There was a time when I used to visit the Chelsea Flower Show regularly before I finally admitted to myself that, while I enjoyed the act of creating a garden, I hated anything to do with maintenance. Art is better that way; paint a painting, make a sculpture and you don’t find two minutes later that ground elder has sprouted up in the middle of your work or that it needs pruning. Or if it does, and you do it, then it stays pruned. Anyway, in the days when I had garden ambitions, there was always that moment of recognition at Chelsea – “oh yes; there are the Delphiniums; there are the Californian Poppies; there are the Bonsai Trees. I was thinking of this as I went round Frieze. Oh yes; there are the sculptures in fake fur; there are the paintings which comprise statements about life in crudely executed block capitals; there are the works that look like Mickey Mouse; there is the loosely assembled arrangement of kitsch objects. There are the items you cannot imagine anybody could possibly buy – in this year’s Frieze, winners of that accolade were a length of yellow carpet adorned by a single piece of tape and a piece of old framed newspaper with some very small, apparently random, paint marks on it.
So, there is certainly a sameness about Frieze each year – not just in the artworks but also in the experience: the queues for the cloakrooms and tea at Gail’s Bakery, the breaking of the resolution to look round systematically, the frustration with poor labeling and insufficient artist information. But there are also discernible trends. A couple of years ago, neons seemed to be in vogue. This year there were far fewer, though I did spot one by Martin Creed. He was in a more conciliatory mood than in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition where his work read ASSHOLES. In Frieze it said FRIENDS. What comes next? ROMANS perhaps.
There also seemed to be fewer videos, but my tolerance for shots taken with an unsteady hand-held camera, accompanied by flashing lights and electronic music is pretty low, so I did not seek them out. This year there seemed more performance art, particularly people walking around in linked hats; at one point there was somebody laughing hysterically on the floor, at another, people daubing themselves with paint. It must be a hard arena in which to perform because performance art requires concentration from the viewer, whilst the sheer quantity of works promotes a butterfly response. The performances I saw did not grab me sufficiently to get me to linger long. Maybe they were better than they appeared.
Joined hats: performance art at Frieze
I started looking for other categories. This year there seemed to be an extraordinary number of works that looked from a distance like monochrome rectangles but which were revealed on closer inspection to have some variation in the colour or texture. Among them, one turned out to be woven beads; another was produced by a spray paint technique and looked a bit like a pleasing rectangle of bathroom floor; there were three near identical fabrics put together by three different artists, I loved a large photograph by Ryan Gander of a brown background and a very small memory stick as well as this work by Irma Blank. From a distance, the rectangles look something like framed denim. Close up, you can see that they actually comprise scribbled ball point marks. To produce work of this kind must require real obsession.
Irma Blank: Ur-schrift ouvero avant-testo
Irma Blank: detail.
Shiny is an obvious category and there were plenty of shiny works about. I thought this portrait of Mao, Not Vital by Thaddaeus Ropac in the Sculpture Park particularly clever because it captured him with no features other than the hairline.
Thaddaeus Ropac: Not Vital
What could have been shinier than this hanging mirrored work by Thomas Saraceno which is hard to photograph as it captures its surroundings in this case a wall of cherry blossom, and so merges into the background.
Liz Larner achieved a different sort of shiny with this ceramic and resin piece. What makes it work so well is the rough break in the middle.
Every year there are items which make you laugh; this year, my favourites were the door complete with lock and key that was curled up like a piece of paper.
As we have had plumbing problems recently, I liked the perpetually running bath. It was leaking, you can see the wet patch in the bottom corner of the photograph. Sadly, it was unintended and they fixed it after a bit. To me the leaking bath seemed a better metaphor for life than one which did not leak.
Also in the amusing category were two works by Alexandra Bircken of motor cycle leathers cut open and mounted as though they were animal trophies.
On a personal level there is the long-admired category. Top on my list was Peter Buggenhout, whose work I have previously only seen in photographs. This is one of the Gorgo series; the label uninformatively said it was mixed media; usually the ingredients include industrial dirt and bits of animals, straw and other unidentifiable things. It was as interesting as I had thought it would be from published images but much smaller, a bit like the Mona Lisa. When you think about it, that’s probably the only time Buggenhout has been compared with Leonardo da Vinci
Peter Buggenhout: Gorgo
Another in my long admired category is Marc Quinn. I am always impressed by his diversity, I noticed this striking work first and then discovered it was by him.
Marc Quinn: Toxic Sublime
Indeed The White Cube stand, as you would expect, had some particularly fine works. I was not so keen on the Damien Hirst fish but loved this simple piece by Theaster Gates.The photograph does not do it anything like justice. Made of wood, roofing rubber and tar, it is the shiny edible looking texture of the tar which gives it appeal,
Theaster Gates: And Behold, the Heavenly Expands above my Head
Perhaps that is another category – works made out of odd things, in which case one has to include this fine unwearable garment by Doris Salcedo made of silk thread and sharp steel pins.
Doris Salcedo: Disremembered II
In contrast to the long-admired, were the many artists who were completely unknown to me. I particularly liked the way that Cameroonian born artist Barhelemy Togue manipulated acrylic paint making it flow like water-colour.
I was also fascinated by this painting by Puerto Rican artist Angel Otoro. He has developed a technique of allowing oil paint to dry on glass, at which point he removes it and collages it onto canvas.
There are other works on his website which I prefer chiefly because I am not totally convinced by the pink and silver, but in all his paintings I particularly enjoy the fluid folds that he achieves,. Another artist who manipulates paint in a non-traditional way is Mark Hagen. The interesting grey panels turn out to have been formed by forcing paint through burlap which was then presented from the underside. The coloured panels are made from computer components, providing a pleasing contrast and creating one of the most stylish stands in the exhibition.
Proving that Frieze gets you to see all kinds of connections.My final category is chains, Two works by two very different artists. This piece is by the Chinese artist Liang Shaoji, and is made from colophony, iron, polyurethane and silk. I particularly like the way that the silk partially obscures the links.
Meanwhile, Monica Bonvicini produced this extraordinary cube of chains set on a mirrored surface.
Surface is all I have been able to write about; it is the trouble and wonder with Frieze that there is so much. Ideally I would go back the next day, see it all more slowly, perhaps keep my resolution to do it systematically, Because of my wafty progress, I know there were works I missed. i read there was a sleeping gallery attendant – I would have liked to have seen him. Maybe two days next year? But then, could I face the queues for the cloakroom two days in a row?