At Frieze

Alice Spawls

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There are champagne and pizza in the courtyard at Frieze but no ashtrays, so attendants with brooms circulate two paces behind the smokers,collecting the debris. Inside, the bins are concealed in the walls to save visitors the embarrassment of admiring, or trying to buy, non-art that could easily be confused with the art-art. Safe inits playground, the art-art makes the most of this: it's all over the floor. Dog bowls with a little water beneath one picture, three pears near a wall, oversized wine glasses, a pile ofvegetables. The drip-stained paint cans are on a raised platform, just in case. After the deals were done on Tuesday (the VIP day), the gallerists returned to their laptops and sushi andthe fair began to look a little dejected. The works have performed their brief function, and look ever less sure of themselves. It isn't a gallery – no one stands and stares at Frieze – so if acrowd gathers it’s because something’s changing hands (the only cluster on Wednesday afternoon was around some Perspex/sandbag creations).

The dominating spirit this year is kitsch. I heard someone say 'it's very much more grown up this year,' which made me wonder what last year can have been like. Neons and pastels clash with giant cartoon characters, there’s a museumof the smiley face, light bulbs spelling out 'notforever', Basquiat-lite paintings in pink and yellow, comic collages, multi-coloured jellyfish, huge inflatables. One photo shows a baby sitting ina silver pot wearing a chef's hat; real babies in the play area near the entrance are confronted by a pink rubber octopus. The first thing to confront me was a mirror decorated with pieces ofcarpet (salmon pink and green) and four pictures of raccoons. A 19th-century family in a painting have been given red noses. There are photos of rainbows. One gallery has a rainbow floor, anothercherry blossom walls. There is an eight-foot pole-dancing tongue and beavers clutching tennis balls. The Angela Merkel chair is just for fun. If it weren't for the money it would all be quite fun,like a community art show.

Babies, critters and bright colours are easy gimmicks. The secondary spirit is of gaffer tape rather than glitter; unglamorous works that echo an early YBA makeshift tendency. Some, like the three small cardboard Jabba-the-Hutts, are still cutesy. Separate galleriesare showing concrete casts of massive shells and handbags. Industrial detritus is a familiar centrepiece: plaster, piles of wadding, strung-up pink plastic, slate, a bath tub with running water.And there are the indescribable cobbled-together things, made of metal and wood or bits of other stuff and hung with lights or postcards or figurines or roots. Almost as many canvases are puncturedas painted; embellished with knives, beer cans, lighters, perfume bottles, clip-on fur tails. One stand has a ball of red clay on some gauze. The man who made the raccoon mirror has another work, aplaster sculpture studded with batteries. I almost like the raccoons but the batteries make me gloomy: shouldn't they be better at being this bad?


  • 18 October 2014 at 9:32pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Well, the answer the final question posed by Alice Sprawls is, “No, they won’t get better at being bad until morons stop paying for kitschy crap as they climb the greasy patron pole and 'knowing' ownership status." Just think of the original-location MOMA’s plea for support and love in its final big show before it moves downtown in Manhattan: Crap Writ Large (i.e., the work of Jeff Koons, which attracts multi-millionaire art-investors and not just folks who like crap – with the support of hip art critics the fraud may have a very long life, at least enough to recover the investment and set up a foundation or trusteeship, maybe even a named “perpetual” – 50 years at best - museum wing). It’s not really sad, but actually very comical. And it’s not even black comedy, because nobody gets hurt (the participants can afford their idiocy). The big-time suckers have deep enough pockets to make believe they have deep understanding. Does it remove real art from the market? Probably not.