectacle. I wandered across the luminous white metropolis which housed one-hundred-and-sixty-two of the world’s leading art galleries, originating from twenty-five different countries. The mixture of nationalities present at the fair inherently represents its vast diversity: the rich variety of cultures, clothing, and languages. African and Latin American art held a large presence this year, and I spotted old faces from the YBAs amongst the crowd: Sarah Lucas sipping champagne, Tracey Emin darting around to different social groups. What became apparent was the vast amount of new galleries and artists at Frieze 2014, such as Workplace Gallery from Gateshead in Newcastle. In comparison to the galleries from larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, I am intrigued by this gallery’s ethos and demographic. One work in particular, which stood out visually, was a piece by Eric Bainbridge. An enormous fury leopard skin textile draped across the Workplace booth, performing as the base for an indefinable fluffy animal, which was mounted atop the leopard skin. Due to their success, Workplace Gallery has recently opened a swanky space in Mayfair, arguably the most extravagant area of London. It’s this relationship, between Gateshead and Mayfair, which makes Workplace so endearing.
Rodeo Gallery, founded in Istanbul and recently opened in Charing Cross, London were also exhibiting. They are an intrinsically unique gallery, not only due to their international ownership but predominantly because of the artists they represent. James Richards (Turner Prize nominee for 2014), Duncan Campbell, Tamara Henderson and Banu Cennetoglu were all represented here. With a flagship gallery immersed in the Istanbul art scene and a new gallery in London, Rodeo is one to watch in the next year.
I stumbled down a new aisle at the fair: a more controversial piece grabbed my attention. The Japanese exhibit from THE UNITED BROTHERS had bought radishes, which were grown near Fukushima, to make a soup. As a small, aging woman (whom I later learned was an artist’s mother) pours the soup from a metal saucepan, there are whispers of concern in the crowd; “Isn’t the soup radioactive?”…“Were the importing laws for the vegetables even passed?!”
I peered through the crowd eagerly. As I made my way to the front, a small bowl was thrust into my hands and I began to drink what felt like a green potion. At that moment, amongst the angst and curiosity of the crowd around the simple pouring of the soup, I looked around and asked myself a fundamental question: ‘Is this Art?’.
It certainly was great to be fed, but as I moved on to the next section of stalls I found myself questioning the strangeness of the soup further. I reminded myself it is these kinds of consistently puzzling artworks that bring visitors back year after year.
Next, a Damien Hirst. A 1993 piece in the White Cube booth: ‘Because I can’t have you I want you.’ It was monumental, a subtle reminder of the large quantities of money being pumped in and out of the fair. This was only confirmed further when one of the assistants bashfully admitted to a visitor that the work sold for four million earlier that morning.
As I continued to meander my way through Frieze, I thought of each booth as a platform for another visual dimension and world waiting to be discovered. But beyond the social chaos, and the rich array of galleries, I couldn’t help but wonder about the intrinsic drive of the fair: is it the money? Naively, this still feels shocking to me: the art market, and its reflections of capitalist ideals.
Upon leaving, I noticed a security guard slumped limply in his chair, fast asleep. This image performed as an artwork just as much, in my mind, as the soup. At Frieze, supermodels use the white corridors as runways, collectors use the marquee as their financial playground. As I finally emerge from the depths of the windowless fair, I eavesdrop on two middle-aged men discussing their purchases: “I spent one million on a painting I don’t even like!” – “Well I spent double that on transport and my outfit for today!”
Their knowing laughs trailed behind me as I walked out of Regents Park, and I left feeling a little sick, and frustrated that my strongest memory of the fair was that final exchange.
But in the end, maybe it was just the soup.