Art fairs are strange places and Frieze, as the world’s leading contemporary art fair, is perhaps the strangest of them all. In October each year over 160 galleries and thousands of well-dressed fair-goers, including collectors, art world luminaries, journalists, first-time buyers and young artists from around the world descend upon London’s Regent’s Park for four days of air kissing, Instagramming and presumably, cheque-writing. With such a blinding amount to see, it can be an overwhelming experience and one can easily get swept up in a monied tide of coats draped over shoulders.
What makes Frieze somewhat disorientating is that everything exists within this commercial vacuum, and unlike an exhibition where you can draw out meaning and relationships between work on display, things in art fairs tend to present themselves as decorative objects more than anything else. Here, for those who aren’t sure where to start, we’ve picked out a handful of things to make a beeline for.
ÅYR: P1, Frieze Projects
Each year as part of Frieze London a series of specially commissioned artworks, which fall under the umbrella of Frieze Projects, are created for the fair. This year’s programme sees seven new immersive works inspired by Frieze’s temporary structure and curated by Nicola Lees. The first of these is a series of bedrooms created by ÅYR, the art collective of Architectural Association graduates also behind the Airbnb Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale: Fabrizio Ballabio, Alessandro Bava, Luis Ortega Govela and Octave Perrault. For P1 they have built a series of interconnecting pastel-hued, “smart” bedrooms between two of the fair’s tents with embroidered duvets, multiple outlets to charge your phone and streams of both warm and cool air. Essentially a chill-out space within the fair, it looks at the blurred lines between work and pleasure, and has a similar ambience to the waning hours of a house party.
Samara Scott: Lonely Planet II, The Sunday Painter
One of the most surprising things about this glittering piece by London artist Samara Scott is that it’s actually a pool of water. Like much of her work, Lonely Planet II is incredibly textural and resourceful, incorporating everything from sequins to toothpaste to wine glasses to sea shells. Somehow both beautiful and upon closer inspection, strangely repellent, it’s far less haphazard than it appears, taking Samara weeks in her studio trying out combinations. As a wry visual commentary on consumer culture among other things, it’s not unlike scenes in The Great Gatsby detailing the aftermath of a lavish party. It is also a living work that continues to change and react, almost like a petri dish of material culture.
Ken Kagami: Portrait Session, Misako & Rosen Tokyo
This humorous, light-hearted live drawing session with Ken Kagami has reams of people queuing for their few seconds with the Japanese artist. Fair-goers are invited to stand for a free portrait drawn by Ken, who imaginatively sketches the more discreet parts of one’s body. Ken, sitting there in a baseball cap adorned with a plush 3D penis and breasts, and with a bra and a pair of pants strewn at his feet, has the silent air of a mischievous mystic. It feels a little like having your fortune told, only someone is drawing the rather more personal parts of your anatomy instead.
Nina Beier, Laura Bartlett Gallery
Danish artist Nina Beier’s mixed-media work is bold and often remarkably simple. Whether a wall painting that was redone daily, a mosaic of ceramic tiles printed with different textures or her continued use of beautiful frames, much of her work is about playing with representation. A series of four recent works at Frieze using wigs continues in a similar vein. For these pieces, Nina has cut, styled and died human hair wigs before flattening and framing them in pale pink frames, turning objects into images. They’re eerie but intriguing and well-executed.
Jeremy Herbert: P5, Frieze Projects
Jeremy Herbert’s commission for Frieze Projects is the most incisive work Frieze has to offer, perhaps because it quite literally reveals the physical underpinnings of the temporary structure. Drawing on his experience creating experimental theatre sets, the artist has built a tunnel down to a dark, wistful underground space beneath the fair. Filled with the rush of cool air and the sound of the sea, the dark space looks out at a seemingly endless expanse of scaffolding holding the tents up and the grass blowing in the wind. It’s a thoughtful and plaintive installation that physically and quite dramatically pulls you out out of the cool, commercial headspace of the fair above.