Bad Girls, Meditation, Disco
Preview of London’s Frieze Art Fairs

Bad Girls is not only a disco hit by Donna Summer, but also the title of an exhibition of radical feminist art mounted at the New Museum in 1994. The New York venue is known for not shying away from controversial issues and artists. But Marilyn Minter’s explicitly sexual pictures were even too much for the museum and were not shown in the exhibition. But today her work has been shown at the MoMA, Minter’s retrospective Pretty/Dirty was featured at important American museums, and the artist is also represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection. Minter’s work is only one of many contentious positions to which a new section of Frieze London is devoted. Organized by Alison GingerasSex Work: Feminist Art & Radical Politics presents women whose artistic works “transgress gender norms and the tyranny of political correctness,” in the curator’s words. Her section showcases nine of these pioneers, including Birgit Jürgenssen, who in her self-portrayals from the 1970s makes a mockery of female role clichés, and Dorothy Iannone, whose mythological-ornamental picture stories and films have since the 1960s revolved around her own sexual liberation.

The commissioned Frieze Projects also reflect the innovative spirit of the fair, which is sponsored by Deutsche Bank. This year, the focus is on works that examine how we define our collective identity and the “other.” Thus, the British-Argentinian artist duo Lucy + Jorge Orta invite Frieze visitors to symbolically bid adieu to their respective nationalities and become citizens of Antarctica, the only region in the world that does not belong to a nation. The large wall drawing in the fair’s entrance corridor, a work by the Swiss artist Marc Bauer that emerged from an art project he carried out with young people from the working-class district of Peckham, London’s most ethnically mixed area, focuses on the complex relationships between personal identity, gender, and the community one grows up in. On the other hand, the performance by the new artist collective SPIT!, which brings together queer activism and dance, will surely be wild.     

The Times once called Frieze London “the world’s hottest contemporary art fair.” This appraisal also holds true for the 15th installment. In the tents in Regent’s Park, more than 160 leading galleries from 31 countries are showing what the art scene is currently up to. Added to that is the non-commercial supporting program that also consists of  films, a conversation performance by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster and Philipe Parreno, and talks with the “bad girls” Cosey Fanni Tutti and Marilyn Minter. In addition, Dancefloor Meditations can be experienced. The new project by Jarvis Cocker, the former singer of the cult band Pulp, is a mixture of meditation class and suburban disco. Frieze London is simply different from other art fairs—smarter, bolder, more subversive, with a penchant for absurd humor.

For six years now Frieze London has been supplemented by Frieze Masters. The latter presents 6,000 years of art history from a contemporary perspective, from ancient Egyptian artifacts and paintings by Old Masters to the twentieth-century avant-garde. Among the highlights are early sculptures by Anthony Caro, an homage to Peter Blake, for which the studio of the British Pop Art pioneer was transferred to the fair, and a presentation of works by Roberto Burle Marx, to whom the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle in Berlin is devoting a large retrospective, on view until October 3. Once again, the Frieze Masters talks boast illustrious guests. Marina Abramović talks with Tim Marlow, the artistic director of London’s Royal Academy, about new perspectives on art from past centuries. For the Frieze fairs are not only viewed as a marketplace, but also as cultural forums that draw collectors as well as tens of thousands of art lovers and many influential curators and museum people.

Deutsche Bank recognized the fair’s potential from the very beginning and became a partner of Frieze London at its second edition and also, since its premiere in 2012, of Frieze Masters. This year, Deutsche Bank has a lounge at the fair for the first time, showcasing paintings and drawings by Ken Kiff. In addition to works from the Deutsche Bank Collection, important loans are on display. The bright-colored, fantastic scenes of the painter, who died in 2001, allude just as naturally to Chagall and Matisse as to classical Chinese landscape painting, thus embodying the universal spirit of Frieze Masters, which spans centuries and continents.

This time the lounge at Frieze London is dedicated to one of the most exciting current artists, John Akomfrah, who is also represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection. His poetic and politically engaged film essays and video installations investigate the legacy of colonialism and experiences of the global diaspora. The British artist, born in 1957, combines documentary archive material with staged scenes to create complex filmic compositions. The presentation in the lounge, titled Thresholds To Another Time, includes new photographic works as well as the film Auto Da Fé, for which Akomfrah received the Artes Mundi Prize, Britain’s best-endowed contemporary art award, this year. In the form of a history drama, eight episodes tell of people who have lost their homes. The film begins with the Sephardic Jews, who in 1654 had to flee Catholic Brazil to Barbados, and ends with current examples from Mali and Iraq. Persecution of religious minorities seems to be a tragic constant in human history.

Akomfrah is also on view at two important London exhibition venues. The Barbican is showing the six-channel video installation Purple, his newest and hitherto most elaborate work, and his video installation Unfinished Conversation is on exhibit at Tate Modern. Many other artists featured at the Frieze are also included in London exhibitions. Whitechapel Gallery is presenting a Thomas Ruff retrospective, Tate Britain a Rachel Whiteread show, and the Barbican Basquiat: Boom for Real. For years now many compelling exhibitions have been staged during Frieze Week, another indication of how important the two fairs have become for the London art scene.

Frieze London/Frieze Masters
Regent’s Park, London
October 5 – 8, 2017