Rear View

Left: Collector Ivor Braka. Right: Dealer Jay Jopling (right).

ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, just before 11 AM, a svelte crowd of collectors and their consorts snaked their way through the VIP obstacle course of VIP-card kiosks and VIP fast-track lanes on their way into that Caruso St John–designed big top plopped in Regent’s Park. “This is how we get our exercise,” offered a pert Thea Westreich, one of a few early birds warming up for the Frieze Art Fair parkour. Calisthenics for curators, I pictured. Art-advisor aerobics.

Once through the gates, everything was same as it ever was. Some people spotted Claudia Schiffer. Others Keith Richards. Someone mentioned Gwyneth Paltrow, but I’m fairly certain she wasn’t there. (Even if, as they muttered, the fair “must pay Gwyneth to walk around,” like she were some sort of Frieze celebrity mascot.) I did spot Dasha Zhukova, recently off her New Yorker appraisal. Also a wan Michael Gambon—“you know him, he’s the guy who played Dumbledore in Harry Potter,” a salesgirl whispered at White Cube.

Traces and susurrations of demi-celebrities give the agora texture. Noon and the place was still civilized, filled with a sunny, generic promise. “Jay Jopling is in good spirits,” collector Frank Cohen (no relation to collector Steve Cohen, also padding around the fair) offered at Stefania Bortolami’s classy stall. “And why shouldn’t he be? He already sold his Hirst for 3.5 million—quid.” Buzz continued, steady but low frequency, like a just-resuscitated heart.

Left: Stephen Malkmus, artist Jessica Jackson Hutchins, and dealer Laurel Gitlen. Right: Dealer Anton Kern.

Nothing like jovial networking amid the subterranean flurry of multimillion-dollar transactions. But what stood out from the usual showroom antics? A few things: Yto Barrada’s lit-up palm tree at Sfeir-Semler, picked up earlier that afternoon by a museum. Hilary Lloyd’s deadpan-cool sailor video at Sadie Coles. Annika Ström’s performance of Ten Embarassed Men, one of the commissioned Frieze Projects, was a compelling if fleeting one-liner. Jessica Jackson Hutchins’s ceramic-based works at Timothy Taylor Gallery offered denser fare. (“My penises are not competitive,” Hutchins had argued at her opening the night prior. “They’re about pleasure: blow jobs, making babies . . . ”) Long March Space had the cheapest work there, a teddy picker filled with plush “art” by Chinese collective MadeIn; one pound sterling bought you three stabs at a work. Conveniently, the installation was listed in the “Under £5,000” category in Frieze’s handy iPhone app. (A search for “Under 30/Under £5,000” conjured three separate pieces by artist Tobias Madison—a nice starter kit for cheap ageists?)

In between Daniel Buchholz’s and Reena Spaulings’s booths, artful impresario Jack Bankowsky was organizing photo ops below a Reena Spaulings banner installed, with cheeky salesmanship, by Buchholz. A PR gesamtkunstwerk? In the Spaulings stand, there were bugs crawling all over Matias Faldbakken’s subway-tile wall. “Well, we are in a park,” proprietor John Kelsey explained. Down the aisle, another dealer was less forgiving. “We’re trying to convince people that these paintings are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there are fruit flies stuck to them.”

By 8 PM, the hoi polloi “vernissage” was well under way, and my vitamin B-12 dose (thanks, Ryan Trecartin) was wearing off. I considered beating it back to my hotel. “But you have to go to the parties—knowledge is power,” advised a director at Gavin Brown. I’m not really sure how I made it from the fair to Ivor Braka’s Westminster mansion for a laissez-faire dinner party celebrating Kelley Walker’s solo debut at Thomas Dane, but suddenly, there I was.

Left: Reena Spaulings's Emily Sundblad with Serpentine codirector of exhibitions Hans Ulrich Obrist. Right: Dealer Emmanuel Perrotin.

I observed the hellish red wallpaper and the antique Ottoman rugs. On one wall near the buffet table was an s/m-ish painting—artist unknown—that a curator described as “H. R. Giger meets Grace Jones.” Meets Marsden Hartley, I added. You can imagine.

“Did you see the woman with the snake?” We went to go find her; she wasn’t hard to track down, given her accessory. A man seated next to her on the red velvet couch made introductions. “This is Sara, Ivor’s wife.” Eyeing the python: “This is their offspring.” Cackles all around.

“It’s a bit like the fifth circle of Dante’s Inferno,” said a notable curator. “Or Eyes Wide Shut,” suggested a notable dealer. (Impressive how notable the crowd was—Okwui Enwezor and Beatrix Ruf and Thelma Golden and Peter Eleey and Christian Rattemeyer and Cay Sophie Rabinowitz and Stuart Comer and Marc Spiegler and Glenn Ligon and Maria Baibakova, to name a few of the hundred or so who made their way into the collector’s labyrinthine crib.) To be sure, the place did have a sinister, hidden-lairs-behind-bookcases vibe, but it was also somewhat tongue-in-cheek, like the movie version of Clue.

Left: Dealers Thomas Dane and Carol Green with artist Craig Kalpakjian. Right: Dealer Andrée Sfeir-Semler with artist Yto Barrada.

Jerry Hall held court with collector/paparazzo Jean Pigozzi and Braka himself in a large parlor on the second floor, underneath a very large, naughty David Hockney. Braka gave the rundown: “That’s Peter Schlesinger in the picture, whom Hockney used to . . . Anyway, I got it about four years ago. It was too homoerotic for most people.”

“It’s called Tarzana,” a taut young woman who worked for Braka said later. Tarzana hardly seemed the painting’s subject. “Well, it’s subtler than ‘face down, ass up,’ ” offered a bystander. I thought it could be Hockney’s Manao tupapau, but maybe only superficially, because of the butt thing.

In the corner, another, cruder male backside elicited more art-historical quizzing; the night was getting to be like a Williams College edition of Trivial Pursuit. Someone suggested that it might be a Hockney too. “No, it’s Kitaj—Hockney would be more subtle about the crack.” Motioning toward Tarzana. “See?” And it was true.

Left: Sara Braka. Right: Jerry Hall with Tommy Tune.

“Everything in here is perfect!” admired collector Phil Aarons. It was certainly enticing. A few of us took it upon ourselves to tour the pile’s other stories. No one else was upstairs, but it was a tony crowd, and nothing was cordoned off, so . . . “Chris Ofili?” Looking closer. “No, Beatriz Milhazes.” “What’s that?” “Some pre-Raphaelite thing.” Another drawing turned out to be a rough portrait of Francis Bacon by Lucien Freud. “Should we be up here?” Descending the staircase, we ran into the man of the house, giving a tour. “Well, I do hope you’ve made yourselves at home!” he said, though he didn’t sound like he meant it. (In Britain, they call that irony.)

“Should we explain that we’re actually rather well-known party-crashers?” whispered a cohort. We decided against it—isn’t it more fun to be mysterious?—and retreated downstairs.

People were still arriving from other parties, Louis Vuitton dinners, Damian Ortega dinners, etc; the champagne was dwindling. In the safety of the dining room we ran into guest-of-honor Walker, looking unflappable in blue jeans and a Yankees cap. He regarded us mischievously. “So you guys are all here for what, Frieze?”

Left: Dealers Jose Freire and Miriam Katzeff. Right: Artists Kelley Walker and John Gerrard.

Left: Dealer Elizabeth Dee with artists Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch. Right: Artist Gillian Wearing and dealer Maureen Paley.

Left: Art adviser Michiel van der Wal with Standard (Oslo)'s Eivind Furnesvik. Right: Collector Frank Cohen with dealer Stefania Bortolami.

Left: Actor Michael Gambon (center). Right: Dealers Casey Kaplan, Paolo Zani, and David Kordansky.

Left: Artists Sergei Tcherepnin and Tobias Madison with Frieze Frame advisors Cecilia Alemani and Daniel Baumann. Right: Dealers Johann König and Erika Weiss.

Left: Artist John Bock. Right: Artist Don Brown with dealer Lorcan O'Neill.

Left: Dealer Isabella Bortolozzi (right). Right: Dealer Giti Nourbakhsch.

Left: Collectors Shelly and Phil Aarons. Right: Dealer Stephen Friedman.

Left: Dealer Taka Ishii. Right: Dealer Stuart Shave and artist Bojan Šarčević.

Left: Artist Mark Bradford with art historian and curator Katy Siegel. Right: Vermelho's Akio Aoki.

Left: Long March Space's David Tung. Right: Artist Philip-Lorca diCorcia.

Left: Artist Andreas Angelidakis with Rodeo's Sylvia Kouvali. Right: Annika Ström's Ten Embarrassed Men.

Left: Artist Jürgen Teller. Right: Renwick's Leslie Fritz and George Bunker.

Left: Hotel Gallery's Darren Flook. Right: Têra Queiroz of Apex Brasil and Ana Sokoloff.

Left: The Room, Tarzana. Right: Artist Grayson Perry.