This weekend the streets of Chelsea were deserted and signs were pasted to gallery doors, informing of openings that were no longer happening, but would certainly happen later and sorry for the inconvenience. The art world had gathered at the remote Randall's Island, in the rain. On hundred and ninety galleries, hundreds of artists, and thousands of guests packed the giant white tent that was the Frieze Art Fair 2014.
Frieze is an event that must be experienced, and is an event that is currently being planned for next year. Frieze 2015 will be the subject of meetings - ever more desperate until this time next year. Make no mistake, it's already happening. It's a sure thing. It's an institution.
We are always surprised at what we see, but not the photography. We know our field, modestly. In the same way the sculptors are unsurprised at the inclusion of a giant silver shark cage, and point and nod to one another, being knowledgable in their field; we point and nod at Richard Prince, being knowledgable in our field. What makes the event exciting is not the event. Really, that's simply the culmination of the previous years planning (remember those desperate meetings), and what worked well in the galleries and would be expected to sell. Art markets watch Frieze, the art market is Frieze.
But purge that bitterness from your understanding of the spectacle. Attempt an earnest walk around the space. You don't know a third of what you are seeing, although you are certainly expected to bluff at least a generous half. There will be the pillars of their genres that you are to acknowledge then ignore. Seek out something new. The Damien Hirsts, the Jeff Koonses, the Elad Lassrys, Chuck Closes and the Yayoi Kasamas you have seen before, so no need to dwell.
Most of the serious collectors have already pre-bought what they are going to buy. This takes some of the fun out of interacting with the gallery assistants, and shortens the time spent nibbling free snacks, getting lost in the green eyes of some Icelander, and nodding earnestly. So Frieze gamely throws us all in a tent together and then offers no guidance or further information. It is an industry event, and all we professionals require is a complimentary tote bag and a map lacking cardinal directions. We circle and poke and stare and murmur and drink sparkling water. It's good to be totally out of your depth once in a while. Go and watch the performance art and ask yourself how you totally avoided seeing any performance art for the last year (other than that once, and then again, straight in the deep end).
That is why it's a great occasion. No one is fully prepared for it, no amount of homework is going to help.
Frieze from a photography interest:
There were a lot of highlights. Elad Lassry showed his interactive and highly textural multimedia photographs. Carrie Mae Weems' Slow Fade To Black was as relevant as it was in 2010, the Brooklyn based artist staged scenes that examined race and gender.
One of the most interesting trends this year, as it was last year is the steady increase of female middle eastern photographers. Two years ago it was and aberration to simply be a female middle-eastern photographer, with artists like Shirin Neshat leading the way. Shirin Aliabadi's City Girl portraits shone from their spot in The Third Line's booth, next to Hassan Hajjaj's brilliant portraits of crass commercialism and swagger; making up probably our favorite exhibitor of the entire show.
Of course there were some moments that couldn't happen anywhere other than Frieze. In the middle of the sodden lawn an artist sat, rocking back and forth in the rain. An incredibly tenacious sculptor threw some popcorn on the floor, demanding payment, and an instillation artist removed a section of floor, providing the only dry grass on the island. There was a huge bubble, a strobe light that made a globe look like water, and members formerly of Pussy Riot where there to talk about Russian prison reform. In Russian. (..? solidarity!)
Text by John Hutt
Photos by Tatiana Kiseleva