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Frieze Art Week: art as sweet as pie

Last week in London was Frieze Art Week. A week seen as one big spectacle for contemporary art. This year for the 15th time. Collectors, enthusiasts and the market, everyone comes together. Moreover, the Frieze Art Fair is seen internationally as one of the most important indicators of the market in contemporary art. 

From millimetres to square metres

Frieze -as a magazine- once founded by art critics has now established itself at the top of the market with its art fairs. For a long time, Frieze was the fair to look for the latest trends and the new emerging names in contemporary art. The place where the pick of collectors flock to add to their collection. The place where the new batch of 'pain-staking' art selected by top galleries is presented.

Frieze Art Fair 2017, Focus section. Night Gallery booth overview. Photo courtesy Mark Bowler

Regent Park as a palace of art

In Regent Park, Frieze has now grown into an entire village. An art circus that descends on the park. Divided into two venues, the 'Art Fair' and the 'Frieze Masters' -where ancient with modern art is presented - and the temporary sculpture park in between. Both fair halls are built up over the undulating park landscape. Nevertheless, the fairs have the disposal of an almost entirely ground-level fairground. Despite the crowds, there is a serene atmosphere. The fair stands are reasonably large in size and the layout is clear and light.

Frieze Art Fair 2017. Discussion of a work. Photo courtesy Van Gerven

Art hotspot

During Frieze Art Week, London really does become the art hotspot of the world for a while. Especially since numerous other art events are organised in London at the same time then. Every institution or platform tries to take advantage of the momentum. The city is filled with art, art buyers and art sellers. Everyone wants to contribute a brick or a stone. In short, London really is the hub of the contemporary art scene for a while during Frieze Art Week.

Frieze Art Fair 2017. Anne Ryan: A Barbarian at the Gate, Paint-on-cardboard, 150 parts Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

Again those 'oldies'

Is the 15th Frieze an indication of how the contemporary art market is looking today? It is fair to say that this year, galleries did not put the buying public over the top. In terms of supply and pricing, it was mainly the 'oldies' here who managed to win over buyers with prices up to around 1 to 1.5 million. We note that buyers were not overcharged and most of the works shown were of a modest size: "Small and proven beautiful".

Frieze Art Fair 2017. Betty Woodman: Wallpaper-glaze-earthenware-epoxy-resin-lacquer-acrylic-paint. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

With the wide offer, traders were playing 'safe' this time after the disappointing results of 2016. This enticed the positively inclined buying public to make many impulse purchases. During the preview day, shoppers had already struck it big at some galleries.

Frieze Masters 2017. Enrico Baj, booth overview. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

'Young' is much less pronounced

A positively spirited fair, then, that thrived heavily on the proven quality of its offerings. The 'Focus' part of the fair, where younger galleries presented their offerings, benefited much less from the positive mood. Their offerings were also less pronounced and less compelling. Possibly partly fitting with the obscure nature of contemporary art today. Presented work mostly fitted into the structure of existing disciplines. Few presentations showed video or multimedia work, for example. Developments here seem to move in all directions. A tenor of a broader general picture of the times, which not only dominates today's art. Just look at the wrangling around the progress, or lack thereof, of the Brexit negotiations. Being 'in limbo' kun you so see it as a picture of the present time.

Frieze Art Fair 2017. Sex Work section. Dorothy Iannone: Ewig Grün. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

Sex Work

Feelings of what I then call a kind of 'nostalgia for days gone by', were compounded by the special 'insert' with what I consider the silly title 'Sex Work'. A special presentation around the work of women artists from the 1970s-tig years. Work created in the atmosphere of the time. Work that focuses attention on the 'new achievements' of the sexual freedom felt so strongly at the time. All of them work with a distinct character and of a clarity rarely seen in contemporary art today.

Frieze Art Fair 2017. Sex Work section. Dorothy Iannone: Friends Exhibition, 1970, photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

'Sex Work: Feministic Art & Radical Politics' is curated by independent curator and researcher Alison M. Gingeras. The section features nine solo presentations by female artists. Artists who worked at the edges of the developing feminist practice in the 1970s and '80s. Of course focusing on one of my heroes Dorothy Iannone. Enlightening was the applied timeline with salient events. This explained what the work of these artists at the time did not unleash. The explicit nature caused unrest at the time. Something that severely limited display or appreciation of these works. Iannone shows this beautifully in her work 'A Friends Exhibition'.

Now-forty-five years later-we seem to be reacting to issues surrounding the portrayal of sexuality almost as cut up again as we did then. Some of these works, fortunately, will now find their way into museum collections. Because of their revaluation and to fill in the gaps that had previously emerged.

Frieze Art Fair 2017. Mounira-Al-Solh: I-Strongly-Believe-in-Our-Right-to-be-Frivolous, the embroidered series 2017. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

Women in art

Female artists were thankfully abundantly present at this edition and so, in addition to Iannone's work, I saw, for example, beautiful works by the sadly already deceased Anne Ryan and by the still 'going strong' old grande dame Betty Woodman. To my surprise, I also saw the work of Mounira-Al-Solh, whom I met with her work at the Documenta in Athens earlier this year.

Frieze Masters 2017. Peter Blake's West London studio. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

Frieze Masters

At the 'Masters', 'Waddington and Custot' had taken the trouble to highlight Peter Blake in a special way. By transferring part of the London studio in its entirety to the exhibition stand. Wonderful how visitors respond to such a 'studio visit'.
Not far from this stand, Luxembourg & Dayan/Gio Marconi had set up an attractive presentation featuring the work of Enrico Baj. Therefore, at the Frieze Masters alone, there was again a lot to see, which made it worthwhile.

Frieze Masters 2017. Peter Blake's West London studio. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

Making you nervous?

The Frieze has a high Tefaf content and manages to create a pleasant atmosphere in these presentations set up as a temporary exhibition hall. Some 290 galleries were represented at this year's Frieze Art Fair together with the Frieze Masters. Moreover, a year with an offer, which mainly relied on the work of proven artists. Again, mainly the 'oldies'.

A wide and, in price, highly varied offer. With that, this time perhaps a less tantalising but more nervous offer. An offer of fine and already proven work, can force greedy collectors to push their pain threshold. This is then mainly on the basis of pain in the financial component. Perhaps it was also a year where there were opportunities for the younger entrants, the 'young collectors' to snatch a splendid work and add it to their collection.

Frieze Masters 2017. Publication Enrico Baj. Photo courtesy Van Rijnberk

Art and market

Today's contemporary art seeks a path to the buyer. Because without the market, there are no earnings and no chance of perpetuating an artist's practice. Having said that, it remains to be seen whether young galleries coming out at this fair will be able to hold their own with their participation in the expensive, high-profile art fair. Especially if the overall character of the Frieze becomes more conservative. Will the Frieze then attract the right audience to acquire this new emerging art? The Frieze itself has proved to be a keeper. The Frieze has gained a challenge, though, if it wants to maintain its previous refreshing character.

Jan-Willem van Rijnberk

Visual Artist with an interest in leisure, heritage, and sustainabilityView Author posts

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