Watching the people going into Frieze can be an experience in itself. The scale swings wildly between overdressed Chelsea girls and the more extrovert Shoreditch kids; from fierce looking gallerinas to beautiful European men in suits and scruffier British boys with statement haircuts. The highlights, however, were the young Asian man hanging around by the entrance dressed as a pirate and deep in intense conversation with an older man with large plastic glasses and a big bamboo shoot, and the mother simultaneously examining the art on display and breastfeeding. Imagination and humour is clearly still alive and well on the London art scene.
Inside, the vibrancy and exuberance continued within Frieze Projects, which consists of nine artists’ commissions scattered throughout the space, this year seeking to draw on “performativity”, either in terms of the presentation of a concept or an interactive space in which the viewer can engage with a work of art. The highlight for me was Simon Fujiwara’s Frozen, a series of glass-covered installations built into the floor and designed to look like excavation points on the archaeological dig of a “Frozen City”. Each devoted to a different society activity – the art market, the carnivore cafe, the house of pleasure – Fujiwara raises questions of our own society’s morality by presenting them to us as the habits of an ancient civilisation. Based on the premise of buried remains having being found beneath Regent’s Park, the work blends the ancient art market with the commerciality of Frieze and finds that the waning intensity of the successful artist and the attention-seeking of the indulged patron were as relevant in AD 90 as they are today.
The winner of the Cartier Award 2010, Frozen is a great concept for Frieze – different, clever and with a tongue-in-cheek humour missing from much of the fair. It was amazing to watch Frieze’s tour guides talk about the various pieces as though an ancient city really had been discovered under the marquee, and – best of all – visitors questioning them in total seriousness. I’ll admit there was a moment as I passed the first installation when it crossed my mind that if ruins had indeed been found under the park and I was the only one who didn’t know about it I was going to look bad, but then I’m the gullible sort. You expect better from the vast majority of Frieze visitors, but then again, isn’t the suspension of disbelief a glorious part of art appreciation?
As well as large-scale pieces such as this, Frieze Projects has commissioned works that blend into the fair through their dual functionality. Nick Relph’s donation boxes for artistic causes reminds the visitor of the arts’ desperation for funding and Gabriel Kuri’s this, please offers a series of sculptures that double as ashtrays. This latter engages with the visitor through a physical act, and also examines the role of smoking, both as a way of releasing tension outside a crowded space and as an inevitable activity that will always require somewhere to put out your cigarette. It seemed only reasonable that at an art fair, this receptacle should also be a work of art.
Frieze Projects is innovative and intelligent this year, and the very best pieces bring a hint of humour that juxtapose nicely with the surrounding of work by the great and the serious.
-- Alex Field
All images courtesy Frieze Art Fair