Nuclear soup and a lack of canapés: Frieze in review

In its own words Frieze London is the “contemporary art event of the year”. Whilst that’s not wrong, Frieze London is also a glorified champagne sponsored social for the all-black-wearing elite of the art world, with a rather disappointing lack of canapés.

In fact, the closest I got to a canapé was the much discussed and vaguely controversial United Brothers’ soup, which contained vegetables flown in from near Fukushima. After a slight hesitation (I wasn’t entirely sure if I should trust an assurance of safety given by a man who owns a chain of tanning salons) in the interest of being a good journalist, I sampled some of “Does this soup taste ambivalent?”. Although I’m not sure if it was ambivalent, it was definitely delicious and at the time of writing this I am alive and well.

PHOTO/Natalie Harney
PHOTO/Natalie Harney

Apart from the plethora of articles questioning whether soup can be art (apparently Warhol wasn’t convincing enough), there hasn’t been much talk of the art at Frieze this year. Instead it’s much easier to find comment on the fair’s attempt to be more accommodating to an influx of Chinese buyers, the wave of contemporary art collectors looking to invest in historic pieces rather than the new, or even the fact that Beyoncé and Jay Z visited – unfortunately just hours after I’d left. But that’s not to say that there isn’t anything worth seeing on show. Most galleries have really stepped up their game and moved away from the dull hanging of large abstracts on off white temporary walls, as has been the fashion these past few years.

PHOTO/Natalie Harney
PHOTO/Natalie Harney

For example, Salon 94’s bright yellow stall and Smile Face Museum offer a fun, if brash, reprieve from the dull and grey. Turner-prize winner Mark Wallinger’s commission for Hauser & Wirth to curate a show inspired by Sigmund Freud’s study allows for conceptual development within a small exhibition space. Kate MacGarry Gallery made their exhibitor’s desk a part of their show with chairs that look like famous faces (I am now one step closer to being able to say I’ve sat in Angel Merkel’s lap). Fluxia even offer you the opportunity to buy your own hyperreal puddle, in case you were worried that the damp patch your umbrella’s left on the floor after running between Frieze Masters and Frieze London won’t last.

The majority of people who aren’t exhibitors, performers, or the press at Frieze aren’t merely dripping from the rain, they’re dripping with cash. I genuinely overheard a conversation that included “1.5 million? Alright, that sounds like a bargain”. But the super-rich are to be expected, who else has the space to display a Damien Hirst tank of 32 formaldehyde suspended fish in their home, let alone the £4million needed to buy one. But, when it costs £30 just to get into the “contemporary art event of the year”, it’s very easy to understand why so many people think art today is inaccessible for ordinary people. And, I think, potentially for the first time I’m going to have to agree with them on this one. Unless you’ve come to buy or sell, Frieze isn’t really made for you. They have made walking around the tents a far more pleasant experience, gone are the overly bright fluorescent lights and narrow spaces between stalls. But that doesn’t stop it being an overwhelming experience if you haven’t gone in with a purpose; intimidating even, if you haven’t gone in with a large enough wallet. Frieze is a spectacle, a fete of artistic wonders, but it’s really an industry event rather than a great public exhibition.

Go and see the sculpture park in Regents Park, for free. Visit one of the 160 galleries exhibiting on your own terms and actually see what they have to offer, for free. Spend some time exploring the masses of shows put on to coincide with the fair all across London, for free. Don’t feel you have to go to Frieze, just because it’s Frieze. It may be “The Event of The Year”, but it’s not necessarily the best, and it’s certainly not the only – I mean, there weren’t even any canapés.