17.10.07 Frieze, Zoo, Year_07 and Bridge Art Fair 2007, Ivar Hagendoorn

The best way to loose your interest in art is to visit an art fair. There is too much art, all lumped together in too small spaces and there are too many beautiful women.

Art fairs reduce all artworks to merchandise. Everything becomes aesthetic. Subversion is just another style, reflection a clever marketing strategy, cynicism a pose. For this reason art fairs can be depressing, but then again, so can a day at the office, even when the walls are adorned with art.

Because there is so much to see and everything is presented as equal, art fairs can also be a source of joy and discovery. Title and name tags are often omitted, so you have to enquire with the gallery owner or assistant to learn who the work is by. This adds to the democratic nature of art fairs. As a visitor your only guide is your own sense of judgement, which is as it should be.

This year was the first year that I had a chance to visit the Frieze Art Fair. And I must say I greatly enjoyed it. In less than a few years the Frieze Art Fair has become one of the most important contemporary art fairs in the world. It is hard to believe that this year is only the fifth edition. With some 150 exhibitors the fair is huge. The number of applications is even larger, but the strength of Frieze is that the organizers like to create an eclectic mix of established powerhouses and young galleries representing emerging artists.

The Frieze effect has totally transformed London’s cultural landscape. In the wake of Frieze, other art fairs have sprung up and international art fairs are establishing London satellites. Commercial and public galleries alike time their exhibitions to coincide with Frieze, department stores and designer boutiques invite artists to create window displays and all fancy restaurants are fully booked weeks in advance.

With the fair guide in my hand I systematically toured the fair. It was pretty hot inside and I regretted not having left my coat at the cloakroom. The stand by Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, which had been transformed into a flea market by artist Rob Pruitt, was definitely the most fun. A dj was spinning music on a vintage turntable. You could get a haircut, buy second hand clothes and even some works of art.

Tripod a new work by Thomas Hirschhorn at Barbara Gladstone, which includes news photos of people blown to bits in Iraq, shows that art can still have impact on some people. To quote from the Frieze edition of The Arts Newspaper (issue 2): “Just looking at the work at all seemed to be beyond many at the fair yesterday. US Ambassador Robert Holmes Tuttle, who was with his wife Maria, declined our invitation to even view the Hirschhorn. ‘I prefer to separate art from politics,’ said Tuttle, adding that he and his wife liked art that was ‘aesthetically pleasing’.” It is interesting to note that the work is shown by a commercial, US, gallery.

The work that I loved most was a sculpture of a foal by Berlinde de Bruyckere at Hauser and Wirth. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the fair it looked even more vulnerable and lost.

After Frieze I went to the Zoo Art Fair, which used to be held at the London Zoo in Regent’s Park, next to Frieze, but this year had relocated to the Royal Academy of Arts. The Zoo Art Fair supposedly only showcases under 6 year old galleries. I don’t know whether all galleries do indeed fit into this category. The atmosphere was different than at Frieze. It was still crowded, but somehow more relaxed. The works on show were also more exciting than at Frieze, but that may be because I already knew many of the artists showing at Frieze.

I loved the wax sculpture of a deer by Rebecca Stevenson at Copenhagen based Mogadishni Gallery. Its back had been cut open. The wound consisted of flowers and berries. It was gruesome and touching. There were some other interesting works at Zoo as well. I liked the photos taken from Japanese photographer Izima Kaoru’s ‘landscape with a corpse’ series at f a projects. I also thought that the sculpture by Jose Davila of some empty HP toner cartridge boxes in a Donald Judd style stacking was pretty hilarious. It’s one of those works that made me wonder why I hadn’t thought of that myself. I mean, I just threw away about 70 identical cardboard boxes.

The next day I went to the Year_07 fair which was held at County Hall, the same building that until a few years ago was home to the Saatchi gallery. It’s a rather dreadful, labyrinthine former office space, but there was some interesting art on show. I really liked the wrinkled empty cans made of porcelain by Chinese artist Lei Xue. The Man&Eve gallery has an interesting line-up of artists and I wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years they will be exhibiting at Frieze. The scaffolding sculptures and dust drawings by Ben Long were fascinating and the projects by Ryan Ras intriguing. Berlin gallery Jarmuschek und Partner exhibited a photo printed on metal by Berit Myreboe that I would have liked to buy. At Danielle Arnaud gallery Heather and Ivan Morison had displayed an old copy of 2001 A Space Odyssey and another science fiction book whose title I’ve forgotten with dried leaves and flowers sticking out from between the pages. I liked the contrast between science fiction and dried leaves.

Perhaps visiting four big art fairs in two days was not such a good idea. By the time I made it to the Bridge Art fair I was suffering from art fatigue. The fair was held in a hotel, with the galleries occupying the hotel rooms. The idea is that you get to see the artworks in a more natural environment, on a wall above a sofa or in a bedroom. But the rooms were crammed and most works on show were of lesser quality than at Frieze, Zoo and Year_07.

Ivar Hagendoorn