Bolder, Smarter, More Subversive
A Preview of London’s Frieze Art Fairs

For four days each fall, the British capital becomes a magnet for the international art scene—thanks to Frieze London and Frieze Masters, which lure tens of thousands of visitors to Regent’s Park. Achim Drucks tells us what the two fairs have to offer this year.
It really does exist—triskaidekaphobia, a debilitating fear of the number thirteen. One of its most prominent victims was the composer Arnold Schoenberg, who was born on September 13. The organizers of the 13th edition of Frieze London, however, are immune to such superstition—they even invited Thirteen Black Cats to their film program. The American artists’ collective is currently working on an ambitious project, a film comprised of 56 parts and inspired by Roberto Bolaño’s Antwerp, a poetic novel that circles around failed poets, shrewd detectives, and mysterious women. Its rudimentary story feels as though it’s been pieced together from vaguely remembered films. Now, Antwerp has been transferred into the medium of film—and like Bolaño’s book, the production will also consist of 56 chapters, each of which is realized by a different filmmaker or artist. Thirteen Black Cats now present the recently completed first part of the film at the London fair.

Nicola Lees, who curates Frieze Projects along with the film program, once again focuses on the interdisciplinary, performative, and experimental this year— works that function as wrenches in the machinery of all the buzz surrounding the fair. Frieze is different from other fairs: it’s bolder, smarter, more subversive; it has a bent toward absurd humor. And for the approximately 60,000 visitors that will certainly flock to Regent’s Park again this year, this becomes immediately apparent the moment they enter the fair tents: the Californian conceptual artist Lutz Bacher transforms the entrance corridor into a disturbing installation in which she combines found objects from film sets with images from politics and pop culture.

On the other hand, you almost have to hunt for some of the other projects: Jeremy Herbert, who’s done stage design for a wide variety of artists such as Michael Nyman and Madonna, has installed a mysterious subterranean chamber for Frieze. And Asad Raza, who works as an “art producer” and helps artists like Tino Sehgal realize their projects, has conceived a room that’s entered through a door behind the fair’s bookstore, where visitors can experience an exhibition that changes daily. But that’s not all—viewers also have to be prepared to be suddenly transformed into players in an interactive performance: Raza was inspired by caves where the ancient Greeks worshipped the god Pan.

The project’s special character contributes a great deal to the profile of Frieze London. The fair doesn’t see itself as a mere marketplace where around 160 of the most important galleries worldwide gather each year, but also as a cultural forum that attracts influential curators and museum people. Deutsche Bank recognized the fair’s potential from the very beginning and became a partner of Frieze London at its second edition and also, since its premiere in 2012, of Frieze Masters, which has further expanded its program to include works from antiquity to the 20th century. Together, the two fairs make it possible to experience art from almost all epochs and regions of the world.

As every year, Deutsche Bank maintains a presence at Frieze London with a lounge, where it presents works from the collection. This year, selected works by artists from the Mediterranean region are on view in a show titled “Sirocco.” Images by Kader Attia, Yto Barrada, and Zohra Bensemra present the region from a completely different perspective—beyond the images of crisis confronting us every day in the news. ArtMag is also present at the fair with a booth in the Reading Room, where this year’s newly designed presentation area is dedicated to art magazines.

Among the more interesting solo presentations at this year’s Frieze London are Ken Okiishi’s work at the booth of the Pilar Corrias Gallery. In 2013, for his Frieze Project, he had fair visitors produce abstract paintings with a paintball machine. This year, he presents new works from his series “gesture/data,” in which he combines gestural painting and video art.
And the David Kordansky Gallery also shows how artists continue to develop the medium of painting today—with a show by Mary Weatherford, who augments her abstract-expressive canvases with neon bulbs.  

Of course, participants like Sadie Coles, Gagosian, Hauser & Wirth or Shanghart present mainly painting, sculpture, works on paper, and photography. Despite this, the performative and participatory are playing an increasingly important role for commercial galleries. This is why the section “Live” was initiated in 2014 and dedicated to works that can’t be hung in the living room. This year, artists from a wide variety of generations are represented here: the young Spanish artist Amalia Ulman investigates the social media, selfie, and celebrity craze of our time, promising, for Frieze, the possibility of an “intimate encounter,” as her announcement reads. On the other hand, the mythical, ceremonial works of the 1951-born Brazilian Tunga are situated in the tradition of the “alchemist” Joseph Beuys.

Frieze Masters also shows that there’s still a lot to be discovered in South American and particularly Brazilian art. Here, the “Spotlight” section presents 20th-century positions that have found far too little attention previously: Nara Roesler (São Paulo) shows an homage to Tomie Ohtake, who passed away the beginning of this year at the age of 101. Ohtake’s huge abstract sculptures carry the sweeping lines of her paintings into the third dimension. With Wanda Pimentel, Anita Schwartz (Rio de Janeiro) presents an artist who is only known to insiders beyond her native country’s borders. Starting in October, Pimentel is also represented in the Deutsche Bank-sponsored show International Pop at the Dallas Museum of Art. Other highlights of “Spotlight” are the evocative metal sculptures of the African American artist Melvin Edwards and the photographic works of Boris Mikhailov. This year, the Ukrainian artist was awarded the Goslarer Kaiserring and is represented in the exhibition Time Present—Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection currently touring through Asia’s major cities.

The new section “Collections,” run by none less than Sir Norman Rosenthal, is also sure to be exciting. Eight galleries, all of whom are participating for the first time, introduce areas of collecting previously missing from Masters—from Japanese Netsuke to Egyptian carvings. “Each of these presentations,” promises the legendary curator, “contain within them germs of ideas for exhibitions that could easily take place at any of the great public institutions in the world.” The entire program of the two London fairs comes across as confidently as Sir Norman Rosenthal himself. After Frieze founders Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover stepped down last year to work on new projects, Victoria Siddall, founding director of Masters, runs all three Frieze fairs. A glance at the list of exhibiting galleries and accompanying program shows that she’s done pretty much everything right at the 13th edition of Frieze. At any rate, there’s absolutely no indication for triskaidekaphobia.

Frieze London

10/14 – 10/17/2015

Frieze Masters
10/14 – 10/18/2015

Regent’s Park, London