’There are more galleries than ever this year and a higher quality of applicants,’ says Frieze co-founder Amanda Sharp, who, when she set up the annual art fair eight years ago, never in her wildest dreams thought it would become such a London blockbuster. Sales this year were buoyant, with collectors on a spending spree as soon as the doors opened.
So with solid sales, huge crowds, and tons of great galleries in situ, Sharp is overjoyed. But what of the art? ’It feels more reflective and thoughtful,’ she says. True, there is a less macabre aura, and fewer shouty, bombastic pieces. Berlinde de Bruyckere’s strung-up waxwork, at Hauser & Wirth gallery is one of the few gory sculptures on show, while in the somewhat disappointing Frieze sculpture park outside the tent, a pile of rubbish by Wolfgang Ganter and Kaj Aune simply feels passé.
More on trend is the steel-gated Stephen Friedman gallery, where the show is dedicated to British humorist David Shrigley, (whose serious side is currently, persistently, protesting cuts to the arts). And at Kate MacGarry gallery, artist Marcus Coates, whose life-size sculpture of himself wearing a horses’ head and sunglasses, represents him performing a shamanistic ritual in a Liverpool council block. Coates believes he has the power to fall into trances and communicate with the animal kingdom, which he does in front of often sceptical audiences while recording them.
This ’other world’ theme continued at Danish gallery Andersen’s Contemporary which dedicated its space to an artist called Fos, whose hair-covered urn for crematorium ashes was on sale for €12,000. All around the fair, British/Japanese artist Simon Fujiwara created archaeological digs and excavation sites featuring mock mosaics and fake skeletons, all of which signified an ancient lost city beneath the fair site.
Among the good stuff, there is the usual tat; skateboards with MDF boxes tied to them, anyone? A giant cookie monster that looked like it had been made by a five-year-old? Or how about a sculpture of a reel of iPhone apps? But at least this year, there does seem to be less of it.
The problem with so much of the work on display at Frieze is that you often need to know the back story before you can appreciate the piece, and with galleries all competing for space and attention, this is not easy. Take a pastel coloured rug and cushions with squiggles entitled ’A Partial Grammar’ that looks like something found in Debenhams in the 1980s. It is in fact a series of pieces made from the 1980s until now by well regarded French artist Marc Camille Chaimovicz, who has spent 45 years working in different media from film-making to wallpaper design. You always learn something new at Frieze, which helps explain why it is so popular.
Outside the main tent, dealers Hauser & Wirth are cementing their reputation as an art world power house by opening a giant new gallery in Savile Row in which previously unseen fabrics by the late Louise Bourgeois were on display. At the Museum of Everything, Victoriana, courtesy of Sir Peter Blake and founder James Brett, is the over-riding theme; midgets, freak show stars, miniature steam fairs and shell art, formed a witty and light-hearted collection. A highlight is the work of Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter who created a world where squirrels and rats go to the pub, play cards and have boxing matches. No surprise that Damien Hirst collects them.
At the Zabludowicz Collection, in a former Methodist chapel in north London, abstract aluminium sculptures by British artist Toby Ziegler are on show. Among them is an abstract interpretation of a 200-year-old bust that Picasso dared one of his pals to steal from the Louvre in the early 1900s. Appropriation- always a theme at Frieze - has, it seems, a long history.