Sound and Theory


Left: Gallerist David Risley and David Risley Gallery's Nick Runeckles. Right: Clay Machine Gun. (Unless noted, all photos: Michael Wilson)

My Frieze Art Fair experience began gently this year, with a leisurely Thursday lunchtime stroll around Camden Arts Centre’s exhibition of sugar-sweet paintings by LA-based artist Laura Owens, the near-empty gallery contrasting nicely with the frenzy that I imagined underway in and around Regent’s Park. My next stop, Tate Britain, felt similarly relaxed; the Turner Prize show was still pulling punters, but not enough to make getting close to current favorite Tomma Abts’s subtle, diminutive canvases problematic. Viewers lingered thoughtfully over installations by Mark Titchner and Phil Collins and generally managed more intelligent commentary on Rebecca Warren’s lumpy sculptures than, on the evidence of a concluding video interview at least, the artist herself is capable of. All very civilized.

After a coffee break, I hopped an eastbound tube for the opening of shows by Matthew Monahan and Katy Moran at Modern Art, and the mood began to shift in a more predictably riotous direction. Vyner Street—now home to a string of galleries including Vilma Gold, David Risley, Fred, Canal, and VINEspace—was packed and noisy by 7 PM as people staggered from one space to the next, sucking down a beer or three at each. As I caught up with my hosts for the trip, an urgent drumroll and a squall of discordant guitar signaled the beginning of a cacophonous storefront set by Clay Machine Gun, an up-and-coming girl punk band featuring the Clash’s Mick Jones’s daughter, Lauren.

From there it was back west for music of a different stripe at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. Programmed by Cerith Wyn Evans—whose solo exhibition filled (and, in the case of the main downstairs space, stripped architecturally bare) the elegant gallery—the invite-only evening event drew an animated multigenerational crowd of art-world faces and fans including fashion designer Pam Hogg, writer Stewart Home, gallerists Martin McGowan, Max Wigram, and Christabel Stewart, and artists Wolfgang Tillmans, Angela Bulloch, and Simon Popper (“crush of the London art world,” according to my companion). After a look around, we filed into the theater for a performance by No Bra, a statuesque androgyne who ranted sardonically over a bare-bones electronic backing. Wyn Evans lapped it up; I was less convinced, so . . . east again for the Zoo Art Fair after-party at the Tabernacle Bar & Grill, where curator Gavin Wade and slimvolume publisher Andy Hunt were tearing up the dance floor in a style that bordered on the alarming.

Left: No Bra. Right: Hotel Gallery's Christabel Stewart, filmmaker and designer Marcus Verner Hed, and artist Alexis Marguerite Teplin.

Come Friday afternoon, it was time to get serious, at a Frieze Talk titled “New Performativity?” in which art historian and critic Claire Bishop attempted to nudge curator Francesco Bonami, writer and curator Eda Cufer, artists Elmgreen and Dragset, and artist Surasi Kusolwong toward discussing the supposed emergence of “a new type of performance-based art that takes its meaning from both the context and the performers.” Bonami, first to speak after Bishop’s dense introduction, made it clear that he wasn’t one to suffer fools gladly when it came to what he took the topic to imply: “Performance in an art fair is boring. I don’t want to see Harold Pinter at the Hauser & Wirth booth.” “I divide the world into pre-boredom and post-boredom,” he continued, unstoppable. “I try to avoid boring things and boring people . . . but I can’t avoid myself!” A little close to the point, he described the death of James Lee Byars: “I think it was a great performance: to die eating a potato. A small potato!”

Elmgreen and Dragset, the duo responsible for the “doubled” Klosterfelde booth at last year’s fair, were more straitlaced, concluding “we have to take this circus seriously and find ways of making it more interesting.” And Cufer was more earnest still, opening with a complex theatrical metaphor that segued into a description of the strategy of “overidentification” that NSK, the Slovenian collective of which she is a member, first developed as a strategy for critiquing the totalitarian regime under which they lived in the '80s. Finally, Kusolwong outlined a history—of Thai performance art—that remains largely unwritten: “We don’t have ‘art history.’ There are maybe three curators.” Questions from the audience (which included a forthright Marina Abramovic, seated front and center) elicited an observation from Elmgreen that the activities of bored dealers and competing collectors on hand at the fair made for performances in their own right, while Cufer insisted that “in order for a performance to be successful, it has to mess with the real world.”

A few hours later, after a full day at Frieze and start-up alternative Zoo, I was more than ready for some real world. Perhaps Claridge’s, arguably London’s poshest hotel, wasn’t the place to find it, but that was my destination, for a dinner hosted by David Zwirner, Matthew Marks, and Maureen Paley. Funnily enough, Bishop had had the same idea, as had performance critic and curator RoseLee Goldberg, who introduced me to artist Francesco Vezzoli. My tablemates included British artist and collector Naglaa Walker and two young critics from New York called, I think, Jerry and Roberta, both of whom were mightily impressed by the fair, London’s museums (“You should see the Velázquez at the National Gallery”), and the city in general.

Left: Curator Gavin Wade. Right: Artists Susan Philipsz and Eoghan McTigue.

A chat with White Columns director Matthew Higgs en route to the bar convinced me that I should try to catch the end of the first night of the two-part Frieze Music event at that landmark of metropolitan cheese, the Hippodrome. “Sunn 0))) at the Hippodrome?” he chuckled, incredulous. “How can that not be weird?” Weird it may have been, but by the time I arrived it was also over, so I redirected myself east yet again to Shoreditch club Plastic People, home of dubstep night Forward, for the launch of the debut album by Skream! Once inside, the sheer bass-heavy intensity of the sound, emphasized by the conscious refusal of standard disco lighting, made for the least visual but most striking cultural experience of the weekend.

Left: Artist Bedwyr Williams. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist and collector Naglaa Walker and Darren Walker at Claridge's.

Left: Curator RoseLee Goldberg (Photo: David Velasco) Right: Artist Neil Morley with Alison Hand.

Left: Artist Chris Burden. (Photo: David Velasco) Right: David Risley Gallery's Poppy Sebire and artist Henry Krokatsis.

Left: Store's Louise Hayward. Right: Claire Bishop and Eda Cufer.