An Angeleno in London

Frieze-signLast week, I (and the rest of the art world) descended upon London for the annual Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park. Though the fair is the impetus for the October emigration, it is one of only a hundred events in the art aficionados’ diary for the week. In many respects, the star of this year’s event was the city of Los Angeles, with iconic LA artists Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari having major retrospectives at the Hayward Gallery and Tate Modern, respectively, but also in the West End galleries with Ruscha at Gagosian Davies Street, Baldessari at Spruth Magers, and Walead Beshty at Thomas Dane Gallery. In addition, younger Angelenos fared prominently in the exhibition Abstract America at the new Saatchi Gallery, including Mark Bradford, Jedediah Caesar, Mark Grotjahn, Amanda Ross-Ho, and Sterling Ruby.

The fair itself has been thoroughly covered by the media, so I’ll only record a few observations here. As one would expect, artists with concurrent museum exhibitions were well-represented—Ruscha (Hayward), Baldessari (Tate Modern), Anish Kapoor (Royal Academy), and Antony Gormley (Trafalgar Square), as well as the “usual suspects”—Tracy Emin, Damien Hirst, Gilbert & George, etc. The words ‘somber’ and ‘gravitas’ were thrown around the aisles of the fair quite a lot to describe this year’s selection, one of my favorite examples being Gavin Brown’s installation of Rirkrit Tiravanija’s large-scale, newspaper-covered canvases with large, brightly-colored letters spelling out the apocalyptic proclamation “THE DAYS OF THIS SOCIETY IS NUMBERED.”

Jim Lambie, Untitled, 2009 installed in The Modern Institute’s booth at Frieze Art Fair, 2009.

Jim Lambie, Untitled, 2009 installed in The Modern Institute’s booth at Frieze Art Fair, 2009.

The exception—that perhaps proves the rule—was a mirrored chair by Jim Lambie hung diagonally on the wall at The Modern Institute’s booth. Christian Jankowski was by no means the only artist to comment on the shriveling economy, but his video, Strip The Auctioneer, which played on an LCD monitor at Lisson Gallery, was particularly poignant because he utilized the art world’s main marketplace, the auction house, to address the issue. The video was a recording of a June 2009 event held at Christie’s Amsterdam where a well-dressed auctioneer sells his clothes item by item until (in his underwear) he sells his hammer.






With the usual London rain conspicuously absent, the adjacent Frieze Sculpture Park was a favorite among fair visitors—myself included. Graham Hudson utilized the contentious ground of Regent’s Park, which had been appropriated by Henry VIII for hunting ground, to erect the first ever monument for Edward VIII—the abdicated king is the only monarch without a commemorative monument or statue in England. Hudson is in good company with works by Bourgeois, McCarthy, Eva Rothschild (concurrently the Duveens’ Commission at Tate Britain), Zhan Wang, and Erwin Wurm’s nearby.

The most talked about sculpture in town was miles away in Trafalgar Square: the Fourth Plinth project by Antony Gormley. Originally intended for a typical equestrian monument to the king, the fourth plinth on the northwest corner of the square remained empty for more than a century before the Royal Society of Arts began commissioning artists to create a work to temporarily occupy the space. Gormley didn’t cast a bronze or carve a marble; instead, he placed a different person on the plinth for one hour 24 hours a day for 100 days. All told, 2400 people became living sculptures on Gormley’s performative plinth, a poignant commentary on the multi-faceted society in which we live. I visited the plinth several times during my stay, watching a woman protest the outlandish spending of the MP’s and on another day, a different person lay down sod on the entire area of the plinth. On the penultimate day, people queued to have their photograph taken by Sarah Pye from atop the plinth. She then printed the photo and attached it to a lollipop doll, which she parachuted from the plinth via grocery bag. As I waited down below for my photo doll, Sky News was asking visitors the age old question, “Yes, but is it art?” Absolutely.

- By Rebecca Taylor

All photos taken by Rebecca Taylor.

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