Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Too many fairs spoil the trot?

Last week was particularly busy in the world of art- Monday was the pre-VIP opening for the Pavilion of Art and Design ('PAD') with a party at the Serpentine, and also a charity auction which I attended at Phillips de Pury to discover that Tracey Emin looks surprisingly less offensive in real life. Tuesday saw the official PAD preview which was very impressive and a clear improvement on last year.

Exhibiting this year at PAD, in its fourth year running, was an array of international galleries including Friedman Benda (New York), Van de Weghe Fine Art (New York), and Gabrielle Ammann (Koln, Germany). Some of the most remarkable works were at Hopkins Custot, a Marc Quinn sculpture of an oversized white orchid and around the corner at Friedman Benda, a unique bench by current Turbine Hall (Tate) exhibitor and artist Ai Waiwai. China Bench (2004) is crafted out of ironwood sourced from dismantled temples of the Qing Dynasty and is a long log shaped structure which is cast to the shape of China at each end (resembling a horizontal fluted column). Waiwai's work references his cultural heritage and takes a politically active stance, as further exemplified with his Sunflower Seeds (2010) installation at Tate Modern. These 100 million seeds which engulf the entrance are hand painted porcelain pods which took 2 years for a factory in China to produce, addressing associations with 'Made in China' and issues relating to export and mass production.   

Amusingly, the week before last at a dinner, I met a man who a mutual friend introduced as a carpenter. Here at the pavilion in Berkeley Square I discover the extent of his contribution to design as the director of the Carpenter's Workshop Gallery, also exhibiting and heavily involved in the Phillip's De Pury design sale some weeks prior.

Local galleries such as Hamilton's, Mayor Gallery and Simon Dickinson also took stands. Hamilton's gallery, specialising in photography, is run by Tim Jefferies- notorious for dating beautiful women including his current wife, and model, Marlin (previously engaged to Elle Macpherson, dated Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer). His success as a gallerist of 26 years is also evident in his selection of artists- Irving Penn, Horst P. Horst, Jeanloup Sieff and Helmut Newton, and his display was very smart.

This year Christie's also decided to make a significant contribution to the London art scene during Frieze-week, alongside their contemporary sales also taking place, with the arrival of 'Multiplied' art fair taking place at their South Kensington showroom. The aim of this fair, and what sets it apart from the annual Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy, is that the works exhibited must be primary artists (haven't been sold at auction) which encouraged a fresher touch. The way around this criteria which allowed the big secondary market names like Hirst to squeeze through the door, is that if the gallery had published the work itself then it was permitted. Hence, the prices were affordable (£500-£15,000ish) but it retained a smartness and niche element (largely prints and photography: everything had to be in editions). Despite a wonderful party on the Friday, opening with bright blue strobe lights and cocktails, the foot-flow over the weekend was less than expected. This was not to say that the fair was not a success, there were indeed sporadic bursts of sales but the agora hustle was amiss.

It is a challenge to find quality amongst quantity and, with so much taking place in one week in London, it can be detrimental to attempt to 'do it all' as this results in an overload which affects ones ability to be able to perceive what is art in art.

Ai Waiwai

Marc Quinn

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Frieze forever after?

Whether Frieze has become less spectacular or I- the dedicated visitor- have become more ‘climatised’ is the question. Some five years ago experiencing Frieze was just that- an experience, a pure sensory overload with so many artists to be discovered you half wanted to run away; now the same Bridget Riley stripes are being flogged off at Timothy Taylor for far too much money (thirty thousand pounds for a very small canvas is not a bargin), and, there is a distinct lack of surprise in the air. Luxury, however, is still delivered and Hirst's spots make an appearance as expected. The big players Gagosian, White Cube, Hauser & Wirth and Lisson run the show and the red dots marking the wall indicate that already, by the 2pm Professional view, sales are high. Post-Lehman, a discretion has been introduced to the scene and champagne is not being sprayed. This year there were 3 VIP 'waves' of invitees-11am: artists and early big buyers 2pm: the auction house/art world important people-and Claudia Schiffer, and 6.30pm: the others and more sociable scene. In the latter viewing you see more people than art. 

Sadie Coles was awarded ‘Stand of the Year’ and the large space does not disappoint. Another remarkable corner is a solo show of David Shrigley’s new work. Viewed through a cage (which one can enter) is a large headless ostrich and an array of taxidermy also including a dog. This is not done a-la-PollyMorgan (deathly stuffed animals, often attatched to coffins) but the character of the cute little animal is retained as he stands upright on two feet holding a sign proclaiming ‘I'm Dead’. The humour immediately transpires and surpasses the more obvious connotations and normal artist intentions of raising awareness of cruelty to animals. Taxidermy has become a craze- check out both Polly and (not related) Claire Morgan. Taxi-dermy actually means walking/travelling skin or something similar (my Greek is pretty good). Back to the stand-on the walls, lined up in series, are some twenty of Shrigley's child-like drawings which the average person would dismiss as 'not-art'. However, contrary to popular argument art does not always need to be taken seriously and these works leviate the difficulty which is often attached to contemporary art and make people automatically dismiss it. Art should be enjoyed and encourage conversation. One can walk alongside these drawings and enjoy the self-mockery text 'I paint drawings' scribbled next to a stick giraffe. Also google Rob Pruitt, he is amazing and paints huge florescent canvases with smiley eyes (sounds bad looks good).

Other personal highlights included an experiential Ugo Rondinone (an Italian artist) tree piece, not as effective as last year's 800 year old olive tree cast in plaster, but more tranquil and possibly more reflective of the current market. In an enclosed white space sitting along the floor and in an L shape up the wall are two beautiful beams of wood accompanied by a small pile of lemons in the centre of the room. I love trees, for some unknown reason.

240 million pounds is the reported amount of value in the room. There were 10 things I liked, would certainly hang on my walls, and could not afford. Concludingly- it has become less spectacular, but I am forever dedicated.

David Shrigley

David Shrigley


                                                          Ugo Rondinone