British wanderings part I – Frieze Art fair

Here we go with the first part of our British wanderings, for which we naturally start from the centre point event: Frieze Art Fair.

The Fair this year has been enlarged, or better said doubled, in fact composed now of a contemporary part and a brand new one dedicated to old masters. And the latter is really what has touched us most, for different reasons. It consisted of stands which exhibited art of the past that ranged from ancient times to more or less the 80ies of the XX century, through group shows as well as solo presentations. The whole concept seemed to be somewhat inspired by Axel Vervoordt’s exhibitions at Palazzo Fortuny in Venice as well as by its own private gallery practice (click here for more information on this): confronting artworks and artifacts from different periods, approaches, styles through their formal qualities, details and focuses, highlighting common poetics and lineages in something that becomes a time suspended environment.

El Anatsui, Artempo, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice

First Floor, Artempo, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice

Vervoordt’s stand being probably the best thing to see in the fair and displayed as an engaging and accurate exhibition. It started with an Egyptian fragmented throne, then going towards a more tight passage with Roman Opalka’s series of self-portraits, the “Détails”, which recorded the passing of time, and to which his oevre can be seen as very much concerned with.

Roman Opalka, Details,1965/1-Infinity, black and white photographs, each 30,3×23,8 cm
“My death is the logical and emotional proof of the completion of my work.”

These matched with ancient Greek and Egyptian little sculptures focusing on the eye and the view and metaphorically emphasizing the notion of visions of and through time as well as the need to explain and appropriate the concept of death.

Also Gagosian Gallery surprisingly had a great solo presentation (and we say surprisingly as in the masters’ part it avoided having the usual bunch of quite uninteresting collectors-salon artworks by very famous artists) by Richard Avedon, showing photographs from his great “In the American West” black and white series. Nevertheless the whole presentation seemed to be sort of a paradox, if we consider that this series was a six year project commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum where we in particular see working people  of all sorts portrayed with the dignity of celebrities; and this is now sold and shown within one of the most powerful private galleries in the world. But, needless to say, this is how things go today. Ideals and utopias declined into forms are now commodities sold to billionaires.

Richard Avedon, Bill Curry, Interstate 40, Yukon, Oklahoma, June 16, 1980

Certainly something else we can’t avoid to think of is the fact that a number of galleries had mainly incredibly charming works from the past, from wooden sculptures to tapestry to jewellery in different materials, with crazy high prices (up to millions of euros). Now the issue being why such things would be sold within artistic fairs (and within art’s prices) only when part of a historical narration, and fairly considered as art when contemporary. This is naturally nothing new,  but still we can’t avoid to consider the timid approach we still have towards contemporaneity and how much standards are more and more accepted simply because being part of the institution of art.

Furthermore a reflection goes on how much the notion and discourse regarding aesthetics, as complex as it is, in the last couple of decades has been consciously avoided to privilege the equally complex notion of the ‘content’, as it would be something un-related. And in fact what can be strongly noted within the contemporary art part of the fair is an extremely weak average of works on both sides, formally as well as content wise. Great texts and engaging explanations is all you could feel (or better said read) in a completely un-critical celebration and non relation to the artworks themselves.

‘artists’ jewellery (?) at Frieze Art Fair, the contemporary part

Something that indeed happens a lot in the jewellery environment as well, but where, if we can throw a stone towards our own field, words are much less (materially as well as in terms of importance) even if often naïve, so the ambition to actually place works in the reign of the contemporary relies on the works themselves more then on anything else (however the discussion around jewellery criticism is still going to be dealt with later on, we did buy the Texte Zur Kunst criticism issue, actually in the Fair, that always has a very good magazines and books offer).

That’s it for part one.

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