Frieze is no longer just a fair. It is not even just a week. This year Frieze seemed to last for ten days. It was time for every museum to roll out their major annual shows - cue the good (Seth Price at the ICA, Haroon Mirza at Zabludowicz Collection, Tørbjorn Rødland at the Serpentine Sackler and the four shows that took over 180 The Strand) and cue the bland (Wade Guyton at the Serpentine didn't come off very well). Frieze is also the time when auction houses bring out their big pieces - and nothing got bigger than Damien Hirst’s gynaecologist examining room slash aquarium Love Lost, 1999, at Christie's. It was the time galleries opened (König’s Archive and Souvenir in a basement car park near Edgware Road) and spaces sadly closed (DRAF who finished years of brilliant programming with a full crowd at KOKO for their night of performances).
With this amount of buzz in town, the 15th iteration of the fair was very full from the start. Older works by known artists were interestingly some of the best things to see. Metro Pictures brought out a great project by Gary Simmons of large banners he had made and collected at street events in the early 1990s, the backdrops to a long series of polaroid portraits by the artist. The giant Nubian Queen and Phillie Blunt Land backdrops, both 1993, felt like the afro-centric hip hop of 1993 was finally being given institutional attention. At the other end of the fair, Suzanne Treister had three older paintings and a bunch of funny painted pieces on old computer disks on show at PPOW gallery that fused abstraction and technology and felt surprisingly fresh.
Many of the younger galleries in the Focus section went for solo presentations. One of the most successful was Emalin. They devoted their Focus booth to the Russian artist Evgeny Antufiev, who filled it with cardboard, fabric and ceramic prehistoric-vibed monsters that touched on ideas of Siberian shamanism. The boldest solo booth was undoubtedly Anne Uddenberg with her weird vaginal sex-toy-like saddle chair at Kraupa Tuskany-Ziedler. It wasn't easy to like but it was impossible to forget.
Feminism also had a wonderful presence at the fair. Alison M Gingeras did an amazing job curating booths devoted to radical older feminists like Natalia LL, Penny Slinger and Birgit Jurgenssen and Air de Paris focused on the work of Dorothy Iannone, for example. Alongside a comic strip-like story around her experience of censorship was a decorated video sculpture, which captured the face of the artist masturbating. Karma International nearby created a great salon hang of paintings and drawings by Judith Bernstein, an artist who was only given serious attention in her 60s. Younger artist Georgina Starr’s Frieze project Androgynous Egg, 2017, was a perfect and playful contemporary accompaniment to this older strand. Starr’s poetic, operatic work was as fun as sticking your hand in a pot of playdoh. Everyone left the small theatrical show with a smile.
Although Frieze is the biggest fair this week, it is also not the only fair. Frieze’s calmer older sibling Masters continued to be a grown up palette cleanser from modern market madness. Peter Blake set up a whole fake studio at Waddington Custot, and sat on a sofa amongst his cut out bits of collage materials and incredible early boxing paintings, to hold court. 1:54 African Art Fair at Somerset House positioned London in a much needed international context, especially at Mariane Ibrahim Gallery. She made the inspired decision to place black and gold works by Clay Apenouvon and Line Iris Viktor side by side. One was made from plastic, the other 24k gold.
The Sunday Art Fair felt a bit patchy this year with some much younger galleries but their intention as young guns felt honourable. Stand out pieces amongst them included Marianne Spurr’s wall sculptures made from rolls of different materials tied together like a venetian blind at Supplement and the retro-futuristic graphic drawings and sculptures of Amba Sayal-Bennett at Carbon12Dubai as well as the group salon hang on a wire wall by Good Weather in Arkansas (who deserve a prize simply for being a gallery in Arkansas).
Frieze felt strong, informative and not simply filled with abstract or naïve paintings directed at lazy buyers. More than anything it has become a catalyst for museums, galleries and project spaces to pull out the stops. For ten days at least, the city felt like the centre of the art world. Which is a rare feeling in the wake of Brexit.