Saturday, 8 October 2016

An Afternoon at Frieze

From the Masters to the Toilet Roll, Mimei Thompson spends an afternoon at Frieze.

When Frieze Art Fair and Frieze Masters roll into town, those of us who attend are inevitably swept up in a sea of art, meeting people and being overwhelmed. Frieze Masters features more than 130 international galleries showcasing art made anywhere from late 20th century all the way back to ancient times. 

Max Ernst

A beautiful deep red Max Ernst decalcomania painting with a bark frame was mesmerising, spot lit on the tasteful grey walls, which along with grey carpets and a generally calm and reverend demeanour, set the tone of the fair. However, the museum-like atmosphere was occasionally disrupted by the realisation of the fact that we are still in a tent, after all, and the careful lighting did flicker, and a tiny, exquisite Henry Moore bronze did sway a bit on its plinth, as the tent flapped in the wind and the flooring betrayed its temporary nature.

One of the things that happens in a situation of such a wealth of riches is finding parallels between art and artists, and one such, that was pointed out by fellow fair goer Cathy Lomax, was the connection between Wayne Thiebaud and Giorgio Morandi (and also the fact that Thiebaud’s name is in fact pronounced ‘tee-bo’). A Thiebauld painting featuring a pair of iced cakes with roses on the top, and a Morandi still life arrangement of vases (of which there were several examples at the fair) brought this to light. Thiebaud does cite Morandi as a key influence, and the connection is beautifully clear once made, but he is a humorous, irreverent Morandi with the colour and saturation turned right up. At a different stand, a framed Thiebaud sandwich drawing with rainbow shadows was another desirable beauty.

Thiebaud cake

Approaching the tent to the main fair, one of the Frieze Projects Frenetic Gossamer greets you. It is a web-like installation made from stretched sheer tan tights by Martin Soto Climent, and is periodically animated by live acrobats, though still enjoyable in their absence. 

Inside, the atmosphere was more hectic, hot and bothered, more stressful and exciting. Busier, brighter with more jangling and jarring possibilities. One of the first stands near the entrance Kate MacGarry had a wonderful installation of works by Francis Uprichard. The way the space was put together was innovative and immaculate, and this was just one of more than 160 offerings from top international galleries, showing all kinds of contemporary work.

Kate Macgarry

It is great to see in reality works by some artists which may have only been experienced online, and to be able to check the edges, the surfaces, the scale and texture of things. Some framed Alex Katz works on board – are they on MDF? One wants to peek at a chipped corner, to check. The Modern Institute stand was beautiful and thoughtful, as usual, the space divided on diagonal lines by screens of corrugated material with cut out peek-through spaces. A Kerry James Marshall painting, almost too good to look at, at David Zwirner.

K J Marshall

So off to the toilets, but for more art, and Julie Verhoeven’s Frieze Project The Toilet Attendant… Now Wash Your Hands. The artist had always liked the loos at art fairs, for their sanctuary, for their democratizing nature, where everyone eventually has to go (though presumably the VIPs have their own facilities). Julie was in attendance, in the bright-blue carpeted ladies, and alter-Julie was on duty in the bright-pink carpeted gents, both bedecked with deeply fake tanned faces, and wipe-clean bonnets and dresses, appliqued and embroidered with motifs including the advice ‘wipe from front to back’ and ‘use three to four sheets per wipe'. In the cubicles the toilets had bespoke art inside-and-out of their plastic covered lids and there was decoration all around, with motifs of genitalia, cleaning and sanitary products and hygiene advice. Joyfully kitschy music was piped in, including Dolly Parton and James Blunt, a three-hour playlist of guilty pleasures that, like the whole set up and the artist, had an over-the-top, yet gentle, non-stop good humor and a welcoming feeling.

This feeling was lubricated by pink wine in plastic cups, and an impromptu afternoon toilet party, with Julie, alter-Julie, a Frieze intern and Julie’s brother and sister-in-law. A sanctuary indeed, and there were also some art works to purchase by donation, including brown velour poos and toilet-roll people, doubling as incense holders; irresistible, and available to take home in blue or pink scented bags.

In the gents

Stumbling back into the fair, and then back to reality, the toilet rolls as works of art somehow brought me back to Morandi and Thibaud – a most tenuous connection, but those Thiebaud iced cakes have a certain comic toilet roll holder aesthetic in their thickly painted icing with roses on the top. Given enough variables, we can come up with connections in unlikely places.

Mimei Thompson

Frieze Art Fair
Regents Park, London
6 - 9 October

Julie and alter-Julie

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