“It’s a lot better than last year,” isn’t it?” I heard one woman say in the 2012 Frieze art fair. Better? Possibly; probably. But my overriding impression was that it was the same – not in the sense that the art works were the same as last year, but rather in the sensation of being there. Once past security I immediately went into what has become a familiar Zombiefriezed state. In the Dream in Julian Barnes’ History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters, the narrator find himself in the after life. He is asked “do you want to go shopping, or stay shopping?” He opts to go shopping. I felt I had been asked the equivalent question and opted to stay at Frieze. It was as if I had never left. All my good intentions to look at things systematically, to use the exhibition map to search out seminal works, were as nothing; I simply allowed myself to drift from stand to stand, being pulled in by some, no doubt missing loads, inadvertently finding myself back at the same place over and over again. I knew that because I kept coming across the pink seal, Oscar Tuazon’s huge shed like structure and the part that was roped off with police tape which I came to realise was not the real thing ( we get real police tape in Hastings) but Asli Cavusoglu’s performance piece. I had that familiar desire to see more, see it all and you simply can’t; so I tried to keep going, hardly stopped for overpriced tea, until was I finally spewed out, arted out, into the rain of Regent’s Park.
So what follows are simply works by 20 artists that for one reason or another I noticed. I am not claiming that they were the best or most interesting works there. With over 1000 works on display and having probably missed at least half of them, there were bound to be more worthy contenders for a top 20. So these are just 20 works I found interesting – in no particular order. Some are by well-known artists; others by those who are less well-known – at least by me.
1. Zhang Huan: Our Parents
It would have been hard not to have noticed this enormous work by Chinese artist Zhang Huan, in a dominant position on the White Cube stand; the family group looked down on the assembled visitors. It reminded me of some of the photographic-like works of Gerhard Richter. Where Richter depicts people in black and white you know that something bad has generally happened to them. I felt anxious for this family, a sense of unease not reduced by the fact that the pictures were created out of layers of ash, which gave them an interesting texture. It made me really want to know more about the family’s history and how his parents fared in China which its one child policy?
2. Sarah Lucas: Hanging Chair
I first saw Sarah Lucas’ works in Frieze two years ago and was fascinated by the strange limbs of her tights sculptures. Now the tights are back forming this striking hanging chair made of – er tits, complete with nipples.
3. Adrian Ghenie: Pie Fight
I thought this was a marvellous painting; I loved the humour; the way the paint was thickly applied with spatters echoing the spattering of the woman, the way that is representational but almost has an abstract quality and the use of colours.
4. Maria Nordin: Conversation Piece
Very different but also compelling were a series of large luminous watercolours by Maria Nordin, each one a portrait, concentrating on the eyes. They were painted with a limited palette, mainly in tones of pink and red, one in tones of grey, they seemed as far from the traditional watercolour as it is possible to be.
5. Tim Parchikov: the Bench
There were many wonderful photographs at Frieze, often of extraordinary and exotic places, some of them violent and disturbing but I found the simplicity of this photograph of a snow-covered bench striking. At first glance it looked as if the snow had been deliberately sculpted and then I realised it was a natural result of melting. Tim Parchikov had found and captured a natural sculpture.
6. Huma Mulji: Lost and Found
The life-sized, but essentially dead figure created by Pakistani artist Huma Mulji in fibre glass and treated hide gave an impression of great vulnerability; I think it is the suggestion of the penis, that and the fact the toes seem decayed. It is a strange work but one I particularly liked.
7. Tom Burr:
It sounds boring, blankets pined to a large board with upholstery tacks. This work by Tom Burr was fascinating in the way that it made one focus on the texture, the folds and the nature of the material by incorporating one small area of thinner and subtly differently coloured fabric.
I was completely mesmerised by this 16 minute film by Christina Lucas, so much so that having come in half way through I watched it from the beginning so that I could see the complete work. This was despite the annoying antics of the people running the stand who insisted on fiddling with the controls. It is tale about a woman who presents herself at some kind of tribunal and appears to be sentenced to a punishment, the severity of which we remain uncertain. I was impressed how much we come to care about what happens to her as she passively accepts her hair being cut off, is stripped to the waist and is tarred and feathered by two grim-faced women, before being carted off in a truck. The end is unexpected and uplifting. It is beautifully shot. I also reflected that it must have taken quite extraordinary self-control on the part of the actress never once to put her hand to her face. Those feathers really must have been itchy.
9. Seung Yoi Ho: The ability to blow oneself up
This was a delightful short video lasting just 1.6 minutes and which had an amazingly simple concept – people blowing up balloons until they popped. Very funny and well worth watching.
10. Jimmie Durham: Resurrection
It wouldn’t be Frieze if you didn’t see something totally mad. The winner of the 2012 Artelogical “Gosh I could do that in Ten Minutes Prize” was Jimmie Durham with Resurrection. Each of the edition of 21 was an old fashioned television with its screen missing, as though it had been smashed by a brick which still lurked in its interior. They apparently cost E12,000 each. The nice lady on the stand told me she had already sold one and would sell more before Frieze was over. It would certainly need the right exhibition space. Put it in my home and it would simply look as though it were waiting for a one way trip to recycling.
11. Johan Cretan: Wallflowers; Les Polpes
I liked the large ceramic works by Johan Cretan, of which two are shown here; at least I liked the shapes, I was less sure about the glazing effects but looking at the photographs again I realise that his glazing colours – blues and golds, sea colours. fit the subject. It is rather that I have a totally unreasonable prejudice against glazing in sculpture.
12. Miriam Cahn
Many of the works on display at Frieze were monumental but I kept being drawn to this small painting by Miriam Cahn; it is only 32 x 26cm. It is simple but there is something really satisfying about the colours, the somewhat childlike execution and the way that the portrait has pared everything back to the essentials.
13. Rachel Harrison: Sculpture with Raincoat
It is strange, I have been quibbling about glazes on sculptures and yet I was immediately attracted to this brightly painted sculpture by Rachel Harrison. It was funny and colourful and I loved the inclusion of the raincoat. More than that, it was one of those pieces which might end up influencing some work that I am undertaking. I have made a series of maquettes about hidden things going on in the body and have been wondering about materials. I have been thinking about papier-mache, leather, resin and fabric. After seeing Harrison’s work, I might just add concrete and paint to the list.
14. Alice Channer: MAH627G
I was fascinated by three simple pieces by Alice Channer.They appeared to be chiffon scarves cast in resin. How can you cast something as soft as a chiffon scarf and yet somehow keep the quality of softness in a hard material? I also particularly liked the way that the light shone through them and the shadows that it cast.
15. Marcel Eichner
A series of large works by Marcel Eichner in oil and ink on canvas seemed to straddle the gap between cartoons and paintings; they looked anarchic, fascinating and disturbing.
16. Nandipha Mntambo
According to the press hand out Swaziland born Nandioha Mntambo has worked extensively in cow hide, I found particularly interesting the way she had a made a sculpture from hide and cow tails and then used hair from the tails as a medium with which to draw. This photograph shows both – I liked the contrast between the solidity and earthiness of the sculpture and the somewhat etherial quality of the hair drawings on paper.
17. Jay Heikes: Fur Elise
Here is another work I chose because of the artist’s use of materials – paper, ink, copper ore, and petrified stone. I don’t know what petrified stone is – I thought all stones were petrified; that surely is the quality of stone. But despite my internal argument with her description, I still liked the textures, the colours, the way that the work was a near, not a perfect rectangle and the three-dimensional effect to what was still a piece of wall art.
18. Edgar Bryan: Dead Souls
I thought this was an extremely clever piece, depicting transformed gramophone records – soul music? They have taken a new identity in what appears to be fabric but this is not a collage but is created in oil and acrylic on canvas.
19. Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: the Appearance of Collage
This painting by husband and wife Ilya and Emilia reminded me of Leonard Rossiman’s painting of a meeting of the Royal Academy. I suppose committee meetings have a similarity the world over. Here, in this work, we perhaps have clues as to what the group are discussing unless of course they are the imaginings of the seated figure to the left writing at his desk. I find interesting not just the way that the different elements are combined in the painting but also the idea of the couple working together collaboratively.
20. Gavin Turk: Blue Door
I have a problem with neons in that the wires can too often detract from the work as a whole. In this one by Gavin Turk, they did not. I saw it when I was feeling very tired; after some five hours of looking at art; it seemed to offer a portal to another world , or at least the exit, which amounted to the same thing. It was of course an illusion. Time is suspended; there is no way out. That is the human condition.