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October 11, 2010

Frieze Diary

By Spear's

I will be blogging every day from the fairs, exhibitions and parties of Frieze Week. Follow my tweets at

I will be blogging every day from the Frieze Art Fair, its satellite fairs, other exhibitions and the parties of Frieze Week. Follow my tweets at

Click here for a gallery of photos from Frieze Week

Friday am
Last night, I was all ready to go to Louise Bourgeois at the new Hauser & Wirth in Savile Row, Vladimir Restoin-Roitfeld‘s party at the Dairy, Alex Dellal‘s gallery at 20 Hoxton Square, the Moniker urban art fair in the City and the Whitechapel Gallery‘s autumn preview, with an optional stop-off (tho’ nowhere near anything else) at Rankin‘s couture book launch at Ladurée in Harrods. And how many did I make it to?

One. I spent all evening at Hauser & Wirth.

There are several lessons here. When the art is profound and pretty, like Bourgeois’ fabric designs, (seascapes made out of patches and a material sculpture suggesting a heart, with threads for veins leading out and in), you don’t have to run. When you spot twelve cases of Ruinart champagne in the atrium, you don’t need to run. And when your friends are there, you *definitely* don’t need to run.

One of the reasons Frieze Week is such a success is because, contingent upon the parties, shows and fairs, the art world crowd comes out every night to meet, greet and be indiscreet. People you see once a year turn up now. There is perpetual bonhomie pervading the streets and gallery spaces, and you feel like you must drink it in (along with the Ruinart) because it’s so rare. The City itself is well-disposed to you.

And so I stayed stock-still, observing Matthew Slotover and Nicholas Serota enjoying themselves, while I was drinking in the champagne and the atmosphere.

On these sort of multi-party evenings, one performs a calculus of ecstasy: how much more fun would I be having if I were there or there? But to lose yourself in the enjoyment, that is the trick.

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Tonight: The Art Review Power 100, another Moniker party and Multiplied at Christie’s South Ken.

Thursday pm
Have just arrived back from Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year lunch in the VIP section of the marquee; the prize went to Yto Barrada, a photographer and video artist who documents the liminality of her life in Morocco.

Pierre de Weck, a member of Deutsche’s Group Executive Committee and their ambassador for the arts arm of their CSR activities, was there so I took the opportunity to ask him whether Deutsche was collecting less than before the recession. His answer was surprising, and surprisingly frank: ‘During the recession, we were losing money, we were hurting, we were laying off staff, so I thought there’s a limit to what we can do with art.’ So now they have started to sell off some pieces (only by dead artists), to fund further new ones, instead of increasing the collecting budget.

In America, there is currently a massive debate over ‘de-accessioning’: should museums and galleries be allowed to sell works from their collections? British institutiions can’t, but private companies don’t suffer from this legal bind (unless self-imposed).

The collection has become a ‘breathing’ one, as Pierre calls it: works go in and works go out. Valuable pieces are sold privately, less valuable ones are offered to staff via an e-auction, encouraging them to become collectors (after presumably being inspired by the omnipresent art within Deutsche’s offices). So far only dozens of pieces – out of thousands in the collection – have been sold.

I also asked him why Deutsche continued to sponsor contemporary art when others (hello, UBS) were giving up: ‘Other choose to direct their spending to Formula 1. We support art.’ Although this seems neutral enough, I couldn’t help but detect a subtle undertone of scorn.

Thursday am
The major galleries at Frieze yesterday were, truthfully, disappointing. In previous years, there was a frisson in their stands, a crack of electricity in the air that something, anything, could happen. Or perhaps that was wishful thinking, but when presented with the uninspiring exhibitors of this year’s show, you can’t be blamed.

The frisson this year has defused from the grand galleries to the upstarts, a movement which started with the introduction last year of Frame, a space for young galleries to put on single-artist shows. Here there was excitement. Who needs another naughty Richard Prince?

Whereas Oliver Laric‘s essay on imitation, Versions, at Seventeen gallery is technological and ancient, original and mass-produced. He digitally made a cast of sculpture from Utrecht Cathedral and then reproduced this Gothic stonework in multicolour plastic. They look like they belong in the world’s smartest wendy-house. Adjacent to this is a pile of bootlegged copies of a book on copies of Classics sculpture, so meta that it’s like standing between massive mirrors and watching the infinite recursion. Finally, reused video footage direct your mind to the omnipresence of image appropriation.

You could easily say that Warhol did this best, but Laric has moved this into three dimensions and twenty-first century technology. All right, Gagosian might not take a second look, but this is alive and different. Head straight to Frame when you get to Frieze.

The winner of this year’s Cartier Prize is Simon Fujiwara, who has ‘uncovered’ ancient Roman sites underneath the Frieze marquee, all of which play with and parody the art world. In one pit is the skeleton of an artist stabbed to death, next to several editions of his self-portrait (the panel suggests he might have been killed by jealous rivals), in another scattered coins, drawing the focus onto the real thing, we are to believe, that makes the art world spin and all of us attend art fairs.

The sense of humour and vitality that is lacking the major galleries is sustaining Frieze. Spartacus Chetwynd‘s heavily-costumed gameshow, the sculpture park with belching, squeaking, moving trash (by Wolfgang Ganter and Kaj Aune) and a hot-air balloon with Bert (of Bert & Ernie fame) on it, the roster of talks and happenings – these are why you should go to Frieze.

I asked Grayson Perry, dressed up as his alter-ego Claire, why Frieze was important: ‘It makes money. End of.’ It doesn’t educate the wider world about Contemporary art? ‘No, because one-liners work very well here – if it’s a success on the stand, it flies. Subtle, contemplative work doesn’t.’

Anish Kapoor slapped himself in the head when I asked him the same question, as if he’d rather dash out his own brains than anger the powers-that-be (or answer such a stupid question).

But it is in large part thanks to Frieze that the Contemporary scene gets so much attention, whether as a serious examination of current trends or as a freakshow of facelifts and far-out outfits and shocks.

Off to the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year lunch at the marquee. On which note, it’s nice to see a bank still supporting the arts, after UBS finished their deal with Tate.

Wednesday am
If I say I have a hurty head, do I get any sympathy? No – thought not. I blame Ruinart. I thought I’d invert the normal order and start with the last event of last night, because – frankly – it was treading a very thin line between social disaster and artistic triumph.

The Museum of Everything, James Brett‘s outsider art gallery in Primrose Hill, has done a very good job of promoting itself, and anticipation was naturally high after the sensation it made last year, a free-wheeling yet carefully-curated show of recluses, the mentally ill and obsessive-compulsives. Of course there was going to be a queue – but around the block, with five hundred people in it? That was a surprise.

Even more surprising were the dressing-gowned neighbours who stormed in, screaming and ranting because of the noise. Now, the noise was definitely excessive for a quiet neighbourhood on a Tuesday night (the brass bands saw to that), but they did have permission from the council.

Peter Blake, who has guest-curated this year’s show, was wandering about at the front entrance, bemused by the crush as especially-aggressive bouncers manhandled members of the press and civilians alike. When I asked him if he expected such a crush, he said, Yes, he had. Now that’s confidence. The show this year lacked the frisson of discovery last year, but there were wonderful discoveries: Ted’s embroidered panels, all out of perspectival whack and gaudy in their thread, were joyful, and Walter Potter’s taxidermied domestic scenes (squirrels at breakfast! hamsters below stairs!) were sweet if warped takes on animal nature.

The evening started with a veritable rush around the 500m radius of Bond Street tube. First I dropped in on Blain/Southern, the new venture from the men behind Haunch of Venison, which they left recently after its purchase by Christie’s (which made it incredibly unpopular as some sort of traitor to the dealing world).

Their space is a small re-entry on Dering St, a prelude, Graham Southern told me, to a larger Mayfair space in 2012. The show was Mat Collishaw, who exhibited at Freeze, the show Hirst curated which made all their names, and Southern said that they had experienced almost complete loyalty from their artists when they left Haunch: ‘We were Haunch,’ he said, so the artists came with.

Collishaw’s show plays with methods of making art and reinterprets existing works, such as his version of Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St Theresa, rendered as a lithopane (translucent stone sculpture), behind which runs up and down a xerox scanner, illuminating a reproduction without reproducing, shedding new light (as it were) on each detail of the workm and lending a halo-glow. This show packs a multitude of ideas into six pieces.

<p> After that, a dash to the new Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row for the Louise Bourgeois private view, which wasn’t actually until tonight… Still managed to shoot one of the spiders tho’.

Then onto PAD (again) where the paps were out in force, tho’ I couldn’t spot anyone the right side of glittering. (That might have been the champagne kicking in…) There was a wonderful lamp, which won the V&A prize and will go into their collection, where tiny bright circular bulbs had had individual dandelion feathers glued onto them, and were then enclosed in a copper grid. Delicate yet strong, beautiful yet practical.

I bumped into one of London’s most connected women, Marianna Haseldine, who invited me on to the DKNY party in association with Tank magazine for Women for Women, an anti-violence charity. Matt Langton was there, taking up an interesting new job soon…

Like a dervish, I sped to the warmth and light of the tube, coat flapping all the way, which conveyed me to the evening’s big appointment: Marina Abramovic at Lisson Gallery. This had photographs and videos of her earlier work, but it was not what you’d call a retrospective: since her art is performance-based, photos and videos are a meta-art, her ideas transmuted into a new form – one well worth seeing. You might say they’re crumbs from the original, but they’re every bit as startling and stirring, especially the sequence where she tries to avoid stabbing her hand with several different knives as she darts them up and down.

Abramovic was there, looking completely in control – which is the state she always projects in her work – yet slightly bemused at the mob at the gallery. When I asked her if she could believe her popularity, she modestly demurred, although her recent MoMA show, where she sat opposite members of the public for days on end, was the talk of the town and brought her to a massive new audience.

Meanwhile, as soon as you’ve done interviews for two TV channels, people start looking at you funny. I talked to France 24’s culture show about Abramovic, followed in short order by my friend Mark Ellwood‘s Plum TV, an internet TV station for the most sociable HNWs, reporting from Aspen to Frieze and beyond.

I bumped into Evgeny Lebedev on his way out, son of the owner of the Evening Standard and the Independent and fresh from his assumption of British citizenship. His family are determined patrons of the arts, so it’s not surprising to see him at one of Frieze Week’s best shows.

Today: Frieze! The reason we’re all here (apart from evolution ‘n’ stuff), the Frieze Art Fair opens to collectors, VIPs and press today.

Tuesday pm
Have recently got back from lunch with the gallerists at the Pavilion of Art & Design. I sat opposite Ben Brown who talked about Hong Kong and the new international galleries which were opening up alongside his own (currently it’s mostly local ones), and Singapore, whose art market seems to be floating on Indonesian money. We also discussed fakes and frauds – none of which appear at PAD, I hasten to add…

On my right was Barry Friedman, whose China bench by Ai Weiwei I thoroughly recommend you see (right at the front of the show); it won the best object in the fair prize:


Tuesday am
The first stop last night was one of the increasing number of London’s decrepit railway vaults being used for the amusement of the chic.

Steve Lazarides, the gallerist who helped launch Banksy, took over several of the Old Vic caverns by Waterloo and made them resemble a treasury, with unexpected riches underneath every arch. Polly Morgan‘s bundle of taxidermied birds seemed caught mid-brawl, feathers and feet sticking out everywhere, while Jonny Yeo has developed his porno-portraits (collages with top-shelf ingredients) into an installation, where the portraits are atomised through several layers, which only come together (hee-hee) when you stand before them, as so:

Jonny told me that he’s been in Los Angeles doing a couple of shows, and people haven’t initially realised the substance of his paper-pieces – ‘You hear the scream when they do,’ he said. Given Beveryl Hills’ fondness for it, he says he new show may be about plastic surgery, which is perhaps the one thing which makes people more squeamish than porn.

There was – aptly for Spear’s readers – a portrait of Bernie Madoff carved and gouged into the wall, by Portuguest artist Vhils (Alexandre Farto), and a tremendous video installation by Zac Ove, where Caribbean scenes were bent and broken and mirrored through a kaleidoscope.

Steve Lazarides said that he was pleased to have kicked off Frieze Week – he could now enjoy the rest of it without the pressure of having to launch a show. I bumped into Libby Sellers too, the design gallerist; she said she’s finished with her pop-up shows for a while and is gathering her forces for a breach into somewhere permanent in Fitzrovia.

After this, it was off to the shocking pink Pavilion of Art & Design in Berkeley Square, where a completely different crowd – pearls and suits, not pork-pies and low-slung jeans – were taking in the Modern art and design. Hélène Binet‘s photographs of Zaha Hadid’s architecture at Ammann Gallery in Cologne caught my eye, swimming pools in the half-dark and the new Maxxi museum in Rome from odd angles. Ruinart provided the fizz and inviting blocks of Parmesan were sitting on occasional tables.

Martin Summers, the eminent art dealer who recreated his living room at PAD last year, was there, looking dapper and dashing and talking of a possible show in Singapore, where the new tax-free FreePort is doing great business. (Christie’s have already taken the whole top floor.) Read Anthony Haden-Guest on the Singapore FreePort here.

After this, I popped into Gagosian on Davies St, where Damien Hirst‘s new works – massive white-on-black skulls and almost abstract combinations of pills – reconfigured his old imagery, and then walked to 33 Portland Place for All Visual Art‘s new show, Vanitas: The transience of earthly pleasures.

This year there is a gothic slugfest as AVA and Laz compete for the ghoulish centreground. The problem with a theme like vanitas is that you’re bound to end up with millions of dead butterflies, and indeed we did, but there were some wonderful surprises.

One of the best was Charles Matton‘s Sigmund Freud study II, a diorama recreating the room from 1938, just before he fled to London. In miniature, you almost slip inside his head, Alice-like – you feel like you can see into his brain just by looking at his study, with its Greek statuettes and family photographs. It is empty too, an ominous hint of the destruction to come.

Also in the back room were Oliver Clegg‘s House of Cards, which is about as transient as you can get, contrasting with their permanence as a work of art, and Ori Gersht‘s Time after Time, a photograph of a still-life exploding. Fragments of petals and stalks fly across the aluminium canvas, making a seventeenth-century point in a twenty-first century way.

Bumping into Joe la Placa on the stairs, he said that he’s opened a new space in Kings Cross – 2 Omega Place – and mentioned that Charles Matton, whose diorama I admired, was in fact an outside artist recently deceased and about to become very popular: ‘Lucky the man who collects him!’

Tonight: Marina Abramovic at Lisson, Museum of Everything in Primrose Hill and Louise Bourgeois on Savile Row.

Monday am
I will be blogging every day from the fairs, exhibitions and parties of Frieze Week, including the grand-daddy itself in Regent’s Park. Follow my tweets at

On this page, I will be talking to the moviest movers and the shakiest shakers in the art world as I trip from fair to fair and slip from party to party. If you’d like to join me, here are some of the events I’ll be attending this week:

Frieze Art Fair (obv)
Moniker (street art)
Multiplied (Christie’s fair of contemporary editions)
Sunday (young galleries)
Pavilion of Art and Design (modern art and design)
Vanitas (All Visual Arts)
Marina Abramovic (Lisson Gallery)
Louise Bourgeois (Hauser and Wirth)
Museum of Everything (outsider art)

And plenty of parties too secret to say… For now, anyway…

Click here for a gallery of photos from Frieze Week

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