Frieze Art Fair has always been about the new. It’s a space for contemporary work and though there have always been slightly older works on show it’s never been a space for the truly old. But then it’s rare to see contemporary art along side antiquities or old masters. It’s not that commonplace to see recent works sharing a space with art made even a century ago. There are all sorts of reasons why but nothing that amounts to a hard and fast rule and anyway rules are made to be broken*, right?
So, in parallel with the tenth Frieze Art Fair in another tent at the other end of Regent’s Park, this year saw the first of what I’m guessing I’m not alone in hoping becomes a regular feature: Frieze Masters. A showcase for art made before the year 2000, Frieze Masters saw a gathering of around ninety to a hundred galleries showing work from ancient to modern, giving, according to the press release, ‘a unique contemporary perspective on art throughout the ages’.
Eve Arnold, One of four girls who shares a flat in Knightsbridge, 1961
The premise of Tate Britain’s exhibition Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930–1980 is an interesting one. How does London look to those who arrive here from elsewhere? These are pictures made by people who were either visitors to London or who had adopted it as their home. The answer is that it looks both familiar and strange but, in the main, I think perhaps the strangeness comes less from the viewpoint being that of a non-Londoner than from the pictures coming from the foreign country that is the past.
The earlier pictures are interesting as history pieces – it’s always fascinating to see that mix of familiar places playing host to people from a different time and there is something great about London fog on film – but it’s the images from the 1960s and ’70s that interested me more. This is the London in was born in and the city of my childhood making the pictures are a stark reminder of quite how much life has changed, and not just in London. In places it feels like the exhibition might just as well be called Another Planet.
The World in London (Park House, Oxford Street), 2012
The World in London, which I wrote about in the previous post, is unusually in that the exhibition is being shown at the same time in two venues in the same city (although the Oxford Street installation will stay on display after the Olympics close on 12 August). Although the design of the two installations is recognisably the same in terms of its graphic identity – which is kept very simple, and although my preference would generally be to see images on white the black background does work reasonably well here – the way the work is shown is rather different and offers two different readings of the collection of photographs.
On Oxford Street, the images are displayed as a grid, albeit an uneven one with some images larger than others, in part because of the range of formats used by the photographers but occasionally determined by the architectural grid of the building. Exhibiting photographs in a grid is a strategy used by Bernd and Hilla Becher who grouped their pictures of industrial buildings together by type and it’s hard not to read grids of photographs as typologies.
Elmgreen and Dragset, Powerless Structures Fig. 101, 2012
If, in a public square in a capital city, you have an empty plinth intended for a statue of a figure on a horse then what better to put on it than a statue of a figure on a horse? After testing a lot of alternatives on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square, the plinth that never quite got its statue, it should come as no surprise that the powers that be have yielded to the inevitable and installed the statue that was always meant to be there. Sort of.
One of the things I know about Thomas Dane Gallery – apart from stuff like where it is and that I’ve seen some great shows there – is that it closes at 4pm on a Saturday. I know this because I am disorganised and find 4pm a bit too early. On my way in to town last weekend I double-checked the website just in case and noticed that the gallery was open until 6pm which made it possible to both have a late lunch and get to the Tony Morgan show. This was cheering news.
The world – well Gagosian Gallery, anyway – has gone dotty for Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. In an unprecedented move, Gagosian is showing a single artist across all its sites, and not just a single artist but a single strand of that artist’s work. The Complete Spot Pantings 1986-2011 is on now at all 11 Gagosian spaces globally. Why? What’s it all about?
There’s a slightly shabby door in Tate Britain that leads into another world. It’s a world that allows me in but never makes me feel welcome. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in, or even be in when anyone’s home, but one I love to visit. And, if the Tate website is accurate (not something that can guaranteed given its longstanding confusion about the whole thing), it’s a world that is only accessible until Sunday.
Taking a last look at Gerhard Richter: Panorama at Tate Modern, which finishes tomorrow, I was struck, as at previous visits, by the large, predominantly white, abstract painting in the final room of the main show. The white of the painting makes it feel like a large, snowy landscape at once charming me and reminding me that this winter has so far failed to bite.
The traces of colour coming through the white make me think of Peter Doig’s Ski Jacket, a painting of a similar size and somewhat similar palette, though Doig’s painting makes much more use of colour. (It also reminds me of Wilhelm Sasnal’s Photophobia though that lacks scale by comparison.)
I went to Jeff Wall’s show at White Cube unsure quite what to expect. At some point when I wasn’t paying attention, Wall left behind the elaborate tableaux and sometimes less than obvious references to the history of painting and started to tell different stories – somehow simultaneously simpler and more complex – through his photographs. The work here is from two separate bodies of work that feel in some ways as though they could have been made by two different people.
In the ground floor space there are three photographs of the Sicilian landscape. Described as ‘documentary pictures’ in the press release, these tell of a landscape fundamentally unchanged over time but one in which the modern world is nonetheless constant visual presence. The drystone walls in Hillside near Ragusa might have been there for centuries staying low to blend into their surroundings; man is not a recent incomer to this place. By contrast, the electricity pylons stride across the hillside with a confidence that its natural inhabitants – the short, windswept trees growing on the low ground – don’t seem to share.
In these early days of the year, I want to think back to work I’ve seen in the last year to see what’s stayed with me. A good starting point for that is to think about the big stuff: the days when art overload is a significant threat. Days like Frieze Art Fair. I don’t always get to Frieze; some years I just can’t face it. The scale of the thing puts me off somewhat and I’m really not a fan of the art world en masse. It’s possible I’m just slightly allergic to art fairs. Art needs time and at Frieze the pressure to see everything can be overwhelming so last year I decided to browse in a really unsystematic way and just spend time with the things I chanced upon that interested me most. Perhaps inevitably that means that what I remember most clearly are some of the things that were tucked away in corners, works that could be seen in isolation rather than against the backdrop of the fair.