One of the things I usually enjoy about Frieze is strength of the commissioned projects; indeed Pierre Huyghe’s Recollection remains my strongest – um, sorry – recollection of last year’s fair. So what of Frieze 2012?
Well, sadly the first of this year’s Frieze Projectswas somewhat lost on me. Though I like the idea of Joanna Rajkowska’s Forcing a Miracle – transforming an area of the park into a gently smoking field of incense – my engagement with the piece was reduced to, well, pretty much zero really by having a cold and not being able to smell anything. Incense in the open air is never going to have the intensity it achieves in a confined space, but even so under other circumstances this might have made rather more of an impact on me.
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’.
Art fairs are exhausting. There’s no avoiding the fact that gathering that much art in one place is never going to lead to an especially relaxed viewing experience. But then that’s also what makes art fairs a great chance to see a lot of art in a short space of time. So, in an optimistic frame of mind and my most sensible shoes I headed to Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park. As if one art fair wasn’t enough, this year Frieze has grown a second space and a new entity, Frieze Masters, for art made before the year 2,000. In the interests of keeping art overload to reasonable levels I find I need to take things a day, and a fair, at a time, so Frieze Masters will have to wait. As it happens, so will the sculpture garden. Somehow, despite good intentions, once I get in the tent that houses Frieze, I seem unable to leave until required to do so at the end of the day. Having seen more art in a day than I normally would in a month – and by any standards, I see a lot of art – still I leave with the feeling that I have barely scratched the surface.
The lift in the Royal Festival Hall is my favourite lift by a country mile and though in all respects it’s a perfectly nice, if a little ordinary, lift, it’s not about the lift’s appearance or the views of the Southbank afforded by a journey in it, good though those are. No, this lift contains art.
The female nude is an all too familiar figure in the history of Western art. There is a lot that is troubling about representations of the female form in art and the notion of beauty as an essential facet of art. Seen in the context of this, Marina Abramović’s Art Must Be Beautiful is an intriguing work. Abramović is seen brushing and combing her hair, repeatedly and with an intensity that makes the performance – or the video documentation of it – really hard to watch at times. Abramović accompanies the often violent hair brushing with a mantra ‘art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful’. The notion that art must – or at least, should – be beautiful remains a quite widely held belief albeit one that has been widely challenged over the last hundred and fifty years or so.
The idea of entrapment in a web is one it’s hard to explore without establishing more than a passing relationship with cliché. Though Alice Anderson’s anarchic loop of tangled dolls’ hair won me round – mainly by its refusal to stay contained within the gallery – sadly Chiharu Shiota’s After the Dream just doesn’t quite do it for me. Though I like the way Shiota uses thread to confuse my understanding of the space, I’m less taken with the entrapment of the white dresses within the web of thread. There is, arguably, the suggestion of spectral figures but really the reference of wedding dresses trapped within a web that might surprise even Miss Havisham seems that bit too obvious.
Galleries don’t usually have fringes. It’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, but in practice they seldom have much hair at all and if they do it’s usually just on the inside. During Alice Anderson’s exhibition Time Reversal in 2010, Riflemaker in Soho (the London one, that h isn’t lowercase by accident) was something of an exception in that respect. But then exception seems to be what Riflemaker does best (if only because the building is distinctly more rickety than the average West End gallery space).
The centrepiece of Anderson’s exhibition was an installation made from hair – okay, doll’s hair; real hair really doesn’t grow quite this long – that one saw first from the street when approaching the gallery. The hair seemed to go on forever. It hangs down from an upstairs window, forming a fringe that partially covers the door; looping back up it nips back in to the gallery above the door. And that’s just what could be seen from outside…