Deep Frieze


Left: Frieze Projects curator Neville Wakefield with critic Dave Hickey. (Photo: Linda Nylind) Right: Glenn Branca's Symphony no. 13: Hallucination City. (Except where noted, all photos: Brian Sholis)

After Wednesday’s boisterous Frieze Art Fair vernissage, Thursday’s 9 AM viewing of Tate Britain’s Turner Prize retrospective seemed a tough date to keep. Yet several hundred dealers, collectors, and curators turned up—some bleary-eyed and grateful for the champagne—to survey the survey that stands in for the annual exhibition of short-listed artists, which has decamped to the museum’s outpost in Liverpool for the first time in the prize’s history. After brief introductory remarks from Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota, Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan took the podium to announce the museum’s annual Outset/Frieze Fund acquisitions. The institution purchased only four works this year, though two—an impressive installation by Pawel Althamer and a windmill sculpture by Andreas Slominski—are significantly larger than works bought in years past. A suite of black-and-white photographs by Mauro Restiffe and a slide-projection piece by Armando Andrade Tudela round out the new additions.

Everyone then shuffled into the exhibition, which refreshed memories of the semiforgotten and reconfirmed the early promise of those, like Steve McQueen and Wolfgang Tillmans, who are still very much with us. Exhibition curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas noted the atypically long run of winning sculptors (from 1987 to 1995) before recounting the story of the nail-bitingly tight installation of Gilbert & George’s monumental work (there is a one-centimeter difference in height between the photo montage and the wall). She admitted that putting together the show produced a special affinity for Malcolm Morley, and when I brought up Grenville Davey (winner of the 1992 prize), artist-curator Matthew Higgs scurried by, noting: “It’s amazing what fifteen years out of the limelight does for you, isn’t it?” The exhaustive, at times thrilling Millais exhibition downstairs—its second and third rooms are splendid—is evidence that artistic relevance might operate on a 150-year wavelength as well.

Left: Stuart Shave director Jimi Lee with dealer Stuart Shave. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: “Turner Prize: A Retrospective, 1984–2006” curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas.

In any case, we traffic in Warhol’s fifteen-minute cycles, if that, so I quickly made my way to the Royal Academy of Arts, site of this year’s Zoo Art Fair. At the mobbed afternoon preview—due to pesky fire codes, the wait to enter reached an hour—many dealers were happy to leave behind the fair’s namesake venue in exchange for higher ceilings and varied booth layouts. Some exhibitors were also gearing up for big moves of their own: Laura Bartlett told me she’s a month shy of opening her gallery's new venue, on London's Northington Street, and Matthew Dipple happily discussed the new branch of his London gallery, Museum 52, opening on New York’s Lower East Side in November.

A bevy of young photographers left distinct impressions amid the general frenzy. Patrick Lakey’s flatly lit blend of still life and (nude) self-portraiture, from a series in which he plays dozens of characters from the Marquis de Sade’s writings, caught hold of me at The Happy Lion’s booth; at Madrid’s Travesia Cuatro, Gonzalo Lebrija’s intimate communion between himself, wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, and the lone red canvas in a selection of On Kawara “Date Paintings” brought out the latent melancholy in any notation of time; and at Cherry and Martin, Elad Lassry’s small-scale conceptual tableaux possessed at once a fierce confidence and an estranging oddness. Public Art Fund director Rochelle Steiner, Detroit-based collector Burt Aaron, and other dealers eager to find new artists, such as James Cohan Gallery’s Elyse Goldberg, squeezed past one another in the aisles.

That evening, the burgeoning strip of galleries along Vyner Street in the East End held concurrent openings, and I dropped in at Stuart Shave/Modern Art for the Canadian artist Steven Shearer’s London solo debut. The exhibition, comprising radiant oil-on-canvas portraits, the artist’s well-known digital collages, charcoal-on-paper poems rendered in blocky sans-serif typefaces, and a child’s playhouse intermittently erupting into ear-searing guitar solos, among other things, sent mental sparks flying in every direction. Ikon Gallery curator Nigel Prince, whose Shearer solo show travels to Toronto’s Power Plant in December, spoke fondly of working with the artist, who graciously accepted accolades from all manner of well-wishers.

Left: Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff. Right: Tate Modern film curator Stuart Comer with dealer Sarah Gavlak.

Dinner for what must have been one hundred guests followed at art-world stalwart Bistrotheque, where I talked shop with Ossian Ward, Time Out’s new art editor; the enterprising young curator Bart van der Heide, whose soon-to-open Tris Vonna-Michell exhibition inaugurates his eighteen-month stint at the helm of the artist-run Cubitt Gallery; and the writer Michael Bracewell, who is a 2007 Turner Prize judge and whose book about the formation of Roxy Music, Re-make/Re-model, is out next week from Faber & Faber. Other obligations took me across town before dessert, and yet the night went on until 3 AM, making the wake-up call for Friday morning’s previews all the harder. But the exhibitions, at the Hayward Gallery and the newish BFI Gallery, easily won out over sleep: The former, “The Painting of Modern Life,” curated by Hayward director Ralph Rugoff, was recommended to me by many passersby in art-fair aisles; the latter, a presentation of three recent films by artist Mark Lewis, promised the perfect balm for harried eyes.

Rugoff’s effort presents examples of the “use and translation” of photographic imagery in recent painting and considers each of its twenty-two artists in surprising depth: Most have about half a dozen canvases in the show. Depth was in fact the word Rugoff employed in answering my questions about the show. Deliberately avoiding the term Photorealist, he spoke of favoring those artists engaged in complex meditations on their source material over those who “fetishize surface.” Savoring Malcolm Morley’s mid-1960s palette, I began to understand how Carey-Thomas could be drawn to the work; likewise, the Vija Celmins canvases Rugoff selected—including several grisaille canvases featuring subjects atypical of the contemporaneous work for which she is known—prove yet again that she contains multitudes. Younger painters whose appeal has escaped me to date, like Wilhelm Sasnal, shone in the company of carefully selected elder statesmen like Franz Gertsch. Despite the fact that it couldn't help but prove how difficult it can be to illuminate the nuances of conceptually elaborate practices, it was quickly apparent why so many had excitedly urged me to visit.

Left: Artist Mark Lewis. Right: Van Horn gallery director Daniela Steinfeld with dealer Philip Martin of Cherry & Martin.

A short walk brought me to the nearby BFI Gallery, where Lewis said, regarding his fantastic new film, Isosceles, “I’ve been biking past the building for seven years, always wanting to make a film about it. I was just waiting for the right idea to come to me.” The result is a slow, single-take tracking shot that completes a circuit around a boarded-up triangular restroom that once served meatpackers in the city’s Smithfield market, and in the process reveals the accretion of several centuries’ worth of architecture in the vicinity. It made me wish I could see “Modern Time,” a survey of Lewis's work that opened yesterday at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Some hours later, I settled into a front-row seat for critic Dave Hickey’s keynote lecture in the Frieze fair’s auditorium. Well, not quite the front row: Art history–student supplicants amassed on the floor in front of me, ready to bathe in the great talker’s aura. Hickey did not disappoint, rolling out a joke-laden morality tale haunted by the specter of dealer Leo Castelli, whose “idea of being wrong was to sell art for too much money.” After a pithy synopsis of 1970s “noncommercial art” and two subsequent “hypocritical” decades, in which installations of “confetti and dog turds” served as loss-leaders for secondary-market sales, Hickey rolled around to his twin entreaties: for replacing money-driven caprice with community deliberation in valuing contemporary art, and for an ethos of individual honesty and goodness predicated on basketball titan Dr. J’s idea of “playing fair without the referee.”

These points, if plucked from between the improvised riffs in which Hickey was clearly playing to the bleachers, resonate in the art-fair context. When the market bubble bursts and “thousands of Icarii plunge into the surf” (he is ever the stylist), those who “do right by doing good” will reap the rewards of a system righting itself after a thirty-year headlong tumble away from giving new art due process. Primary practice will return, like foliage overtaking the city in postapocalyptic ruin, and artists will confidently step over the bones of consultants and their hedge-fund-managing clients. If nothing else, one can find inspiration in the man’s optimism after this many years in the game.

Left: De Appel director Ann Demeester and De Appel curatorial fellow Inti Guerrero. Right: Public Art Fund director Rochelle Steiner.

Later still, I found myself just north of Camden Town at the Roundhouse, a venue that hosted acts like Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, and the Living Theatre of New York during its heyday. This history makes it appropriate that I was joining several hundred art-fair denizens and avant-garde music geeks for a rare performance of Hallucination City, Glenn Branca’s symphony for one hundred electric guitars. After four days in London, it would take a thorough sonic pummeling to cut through the jumble of conversations and artworks jostling for attention in my head, and Branca’s piece delivered.

Conductor John Myers—straight out of “downtown New York central casting, circa 1984,” according to one pal—summoned an at-times-unholy noise from the six hundred assembled strings, and the music’s power conjured a litany of metaphors, all describing moments verging on abandon: His calisthenic conducting elicited a tidal surge of synchronized nodding heads; the performers then inspired him to feats of excitement that could compete with Christian-revival praise dancing; his attempts to rein in the players for quieter passages gave the impression of a lion tamer placating a feisty animal. It was enough to make you momentarily forget the person standing next to you, and certainly the myriad events that had transpired over the previous few days. And yet, as midnight once again came and went, I found myself ensconced at one last invitation-only event, in the Roundhouse’s upstairs bar, energetically debating the merits of young painters with friends.

Brian Sholis

Left: Outside the Zoo Art Fair professional preview. Right: Museum 52's Matthew Dipple.

Left: Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan. Right: ZieherSmith co-owners Andrea Smith and Scott Zieher.

Left: Mills College Art Museum director Jessica Hough and James Cohan Gallery director Elyse Goldberg. Right: Artist Ryan Gander.

Left: Collector and Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit founding trustee Burt Aaron with dealer Daniel Hug. Right: Brown gallery owner Kimberly Brown.

Left: Artist Stefan Saffer. Right: Ikon Gallery curator Nigel Prince and critic Caoimhín Mac Giolla Léith.