Opera Village in Regent’s Park
Preview of Frieze London

More than 60,000 people visit Frieze London each year. For very good reason. Not only are the world’s most important contemporary art galleries presented in the fair tents in Regent’s Park. The ambitious supporting program of the fair also holds many surprises. Frieze London is supported by main sponsor Deutsche Bank for the 13th consecutive year. New at the fair this year: “The Nineties” section devoted to future-oriented artistic positions of that decade.
Wonderland  Avenue  – where but in Hollywood could a street have this name? But during Frieze London the English capital also features this promising address. Wonderland Ave. is the title of one of the Frieze Projects - an experimental puppet theater that marks the first collaboration between the author Sibylle Berg and the artist Claus Richter. It is a promising combination. Berg, says one critic, is the “most relentless German-language writer.” Richter’s multimedia works reflect his penchant for amusement parks, shopping malls, and toy stores. The playful installations run counter to the cool rationalism of our age. With sarcastic humor, Berg and Richter cast a glance at the future of humanity.

Visitors are confronted with one of this year’s Frieze Projects right at the entrance to the tents in Regent’s Park, where  Martin Soto Climent installed a gigantic spider web. It is fashioned out of stretched nylon stockings, one of the Mexican artist’s preferred materials. Acrobats move through the web, trying to lure visitors into this surreal environment. The London artist  Julie Verhoeven devotes herself to a less prominent place. With The Toilet Attendant… Now Wash Your Hands, she transforms one of the lavatories into a kind of performative Gesamtkunstwerk, while Samson Young sends visitors in pairs on a multimedia “Sound Walk” on which they can experience the Frieze in a very unusual way.

The Frieze Projects – curated this year for the first time by Raphael Gygax from the Migros Museum in Zurich – are inspired “by issues around human relationships and the potential of art to bring about change.” And this is exactly what Chrisoph Schlingensief’s Opera Village, which is taking shape in Burkina Faso, West Africa, attempts to do. After being shown in the German Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, it is now being presented at the Frieze. In the light of the refugee crisis, this visionary, oft-ridiculed project, in which art and life and inextricable intertwined, is especially relevant. The director and performance artist, who died six months after the foundation stone was laid, was interested in cultural exchange as well as in improving the living conditions in Burkina Faso through education and medical care. Today his wife Aino Laberenz is continuing the project.

Since its very first edition in 2003 Frieze has been marked by a great openness to the new and unusual. The concept convinced Deutsche Bank, which has been a partner of the fair since 2004. The bank also sponsors Frieze Masters, initiated in 2012. Taking place parallel to the “parent fair,” it presents art from antiquity to the twentieth century from a contemporary perspective. Like every year, Deutsche Bank is present at the Frieze, with a lounge where it exhibits works from its collection. This time the presentation is devoted to Sarnath Banerjee. The artist, who was born in Calcutta, in 1972, caused a sensation in India with his graphic novel Corridor. He was subsequently discovered by Western audiences at the 2009 Frieze. Banerjee is currently realizing a large commissioned work for a new Deutsche Bank branch in London. For each of the eleven floors, he is developing a series of illustrated stories that will be transferred to wallpaper for a large-scale installation. Each story represents a chapter. The stories on each floor come together to create a kind of book. The installation is typical of Banerjee’s recent works, which have become completely divorced from the conventional form of comics.

This anti-traditional approach is perfectly in line with the fair, which not only shows paintings and sculptures that sell well. There is a growing interest in noncommercial, performative, and participatory works. This is reflected in the supporting program as well as in the “Live” section. In the latter, visitors are privy to artistic positions that were almost never shown or offered for sale at art fairs previously. “Live” is curated by  Jacob Proctor from Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago and Fabian Schöneich from Portikus in Frankfurt. Among the highlights of this year’s program is the international premiere of Para um corpo nas suas impossibilidades (For a Body in its Impossibilities). The Brazilian artist Martha Araújo developed this work in 1985, the last year of the military dictatorship in her home country. Araújo invites visitors to stage themselves as “living sculptures” on a concrete ramp wearing specially made bodysuits. Christine Sun Kim represents a young generation. The Berlin-based artist has been deaf since birth. In her performances, videos, and works on paper, she explores the materiality of sound and introduces deaf and non-deaf people alike to new kinds of perception.

New this year is the “The Nineties,” a section catering to future-oriented positions of that decade. “Artists were in a very liberated position in the 1990s',” says Nicolas Trembley, the curator who invited 14 galleries to participate. “Ideas and politics were more important than objects - there was a kind of dematerialization. You had artists working with design, like Jorge Pardo, and with literature, like Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno. Performance, video ... It seems like the right moment to take an objective look. But it’s certainly not about nostalgia.”

Although it would be in keeping with the location of the fair, Trembley refrains from focusing specifically on the Young British Artists. The only one included is the photographer Richard Billingham. His controversial series Ray’s a Laugh takes a merciless look at his family’s life, which is marked by unemployment, alcohol, fast food, and television. The series was also on view in the Sensation exhibition mounted at the Royal Academy in 1997. Another art photographer whose career began at that time is Wolfgang Tillmans. For the Frieze, his first exhibition, at Buchholz gallery in Cologne, will be reconstructed. Like Tillmans, Daniel Pflumm also stands for the typically 1990s nexus between art and club culture. He himself ran two electronic music clubs in Berlin, Electro and Panasonic. The light boxes for which Pflumm distorted well-known company logos are as cool and reduced as this sound – and always just as up to date.

Up-and-coming contemporary artists are on exhibit in the “Focus” section. Among them is Michaela Eichwald, who, according to Roberta Smith of the New York Times, “is one of the most interesting artists around.” Eichwald is represented with a selection of her abstract-expressive paintings. Also impressive are Chen Weis staged photographic works, which with their hinted-at plots seem like stills from an enigmatic movie. Darja Bajagić takes her motifs from shady fanzines, reality crime TV, fetish websites, and obscure Internet forums. She condenses this material into cryptic collages that reflect darker sides of human existence.

By contrast, a new installation by James Turrell offers a journey into light. The work, on view in the main section of the fair, is surely one of the most impressive works at this year’s Frieze. In the main section, nearly 120 of the world’s leading galleries are presented. A new sculptural work by Philippe Parreno is also certain to cause a stir. It was created in connection with his ambitious multimedia installation that can be seen as of October in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern. The trend of dedicating a booth to just one artistic position continues this year. The focus is mainly on women artists, including Goshka Macuga, Latifa Echakch, and Channa Horwitz, whose elegant abstract drawings were rediscovered by the art world right before she died at the age of 80.

Those who need to take a break from the hustle and bustle in the fair tents should walk over to Frieze Sculpture Park. This time, the works installed in Regent Park’s English Gardens will be on view until the beginning of January of next year. Clare Lilley, the director of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, combined twenty works by established sculptors such as Claes Oldenburg and Barry Flanagan with sculptures by younger artists such as Nairy Baghramian. And the art fair will even give a foretaste of a new London landmark. Conrad Shawcross has already created monumental installations for the Dulwich Park, the Francis Crick Institute,  and Unilever in his home city. His most recent work was just completed – a metallic cover for the 49-meter-high, 20-meter-wide chimney of the new Low Carbon Energy Centre on Greenwich Peninsula, a development area in east London that is also home to the Millennium Dome. Shawcross created a structure from unfolding triangular aluminum sheets that together create complex geometric patterns. On display in Frieze Sculpture Park is a six-meter-high study for this high-tech miracle work, which melds Constructivism and Op Art with current engineering art.
Achim Drucks

Frieze London / Frieze Masters
10/6/2016 – 10/9/2016
Regent’s Park, London