Being in the art profession or industry isn’t a pre-requisite for someone to know of or visit the Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park, London. The annual Fair, quite possibly one of the largest of its kind, attracts tens of thousands visitors each year and have generated hundreds of millions USD in art sales to date.
I was kindly invited by Deutsche Bank to attend the VIP opening day of the fair on 13 October this year. Deutsche Bank is the sponsor of the Frieze London and also one of the largest corporate art collectors.
Frieze London consists of two part: Frieze Masters (opened for the first time along Frieze Art Fair in 2014) and Frieze Art Fair. Frieze Masters showcases some of the most established and more classical-style painting and art sculptures/installations, among which are two pieces of Picasso’s later work in the 60s and 70s (yours for a mere USD 10 million each, roughly), a small collection of Andy Warhol’s Icon Series featuring flower shapes and portrays of Jackie Kennedy, a small pencil sketch by Gustav Klimt (a well-know and respected Austrian painter made even more famous after the release of the Hollywood produced movie of Woman in Gold featuring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds) and an iron sculpture from the highest valued living contemporary artist – Jeff Koons.
To understand art isn’t quite as straight forward as one may think. The determinants of the value can be viewed as fluid and objective by some, as there is no set, tangible standards that can be applied to each individual piece. It is therefore quite crucial to understand the background of the artist, the social context under which the art work was produced, the materials utilised, the way of painting/constructing, the uniqueness of the finished piece and/or the artist’s style, and even the artist’s age can become an element influencing its desirability.
Walking through the Frieze Masters can make one feel that he is transiting through time, for the showcased pieces cover a timespan of the classical age to the year 2000, featuring 130 established galleries from all over the world. Amongst the most talked about, the most visually powerful is the “Asylum” collection by French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet. The three interiors represent the reconstructed spaces in asylums that Dubuffet visited in 1945 while searching for inspiration. The paintings in the collection are in a style that can be described as rough lines combined with brutalism. Günther Uecker is also amongst the most popular artists at the Masters, with one of his grey coloured nail-studded painting sold for USD 1.5 million within half an hour of the fair’s opening. The German artist is known for his paintings incorporating hammered and partially or fully painted nails, and several pieces of his work can be found in different gallery stalls at the Masters. One of my personal favourites has to be the slashed painting by Lucio Fontana. The Italian artist is famous for his highly recognisable pieces of slashed canvases and his work is highly regarded as simple, elegant and powerful. You may have seen his work being exhibited in places like MoMA in NYC and Tate Modern in London.
Moving from the Frieze Masters to Frieze Art Fair is a short cab ride away, the fresh autumn air of London definitely helps to clear one’s mind before entering the overwhelming space of the main site of Frieze London, which mainly showcases contemporary art by modern artists. You may easily find a giant blown up Felix the Cat smiling at you next to some neon-coloured and glitter-splattered huge paintings, some light installations next to wood branches bundled up to an illustrative fire, and live-like sculpture of a semi naked woman next to a human-sized hot water bottle with feet. In comparison to the Frieze Masters, this part of the Fair seems more fun and easier to appreciate and understand. Colours, textures, ideas and shapes are overflown in the massive space under the huge white marquee. People watching is almost as key as art watching, and if you are joining on the VIP day, you’d better make sure you are dressed on par to your peers (an informative guide can be found here ). Limited edition handbags plus the fur/skyscraper heels combo is a basic must for all females and bright suits or headwear seem to be preferred by the more flamboyant gentlemen among the well-suited art advisors. Everyone seems to be important, knowledgeable, beautiful, well-polished and with an artsy flare, and this scene, together with a couple flutes of flawlessly sparkling champagne at the well-manicured lounge of Deutsche Bank, spells the perfect ending to our Frieze London experience.