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An art fair is not a good place to look at art. You can hardly get a piece fixed in your line of sight without people on either side screaming, “Look at Me! Look at Me!” Still, I found standing in the central crossing at Frieze London that I could see this selection of pictures without moving: a beautiful Tacita Dean of a “bubble house”, one of those utopic constructions that look so sad once the utopians have left; a Steve McQueen, also very haunting, of a lynching tree; an enormous Gursky of Bangkok; a Baldessari painting based on a photograph of cars; a huge double Cindy Sherman.
And certainly best of all, a Thomas Struth machine picture at Marian Goodman called “Tokamak Asdex Upgrade Interior I, Max Planck IPP, Garching, 2010”. Struth has understood something very beautiful about the way machines evolved from tools and have grown beyond. He is a major artist of our times, and no one notices that he works in photographs. That’s as it should be. It’s an art form of its own, but it’s also a medium for artists.
Less intelligent by far are the awful lifestyle pictures of Ryan McGinley, in which large numbers of mainly white teenagers are photographed at a concert and then presented – you guessed – in a grid of white frames. These are the flavour of the season, and several galleries are showing near-identical versions of them. They are less interesting than the Tommy Hilfiger or Abercrombie & Fitch ads they derive from.
Frieze Masters is a different story entirely. Walls are often mounted as mini-exhibitions, so there is a chance to understand and to learn. Bruce Silverstein has put on a wonderful show of the American abstract photographer Aaron Siskind. Siskind has the reputation of a vaguely mystic person not so much bothered by what he photographed as by the emotions that he could stimulate. Silverstein’s selection will be a revelation: right on the cusp between legible, factual photography and something more metaphorical. A study of the walls of Cuzco, 25 detailed views of the joins of the Aztec stonework, grouped together as one, is lovely – priced at $100,000.
Frieze Masters is full of the right stuff. A series of Richard Prince repurposed pictures (“4 Women With Hats”, 1980) at Skarstedt are seductive. They work on simple grounds: two in profile, two in three-quarter profile. A study in how to get something out of nothing much.
Something out of nothing? That reminds me of Gordon Matta-Clark. A little series of his idiosyncratic reflections, this time simply on the triangle, are here at Zwirner, five photographs and a clever flat sculpture.
Eric Franck has expanded his repertoire to include a group of estates of eastern European artists working in Brazil. Thomas Farkas owned a chain of photo-stores in Brazil, Geraldo de Barros was a well-known painter: both show Bauhaus modernism adapting and changing under export. The Ubu Gallery is showing a hilarious X-ray of surrealist Meret Oppenheim’s skull, credited to herself. She has the giant earrings, rings on her fingers, even a necklace visible. But there’s not a thing in her head.
Edwynn Houk gallery is showing a mixture of very classical (a Weston Pepper, anybody?) with more unexpected, including a fascinating wall of Cibachrome photograms based on a fashion-magazine theme by Robert Heinecken. Next to that? A giant Brassaï that he printed in 1950 for an exhibition, elegantly dressed for the night in its shiny ferrotyped surface.