Last year’s fair took a turn towards true artistry; with a heavier emphasis on painting and drawing , it seemed that a new wave of contemporary draughtsmen might, for a few years, transform Frieze into something more than the vulgar cattle market it has become. Unfortunately, this was not to be. In fact Frieze 2013 displayed more bronze faux-plastic, metallic-painted fibreglass and banal naive works than ever before.
Architects Carmody Groarke designed this year’s fair, and with fewer galleries and wider walkways than previously, the fair was certainly easier and breezier than ever before. Still, Frieze often consists of more fluff than fine art, and so with this drop in galleries came a drop in memorable works.
Memorable moments, however, were aplenty – a French toddler running, arms outstretched and screeching at Jeff Koon’s Toys R Us-inspired sculpture park; a slick haired yuppie reducing Ron Mueck’s melancholy mother and baby sculpture to simply “SO London”; a young gent remarking, to one performer of James Lee Byars’ Four In a Dress, that now he could “now tell people that I know this artwork well, that I’ve really spent time with it.”
Having endured the art-speak of Frieze Art Fair, I suspect that Frieze Masters was a markedly different story. I had vowed that this year I would only bother with Masters, but somehow I found myself at the main fair without a press pass to its younger (yet far more dignified) partner. First there was Frieze, then there was Frieze plus mini-fair Frieze Masters, and now both are of almost the same size – has Frieze Art Fair been relegated? Has Octobertime Regents Park now been taken over by two different pop-up shops: one for brash fibreglass pieces and one for paintings? And, whilst we’re at it, how exactly did a gallery whose chief piece of work was a folded up electric blanket win the £10 000 Stand Prize?
Meaningless Stand Prizes aside, Hauser and Wirth stood out as one of the few galleries which curated an exhibition, rather than a shop window: the analogue blur of a softly buzzing video installation from Diana Thater was echoed by a wall-sized blue/gray misted canvas from Sterling Ruby, which in turn acted as a soft-focus background to an intricately detailed Paul McCarthy woodcarving and a craggy Thomas Houseago – meanwhile all of these works were subject to the dejected stare of Ron Mueck’s “SO London” Woman with Shopping.
The “if you don’t like this one, try it in blue, or bronze, or BIG” approach of many contributors is inevitable – they are of course here to sell – and what often appeases this bland presentation is exciting, surprising works. It was in this element of surprise that Frieze 2013 truly lacked: the show was almost a ‘top picks’ of recent exhibitions – works seen at Saatchi, the V&A, White Cube, on the Fourth Plinth re-presented by different galleries, resized and repackaged (or even gaudily re-sprayed gold in the case of Elmgreen and Dragset).
Frieze is always exhausting, painful and often slightly disappointing, yet it is the anticipation of being surprised and even blown away by artistic innovation, that reels us all back in every year. We congregate in a white big top and cover miles of hilly carpeted corridors in inappropriate shoes, sustained by the London Fashion Week diet of sushi and overpriced glasses of champagne; some buy, some indulge in listening to the buyers; we people-watch as much as we examine the art, and the art which we examine is less art than sustenance for desperately hungry egos to feed off for one more year, until it’s October all over again and we find ourselves back in Regent’s Park, nauseatingly addicted.
Oh the hell with it – long live Frieze!