It’s a strange phenomenon that Frieze is now the biggest event of the UK art calendar. In no other walk of life would anyone pay twenty-five quid for the privilege of watching rich people spend money – but Frieze gives a visitor a fairly unique experience. For an afternoon, we normal folk can imagine it’s within the realm of possibility to buy a Mark Quinn sculpture.
However, Frieze did feel different this year. The art was less showy, with fewer explicit sexual references. There were lots of simpler pen-and-pencil drawings, and the wonderfully disquieting work of David Shrigley had a big presence – notably at Mexico City’s Kurimanzutto stall. Shrigley has a knack for making the innocent seem palpably sinister, and his stuffed Jack Russell bearing an ‘I’m dead’ epitaph was both funny and uncomfortable.
Contemporary art has always felt a disjuncture between taking itself seriously as a cultural money-spinner and its accompanying self-disgust, which generally manifests as dark irony. There was no shortage of that this year, and Annika Ström’s ‘Ten Embarrassed Men’, wandering around humiliated at the representation of women in artworks, encourages a dry smile.
At the darker end of the spectrum was Berlinde De Bruyckere’s ‘Lingam’. This Bacon-esque, fleshy lump suspended with flattened ropes was almost as horrific as The Human Centipede, if you can imagine such a thing.
Chaotic agglomerations of junk seemed to be dotted around too, harking back to a long tradition of Duchamp readymades and Rauschenberg assemblage art. The most ambitious I found was Laure Prouvost’s room at MOT’s stall. Unfortunately, there was so much stuff in such a small space I can only really remember seeing a smashed up butter pat. Haroon Mirza’s arrangment of a lightbulb, speaker and Human League record was seemingly less profound, but emitted a pleasing, low-frequency hum as it slowly span.
Of course, there was no shortage of the usual tacky crap with a fifty-grand price tag. One piece from Marcus Coates resembled a Miami Vice mannequin with a horse mane, and actually reduced a small child to tears – which pretty much captured my thoughts. Don’t even get me started on Jon Pylypchuk’s anthropomorphic cigarettes.
TEXT + IMAGES: SIOBHAN LEDDY