I’ve always rather loved those 1960s’ bubble chairs. They manage to look simultaneously comfy, oddly cool and kind of scary. Okay, maybe I’m just easily alarmed, but I have a suspicion that if I ever managed to get into such a chair I’d only get back out by some sort of falling. Getting in or out would at very least result in a degree of ungainliness, I’m sure of that. The comfy part is all about the way the chair envelops its occupant, of course.
So what could make such a chair both more comfy – maybe, I’m not completely convinced on that one – and more scary? Why coating it, inside and out, with what appear to be breasts made out of old tights, of course.
The Spotlight section of Frieze Masters offered a fascinating reminder of the art that was being made in the 1960s and ’70s and, in particular, of the women artists whose work is gradually gaining greater recognition. It’s not just women artists whose work doesn’t really become known until much later of course, but I don’t think it’d be hard to make the case that it happens disproportionately to women (one would hope that this is no longer the case, but that’s something that only time will tell). Of Birgit Jürgenssen’s work, shown by Galerie Hubert Winter, it’s a small sculpture that has stayed freshest in my mind.
Pregnancy Shoe is a strange object; there is a similarity of approach perhaps with Louise Bourgeois’ use of fabric – and thus the shared approach of using materials and processes often seen as ‘feminine’ to make feminist work that comments on women’s place in society – and with the surreal nature of the work. Though the show appears to be pregnant, it’s unclear quite what it will actually give birth to.
I’ve written about Lygia Pape’s web installations here before, I know, but having seen her exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery last spring seeing Ttéia 1 again – albeit a slightly different, silvery, version – in the Galeria Graça Brandão space of Spotlight at Frieze Masters was a welcome chance to interact with the work in a rather different way.
Here too, the light catches the thread and makes it sparkle and standing in front of what seem to have become criss-crossing beams of light carries the same sense of enchantment. But whereas in the Serpentine Gallery the work was effectively put on a pedestal (albeit in the form of a slightly raised floor), as something to wonder at rather than interact with, here it simply criss-crosses a corner of an art fair stall.
At some point, all children copy adults. Admittedly, this doesn’t usually take the form of restaging a parent talking about their work, but that’s the basis of Hetain Patel’s To Dance Like Your Dad, a simple but effective video work shown at Frieze by Chatterjee and Lal. Shown on two screens, the work consists of Patel’s father showing us round his place of work and explaining what happens. Patel himself appears on the right hand screen, performing his father’s role in sync with the original. The parent and child relationship is seldom simple and while we may be fiercely proud of our parents they also have the capacity to embarrass. Here there is a sense of pride and respect in the act of restaging – and in filming Patel senior at work in the first place – but the notion of potential embarrassment is right there in the title. Dad dancing is generally not a good thing, after all.
Thinking back at work seen over the past few months obviously brings Frieze Art Fair back to mind and thinking about Paul Noble’s work in the Turner Prize 2012 exhibition has made me think about sculpture by someone who I mainly associate with two dimensional work, all of which brings me to Gillian Wearing. I’ve written about Wearing a couple of times on this blog (about her work with the confessions of others and the works for which she becomes other people) but I haven’t mentioned her sculpture, in the main because I find it less interesting, I think. Nonetheless, My Hand, shown at Frieze by Maureen Paley, has stayed in my thoughts for some reason and I now find myself wondering why I find this piece engaging.
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.
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.