Friday, 16 November 2012

Why Frieze left me frozen

(Originally published on FAD on 19 Oct 2012)

I don’t like it.
There, I’ve said it.
And I may well be the only person to say it because everyone I speak to thinks it’s great.

This year was my third time going to the fair and as I walked around, I tried to put my finger on what exactly it is that I don’t like. Initially I thought that maybe it was because I was viewing it on my own and that perhaps the reason I enjoyed Art Basel Miami Beach so much was because I walked around with different friends, discussing the artworks as we went.

But then I remembered that I went to Art Hong Kong on my own and I liked that, so that theory doesn’t hold. Hmm.

There’s something about Frieze London that feels like a massive art car boot fair. Although obviously not like The Art Car Boot Fair, held in the summer down Brick Lane. That’s great. Frieze just feels a bit jumbled, and with the galleries squeezing as many different artists into their booths as they can, walking around feels like an endurance test.

Even this year’s Frieze Projects didn’t rock my boat. While I enjoyed Pierre Huyghe’s aquarium last year (featuring the hermit crab which had adopted the Brancusi head for its shell), this year I felt they were a bit lacking. Perhaps it was the day I went (Friday). While earlier visitors had witnessed the autopsy of a curator made of cake as part of Ash Çavuşoğlu’s Murder in Three Acts, when I was there, the space just resembled a film set with actors and crew standing around. And that’s the thing with film sets…glamorous in theory but dull as hell in reality. Perhaps that was the point. But I wasn’t there to witness banality.

In a fit of frustration, I decided to leave, figuring I could whizz up to Frieze Masters, check that out, decide that was crap too, and be done with the lot of it. I stomped up the steps into the Frieze Masters tent and then stopped.
It was completely different.
And incredibly tranquil.

Which is not to say that it was lacking in visitors – it wasn’t – though there certainly weren’t as many people marching up and down the aisles. There was a completely different vibe there. Many of the dealers hosted condensed solo shows, turning the visitor’s experience into a mini museum walk. And indeed, the fair had a huge number of visitors from international museums and other art institutes.

Personal favourites included Richard Avedon at the Gagosian, Roberto Chabet at Osage Gallery (an amazing gallery in Hong Kong that I’ve been a fan of for many years) and Sanja Iveković’s performance pieces at Espaivisor Gallery.

I also quite liked that a couple of galleries had invested in beautiful packing crates that also doubled as plinths and frames for the artworks, such as at Bacarelli Botticelli Gallery and Koetser Gallery.

The gallery owners all seemed to be in good form, laughing and joking, pretending to run after clients and gossiping about the whereabouts of Steve Wynn (the multi-millionaire casino owner who famously put his elbow through one of his own Picassos). All very relaxed and not uppity, as the Masters classification could have given them cause to be. In fact, the weirdest part of Frieze Masters was how personable everyone was.

And maybe that’s why I didn’t like Frieze London compared with all the other big fairs and their satellite counterparts. You end up leaving it with the feeling that you were never really wanted there in the first place. But at least I’ve found myself a new home at Frieze Masters. Now where did I put my wallet?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Writing myself to sleep

The desire to write coupled with the desire to sleep leads to a decided change in my handwriting. Normally, I can barely control my pen – struggling to keep up with the rapids pouring from my mind. I find myself dropping letters, writing words in the wrong order and merging a series of letters into one curious symbol. It’s not dyslexia – just a case of the physical process letting down the mental process. But now, I look at my handwriting in the paragraph I’ve just written and think “My! How legible.”
And how lacking in passion and enthusiasm.
But it’s fine.

I’m just terribly, terribly tired and yearn to peel off my clothes and discard them in a pile on my bedroom floor before sliding into bed.

This is how I know I’m tired – the idea of clothes on the floor is abhorrent to me, but right now, the prospect of hanging them on the back of my chair, or worse, transferring some to the laundry basket, seems as challenging as climbing Everest.

Anyway, I can’t sleep. I’m not even at home. It’s 3.45pm in the afternoon and I’m sat writing in a café because I’m killing time before meeting my friend at the National Gallery. And we have to go today because the show is closing soon, and it’s the only time we’re both free, and two of my friends specifically recommended it, and I’m already starting to feel crushed by the weight of guilt bearing down on my shoulders, and I don’t know why I feel guilty, because I’m still going, right? I haven’t cancelled, but now I’m starting to feel bad, like somehow I don’t value it enough, or won’t appreciate it enough, or that the presence of my semi-somnambulant self in the gallery is somehow going to poison the whole show.

Oh that’s it. I just can’t bear to think about it anymore, I’m going and that’s that but I really am going to spoil it for myself because I’m already trying to calculate in my head how long I think it will take me to get around the exhibition, which is a bad thing to think, but I’m just so desperate to crawl into bed. On the plus side, an earlier email from my friend has suggested that he too is in need of an early night so perhaps he will be amenable to me gently nudging him towards the bus after the exhibition, towards our own separate beds.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Globetrotting in the name of art

OK, maybe it's just an excuse to take more holidays but I have been doing quite a bit of travel to look at pretty pictures in the past few months. In May I went to Hong Kong to check out ARTHK and worked extremely hard writing articles for FAD everyday. You can check them out here. In June I went to Kassel to check out Documenta and wrote just one article, which I've pasted below for your reading pleasure. (It's still on for another month so head out to Germany and see it because it won't be on again for another five years!) And in July I went to the Kiev Biennale and lazily decided not to write anything at all (but in summary, it wasn't particularly exciting and all the big pieces had previously been exhibited elsewhere so there was no "shock of the new" in Ukraine this summer). Wonder what I'll go see this autumn...

Documenting the Documenta

“What? Those stones? Oh yeah, they’re from the Joseph Beuys’ project called 7,000 Oak Trees. Yeah. Such an amazing gift to our city. He planted the trees and put those stones beside each one, about 20, 30 years ago. You know, if you have to move a tree, for construction or something like that, you have to put up another tree with a stone beside it somewhere, you know, so the number always stays at 7,000.”

This was my introduction to the power of Documenta – an art event held every five years in Kassel, a city located slap bang in the middle of Germany. Because these words weren’t being sprouted by someone leading one of the numerous art tours arranged during the exhibition, they were coming from my taxi driver. And I wondered (Carrie Bradshaw style), how many taxi drivers around the world could speak so knowledgeably about an artist like Beuys?

It’s hard to sum up this art behemoth in so few words because it’s vaguely similar in scale to the Venice Biennale, in that there are art works are dotted all around the city as well as in the eight or so main gallery spaces. Featuring over 150 artists from around 55 countries, this is a comprehensive and indeed academic look at the current state of art. While the gallery owners and collectors were naturally hovering around, there was a general feeling that this was art for art’s sake, and not just another retail experience.

Of course, without a commercial focus, the event was free to showcase more “difficult” pieces – i.e. lots of video art, performance art, lectures as art and text. There was a lot of text. Which was kind of a treat, as it meant you were able to quickly brush up on an artist you may not have previously been familiar with. However it also meant you could easily spend an entire afternoon just reading about the works of a handful of artists.

It was impossible to cram everything in during my three days there, but I did manage to cover quite a lot of ground. Here are my recommendations for how to manage Documenta and some key artworks you definitely shouldn’t miss.

My top 5 things to see at Documenta (13), in no particular order:
·         Nedko Solakov – Knights (and other dreams) – Brüder Grimm Museum. This is hilarious – Solakov explores his fictitious dream of wanting to be a knight – and hides lots of witty comments among his exhibition (in a similar humour to David Shrigley)
·         Tino Sehgal – Grand City Hotel Hessenland (but entrance via Hugenottenhaus). You walk into a pitch black room. You can hear singing and feel things moving around you. How big is the room? Are there other people in there with you? Can you make it out without wetting yourself?
·         Horst Hoheisel – Aschrott Fountain – Obere Königstrasse. This art work wasn’t made for this Documenta, but there are events taking place there during it. A great example of why you should explore an art work in depth. What looks like a boring grill on the street with water running around it transpires to be a fountain that has been built upside down so it goes into the ground. You can look down through the grills to see the structure. Incredible.
·         Fiona Hall – Fall Pray – Karlsaue. One of the temporary huts in the massive Karlsaue park houses the work of Fiona Hall. She has made a number of animals in danger of extinction out of camouflage materials. The Japanese cat reminded me of Behemoth – the cat from Complicite Theatre’s version of The Master and Margarita.
·         Kader Attia – Repair of the Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures – Fridericianum. This installation compares and contrasts facial disfigurements with decorative facial augmentation – for example a man with a damaged lip beside a man with a decorative lip plate.

Top Space: Neue Galerie. This venue had lots of interesting art works. I particularly liked the work by Geoffrey Farmer, Maria Martins, Susan Hiller, Zanele Muholi and Roman Ondák.

Top tips:
1.       Get the free map with the participants as this lists all the works in the main venues and those in the satellite locations.
2.       If you have an interest in art, then it’s worth investing €24 in the official guidebook. This features a page of text (in German and English) and a full page photo for every artist in Documenta (13) and is a great source of background information on each artist.
3.       Hire a bike. It’s only 50c per half hour and it’s a great way to view all the art works in Karlsaue, which has around 60 works of art dotted around it, as the park is slightly bigger than Hyde Park in London.
4.       Take your time, go for a week! There’s lots to see, and you’ll appreciate it more if you’re not rushing around.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

My favourite photo from Art Basel Miami Beach

I'm mainly reposting this article about Art Basel Miami Beach that I wrote for RWD and G-Shock because I love this photo taken by Wayne Chisnall (click to enlarge). It didn't make the cut for either publication because there were other images that were more suited to their readership, so I've decided to showcase it here. It features work by Yinka Shonibare at two different galleries' booths and I love the way the girl from James Cohan's booth reaches out to the dresses displayed on Stephen Friedman's booth. I asked Jim if the two galleries had arranged the display between them, but apparently not - it was just a lucky coincidence. So here's the photo and below is my original article. Enjoy.

For the love of art

“I want that one”. No, I’m not quoting Little Britain’s Andy Pipkin. I’m quoting P. Diddy. Well, no. I’m not quoting him either, I’m just imagining that’s what he said. Or maybe he said “Puffy wants that one”, as these stars are often enamoured with using the third person singular when talking about themselves.

In any case, the “one” in question was a piece of art by Tracey Emin, the British artist who caused many an eye-roll when she was nominated for the Turner Prize for her installation My Bed. Diddy opted for a more conservative neon piece which reads: “I Listen to the Ocean and All I Hear is You”. And thus opened December’s Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) and all who sailed in her.

This was the tenth anniversary of the international art fair, which sees galleries from around the world exhibiting their wares for all to savour. Attracting collectors, dealers (of the art kind), celebrities, and art lovers, the fair showcased a number of great British artists, including Anish Kapoor, Bridget Riley, Yinka Shonibare, Anthony Gormley, Sarah Lucas, Ryan Gander, Julian Opie, Gilbert and George, Damian Hirst, Gary Hume, and on and on the list goes.

To tie in with the behemoth that was ABMB, satellite art fairs scattered themselves across Miami, hoping to woo collectors who think spending $3.75m on a bronze spider by Louise Bourgeois is just a tad excessive with some fractionally more affordable work.

The Scope Art Fair had lots of treats in store for visitors, including Ron English’s original painting for Chris Brown’s F.A.M.E. album cover, a large display of work by Belgian street artist Roa, and a helpful road sign by LA-based artist Desire Obtain Cherish reminded visitors to “watch your dubstep”.

Out on the not-so-mean streets of Wynwood, graffiti artists were busy at work painting walls as the fair rolled on. Two highlights were Retna’s wall and the collaboration between Remi Rough and LX One at Graffuturism.

But there was much, much more to see. It’s hard to condense five days of non-stop art viewing into a synopsis. Weep for me, dear reader, I didn’t even make it to the beach. And all for the love of you. And art. Obviously. Or else that would be a bit weird.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

To Venice, with love...

So last year I headed out to Venice for the opening of the 2011 Biennale with artist Wayne Chisnall, who also played the role of official photographer for the piece I wrote for RWD.

It was an unforgettable week. The art, the people, and the city itself collectively made me swoon. And Wayne photographed me looking like a criminal in the mafia-themed section of the Italian pavilion (which I really liked even though many art critics panned it), so that was a highlight. Below is the article I wrote:

Image is nothing. Thirst is everything.

How to tackle the 54th Venice Biennale if you have an undying
thirst for art? That was our question before, during and after this year’s event. I had five days to see the art at 89 international participants’ pavilions (each country has its own venue to display work of its choosing), 37 official collateral events, and a ton of other additional arty events. Oh, and did I mention the parties? They were a conundrum in their own right, as whichever one you attended, you were consumed by the fear that you were missing out on a better one elsewhere.

Photographer Wayne Chisnall and I spent most of the first morning queuing to pick up our press passes, little knowing that queuing was to be a constant theme during our time there. What to see first? A lot of people had been hyping the British pavilion, so we thought we should probably aim for that. And lo, there was a long snaking queue in front of it and we were informed that we would have to wait for around two hours to get in. We decide to leave that until later and head for the official opening of the Japanese pavilion. Free food and wine. Yes please.

Or no thank you as it turned out. Never have I witnessed such a scrum for canapés, with people literally shoving one another out of the way to snatch a piece of bread. Then I spy with my little eye something beginning with P. Prosecco. At the German pavilion. Much less chaos (god bless the Germans). We grab a drink while a friend gets chatting to people, asking them if they’re going to see the Anglo-Japanese thrash metal band Bo Ningen. They inform him that they’re not Japanese, but Korean. Cue long round of apologies.

The Koreans actually had one of the best pavilions, featuring sculptures of robots, a video of soldiers dressed in flower camouflage moving through a set filled with plastic flowers, and more video installations projected within mirrors. They also had people dressed as soldiers who cunningly headed to the US pavilion to create an excellent photo opportunity for themselves as they posed in front of the upturned tank, which featured an athlete running on a treadmill on top of the tanks’ tracks.

Highlights inside the US space included an ATM connected to an organ which played music when people made withdrawals. Never have I seen so many people allowing themselves to be photographed while using a bank machine. Every hour, a gymnast would also appear to do somersaults and flips over the installation of replica flatbed airline seats.

The enormous queues eventually forced us out of the main sites of the Giardini and Arsenale and into Venice itself, where the more recent entrants into the Biennale were situated. Luxembourg had an incredible show reminiscent of a fairground’s hall of mirrors. 2011 newcomers Bangladesh and Haiti showcased interesting work, Iraq returned following a 20-year absence with a strong show, while Azerbaijan attracted interest by being the first pavilion to ever have work covered up by its own authorities (and sadly to Western eyes, the work really wasn’t that controversial).

All in all, it was a hectic time, as I managed to tick 59 pavilions off my list. But in true Biennale style, now that I’m back in the UK, the fear has descended. I’m left wondering, what did I miss out on seeing? So go! It’s on until November and there’s a lot to see. Just don’t tell me that the ones I missed were the best ones. I just might cry.