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October 17, 2013 7:26 pm
The first conversation I overheard at Frieze London was an American collector suggesting to her husband that they buy Dan Graham’s glamorously minimalist seven-metre curving glass and mirror sculpture “Groovy Spiral” as an alternative hallway for their latest home.
In fact, “Groovy Spiral” at Lisson Gallery is the fair’s most democratic, inclusive work – despite its $600,000 price tag. Framed in steel, it resembles from the outside a three-dimensional question-mark, or perhaps semi-colon, momentarily punctuating the rush and crush of too many people, pictures, prices. Walk inside, and its mirrored surfaces dizzyingly blur, mute and distance you from the crowds, who are reflected on a long white wall opposite as a frieze of pale shadows.
This is Frieze in microcosm: a glassy, self-referential world all its own. Jeff Koons became a record-breaking market presence by sculpting banal, kitsch objects glorifying another alternative reality, Disney-like and infantilised; Gagosian has literally raised the roof of Frieze’s tent to showcase his giant hanging sculptures “Sacred Heart” – a stainless steel blue balloon tied with a pink ribbon – “Lobster” and the aluminium/rubber “Titi Tyre” modelled on children’s inflatable ducks. I loathe Koons, but as a statement of his role in conceptual sculpture’s history, Gagosian’s display is unassailable.
If all its booths were like Lisson’s and Gagosian’s – clear, decisive, committed – Frieze would be pure provocative pleasure. Certainly structural changes made to echo the sober elegance of last year’s Frieze Masters have benefited this fair: wider aisles, softer lighting, fewer exhibitors. But among the galleries themselves, too many have responded to Masters’ cut-off date of 2000 by assuming in contrast an unconsidered contemporaneity: haphazard, provisional hangs; slick, unoriginal work, much of it dated 2013.
Even at big-name spaces, some market-stall juxtapositions are so discordant that pieces argue each other out of existence. Alex Katz’s 34 small studies, landscapes and flower paintings, marvellously abbreviated dramas of light, shade and time (more than half of them sold by yesterday), struggle amid the surrounding installation of Rob Pruitt’s “Safety Cones” jokily adorned with sunglasses, smiley faces and hats at Gavin Brown’s enterprise. Affectingly wan and melancholy, Ron Mueck’s diminutive hyper-realist “Woman with Shopping”, looking as if she is about to stride out of Hauser & Wirth’s stand, is not helped by the backcloth of a massive, violent Paul McCarthy painting (already sold to a European collection for £750,000).
The best displays, aping Frieze Masters, are intensely curated and concentrated. Pace’s exploration of global portraiture is outstanding. It includes Romanian wunderkind Adrian Ghenie’s painterly depictions of epoch-changing figures – “Charles Darwin”; a scrawled-over face of Hitler in which paint seeks revenge on history – in dialogue with both Hiroshi Sugimoto’s uncanny photographs such as “Lenin”, modelled on a waxwork, and Li Songsong’s “Marshal”, a historical painting built up in impasto brushwork on panels roughly stuck together, disjointedly overlapping, so that the image never coheres. These in turn relate to the grid-patterned self-portraits with which Chuck Close questions realism and abstraction.
Saleable, accessible painting of wildly varying quality dominates the fair: highlights among new works are a free cascading landscape by Hurvin Anderson (sold by Thomas Dane in the fair’s first half hour for £140,000), a Jules de Balincourt cityscape (Victoria Miro), Chris Ofili’s monumental black figures playing out classical myth (David Zwirner, sold on the first day for $500,000).
Sculptural presentations tend to be more radical. Stuart Shave’s Modern Art intriguingly groups artists who test the limits of informality and non-traditional materials within a rigorously abstracting, post-minimal aesthetic: Karla Black’s foil and nail varnish “Living Conditions”, Eva Rothschild’s steel and lacquer “Hansel and Gretel”, Bojan Sarcevic’s burning candle on onyx “Tridiminished”, the mix of charcoal drawings with plaster and fibreglass in Matthew Monahan’s gently Gothic column “A Certain Time of You”.
Argentinian sculptor Adrián Villar Rojas was all but unheard of in London until his theatrical exhibition, focused on a charging elephant, opened last month at the new Serpentine Sackler Gallery. At Marion Goodman and Kurimanzutto he balances this figurative work by more abstract clay and concrete pieces, at once strong and fragile-looking, surfaces gnarled and cracked, which seem to belong to a fossilised jungle (the large looping, circular piece at Marion Goodman is called “Innocence of Animals”). Rare, delicately inky works on paper evoke ruined cityscapes. A sort of visual descendant of Borges and García Marquez, Villar Rojas drowns out the hype and sales pitches here with a vibrant magical realism making him the un-
expected, very popular star of Frieze 2013.
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