Frieze Art Fair London 2012 report
Brothel-creeper patterned walls, a lawn breathing incense and a provocative mix of sculptures greet the long queues of visitors to this year's Frieze Art Fair. 'This would absolutely never be allowed in a public park in the US,' says a well-groomed male couple in response to a white bust of a muscley naked lady by Alan Kane and Simon Periton.
Their reaction flies in the face of what Grayson Perry, in conversation with Martin Parr, said at talk sponsored by Italian lifestyle brand Yoox: 'Shock is the standard response to art now because people want to be titillated. But it's hard as people are inured to it.' Tell that to Mitt Romney's supporters.
But maybe Perry is right. Inside the tent, it seemed there were fewer genitals, less gore and shock horror than in previous years. The fair felt more grown up as it entered its tenth year. Could this be due to the arrival of Frieze Masters, a sister event at the north end of Regent's Park, which features everything from ancient Mesopotamian treasures, Giacometti and Richard Avedon prints?
Nicholas Logsdail, founder of the Lisson Gallery, which was exhibiting in both shows says: 'Masters is quieter than I had hoped, but I have seen more serious collectors in here than in the contemporary fair. It's the first year, so we will see.'
Over at the contemporary tent - a positive bun-fight compared to the serene Masters show - crowds formed around a chalkboard map of the world by Rivane Neuenschwander on to which people were invited to pin fabric slogans taken from the Occupy movements. Featuring words like 'debt', 'future' and 'nature', printed onto fabric labels, the work - shown by Tanya Bonakdar Gallery - is to be sold as it appears at the end of the fair.
Tanya Bonakdar says: 'It's been the best year for me. It feels different and I think its due to Frieze Masters which has brought some serious collectors in to town.'
There was further crowd participation at Grizedale Arts, a farm-cum-arts-organisation from the Lake District, where people in white uniforms were throwing tomatoes at each other. 'It's the re-creation of an arcane village sport,' explains curator Alistair Hudson, whose mission is 'to show that art can be useful in society.'
To this end, Grizedale set up a model cricket pavilion designed by Chinese artists Yangjiang Group, and hosted a farmers market with a difference. Along with the sale of homemade bread, pickled eggs, kimchi and jam, over the weekend, various chefs appeared to cook unusual fare, the highlight being Sam Clark of Moro and his Vermin Dinner (including the likes of parasitic fungi and squirrel). 'It's the only place in the fair where you actually see cash changing hands,' says Hudson.
Cashless transactions were continuing apace at Brazilian gallery Vermelho, where director Akio Aoki explained: 'In Brazil, there's a shortage of art. It's almost impossible to get post-2008 works by Brazilian greats like Ernesto Neto and Beatriz Milhazes. And where collectors were spending £5000, they are now spending £50,000.' He is hotly anticipating the opening in December of the White Cube in Sao Paulo where new works by Tracey Emin will go on show.
The Frieze effect sends ripples all across the city that encourage the big galleries to put on blockbuster shows, and smaller spaces to roll out their best artists. At the Zabludowicz Collection, located in a beautifully restored Methodist chapel, British artist Matthew Darbyshire created a fictional dystopian village featuring room sets decorated with furniture from Next, ironic corporate hoardings used by developers to cover repair-work on historic buildings and bad-taste civic architecture. Within the fair, at Herald St Gallery, he created vitrines featuring Avon aftershave bottles. The smell of the aftershave still lingers in his studio.
Over at Sunday, a show featuring works from 20 galleries less than 7 years old, sales and visitor numbers were up. 'We could have sold Jack Strange's work six times over,' says Rebecca May Marston, director of Limoncello gallery - one of the event's founding galleries.
Despite its air of chaos and its down-at-heel location, people couldn't get enough. This was the same everywhere you went; Lisson Gallery held an evening banquet and 700 people turned up. Three hundred more queued outside. At Tim Noble and Sue Webster's after party at Tramp, it was one in, one out. A performance evening at David Roberts Art Foundation saw queues round the block.
Perhaps Perry, talking about why Internet art will never work, sums it up best: 'I want to see different textures, different scales. I don't want to see all my sculpture through a bit of flat glass. We are human animals. We need our tribal gatherings like Frieze.'