In the first week of October every year, the global art world descends on London’s Regent’s Park for five days of the best showing of modern and contemporary art for Frieze London & Frieze Masters. This event brings together over 160 galleries presenting an array of artworks by artists across generations, genres and of every medium imaginable. Alongside booths from small to large, minimal and to the recent trend of presentations that are more akin to looking like conceived exhibitions (Hauser and Wirth’s ‘Bronze Age c. 3,500 B.C.–A.D. 2017,’ Waddington Custot’s ‘At Work with Peter Blake,’ and Oslo gallery VII’s installation by the artist Than Hussein Clark) there is really something for every visitor to this fair. Outside of selling, Frieze Projects, the fairs’ talks, performance and Sculpture Park (which was on view from 5 July to 8 October) contributed to furthering critical debates thorough conversations, interventions and site-specific public art.
The new curated section and talk of Frieze this year was Sex Work. Sex Work, curated by Alison Gingeras, explored feminist art and radical politics through solo presentations by artists including Betty Tompkins, Penny Slinger, Renate Bertlmann, Marilyn Minter, Birgit Jürgenssen, Judith Bernstein, Natalia LL, Dorothy Iannone and Mary Beth Edelson (both purchased by the Tate for its collection). The section paid homage to a generation of female artists, most of which were censored in their day. Here, female sexuality, ballsiness and the sheer fact that these works were a main focus within commercial context is a feat worth celebrating. It was also timely given the current political climate and ongoing debate around censorship within and outside of the art world.
Frieze Focus on the other hand, is viewed as the go-to section for encountering younger artists and galleries who are often showing at the fair for the first time. Highlights included Billy Zangewa’s Love and Happiness, a new series of intricately hand-stitched textiles depicting the mundanity of domestic life, whilst Emalin London, with Russian artist Evgeny Antufiev, transformed their booth into a self-contained presentation which visitors entered through the mouth of a cardboard creature and were led into a display of curiosities exploring cultural particularity and the symbolic significance of objects, whilst also recalling shamanic mysticism still found in Southern Siberia.
Taking a break from the art overload inside and located at the entrance of the fair, Donna Kukama’s performance. Here, visitors queued all weekend for a one-to-one performance of social exchange and empathy housed in a triangular structure fashioned into a botanical garden. Further along, the Sculpture Park commissions this year included works by leading 20th-century and contemporary artists Magdalena Abakanowicz, Rasheed Araeen, Urs Fischer, KAWS, Alicja Kwade, Michael Craig-Martin, Thomas J Price Ugo Rondinone and Sarah Sze. KAWS’s six-metre-high toy-human figure was perhaps the most instagrammable, whilst Thomas J Price’s Numen (Shifting Votive One, Two and Three), 2016 – triple portraits of men of African origin made from aluminium and mounted on white marble were the most arresting as you entered the park.
Frieze comes and goes every year and the question ‘Is this the best in art right now?’ always seems to recur. Attempting to answer this cannot simply lie in this hyper-commercial context, but at the same time, the fair does once in a while throw in surprises and discoveries which this year it succeeded in with the inclusion of Sex Work, an intriguing and unexpected encounter at Frieze 2017.
Frieze Art Fair was held between 4-8 October at Regent’s Park, London. More information here https://frieze.com/tags/frieze-london
Featured Image: Mimmo Paladino, Untitled (1989), Waddington Custot Galleries. Frieze Sculpture 2017. Photo by Stephen White. Courtesy of Stephen White/Frieze.