It’s the press preview, and I’ve been awake too long already. In fact, I’m feeling a little dizzy with excitement as I approach the gate. It’s like finally getting to the Emerald City. Poet Laureate of Britpop, Jarvis Cocker, captures the sense of awe and confusion that the first foray into Frieze invariably inspires: ‘Is this the way the future’s meant to feel? Or just twenty-thousand people standing in a field…’.
I am sat in the clinical but welcoming press office at the fair, having wondered round in circles all afternoon. Some perverse homing instinct took me back to White Cube each revolution, but they have the most sublime Damien Hirst fish piece on show, which makes me swoon as if I am standing in front of Tom Daley. As always, there is a lot to see, more than can be done in a day and only slightly less than you would want to do in a year. Today I concentrated on the big commercial galleries, leaving the others and the Masters for another day: Frieze is like a box of chocolates – gulp it all down in one go and you end up vomiting profusely.
Sadie Coles HQ [D2] is one of the best galleries in town: go see the Angus Fairhurst sculpture, all black and reflective in the floor, like a gateway to hell that wants to suck you in; and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd presents a series of elegant, kitsch paintings called Bat Opera which are so funny and cute that I actually LOL’d in Sadie Coles’ face. Hauser & Wirth [D6] is perfect; if this was a village fete and there was a prize for the best dressed stand, they’d win hands down. They have painted the walls regel green and red and gone for a salon-type hang, so it looks like the interior of a stately home. The Gagosian [C3] is a riot. To be honest, I didn’t bother to look who the work is by (see it here) because I was too amused by the children climbing around inside a huge white box and the girls playing massive Scrabble on the floor. On a serious note, Maureen Paley [D13] is showing a delicately humorous Michael Krebber painting – it makes one think about how everything has become so complicated in art, and yet Krebber manages a joke by doing nothing. Which reminds me, there is so much Martin Creed here – but another day.
The Mary Corse work at Lehmann Maupin [A18] is – as expected – a magical play of light, form and colour, forged in the Californian sun and here presented as an oasis of calm in the madness of the fair. Blum and Poe [A3] are showing a nice Friedrich Kunath, painted om denim, which typifies his melancholic humour, his unique blend of sunshine and noir. Gavin Brown’s Enterprises [F9] has Rob Prutt’s sublime, immaculate Suicide Paintings – gentle gradations of colour that simultaneously dissolve before the eye and explode into constellations of emotion. Carl Freedman [G5] is showing some exceptional works by Pieter Vermeersch that – like the residue of photographic exposure – almost represent something and almost fail to be anything at all.
My overriding impression of Day One is that Frieze is more serious this year – there is less wilful bling and more attempt at art that really means something. This, for me, is evidenced by the exceptional quality of painting on show, as if gallerists have temporarily given up trying to be clever or cool by compelling their artists to do something New and instead focused on a tried and tested artform. And, let me tell you now, there are absolutely loads of monochromes in this fair; everywhere you go, there is a canvas painted all one colour. I think that means art has got serious, or maybe that art got lazy, but then laziness is a serious business if you still have to make money from it.
There’s still another four days to go, and so much to explore, particularly the Focus section and the Live projects. The big commercial galleries have surprised me with either their restraint or their daring, neither of which have dissolved into dullness or stupidity. And you know, I didn’t see one celebrity, apart from the odd gallerist, but they don’t count, right? Now I’m off to the grand opening of Marian Goodman London, to see that hotly-tipped Richter show. It’s mad, really, that I think I am having fun, but actually I am working. As I stroll out of Regent’s Park – with the starry art behind and the moral crusade ahead – I remind myself, as our poet says, ‘tell me when the spaceship lands, because all this has just got to mean something’…
Words: Daniel Barnes