Josh Spero's Frieze Week Diary - Spear's Magazine

Josh Spero's Frieze Week Diary

Every year, Spear's editor Josh Spero brings you news, reviews and gossip from Frieze Week, when London is filled with art fairs, gallery openings and parties. Check back here daily as he criss-crosses London

Monday

Art fairs visited on Saturday: two.

Exhibitions visited: one.

Pounds paid for Fortnum & Mason breakfast tea in a cardboard cup at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery: three.

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A whole new spin

So, I've been pontificating about art and the art market for quite a while now (not just this week – I mean the years I've been writing about it). But I haven't bought anything of even moderate value for quite a while. Turns out, talking about buying art and actually buying art are incomprehensibly different things.

For my thirtieth birthday this year, my parents have said they'd buy me something to put on my wall. Suddenly, I have a horse in this race: I now have to put their money where my mouth is.

And it turns out, my mouth is nowhere near my heart – or even my eyes.

All that appreciation of work for its engagement with the history of art, for its technical brilliance in uniting paint and cow dung, for its 24-hour duration, for its requirement of an entirely new house to fit it in, for the fact someone will pay $250 million for it: useless. All that is easy chat when nothing is at stake.

The works whose sales at fairs are commented on tend to be the most expensive, and perhaps these purchases are made on a 'rational' curatorial basis, and anyway, if it turns out you don't like it, you can afford not to worry. But the majority of artistic transactions – whether at fairs or galleries – have both financial and emotional charges.

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As I stood in front of a picture at the Multiplied fair of editions and prints at Christie's South Ken (lots of good work, lots repeated from last year), I intently started to self-scrutinise: I like this now but will I like it tomorrow – next week – next year? Do I really like it now? How do I even know?

And then there are baser questions: do I have the right space for it? Will it look nice on my wall? Is it fairly priced? What will people who see it think of me? (I realise this may be a neurotic set of questions applicable only to me – but I don't think it is.)

Even though the price was relatively low, the emotional calculation was great – out of all proportion. As Kelly Crow, the Wall Street Journal's art-market reporter, pointed out to me on Twitter after I had committed my agonising to 140 characters, this definitely fell into #firstworldproblems – but it was a problem, nonetheless – and it gave me a whole new insight onto the art market, turning it from finance and figuration into flesh and feelings.

I agonised a while longer, texted my parents a picture of the picture (they were buying it after all), got the response that as long as I liked it, that was fine (ie they didn't really like it – did I?) and tried to sort out what I really felt.

Reader, I bought it:

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Suzanne Moxhay cuts out parts of photos from different sources, then sticks them onto different layers of glass and rephotographs the whole thing in her studio. Her tone is dark and suggestive, her technique accomplished, like 21st-century decoupage, her artistic heritage (Gregory Crewdson, Bill Henson) familiar to and loved by me. It arrives in three weeks.

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If you've been reading this diary for a whole week now (or even just parts of it), thank you. I'm now off to lie down in a darkened room – and not one where the light gets turned on and off every few seconds by Martin Creed.

Friday

Art fairs visited yesterday: one.

Exhibitions visited: three.

Number of girls enacting a mini-Made in Chelsea next to me as I had tea at the Wolseley to gather myself: three.

Africa, express!

A new fair this year is 1:54: Contemporary African Art Fair, in one wing of Somerset House. The last continent to receive its own fair in London, Africa has not lagged behind for any lack of quality, but for the multitude of reasons you might imagine. 1:54 rights that wrong, and how.

Some of its principal pleasures were the photos of Edson Chagas, who won the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Biennale for his show in the Angolan pavilion. These pictures, abandoned items in street scenes, are from London and Rwanda, but could have been taken anywhere or by anyone, which I took to be Chagas' larger point about African art in general: it is part of the mainstream now. Happily, he was at the fair so I managed to ask him a few questions.

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On why African art is now more prominent (eg recent Tate exhibitions): 'A lot of people talk about post-colonialism; we talk about post-war. For the last eleven years, we have had peace and that's probably the reality, that artists are more introspective and not just following the traditional way of working,' which includes work solely about Africa and in manners/materials easily recognisable as 'African'.

On the internationalism of his work: It can be done by an Englishman or a Chinese or anyone else… We have access to internet and TV from different countries. I'm local and also from a continent but also from the world. (If you worry that this logic leads to a uniform international style of Contemporary art [which we already see emerging], you share my concern – what of locality and nationality in the future?)

On his wandering and his work: 'I might be from Angola but if I'm in a space, it becomes my space and it becomes an idea of how I'm perceived in this space. Somehow my work is connected with this idea of finding a paradox in this social trap.'

Why Africa now? 'Why not before?' he said wryly.

(It wouldn't do to ignore the market either for the spread of African art – African entrepreneurs are emerging onto the collecting scene, and auction houses and galleries are looking for as-yet untapped areas to exploit. Artistic colonialism?)

* * *

My favourite item at 1:54 was this photograph by Malian snapper Seydou Ke’ta, which draws on the European tradition of Venuses (Veneres, if you're going to be proper) but is still defiantly African.

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PS The '54' in '1:54' is for the number of countries in Africa.

Keep on Moving

The Moving Museum is a travelling concept: in Dubai and now in London, at 180 Strand (an abandoned old wreck near the Royal Courts), a show by different Contemporary artists is put on. Hong Kong is next.

Run by the wonderful Simon Sakhai, who can talk about the art a lot more lucidly than the artists' statements adjoining each piece, the Moving Museum is one very particular take on Contemporary art: large installations which seem diffuse and disconnected, in the main obsessed with their own making. If this feels self-obsessed and excluding, it is; I needed a guide like Simon to help me break through.

Nevertheless, there were some artists who intrigued me: Hannah Perry, with her film consisting of footage found on her friends' phones and in commercial archives, which threatened to crack open our social surface, and Mary Ramsden, who paints late Monet-like scenes, then obscures them with socking great colour blocks.

Briefly noted

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The Onnasch Collection at all three of Hauser & Wirth's sites: Reinhard Onnasch was a great conduit of art between America and Germany, taking Richter one way and Oldenburg the other. His collection is full of prime post-war art across fields: Edward Kienholz's sculptural assemblages where odd objects tensely talk to one another; a fantastic Robert Rauschenberg, where a chair invites you into the painting (pictured left); and an Ad Reinhart black painting, which draws you into and across itself without ceasing. There is also work by Christo, Serra, Noland, Stella, Still...

My old friend Stuart Semple's show of new paintings, his first in a good while, at the Heritage Rooms on Bloomsbury Square: they mix Pop Art signs with heartfelt subjects. (Full disclosure: I did the catalogue interview for this show.)

Thursday

Art fairs visited yesterday: one.

Auction house parties visited: two.

Number of people Christie's were expecting at their Saatchi/Vanity Fair party (see below): 1,800.

Frieze, punks!

Well, Frieze London, to be specific. The fons et origo of this whole week opened in its rejigged tent in Regent's Park: fewer galleries with more spacious booths, brights lights now diffused through veils, fewer people (though still plenty of those). It certainly felt less busy, but pleasantly so.

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Pictured left: A work by Eddie Peake, who has just graduated from the Royal Academy Schools, at the White Cubebooth

Again (as with PAD and Frieze Masters this week), I can't review the whole fair, but I can share some of my thoughts on how to approach it.

1) Go prepared: Contemporary art has an infinitely diverse range of subjects, materials and production, so it's impossible to look at a work and even begin to comprehend much of it if you don't know the background or at least the vague field. I wandered, bemused, through many booths because I wasn't familiar with the artists (and who can be familiar with a thousand?), but the ones I knew a little about – whose solo shows at galleries I'd seen – were much more rewarding.

2) Or find a nice gallerist: Contemporary art is not renowned for having the friendliest gallerists (I'll never forget the look of disgust when I asked a gallerina at Gagosian what a banana on a string was doing in front of a light), so if you manage to find a nice one, they'll talk to you about the artist.

Some of the nicest at Frieze are in the Focus and Frame sections, devoted to young galleries and single-artist presentations respectively. Particularly nice was Angela at Freymond-Guth (G18), who talked to me about Marc Bauer's beautiful pencil drawings of remembered scenes (pictured below), each developed as his memories changed.

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3) Don't be omnivorous: As a good friend wisely remarked, it's best to find a couple of new artists and follow them, rather than consuming everyone in sight.

4) Look beyond the shiny: Art fairs are in some ways sub-optimal for consuming art because they tend to privilege the big, the noisy, the bright, the shiny, ie the attention-grabbing. (Gagosian had a booth entirely of Mr Shiny himself, Jeff Koons, pictured below.) You have to balance this against the range of first-class art you can see in one marquee. But there will always be plenty of subtler work – you have to keep your eyes open, though.

Frieze London runs until Sunday and tickets have to be bought in advance online.

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Saatchi and Saatchi and Saatchi and…

Whatever else Charles Saatchi may be, he has always known how to collect ahead of the crowd, and the fifty large sculptural works he is selling at Christie's tonight, on display at a former post office on New Oxford Street, show exactly that.

At the party of the week last night, Christie's joined with Vanity Fair to bring tout le monde to the site for the Think Big show, in aid of the Saatchi Gallery's Foundation; I've never seen so many nice dresses in what looks like a former car park.

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The works included one of Tracey Emin's more decorous beds (next to a Nebuchadnezzar of champagne she had decorated in what looked like Tippex and felt tip, pictured below); a great David Batchelor light sculpture (pictured above), a rainbow of boxes glowing like neurons all afire; a pair of Toby Ziegler's planar digitised figures; and a Conrad Shawcross loom, like something the Norns of the Ring Cycle wouldn't scorn to spin out our fates on.

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I caught up with Viscount Linley, Christie's UK chairman, and asked him about what Frieze Week meant to London. 'I can tell you what it means to Christie's: it means an enormous amount of work,' he said jovially.

'Christie's has focused an enormous amount of effort' every room is packed with the most astonishing art. I've never felt more proud of things we're displaying.' (The best pictures in London this week, by common consent, are the Francis Bacon triptych of Lucian Freud on view at the moment, estimated to fetch over $100 million in New York next month.) He described the rooms at Christie's as 'the most extraordinary free exhibition'.

With no estimates and no reserves, it'll be interesting to see how the Thing Big sale goes. While the works are good, provenance always plays a part – will Saatchi's fingerprints prove indelible?

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The C-words

Also last night was a reception, dinner and auction at Sotheby's for charity (one C word) in aid of Myriam Ullens' Mimi Foundation, which installs 'well-being' units in cancer wards (a second C word).

Myriam and Guy Ullens have long been patrons and collectors of Chinese artists (another C word), who were well represented in the lots, including the first portrait of HRH Prince Charles by a Chinese artist, Yan Pei-Ming, which captures his gaze in a rather rough, austere grayscale.

Pictured above: Liu Wei's Library IV, a city carved out of books; this work is in the Mimi Foundation day sale today

I managed to grab a few words with Guy Ullens about the sale and how Western primacy in the art market has been toppled. 'This is a summary of all the things we love, all the artists we love. You can just put all that together and if you never had anything related to Contemporary art, you'd have a little decent collection.'

'Decent' is up for debate, but some big names were represented: Tracey Emin had made a neon, a blue heart with 'The Kiss Was Beautiful' in pink; there was a rather nineteen-tens Sterling Ruby, all Constructivist lines; and Marc Quinn was going to paint the iris of the winner of his lot. There were also some one-liners, like Farhad Moshiri's Tenderness, in which the word is spelled out by knives stuck into a wall.

Now intimately associated with Chinese art, Ullens said it was about time it was recognised: when he started, 'there was an old privileged market, which was the Western one. That's over. Now every area is on its own merits. You can go to Jakarta, Delhi, wherever you want to, and see quality art.'

The first part of the sale raised ’1.35 million, which is enough for three centres to run for three years. The highest price of the evening was for the Prince of Wales' portrait (’302,500).

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Gold! Always believe in your soul etc

Yesterday started with a very pleasant breakfast viewing of the British Museum's Beyond El Dorado: Power and gold in ancient Colombia, hosted by exhibition sponsor Julius Baer. I have to admit I tore round it (to get back to the office, of course), but I could easily go back for more: the intricate, innovative, frankly sublime goldwork is entrancing.

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These pre-conquest societies had such easy access to gold that they could not just use it in a variety of capacities – votive figures, jewellery, large adornments – but also develop a variety of techniques, from smooth, shiny expanses to sheets of gold alloy carefully manipulated and folded into creatures (you must see the jaguar lime flask, pictured above) to delicate filigree.

Speaking of gold, I asked Adam Horowitz, head of Julius Baer in London, how the takeover of Bank of America Merrill Lynch's UK wealth business was going. It would take eighteen months, he said, for full integration, but it was a 'transaction of conviction' which would lead to better client service. Why? 'Because Merrill Lynch decisions were made by a board of seven lawyers and three businesspeople – we are the other way round.'

What is the ancient Colombian word for 'lawyer', do you suppose?

Wednesday

Art fairs visited yesterday: two.

Exhibitions visited: four and a bit.

Number of times Larry Gagosian told me 'I care not to' when I asked him if I could ask him a question: one.

Quote of the day: 'It's horrible, it's torture. Its not a pleasant place to be. Imagine if you were a composer and you had all these other people around you playing at the same time.' Artist Ingar Dragset on why artists don't like art fairs.

I can't give a comprehensive review of Frieze Masters, were such a thing desirable or even possible, but a couple of key trends are noted below. The only thing I think worth adding is a discussion I had at lunch yesterday, at PAD in Berkeley Square, about the future of Frieze Masters, the fair for art before 2000 which opened yesterday afternoon in Regent's Park.

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Pictured above: The billion-dollar crowd waiting to enter Frieze Masters

I was talking to art dealer Laszlo von Vertes about whether he thought Maastricht, the current reigning pre-Contemporary art fair, would keep its crown in the face of Frieze Masters, a sparky competitor in a city people actually want to visit. He said it had been excellent for two decades, but some dealers hadn't done well and were peeling off, and Frieze Masters was of such a standard to attract them. Give it a couple of years, he said.

Sisters are doing it for themselves

One of the major trends noted this week by such eminences as The Art Newspaper is the higher profile and greater presence of female artists. Their lack of representation, plaudits and spotlight has long been a sore spot (well, to everyone but old white men).

This year, the Spotlight section of Frieze Masters, under curator Adriano Pedrosa (Brazilian – see next item), has taken big steps to redressing the balance. (Unintended pun on 'redressing' there.) Spotlight gives 24 galleries the chance to present a single-artist show outside of the main commercial hurly-burly, and this year there were at least ten women, nearly reflecting the actual balance of the population.

(Compare Gagosian's The Show Is Over, on at Britannia Street now: the question I was going to ask Larry G was why there was only one woman in his 35-artist show.)

There were good presentations from Lygia Clarke at Alison Jacques ('One of the most important female – one of the most important artists of the twentieth century', Alison corrected herself) and Anna Oppermann at Galerie Barbara Thumm, with her intricate installations of what look like carefully arranged newspaper clippings. I also liked Irma Blank's word-like scribbles without meaning at P420 and Alice Aycock's large stairway to nowhere at Galerie Thomas Schulte. (What is a stairway without something at the top to reach?)

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But it was a real thrill to see Judy Chicago on Riflemaker's stand. Judy (who has been profiled in Spear's previously) is a key figure in twentieth-century feminist art for The Dinner Party, a huge installation with 39 place settings inspired by feminist icons.

The only problem is, says Judy, that her career almost never recovered from it: 'I was very grateful for all the attention The Dinner Party got me, but it blocked out the rest of my work.' It's only recently that the rest of her career has been attended to. But now, 'It's thrilling. Next year I'm turning 75 and there are going to be exhibitions and shows all over the United States.'

She's thankful to Adriano Pedrosa for doing what should have been done a long time ago: 'This is the first time in my life that being a woman isn't remarkable! I can be an artist among artists,' which is a joyful statement underlaid by long sadness.

Why is this change happening? Chicago credits the rise of younger generation of curators, who have studied feminism, queer theory, racial issues etc at university. So people like Larry Gagosian are dinosaurs? 'Yes!'

Her name was Rio

Latin American art is making its presence felt in London this week; I enjoyed Argentine Alejandro Puente's studies in colour at Henrique Faria Fine Art at Frieze Masters, and the director of Latitude, an organisation promoting Brazilian art, is around town to promote her country's cultural capital. (Latitude is state-funded – hint, hint, Ms Miller.)

But this morning at Victoria Miro's space off an unpromising stretch of the City Road, soon to be towered over by luxury canalside blocks of flats, was one of the best shows I've seen all year. Brazilian Adriana Varejao has produced an exhibition which is both compact and expansive, sympathetic and analytical, limited but open-ended.

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When the census asked Brazilians what colour they were, they got answers like 'Fruity Brown', 'Inky', 'Sweet Mulatto Miss', 'Sun Kissed' and 'Big Black Dude'. Varejao has taken 36 of those names and turned each one into a brownish oil paint (branded as Polvo – Octopus – which shoots ink its own defence). She has then painted her self-portrait using different combinations of these colours for her skin.

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With her free but accurate painting technique, what Varejao has done is to challenge our conceptions of race, the way we categorise people (the fact we feel we have to), the past and future of our societies, even our basic interaction with one another. All of this without grandiose statements or oversize works or shocking outrageousness: she asks her questions quietly, but beautifully and insistently. They're questions we must consider.

NB: Idris Khan downstairs at Victoria Miro is also worth a sight. Look closely is all I'll say.

What a Drag!

Before I went to Victoria Miro (it actually took me two goes because I went to her Mayfair gallery first), I went to the breakfast preview of the V&A's installation by Elmgreen & Dragset. (You may well know E&D from their commission for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square: the boy on the golden rocking horse.)

Tomorrow, their show at the V&A, is a wonder in many ways. When asked by the V&A to take on a commission, they refused to use any of the existing spaces in the gallery (and god knows there are enough of them, new ones appearing each time I visit). But when they were taken into a suite of galleries used as storerooms, they decided they had found their place: a decrepit and derelict and dilapidated space would suit perfectly the story they wanted to tell.

Now the galleries have been done up to resemble a posh mansion flat, with a large sitting room, a modern kitchen, a shadowy bedroom. They have set a very particular scene: they have imagined an eccentric old bachelor, a failed architect, is living out his last days in chill poverty in these rooms, surrounded by beautiful objets and painful mementos. His maquettes are in his study, along with sad old posters and pictures. All is sinister.

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Most of the items have been culled from the V&A's stores to furnish the rooms, and you're allowed – nay, encouraged – to touch them, rifle through the magazines, sit on the already-rumpled bed. There is also plenty of E&D's familiar iconography: the vulture (perched on the bed, ominously), the maid, the rocking boy. As you wander round, you fill in the imaginative space they have left, constructing a story and a portrait at the same time.

The problem I had with Tomorrow is that they give you a script too, which the artists themselves encouraged us to read while we walked around. The script is unoriginal, featuring a bitter old gay man and his younger thrusting rival, and eats into that imaginative space. If I were you, I'd abandon the script entirely.

Briefly noted

Ali Silverstein's collages in surprisingly delicate acrylic paint at Bischoff/Weiss

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Tuesday

Art fairs visited yesterday: one.

Exhibitions visited: seven.

Number of times I've been grabbed by a security guard: one.

Yesterday summed up for me exactly what is perfect about Frieze Week: you can rush from a 2012 video project about how we understand art to an exhibition focusing on Van Gogh's two years in Paris via some National Geographic origami with barely a heartbeat between them.

Now, not everything is of equal quality – Eykyn Maclean's Van Gogh in Paris had some distinctly ropey sub-Impressionists alongside a marvellous Toulouse-Lautrec of a luminous girl staring out of a window. But almost everything is worth seeing.

Killingly good

As predicted yesterday, Asli ’avosoglu's video at the Delfina Foundation in Victoria was well worth the detour. The foundation is in fact two buildings currently being knocked together to offer eight artists work spaces (as the banging and hammering during the videos witnessed).

Filmed at last year's Frieze London and now shown in three 'episodes', Murder in Three Acts has the form of a murder mystery familiar to anyone who's watched the gaudy, improbable science of CSI: someone has been killed at an art fair (which I can entirely understand) and the forensics team have to work out who did it. (Only twenty-thousand-odd suspects.)

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They take swabs of blood, they analyse the spatter patterns, they derive chemical constituents from fragments, they talk in a language which may as well be Tajik.

And this is ’avosoglu's point, she told me up in the attic of the foundation, the reason she wanted to compare forensic scientists and art professionals: 'The parlance of both fields – it's the language of the expert. There's this unique value or meaning; it's somehow unquestionable because it's so constructed.' Long words put amateurs off, in other words.

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Too often 'values and meanings depend on the expert', and worse, they use words from fields like philosophy or sociology without knowing what they are really for, thus 'emptying the meanings'. The language, she says, is 'sometimes super-bullshit'.

So all the forensic chat in Murder in Three Acts is meant to whip past your head, to make you question whether even the expert knows what they mean, or whether they're using language to bluff and bamboozle and conceal their own ignorance.

’avusoglu, who lives and words in Istanbul, had some interesting things to say about censorship in Turkey, which I suggested had been increasing under the tightening Islamic rule of prime minister Erdogan. 'It's been this way for ever, not just under the government. The most affected people are the journalists – we artists were used to that. I know so many Kurdish artists whose works were censored.'

But perhaps, ’avusoglu suggested, it was actually self-censorship – which seems, to me, worse.

And across the hall…

Delfina Entrecanales, who founded the foundation, was giving advice to a young woman who wanted to follow in her footsteps, to give over a building to artists and watch the work flourish.

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Delfina, a spry 86, first gave over space on her farm in England to musicians, but musicians need expensive equipment, so she turned to artists, who are happy with a lot less. First in a former factory in Stratford, then in a former factory in Bermondsey, and now in conjoined houses in Victoria, Delfina has nurtured Jane & Louise Wilson, Tacita Dean, Shirazeh Houshiary, Mark Titchner, Martin Creed, Michael Raedecker, Keith Tyson and Mark Wallinger, ie an entire generation of great British arti



 

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