The endless canyons of art that make up the annual Frieze art fair in Regents Park can be a baffling place to be. Like a cross between a museum and a retail shopping outlet, seldom is art devoured by so many visitors on such a large scale.
This year’s offerings have all the hallmarks of the big names and big expense which made Freize the pre-eiminent British art fair, but scratch the surface and there are indications of the recession at work. Many galleries have adopted the “if it aint broke don’t fix it” approach to their spaces and display the reliable crowd pleasers of Gilbert and George, David Shrigley, Gary Hume and the almost obligatory Andreas Gursky (or failing that a Thomas Struth) forming the lynch pins of many stands and packed out with their younger, perhaps more financially risky associates. There is, however, a noticeable dearth of the expensively fabricated castings or laboured works of the past; in other words the works which constitute risk.
At one end of this spectrum is London’s Waddington Galleries who have chosen to mostly exhibit safe bets from the first half of the 20th Century from Matisse to Picasso (Peter Blake being their most contemporary artist). At the other end of the spectrum are the likes of Standard (Oslo) whose gutsy and spartan stand shows a single monochrome painting and one sculpture by the emerging artist Tauba Auerbach.
Deftly occupying the middle ground is Sadie Coles HQ who won this year’s Stand Prize. Rather than bringing a vast superstar centrepiece and packing the stand out with the young pretenders, Sadie Coles HQ has curated a show of real interest. By-and-large the works possess oblique references to the human body; Urs Fisher’s crooked crutches and Sarah Lucas’ stuffed tights form the focus. Dan Sinsel’s painting of an inverted chocolate box and John Currin’s still life both wrestle with art historical technique within frames of contemporary reference.
Despite the rampant consumption of costly artworks going on around the fair there is a gentle tendency amongst some emerging artists to mock the consumption, authenticity and expense which drives an event like Frieze. Ryan Gander’s curiously hung work “The Fourth Baron Egerton’s 16 Plumed Bird of Paradise” at the Lisson galley is a conceptually neat prod at the problem of authenticity and rarity. The taxidermised bird sits next to a newspaper article about its discovery and other items, which attempts to spuriously vouch for its authenticity, and it’s discovery by a now long departed adventurer-aristocrat. There is something that rings true about Gander’s work in the context of the fair. Much like the art world itself the beautiful and exotic bird is shown to be nothing without the myth making that surrounds it.