Performative, participatory, and provocative
A preview of the London Frieze Fairs

Are all art viewers secretly being manipulated? Do paintings send out hidden messages, unbeknownst to us, that imbed themselves in our brains? If you ask Sophia Al Maria, then the answer is yes. The American artist has uncovered a conspiracy with her contribution to this year’s Frieze Projects. She was inspired by John Carpenter’s They Live (1988), a satirical science fiction film in which aliens rule the world by implanting hidden messages such as “Obey!,” “Buy!,” and “Do not question authority!” deep into the subconscious minds of consumers via mass media. At the 12th edition of Frieze, Al Maria unexpectedly confronts visitors to the fair with provocative statements and icons resembling cave painting.

From the very start, the experimental, subversive spirit of Frieze Projects was a guarantee for the London art fair’s inimitable profile. Whether it was Christian Jankowski declaring an Italian luxury yacht to be a work of art, or Ken Okiishi calling upon visitors to produce abstract paintings using a paintball machine, the recipe for Frieze’s success has had to do with the fact that it sees itself not merely as a marketplace, but as a cultural platform. In this way, it has successfully established itself as a meeting point for influential collectors, curators, and museum people. And as a crowd puller: around 60,000 visitors now come each year to visit the fair tents in Regent’s Park.

Deutsche Bank recognized the fair’s potential early in the game and has been a partner of Frieze London since its second run. As every year, the bank is also present in the fair tents—where it shows works from its collection in a lounge. The center of attention this year is the work The Arc of a Day. In this clock installation, the Indian artists’ group Raqs Media Collective takes viewers through a global working day between fear and ecstasy. The commissioned piece was made for the new Deutsche Bank branch in Birmingham. ArtMag is also present: at our press booth, you can obtain information on the action ArtMagYourself, in which you can win a terrific prize. Play along and post a selfie! You can find out more about ArtMagYourself on our Facebook page.

Frieze Projects has become even more interdisciplinary under the new directorship of Nicola Lees. Lees had already encouraged artists to experiment and to get together with people engaged in completely different disciplines in her position as curator at the Serpentine Gallery. This year, it’s dance, film, and music that dominate the program. In his first dance project, Nick Mauss not only cooperates with the Northern Ballet, but also with two of the most remarkable musicians in his native city of New York: Kim Gordon has been active since the eighties as a singer in Sonic Youth and as an artist and designer, and Juliana Huxtable became the figurehead of a new queer rap scene as a DJ, maker of parties, and performer.

Lees also invited Jonathan Berger with an homage to the legendary American comedian Andy Kaufman, and Jérôme Bel, the deconstructivist among avant-garde choreographers. In his Disabled Theater, he works with handicapped actors; the moving piece can be seen nearby in the Shaw Theatre. Other projects take place outside the fair tents, as well: Cerith Wyn Evans has placed his installation right inside the London Zoo, while Isabel Lewis revives the antique Greek symposia in the former Old Selfridges Hotel. The Norwegian scent researcher Sissel Tolaas is planning on underscoring the erotically philosophical atmosphere of the symposia with scents she has created especially for the occasion.

Lees is also involved in the conception of the new Frieze section “Live,” which is intended as a platform for performative and experimental positions. Six works were selected for the premiere. The Jocelyn Wolff Gallery presents a pioneer of participatory art, Franz Erhard Walther, many of whose works are part of the Deutsche Bank Collection, while the Green Tea Gallery provides ample occasion for heated debate. Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent? is the title of a work by Tomoo und Ei Arakawa, who participated in the Globe, the art, music and performance festival held to mark the reopening of the Deutsche Bank Towers in Frankfurt. As UNITED BROTHERS they offer fair visitors a vegetable soup cooked by their mother. The ingredients come from the region of Fukushima, however, where the disastrous reactor catastrophe took place in 2011. While the Japanese Farmers’ Association declared the products to be safe, there is always an element of risk, one the region’s residents have to live with on a daily basis.

Works with the potential to provoke can be found even in the elegant atmosphere of Frieze Masters, also sponsored by Deutsche Bank. Only a few minutes on foot away from Frieze London, Masters presents art from all epochs—from antique objects to contemporary classics. The section “Spotlight” functions as a hinge between the two fairs. It’s run by Adriano Pedrosa, who among other things has worked as curator for the biennials in his native city of São Paulo and in Istanbul. For “Spotlight,” he selected positions from the 20th century that have been paid far too little attention—for instance Hannah Wilke and Jo Spence with their radical Body Art. In their photographic works of the eighties, the two artists ruthlessly documented the deterioration of their bodies from the ravages of cancer, and in the process attacked the prevailing clichés concerning the female role—Wilke in New York, and Spence in London.

A real insider’s tip are the paintings and textile works of Huguette Caland at the Beirut Agial Art Gallery booth, which oscillate between figuration and abstraction. They are as fascinatingly unconventional as the 1931-born artist’s biography is: the daughter of Lebanon’s first president already received private tutoring from the Italian painter Fernando Manetti at the age of 16. She studied art at the American University of Beirut and was committed to helping Palestinian refugees. In 1970, encouraged by the women’s movement, she made an abrupt break from her life in the Lebanese upper crust. Caland left her husband and three children in order to finally work as an autonomous artist; she moved to Paris, where her colorfully painted caftans attracted the interest of Pierre Cardin. She produced a series of more than 100 original pieces for the fashion designer. Today, Caland lives in a minimalist cement mansion in Venice, California, and continues to remain active as an artist. Her works, inspired by Byzantine mosaics, are still largely unknown—although their presentation at Frieze Masters is bound to change this quickly.

Frieze London
October 15 – 18, 2014

Frieze Masters
October 15 – 19, 2014

Regent’s Park, London