2014.11.20 Thu, by
2014 Frieze London, Frieze Masters, and around London

Frieze was a magazine. Now it is an art fair with a magazine. An art fair that is in a class of 1—almost but not quite in the first league of TEFAF, Art Basel and FIAC but also not with any of the others, good (artissima, Art Stage Singapore) or otherwise. Most important galleries show at frieze, but not quite all of them. It understands, though, along with Art Basel and David Foster Wallace, that art fairs are about entertainment—big game hunting with or without the safari suit. This is why it’s in tents in one of London’s most gracious parks (also because it’s close to where the money is).

It was successful. Of course it was—this was never in doubt. And there were lots of wondrous things at both Frieze masters and Frieze itself, including art. The opening was fun, the special projects interesting, the talks serious and the food exceptional. It was a great fair. The best of Frieze week though was the Helly Nahmad Gesamtkunstwerk 1960s apartment at Frieze Masters.

Beyond the fair, the Victoria Miro shows for Wengechi Mutu and Eric Fischl respectively deserved and demanded attention (Grace Jones came late to see Mutu’s bewitching show). Ostensibly, the exhibition was also about Yayoi Kusama, too—but she was in the garden.

Installation at Helly Nahmad Gallery booth, Frieze Masters.

Eric did paintings constructed of many photographs of people at art fairs. Across town, a very similar exhibition was at Hauser & Wirth, with Paul McCarthy showing lots of shit, people shitting, screwing and plush soft-toy squirrel penises. He was building for his giant green butt plug “Christmas Tree” in Paris for FIAC.

Tomás Saraceno and Thomas Demand at Esther Schipper, Frieze London

A large scholar’s rock at Frieze Masters, apparently from the 18th Century. Funny, we thought rocks were older.

Chinese collectors seemed thicker on the ground than Chinese artists or curators, particularly at the Gerhard Richter opening of the new Marian Goodman gallery in Soho (personally the rather clinical exhibition left me underwhelmed—but the space is gorgeous).

El Greco at Caylis, Madrid, frieze Masters

And I wondered, amidst all the fear of another imminent economic crisis, Ebola, the Ukraine, ISIS terrorists and everything else—how is it that there is so much expensive art for sale? One explanation is that prices are high because there is a shortage of art. Or prices aren’t high—they are just prices. Both are correct. Some pay, some don’t. Either way, there are vast changes happening in the art world, which is now called “the art market”. I began thinking about this during Art Basel Hong Kong. And at Art Basel. and at abc in Berlin. And I was still thinking about this during Frieze London, particularly as I walked with an artist friend through a crepuscular Regent’s Park to Frieze Masters, he pointing out the mansion Damien Hirst has just bought. Meanwhile, the music and print industries are in crisis…or at least, just not earning what they used to.

Wangechi Mutu “Sleeping Serpent”
Mixed media fabric and ceramic, 91 x 91 x 945 cm (35 7/8 x 35 7/8 x 372 1/8 in), 2014
(Courtesy the Artist and Victoria Miro, London, © Wangechi Mutu)

Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth London

It does not matter. The real reason art is with us now is that our language is changing. Once we had poetic sages, then great novelists and more recently auteur directors. Now we have art, which at least gives the appearance of comprising an international language —whether intellectual, economic, romantic or just fun. If you don’t like them, you don’t have to go to art fairs. If you don’t want to, no one will force you to look at art, much less buy it. But all this machinery of the Art Market, including grand museums, billionaires, curators—all of it—means there is much more to discuss and provoke and criticize than ever before. It is a boon to intellectual freedom, even if we have to watch carefully that it doesn’t choke on its own success. Furthermore, where once London was a backwater in terms of the art revolution that occurred during the 20th Century, over the past 20 years the internationalization and popularization of contemporary art has transformed London into the art-city it is today, second only to New York. And this is profoundly relevant for East Asia and particularly China, because this is where the art world could expand most next. All the Chinese collectors at Marian Goodman are working on it. The question is, what will money bring next? Frieze is looking very intensely to China, so maybe, one day, we can look forward to a tent on Tiananmen square.

Steve McQueen “Ashes” at Thomas Dane Gallery

Mark Grotjahn with Tabwa masks at frieze (Anton Kern Gallery, New York)

Zhang Ding at ShanghART, frieze London

Lee Bul at Korean Cultural Centre UK, in conjunction with her IKON Gallery solo show at Birmingham

Matthew Barney at Sadie Coles HQ

A collector at Frieze, Regent’s Park

Hazy early evening view of Frieze Masters tent

Hong Kong mission next to Sprüth Magers Gallery London. No umbrellas.