Frieze London 2016

“And then there are the marquees, which you return to again and again, which signal an event but don’t carry any information.” It’s as though Liam Gillick is speaking directly to me, rather than Philippe Parreno, as I read their interview from my free copy of Frieze Week on the train back to Stoke. “They’re totally meaningless objects that occupy a nice space between the floor and the ceiling, a place where you don’t usually see art,” Parreno jumps in and continues, oscillating a light on my feelings towards the white giant I’ve left residing in Regents Park, even if Parreno’s marquees are very different to Frieze’s. The article, discussing both artists latest venture together, forms part of an internal monologue that happens to me every year around this time, usually two weeks before Frieze London opens and two minutes after I leave, having given in and attended; should I go next year? Do I value this experience as an artist? Standing in line for my lunch alongside a French mime artist and a man wearing an outfit costing more than my annual income was an experience I found weirdly valuable. But between the mass of quinoa, flaxseed and kale salads, freshly pressed smoothies and metabolism boosting cayenne shots strutting back to gallerists desks in stylish paper bags, there was something overly McDonalds that lingered around the event in the tent. It was that ‘Big Mac blues’ feeling, a short moment of enjoyment followed by a slightly dirty, guilty conscience, trying to justify it was good for you because that portion of lettuce counts towards your five a day. Or maybe that’s just me.

 It’s not that Frieze left a bad taste this year, it didn’t, by now you know what to expect at these things; there was some good work on display by some great artists; Francis Upritchard, Katie Paterson and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd to name a few of my favourites on show. However, this is always paralleled with art that you feel was made especially for ‘power’ art fairs like this; a big name, a big gallery, something to match the décor or to talk about at the next dinner party. I often find the crowds more interesting than some of the art. It still manages to give a sense of what the market is buying though, even if it’s a market that you feel cares less about art and more about investments. The work becomes a material, a product, and as gallerists (or fancy shop keepers in this case) are only interested in talking to buyers, a purely opening night phenomena, your access to an artworks inner workings or why a collection of artists have been intentionally shown together is limited. Context seems irrelevant here, and as art is about context, pick and mix exhibitors rarely get it right.

 In general, the most successful galleries were the ones who chose to remove as much of the trade fair element from their stands as possible, leaving the best of the gallery storeroom at home and creating exhibition like spaces. None were more successfully than Project 88 with the work of Neha Choksi on display, her insight into materiality linked with sublime experience was my undoubted highlight of the fair.

 Frieze, like every city it visits, is inextricably linked with that city, in name, geography and ultimately it’s philosophy, and that could be part of Frieze’s London’s problem; it’s so what London has become. Not that London is bad, it’s not, it’s a great city, but when combined with Frieze, and its questionable, ‘how much tax do these buyers avoid?’ clientele, it becomes a kind of symbol of distasteful wealth, being sold a lie and an unintentional irony of artistic mutton dressed as lamb.

 The return to the nineties this year at Frieze saw some iconic work, Wolfgang Tillmans (always great to see, and my second highlight of the fair), Carsten Höller, Richard Billingham and more, some having more relevance than others in 2016. However, with a few exceptions, it mostly felt like an attempted Spice Girls reunion for a corporate event, only without Mel B and with Geri being replaced by Hyacinth Bouquet, a kind of rehash, with a ‘lets forget about that YBA business, who knew there were other artists we could make money out of from back then?’ feel about it all.

I think what bothers me most is that everyone seems happy to go along with the game and that it often looks within it’s own circles for guidence rather than outwards. Organisations such as Frieze need fresh blood to keep their wheels greased, yet the fair seems to promote a type of propaganda, whether consciously or unconsciously, of how artistic success should be, that ultimately hurts the grassroots of art making and encourages a divide. Gregor Muir, executive director of the ICA spoke out two weeks before Frieze claiming “Contemporary art is struggling to address real events in the art world right now” which illustrates that this isn’t exclusive to Frieze, it’s a systematic divide, when people of influence seem unable to see an art world outside of institutes and of work that isn’t highly priced, or even priced at all, until it’s pointed out to them. 

Maybe my angst is being indirectly pointed at Freize, any chance to see a Caulfield or a Turk in person is always worthwhile. Maybe I don’t realise I’m holding my viewfinder over a much larger picture of recent times where world wide political systems have shown their crooked workings and division is winning word of the year. It’s not that I want to be critical of Frieze, I’m certainly not of the artists and galleries that exhibit there; if I could sell at Frieze then I probably would! The opportunity that Frieze opens up to galleries allows them to stay afloat in a highly competitive lions den, and more galleries means more opportunities for artists and arts employment. Frieze Projects and the array of insightful artist talks they provide do redeem it somewhat, but do I have to feel as though I’m selling my soul when I visit?

Something needs to change; the people buying into these fairs (either intellectually or financially) will get bored of this same format. Even if visitor numbers still continue to increase year on year, like any profitable business it’s main interest is in who’s buying and keeping them buying. In this scenario there’s an overwhelming sense of the system in the driving seat and that’s what I can’t get past. Art has always held truths within it and this event takes that away. Art drives art, process leads to work which leads to process, but something beautiful feels as though it is being corrupted here. I may put forward a proposal to Frieze, that next year I take guided tours around the fair in a gondola, dressed as a venetian gondolier as my latest work, hoping that in trying to convince art tourists they are at the Venice Biennale they will see Frieze, by contrast, for what it actually is; a commercial enterprise, full fat Big Mac consumerism, being masked as a cultural beacon.

Selfie in Doug Aitken's 'Hot Mess: Aperture Series' 2016

Selfie in Doug Aitken's 'Hot Mess: Aperture Series' 2016

My visit to Frieze London 2016 was made possible thanks to Turning Point West Midlands 

British Art Show 8...

Recently I was fortunate enough to receive the Turning Point West-Midlands artist development bursary to visit the British Art Show 8 at Leeds Art Gallery and to write a short report on my findings.

Here is my report:

Since it’s conception, the British Art Show has brought together the concerns and practices of both emerging and established artists from the British art scene, in all its imaginings, every 5 years. Standing side by side in this years incarnation, British Art Show 8, artists newer to a general public such as Rachel Maclean and Jesse Wine sit alongside more recognised names like Ryan Gander, Ciara Phillips and Turner Prize winner Laure Prouvost, exhibiting new, old and specially commissioned work, all selected by the curatorial due of Anna Colin and Lydia Yee.

The voices of the curators can be heard at the beginning of the exhibitions stylishly printed catalogue where the roots of the show, the object, are made aware to the viewer. “At a time of increasing convergence between the real and the virtual,” it is appropriate for the show to have a sense of responsibility and back up its insight by framing the exhibition through re-evaluated objects, things and materials “and view them in terms of their transformative potential,” which it does accurately, even if it is a little unmoving at times.

 After walking through the gallery several times, passing the shell of a mini cooper, patchwork animal skins and poster lined walls, the show begins to display its real understanding of practice and concern in contemporary British art; the relationship between artist, curator and exhibition. Despite taking many forms throughout art history, the prominent rise and power of the curator in recent years has led an ever-increasing transitional situation for this trio to cohabit. In fact, the transformative potential of the object, stated in the catalogue, is only paralleled by that of the curator. Selecting the 42 artists like materials to convey a sense of the shifting, confusing state of 21st century sapiens, unknowing of their reliance on contemporary phenomena and broadening sense of materiality, both Colin and Yee’s choices give a successful general estimation of the ripples in current British Art.

 However, this success is transmitted most prominently through the shows video work. Although other mediums in the show provide a sense of the curator’s focus, as I looked around the gallery, the visual seriousness of most seem to drown some viewers with blank expressions, but thankfully the shows intent isn’t to please everyone. The real star of the show, and most notable video work, is Rachel Maclean. Her stylised, multi-character theatrics exploring the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood and conversely the infiltration of infant behaviour in adulthood is inspired. It is rare to see an artist video screening as heaving as a cinema, and even rarer to witness viewer’s stay for the entire duration of the film, but this maybe an indication of the interest of ‘Feed Me,’ directing the consciences to very modern consumer desires and their ultimate consequences. Along with Maclean, an artist who has come to increased recognition in the past 5 years is Bedwyr Williams, whose video piece embodies everything good about his practice. ‘Century Egg’ speculates conclusions future archaeologists might deduct from an average drinks party. Twinned with this are clips of from the Cambridge Consortium of Museum, narrated in Williams’ unmistakable style, seeming to converse with how both seemingly banal and awe-inspiring artefacts are housed together in museums. With its humour and sense of relevance, Williams delivers yet another inventive works of recent times.

 Representing the work and practices throughout British art from the last 5 years is more of an endless venture than a difficult one, having said this, Colin and Yee demonstrate an interesting, albeit vague, take on the conversations around materiality and mergence of the real and virtual world in contemporary British Art. It is an exhibition that takes several visits to appreciate fully, although the lack of visual stimulation throughout the show could make this tasking for some. Whether the art on display is truly representational is questionable, but the exhibition goes along way in developing new discussions in British art, which can only be positive. 

Jesse Wine

Jesse Wine

Bedwyr Williams

Bedwyr Williams

Ciara Phillips

Ciara Phillips

Venice Biennale...

Some pics from my trip to Venice for the biennale. Joåo Louro, James Beckett, Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho, Simon Denny and Camille Norment were my particular favourites this time around. More on my instagram - @adamgruning