Younger Galleries Stole the Show at London’s Frieze Fairs

With everything from blue chip works to dinosaur skeletons, this year's fairs offered up the usual mix of the saleable and the unexpected.

Frieze installed itself in its usual spot in London’s Regent’s Park for a rather muted 20th-anniversary celebration. There were no fireworks—the birthday was announced rather quietly under the sign at the entrance and then not seen or mentioned again. The billowing wind and October rain tapping on the translucent tents were the extent of the foot-stamping for what felt like just another year. And I suppose it was just another year, but as always, there were—in the end—enough zippy wow-factor items to make all the trudging worth it.

Thaddaeus Ropac’s booth. Photo Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze

Beginning with Frieze London, I worked my way around the fair methodically from sections A to H, though confusingly, the main entrance started one at section E. From A up through E, work by blue chip artists was prominently displayed: Galerie Krinzinger at A3 presented works by Marina Abramović, Cristea Roberts at A6 had Julian Opie, Grayson Perry was on view at Victoria Miro (C18) and Barbara Chase-Riboud could be seen at Hauser & Wirth (D5). There were, of course, a lot of paintings and other easily saleable works, although more risks were taken in the new Frieze “Artist-to-Artist” section at the back of A and B. Though poorly signposted, an arresting video work by Ayoung Kim nominated by Haegue Yang was unmissable and showcased a computer game that you weren’t quite invited to play.

Many galleries made dramatic bids to attract attention in what was, as usual, a gluttony of things to see. One booth was covered in snails, another in wall-to-wall doodles. The booths in E-F housed many of the big, bolshy eyeball-grabbing pieces to make an impact on entry. David Kordansky presented Fred Eversley’s extraterrestrial prism sculptures that distorted the image like carnival mirrors alongside large scale prints of Deanna Lawson’s bold and obstinate photographs of naked Black women. Gagosian showcased Damien Hirst’s acid trip floral confections directly opposite the entranceway. Yet despite the preponderance of these eye-catching treats, the best of Frieze London could be found in the far east of the tent in the Focus section.

David Kordansky Gallery’s booth. Photo Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze

Sponsored by Stone Island, Focus exclusively showcases galleries less than twelve years old to encourage experimentation. It has a young, fresh and exciting feel, with works presented by galleries like Marfa’ in Beirut, Crisis in Lima and Dawid Radziszewski in Warsaw. Crowds gathered around H1 (Berlin’s Heidi and Athens’ Hot Wheels) where a film was showing on an obnoxiously large screen: a 24-minute short by Jordan Strafer. When I first walk up, a man is crooning, then a woman in a courtroom is questioned about pantyhose in what one begins to understand is a sexual assault case—specifically, William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial. The crowd is equally absorbed and horrified.

From there, the previously narrow divisions between the booths opened up slightly and the carpet transitions to a lighter color that matches the off-white tent and grey sky behind it. The shift is almost jarring; suddenly it feels like a different space has revealed itself, one more focused on play than sales. Here, the Mexican gallery Llano presents a mysterious bouncy castle-like structure by Débora Delmar, while Adam Farrah-Saad riffs on themes of London urban culture and gayness for Public Gallery with a fountain of KA tropical grape juice and wind chimes made of poppers.

Corvi-Mora’s booth. Linda Nylind

Frieze Masters, which showcases art and antiquities from before 1980, is a 15-minute walk away on the other side of the park, and you have to stroll through the Frieze Sculpture Park to get there. The Sculpture Park always feels like a poor relation, and this year is unfortunately no exception. Without the benefit of a well-designed booth, it is hard not to feel that the sculptures have just been… plonked. They don’t respond to the environment, which feels like a missed opportunity in such a beautiful locale. However, The Sleepwalker (2014) by Tony Matelli does titillate, and many people take photographs with the lifelike statue of a nearly nude middle-aged man stumbling through the park.

A realistic sculpture of a man stumbling around in briefs
Tony Matelli, ‘Sleepwalker’, 2014, Maruani Mercier. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/ Frieze

This year’s Frieze Masters mostly held its own against the contemporary fair 500 meters away. It was a slightly more jumbled affair, being harder to follow alphabetically, and the design of the booths was suitably more dated, though most exhibiting galleries did make an effort to distinguish their domains—some with eclectic furniture for directors to sit on, others with purely decorative artwork or fresh flowers. But there were several conspicuous, and perhaps slightly awkward, repeats. Alexander Calder was present in three gallery booths; Andy Warhol’s soup cans lurked around every corner.

Lindsey Ingram’s booth. Photo by Michael Adair. Courtesy of Frieze and Michael Adair

Standout presentations included the incredible ancient Egyptian pieces shown by Charles Ede (some dating to around 900 BC) and the Thomsen Gallery’s spectacular booth of 18th- and 19th-century folding screens and scrolls from Imperial Japan. A concentration of East Asian artifacts along this same strait offered up an interesting contrast to Galleria Continua’s solo presentation of Ai Weiwei’s desecrated Chinese antiques. But regardless of how good the Frieze Masters booths were, even the best of us would find it hard to compete with a dinosaur. Several mouths were agape at the two nearly intact dinosaur skeletons presented by David Aaron, which included a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed Chomper standing at ten feet tall.

Frieze is always fun if nothing else. Once you get past the bland and, frankly, hungry corporate atmosphere and turn a blind eye to the Deutsche Bank advertisements, you can have a really good time. I did.

Younger Galleries Stole the Show at London’s Frieze Fairs