Photo Credit: Hannah Hayden

How Accessible is Frieze Art Fair?

Photo Credit: Hannah Hayden

Following our review of the Sculpture Garden in Regent’s Park, I went along to Frieze London’s Fair, an annual October event that punctuates the calendars of art collectors and enthusiasts alike. Aimed at both buyers and viewers, the massively labyrinthine exhibition hall is housed every year in a great white tent in Regent’s Park. Exiting Great Portland Street tube station, the dregs of a very moneyed and somewhat elusive industry become clear: a trail of BMW’s for VIP guests, the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge nestled neatly next to the exhibition space, a large grey carpet leading to the tent entrance that seemed to separate the accessible splendour of Regent’s Park, from the sudden apparition of high culture.

Photo Credit: Hannah Hayden

Photo Credit: Hannah Hayden

As I entered I noted a stuffed parrot wobbling around in a glass case, perched next to a photograph of the said parrot. It was not a play at uncanny animism but rather a trick of chance: the floor of the Gazebo, slightly elevated from the grass, was undergoing so much stomping that the art itself was shuddering. In contrast to this unintentional animation I soon found myself face to face with Paul Chan’s: Pillowsophia (after Trinity, 2017) which had understandably attracted quite an audience. Similar to what I had heard to referred on Family Guy as: a “whacky inflatable arm-flailing tube man”, referring to those inflatable advertisement commonly found outside highway car dealerships, Pillowsophia took the form of an inflatable hoodie brought to life by a fan. Ominously fluttering about ten feet from the ground, the ghostly crucifix is a haunting reminder of police brutality, and probably attracted such a crowd for it’s strange and definite presence.

As a curator in 2017, it probably would not have been that difficult to designate the exhibition spaces in accordance with some respective political disaster: gun violence, racism, the rise of Trump, Brexit, the slowly pervasive presence of the right wing in Europe, and North Korea, to name a few. Frieze Artist Award winner Kiluanji Kia Henda evoked visions of communism in the performative installation: Under the Silent Eye of Lenin, drawing parallels between an unwavering commitment to political ideology and religious devotion. One feature of the work was a large gold-sheen bust of Lenin with abrasively shiny eyes, shrouded in a black mantilla-like veil that seemed to insinuate a kind of ominous mysticism. This was set against a black backdrop with a red circle of wheat and the communist star atop- a fittingly proletariat halo. Also featured as a new addition this year was an independently curated section called: ‘Sex Work: Feminist Art & Radical Politics’. Curator Alison M. Gingeras provided a large timeline of seminal female works throughout history as part of this section, something I found to be informative and necessary.

Photo Credit: Hannah Hayden

Photo Credit: Hannah Hayden

As I left the complete labyrinth in which all time seems to cease, having finally found the exit (which happened to also be the entrance) I noticed the wobbly artwork again, and noted that such sights affirm the en-guardedness of us spectators, questioning anything that pushes the already-vague boundaries of intentionality that permeate over contemporary art. I believe that to a younger and less versed audience this is the source of the most insecurity in art spectatorship, the source of tired colloquial quips such as: ‘my kid could have done this’; ‘haha, is this even part of the exhibition?’; ‘woah, I wonder what he was on.’ However, this feeling of doubt that pervades many modern art spaces such as the Tate Modern on any given Saturday, was eradicated by what I lamented to be the more private nature of the event. The fact tickets were priced at £30 each, did guarantee an audience that was more than socioeconomically comfortable, in the know shall we say, and genuinely interested in art having followed such artistic movements for some time. Children far more stylish than I will ever be, stood giggling with their parents over the strange angle of a ceramic pigeon, being given tools of seeing which seemed to me to transcend all material value.

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