You never realise it’s Frieze week until it’s over and the signs of three weeks of accumulated hype and booze appear on your fatigued body. In this state I set about to write this article. If you took part in Frieze you might well relate to what you are about to read: a muddled blend of disapproval, advices, comments and anecdotes about the most flamboyant vanity fair of the arts. On the contrary, if you have deliberately decided to sleep through Frieze and ignore what’s going on in that tent full of art in Regent’s Park, reading this will probably make you feel satisfied with your choice of non compliance with the commercial art world.
“There is so much to do, it’s Frieze week!”: you’ve certainly heard this sentence over and over in the last few weeks. From the very first day of October, the number and quality of art events in London gradually increases, people attending look more glamorous than usual, booze is free and served just at the right temperature. Absolutely delightful news. At the same time, this proliferation of events implies that every day for a couple of weeks you are forced to choose between showing up at this potentially mind blowing talk, or preferring that unorthodox performance, or going for that unmissable symposium, or maybe favouring that obscure electronic music concert – all this on top of the ordinary hyper production and hyper consumption of cultural events in London. I appreciate that Frieze is promoting the image of London as the most vibrant creative metropolis ever. But what is the point of Frieze, Frieze Masters, Frieze Music, Frieze Film, the Sculpture Park, Frieze ICA Bar, Sluice, Sunday Art Fair, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, PAD London and the BFI London Film Festival plus thousands of events all going on at the same time? Am I the only one thinking that the whole Frieze week seriously exacerbates the Fear Of Missing Out and other disorders characteristic of the first world?
Visiting Frieze completely depends on your skills in obtaining a free pass. Manipulate, steal, seduce, kidnap, torture, kill, but find a way to get in for free. Why? First, because the ticket is insanely expensive and if you are an art student you probably can’t afford it. Second, because not succeeding to nab a free pass reveals that you don’t have a network of generous artsy friends, and this is considered a real disgrace in the art world. Finally, because the actual fair experience is definitely not worth £37 (50-something for Frieze Masters…). If you pay this amount you will probably get bitter or attempt dangerous operations in order to get some value for your money. Last year, having naively bought my ticket, I ended up spending most of my time in Frieze’s auditorium counting: “a talk with student concession costs an average of 10 pounds, if I manage to stay for two more talks after this I will be around 30 pounds…”
Once You Get In – Frieze and Frieze Masters
It will take you a few seconds to realise that Frieze has little to do with art. It has much more to do with spectacle, fashion, art world power dynamics, business and networking. If you are interested in any of these, you can invest your time in the fair mulling about which galleries are part of it and why, where their booth is positioned, what might be the strategy behind the choice of presenting a certain artist, who has been selected for the Frieze Projects this year, what topics are treated in the program of talks. While you are so concentrated on the politics of Frieze you might forget to make up a tasteful selection of the booths and pieces you like best. Don’t worry too much about it: during Frieze week, the art world seems to reach a unanimous agreement on what is interesting and what is not, and any article titled ‘The Five Best Booths at Frieze’ will tell you who are the year’s favourites. This phenomenon endlessly amazes me, and I keep wondering whether in that week everyone reads the same press and appropriates the same opinions, or actually thinks exactly the same way.
After the gaudy contemporary tent, make your way to Frieze Masters, where you can walk in tranquility and let your sense of sight guide you. There is no validation frenzy or up and coming anxiety in Frieze Masters, just grey haired people gracefully chatting in a low voice and sipping Pinot Grigio. You won’t see any of the tasteless situations you cringed at in the other Frieze, like gallerists feasting on a Pret A Manger salad in the middle of a crowded booth (which is gross. But also normal, especially around lunchtime. But still a bit gross). The artworks, elegantly arranged in the space, span from Egyptian Sculpture to Arte Povera and would constitute much more interesting material for curatorial projects than the ones in Frieze do. Eventually someone is gonna notice that.
As you know, there is “so much going on during Frieze week”. This year, I have been to a couple of “alternative” and “emerging” art fairs. Most of them are established and longstanding counterparts to Frieze, held in significantly run down spaces. Still, the format of the art fair is the same, and the fact that the works on display are cheaper then the ones in Frieze doesn’t necessarily make them better. Nonetheless, satellite fairs are recommended: there you can come across interesting off-track galleries in Bristol or spend a pleasant half an hour planning your funeral in exquisite detail as part of some bizarre performance.
It’s not quite time to wrap up this experience, but at the same time it’s already too late. Frieze week has passed and no one talks about it anymore. What’s left of this hectic flurry of art production and consumption? The pile of unread press releases I have hoarded.