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Untitled "Liverpool Station at Rush Hour"


Was the London Art Fair worth it? Press Reactions to the Frieze Art Fair

The Frieze Art Fair was already a hit with the public in 2003. That the art fair, which took place for a second time in London from October 15-18, would turn into a spectacle was something no one could be certain of. Yet only a few days after the event, the critics' opinions are unanimous: A "Feast for Collectors," as the Neue Zürcher Zeitung headline read, had established itself as an exceptional locus on the international art market. "Called to life only last year by the two newcomers Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the editors of the art magazine of the same name," the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported "takings from 24 to 30 million Euros" for last year alone.

This year, the sum must have been even higher because 25 more galleries took part, putting the number of exhibitors at 150 and the total number of artists shown at 2,000. Thus, Sandra Kegel from the FAZ predicts that the Frieze Art Fair will triumph over its competitors, such as the Berlin Art Forum or the Art Cologne: "In London, more than a few German galleries have candidly said that they'd rather come here in the future than to Cologne or Berlin, because at the end of the day it's about business, and the art shopping is magnificent here."

The Frankfurter Rundschau attempted to explain the enormous popularity of the Frieze Art Fair. Louise Brown, who was impressed by the crowds in the makeshift white fair tent designed by the British star architect David Adjaye, wrote that a feeling of "being in a nightclub" already arose at the front door: "At the first professional view, the entrance area seemed like Liverpool Station at rush hour." Brown criticized the interior design, which seemed too much like a "picnic area," yet for her the Frieze Art Fair was still an "ultimate art event: and the two fair directors kept praising their main sponsor Deutsche Bank in the most glowing terms."

For Ingeborg Ruthe of the Berliner Zeitung, as well, Deutsche Bank's commitment marks a successful beginning on the British Isle especially because the Frieze Art Fair doesn't operate with spectacle: "Apparently, London is striving towards becoming the world art capital with more respectable means. Even Deutsche Bank believes that it could work and has sponsored this second Frieze Art Fair instead of the recent successful Berlin Art Forum."

Nonetheless, the fair seemed "fairly relaxed" to Ruthe, who feels confirmed in her judgment by curators assured that "following the years of 'sensation,' the new trend lies in serious observation, realization, and analysis - for instance of the connections between high tech and nature, politics, and everyday life."

For the NZZ, one indication of this is the work of Jota Castro in the Massimo Minini Gallery of Brescia, with "the heads of Tony Blair, George Bush, and Silvio Berlusconi grinning out of three oil drums painted in the English, American, and Italian national flags." On the other hand, Catrin Lorch of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung found Tacita Dean's work at Marian Goodman to be extraordinary: "a sixteen millimeter film of the Palast der Republik in Berlin, ten minutes of a static image of a grid facade shining in gold." Above all, according to the FAZ, it's noticeable that photography has "interrupted its flight and has taken its place as one among many forms of expression." In the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger , Frank Frangenberg sees another problem looming on the horizon - in his opinion, art dealing and criticism are too close at the Frieze Art Fair: "The boundaries between the marketplace and the exhibition seem to blur in London. When an art magazine organizes an art fair and their critics write texts on the artists in the catalogue, they're basically offering suggestions as to what to buy - and surrender every last bit of reserve and neutrality."

The British critics see the art event with far more humor and irony. For the Independent, Ossian Ward produced a small primer ahead of time in which collectors, museum directors, gallery dealers, fair employees, artists, and curators shake hands. His attention was particularly directed at Hans-Ulrich Obrist, the curator at Paris' Musee d'Art Moderne considered to be one of the most active curators of the present day. But Deutsche Bank is way up there on the attention scale for him too, because it's "a seal of approval for Frieze as it is a financial shot in the arm." For the Guardian, on the other hand, Adrian Searle pondered on the "terrible jarring moments, when everything teeters into meaninglessness and visual overload." Yet Searle also knows in a general way what role the fair plays: "For those artists whose work is intended to do more than merely entertain, art fairs look brutal." For this reason, he sums it up in this way: "After a weekend at the art fair, one might wish to reach for that old modernist standby, Less is More, and spend some time alone in an empty white room with a chair and a book."

Translation: Andrea Scrima