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.