Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Frieze Week Diary, Signing Off!

After a week of cultural overload, the weekend was going to be no different. Gallivanting from a 100 hour art marathon in Southwark, to a poetry marathon at the Serpentine, brought a week of art mayhem to calm close.

Friday night saw the opening of 70+ ARTISTS 100+ HOURS, part of the PLUS series of exhibitions curated by several curatorial groups. The idea for this project was good: for over 100 non stop hours, PLUS occupy an empty warehouse in Southwark, transforming it into an exhibition and meeting space showcasing the work of over 70 international artists. Open for 24 hours/day until Tuesday at 9pm. Despite the Herculian effort to show the work of many artists – I couldn’t help but feel somehow the execution just didn’t quite pay off. Unsure of the need of a 24 hour gallery, the focus of the project was unclear, amongst a mania to keep people entertained through burlesque performances and bands. However, the effort that had been put in to this show to organise over seventy artists has to be admired and the turn-out for the opening certainly adhered to this.

Disappointed I had missed the Kate McGarry opening on Saturday, I was ready by Sunday to power through the bitter cold for the Serpentine Poetry Marathon. Held in the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2009, designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa; where for the last four years, the Serpentine have hosted a marathon of some sort over Frieze weekend, 2008’s Manifesto Marathon was a hard act to follow. Hans Ulrich Obrist – announced this week as the most powerful man of the art world – curated an exciting mix of poetry acts and readings, from dancing poems to rap.

Gerhard Rühm grabbed the audience’s attention with his sound poems and in particular, his ‘Breath Poem’. Whilst Rühm quietly breathed in to the microphone with increasing intervals, the entire audience was spellbound. Then joined by Monika Lichtenfeld, the two read in German the steps to four dances: Sprech Tanze, the Foxtrot, Viennese Walse and the Tango. Rühm and Lichtenfeld were perfectly synched and were followed by appreciative applause.

Next was Liliane Lijn's Game. In 1970 Lijn created a deck of 54 word cards and invented three games to play with them: a game of power, a game of poetry and a game of divination. With four volunteers from the audience, the game of poetry was carried out for the 15 minute slot. A collaborative poem was created with no discussion, nor negotiation, as Lijn explained, “a poem you cannot write”.

Gilbert & George were introduced enthusiastically by Hans Ulrich, as a marathon at the Serpentine was not complete without the duo. Delivering their poems dressed in their signature tweed suits and startling ties, they were witty and animated, while later Nathan Cash Davidson, rapped his way through his 15 minutes.

A fantastic way to end the Frieze week, after buzzing around London all week, poetry was a calm finish to my own art marathon. The London art scene has had its equivalent of Oxford Street’s Christmas time, with a huge influx of visitors from across the world and no doubt a fair amount of selling. Monday is going home time, with de-installation, tidy up and follow up, after today it will all seem a surreal dream. Until next year that is.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day Four

While Wednesday was the big day in the London art calendar – for me Thursday was always going to be the marathon; Zoo Art Fair, the Hayward Gallery, Stephen Friedman Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and finishing at an artist’s studio for a party. Much caffeine got me through it.

Having not managed to go to Zoo last year, I headed down to Shoreditch in great excitement to see what the fuss was all about. There were art-whisperings in the air about the change of location for Zoo this year. In 2008, the fair was held at the Royal Academy on Burlington Gardens, opposite the vastly commercial Abercrombie & Fitch – this year you couldn’t get further from their old West end digs. Now located off Shoreditch High Street, walking down a cobbled alley to the entrance I could sense that Zoo is making a point of no longer being the baby of Frieze, but standing out as an established fair in its own right.

Spread out over three disused warehouses, there is none of the disorientated panic that is all too easily found at Frieze. The logic is simple: Zone A: Editions, Zone B: Curated Exhibitions, Zone C: Prize and Award Exhibitions and Stand Presentations. Within two hours I had managed to look round the entire fair and see and appreciate the work on show without feeling I’d rushed through like a tornado. If you haven’t got two hours to spare, then make sure you see the Curated Exhibitions, and visit the Aracade and Riflemaker gallery booths. I would strongly urge you, if you haven’t yet managed to see anything this week – to spend the time you do find at Zoo, in my eyes, Zoo wins.

Next up: a major retrospective of the work of Ed Ruscha at The Hayward. For such an established artist, this exhibition was never going to be poor and so it was no surprise that it was full of his classic works - instantly recognisable as Ruscha. Curated so that one glides through – easy to digest, which was certainly a positive when we only had half an hour to enjoy it.

With a slight change of mindset, we made our way from the calm of the Southbank Centre, to the busy commercial world of the Stephen Friedman Gallery for the new Yinka Shonibare exhibition, Willy Loman: The Rise and Fall. With Shonibare’s hugely successful career, it was to be expected that this exhibition would be a magnet to visitors; the gallery was packed, with even the street taken over by the turnout. The exhibition does not disappoint. The entire front gallery space is painted black, with the photographic work hanging in gilt frames; this exhibition goes beyond the ornate. Shonibare spent the evening signing copies of the Financial Times whilst the flurry of waiters and cameramen scampered round the gallery – all the stops had been pulled out for this opening.

The Whitechapel was next on the list, for the opening of Sophie Calle: Talking to Strangers. By this point I did start to feel spoilt by the amount we had seen so far and the Calle exhibition is a wonder world of work that demands your attention. Showing over twenty years of work, it is rich with photography, text and film – a great find when often exhibitions are all too sparse.

It was at this point that we did make a slight error in judgement, thinking it was best to walk from Whitechapel to the edge of London Fields. Almost an hour later, and we made it to Yinka Shonibare’s studio, feeling the cold and exhaustion with our art marathon finally catching up with us. However, the studio was full of warmth and energy and we soon perked up. Being offered ice cream of either Peach Leaf, or Pumpkin was perhaps slightly eccentric, but I couldn’t help but feel that this was the best place to end our day – having been rushing round all parts of London, we ended it in the East End, the home of much of London’s art scene.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day Three

The day that probably strikes a mixture of horror and excitement in any gallery owners’ hearts arrived again: the Frieze Art Fair opening. Artists and gallerists from all over the world make their way over to London for the annual event that gives top galleries the chance to show, meet, greet and above all, sell.

There was no ignoring the entrance this year – blazing high was "Frieze Art Fair" written in lights; and this attention-grabbing gateway was only just beginning. If you have not yet been to Frieze, then imagine the Westfield of the art world – like an enormous shopping centre – clinical, regimented and branded. With the layout designated by aisle names and numbers you cannot help but feel you are in an art jungle and the Fair Guide is your only manner of keeping control on where you are. Try to find anyone and you’ve set yourself a mission – a bombardment of texts such as, “I’m in row R! Where are you?” – “I’m at the frame end with Neil” and “We are currently at D16” may give you an idea of the geographical mayhem. 

If you are an avid ‘people-watcher’ like many of us are, then the Frieze opening is a heavenly place to be. There are clothes to be admired – and behaviour to marvel at. Perhaps one of the best spots of the night was a quick glimpse of Grayson Perry gliding past dressed in an outfit that can only be described as Little Boe-Peep in drag. Brave man. 

There is a generous mix of emerging galleries and the established staples. It is great to see new galleries taking part in the fair, such as the Parisian, Balice Hertling. Camped within the Frame section, where newer galleries present installations by just one artist. Unusually in the main section, Stephen Friedman Gallery also did this, dedicating their entire stand to the artist Jim Hodges and his installation piece, 'the dark gate' - a risk that paid off well.

After a substantial rush and dash to see what was needed to be seen, it was off to an after-party. I had come away the proud owner a Donor card - an instant artwork by Carey Young, and a series of postcards from the Collection of Mr & Mrs L.M. Kane, from the Ancient & Modern booth - not a bad turn out. The opening day a success behind us, with a sigh of relief the gallerists can really start to enjoy themselves. And that is what we all did.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day Two

Two days in to the Frieze week marathon and I headed to the Charlie Smith opening at The Old Truman Brewery – decision made mainly on the title of the exhibition, The Future Can Wait. Plus a quickly snapped up an invite to a Sketch Gallery opening in Mayfair…who wouldn’t.

The Future Can Wait is a project of the Charlie Smith gallery established in 2007, aimed at spotting and supporting early rising talent, the project acst as an "alternative experience to the art fair routine." With over 30 artists, this show combines painting, drawing, video, sculpture, performance and installation.

The Old Truman Brewery is a refreshing choice of environment for a commercial gallery. The venue that may not surprise for a graduate show – an abandoned factory, where entire chunks of plaster on the walls can be ripped off by a nudge and large puddles loom large on the ground, but Charlie Smith manages to pull it off.

Being on the top floor of the building, drinks were served on the rooftop with a view that would be hard to beat. Rather romantically – and also painfully sickeningly – we watched the sunset throw pink light across the cityscape in the near distance. Whilst the light was going down over in the City, amongst the high-rise and flashy gherkin shaped buildings, over here things were only just getting started. Despite best efforts, my attempts at capturing this poetic moment however were far from effective – my mobile phone camera isn’t quite as professional as hoped.

From East end grime to West, and the chic glam of the Sketch Parlour for the preview of AiM. Until now I was feeling fairly smug at having successfully avoided alcohol for the last week and a half. Naively, I thought that if I managed to survive Frieze week without breaking this detox, then I would certainly do myself proud. Day two of Frieze week and it's broken far too easily by the temptation of a free Sketch cocktail, resistance almost nil. Blast.

There is undeniably a good buzz in the air for the start of Frieze week this year. After the doom and gloom of the first half of the year with the economy overshadowing the art world, it is great to see that this hasn’t stopped the Frieze fun for 2009. 

Tomorrow, the big day itself: Frieze opening night.

Holly Willats

Frieze Week Diary, Day One

To kick off Frieze Art Fair mayhem, the most action-packed week in any art aficiando’s calendar, I spent Monday evening at the Barbican for the opening of The Free Art Fair; a gentle beginning for a week that can sometimes seem all about meeting and money.

The Free Art Fair has lived only three years, and yet this is to be the last in London, so take the chance this week to go and have a look. Not having been before, I was curious to see what it was all about – answer is that it does exactly what it says on the tin – gives art away… for free.

I have to admit, my friends and I were slightly distracted when we first arrived by a wandering medley calling themselves, The Happy Band and the poetry-reading, badge-giving artist Daniel Lehan. With the aid of the artist, our table and belongings were picked up and swiftly swept across the room to be planted right bang in front of My Happy Band – a group made up of a bear, King, tin man, cloaked guitarist and tuxedoed puppeteer. This seemed to sum up the relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere at the fair, with inhibitions certainly being ignored.

But more about the art! Artists participating were asked to incorporate the idea of free into their work by making work that they always wanted to make, but felt like they couldn’t. The Fair is organized without any budget and relies entirely on donations from artists – there is nothing untoward about this fair, it does what it claims to do and so you cannot help but feel relaxed and at ease – unlike at Frieze where being at ease is something only done when on the bus home.

Last year, people queued for three nights to become Free Art Fair collectors, 2000 catalogues were given away, and thousands of people saw the exhibition. My highlight of the fair would be Markus Vater’s installation piece Smoke Without Fire, 2009 (pictured). The tone carried in his messages printed on boards scattered across the work, seemed to be all too relevant to the fair’s attitude against the commercial. When responding to the question, What have you always wanted to do but haven’t? the artist answered:
"A show where we show all the money in the world. The show will be called: “The evil bird laughs.”
If you cringe at the money and status focus that is a frequent criticism of the Frieze Art Fair week, than this fair is the one for you.

Holly Willats