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ART FAIR REVIEW - Frieze Art Fair 2009

This time round though the yearly extravaganza took a rather sober stance and as a regular one couldn’t help but notice how many drastic changes it had undergone.
ART FAIR REVIEW - Frieze Art Fair 2009
Seven years on and The Frieze Art Fair was still the talk of the town this season, as it ran from 15-18 October. This time round though the yearly extravaganza took a rather sober stance and as a regular one couldn’t help but notice how many drastic changes it had undergone: the big marquis set up in Regent’s Park was reduced in size, presumably due to no less than 30 previously- exhibiting galleries dropping out of the venture; magazine outlet stands were reduced by half; and signs of acute budget cuts stretched to the lavatory toiletries where the deluxe soap supplier of previous years had been replaced by some unknown and undoubtedly cheaper alternative. Vanity and futility aside (though intrinsic to the art world some might argue), one would think the quality of the artwork on show would have compensated for these obvious symptoms of hardship - but that was hardly the case. Trends - however ill-regarded - were rather easy to spot with an overkill of cheesy, complacent, and somehow patronizing neon-plastered messages, courtesy of Tracey Emin. Also condoned in one of her pieces were the multiple and straining, mainly because so bluntly deja-vu, depictions of (self) crotch-grabbing/feeling women, denoting an obvious lack of inspiration and, ironically, ill-captured mental masturbation for that matter…. Michael Jackson’s death proved to have made an impact as well as witnessed through a handful of galleries exhibiting work at his effigy. In particular David LaChappelle’s 'The Archangel' got a lot of attention amid the numerous irrelevant artifacts on display, including a minute 'nightclub' installation called ‘Club Nutz’ (the main attraction of which was that it played all its techno-based selection backwards - an ancient bedroom creative device, let it be said in passing), stuffed rodents, and carved wood crutches, among others. Wood turned out to be a material of choice as it recurred in many pieces and recycling was a common ethos, as celebrated by Canadian artist Gareth Moore’s installation ‘Neither Here Nor There’ in which he resuscitated over a dozen of broken chairs into unidentified/adhoc flags which found a new home at the Tate after it was selected by the Outset foundation. Despite some of the tastelessness mentioned earlier it wasn’t all bad and some notable pieces saved the quality standard - such as Dawn Mallon’s oil-on-canvas trashy portrayal of cinematic icons Catherine Deneuve, Jodie Foster, Pam Grier, Anne Bancroft et al; Scott King’s Warholesque print recreation of Cher as Che Guevara; cross-dressing Turner Prize winner and Frieze regular Grayson Perry’s take on consumerism and capitalism with his two brand name-dropping pieces ‘The Walthamstow Tapestry’ and ‘For Faith of Shopping’; or the 2009 topical human size sculpture of ‘pregnant man’ Thomas Beatie; plus some quality photography with a timeless selection by the late Robert Mapplethorpe and an intimate portrait of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, appropriately entitled ‘Think Aloud’, by French artist Loris Greaud. After years of seeing them temporarily setting home in the big marquis, it felt right to at last investigate on Resonance FM and speak to its active board member Cecilia Wee who justified the radio station’s ongoing presence at the Fair by describing it (as supported by no less than 300 volunteers) as 'community pioneering radio art', showcasing any valuable sound art from experimental instrumental to spoken word on 104.4 FM. Right next door the legendary French New Wave pioneering female director and artist Agnes Varda was looking back on her five-decades-long career and epically talked an adoring audience through her amazing visual artistry from photographic beginnings leading onto a critically-acclaimed filmography and her recent conversion into art installation, illustrating it with clips of her key films and documentaries the latest of which, ‘The Beaches of Agnes’ (which won this year’s French Cesar Award for the best documentary), is still showing at a few independent cinemas. This is obviously a non-exhaustive report of this year’s Frieze Art Fair but what really sunk in is that even though this proved once more a lucrative year in terms of ticket sales (despite their ever-rising pricyness), the Fair had better raise its game in years to come to avoid becoming a 'worn and torn' happening, being redundant (did I mention that several galleries displayed identical artwork…?) and predictable.

Solange Moffi

Thursday 22 October, 2009

About the author

Solange Moffi is a London-based freelance writer whose interests lie predominantly in music, visual arts and film.