October 21, 2013, London.
This last week was what the art world and the well to do of London like to call “Frieze week”, that splendid autumnal period that happens each year when the tents are erected in Regents Park, just waiting to be pillaged. This year Frieze saw 152 contemporary galleries trying to grab the attention, and the pounds, dollars, dirhams and whatever else they could take for the estimated $2 Billion worth of art on sale. It also saw a slightly new audience, with many families and newbies in attendance, as many visitors and gallerists were eager to point out to me.
Preview articles in the dailies, as well as general anticipatory chatter among certain social circles, has opened up the floors of Frieze to a wider general audience, whilst still getting away with charging a £32 ($52) entry fee and £50 ($81) to see both the main Frieze fair and its counterpart, “Frieze Masters”. This year saw 70,000 attendees and the tickets sold out fast. It seems that, over the years, going to Frieze has become more inclusive as Frieze becomes “the thing to do” in late October for anyone who basks in the characteristics of bourgeois identification, (even if they are not rich).
And what is that “thing to do”? Its hard to say really, because there is so much going on, so much art to look (glance) at, so many £4 plastic bottles of crap beer to drink (or Champagne and caviar and Tracey Emin art project-cum wine tastings for the VIP card carriers) and so many air kisses to receive that no one really has any time to think. The viewing of art usually comes second to cocktails, having the best outfit, and talking about thousands of names associated with money and hackneyed art pieces that no one takes much time to look at the art, at least not anyone there for all the “right” reasons. In many ways, the environment of this fair, like most art fairs, makes it somewhat impossible to look at work, because of the noise, the swirling crowds, people bumping into you, and everything else in ones periphery vision. Perhaps thats why people would rather just look at the work through their screens.
Oh and to try and THINK about art in this atmosphere? Forget about it. You will end up needing to pop valium in the bathroom with trophy wives or resorting to the bar to relieve your existential dread. Its better to relinquish your status as a human being and just fit in.
So each October collectors and groupies from the art-world over migrate in droves from all the corners of the globe, and people are expected to adopt a rolodex style memory and accompanying lexicon in order to hammer out the names of gallerists, artists and dealers faster than a silver-tongued Texan auctioneer. They are also expected to flirt, smile, but never actually form relationships with each other. As the ubiquitous security guards tell visitors, you can look but not touch.
What is strange is how many people who are so clearly new to the art community, including many of the potential buyers, momentarily attempt to take on the art world’s super pretentious, non-sensical linguistic traits, and it is amusing listening to people talk about art pieces in a way that is foreign to a more experienced exhibition goer, with a certainty that is at odds with reflecting upon art. But then again, the only real reflection that takes place at art fairs comes from the ubiquitous art objects made out of mirrors that seemingly dot every other gallery booth. After-all, they make nice mirrors to check your makeup, correct your ironic bow-tie, or take a vainglorious selfie in.
Frieze is not for looking at art, it is about looking at people, and more poignangntly, for watching those who take pride in purchasing art in front of others. As for why anyone would want some of the objects with the biggest price tags in their house, nobody knows. Oh wait, its because its the receipt they can frame on their wall, not the actual work – after all, who could fit such a piece in their house…..Oh wait.
Again, the art on presentation is sometimes hard to see in the circus tent that is Frieze, your vision is too distracted by the people on display, striding with poise and bedecked in their art fair best in the high church of commercial art. In all honesty, the creative work put into many peoples outfits was much more creative than most of the art, and it is an amusing spectacle to watch the art scene princes and princesses trying their best to balance on a tightrope between fashionable and outrageous, always at the risk of teetering off too much to one side and coming off as appearing completely mad. This is presumably all in the name of looking “Avant Garde”, which is ironic seeing how the ethos of art fairs such as Frieze are probably the furthest thing anyone who is serious about art could imagine, instead, the experience is more like that of the shopping mall, where teenagers compete to show off their newest friends and accessories, albeit here they are teenagers who think they are very very grown up.
One noticeable addition is the second year of “Frieze Masters”, the sister fair held across the park that specializes in works by old masters, post-war artists, and a few almost ancient artifacts. The differing mood of Frieze Masters is immediately felt: the walls are grey rather than white, the floor is covered by carpet and hard wood, and the lights are less fluorescent. It was even warmed better. In other words, it was purposely crafted to feel like a museum.
However, it was most clearly NOT a museum. It most certainly WAS still many cubicles, with the proprietors of these spaces hocking their goods, albeit in a finer vintage. Many attendees I spoke with remarked that Frieze Masters “was more enjoyable” and “felt less like an art fair”, thanks to its “wider halls” and “airy” feel. Objectively speaking however, it was not much different than the main Frieze, or any art fair for that matter, but it was comical to see how quickly people put on their museum faces, and even the cafes felt more “civilized”. People spoke in hushed voices and carried a more posh “air” to themselves. There were no aggravated loud mouths gathering around trendy macro-biotic cafes, not as much overt flaunting of cash and bling (that would be uncouth), and remarkably, not so long of queues – but herein lies the major difference, at the main Frieze, people WANT to wait in lines, it is part of the hustle, the bustle, and the glitz n’ glam. If you showed up to Frieze Masters wearing blinders, you might believe it was more respectable than the contemporary center stage Frieze, but then you would be lying to yourself. And the art world doesn’t do that, they are much too intelligent…