BACK BEFORE THE REIGN of Ryanair and “caring” about your carbon footprint, cheap flights often meant layovers in underappreciated airports like Copenhagen or Reykjavík. While this may no longer be the case, I still opted for the more adventurous, northern route for my pre-Frieze weekend, eschewing both Art Forum Berlin and Manifesta to attend Tauba Auerbach’s opening at the Standard Gallery in Oslo. After all, I reasoned, how many excuses does one get to go to Oslo? (A gross miscalculation, apparently, as the weekend would give me plenty.)
Thanks to the efforts of organizations like the UKS (Young Artists Society), Norwegians enjoy astonishing state support for the arts; just this week the government announced a pilot program to fund five artist-run spaces for three years, with the possible extension to ten years. It’s the kind of funding that sometimes seems justifiable only after the first few rounds of Aquavit. “Yeah, in many ways, it’s a fantastic situation,” UKS director Linus Elmes admitted, “but it comes with consequences. You have to make sure the artists don’t get lulled into laziness by guaranteed commissions. We can’t make it too cozy!”
“Cozy” was certainly the keyword for the evening. During the Standard’s dim sum dinner, curator Will Bradley, Auerbach, and I formed a Bay Area ghetto in the center of the table, stockpiling vegetarian dumplings while reminiscing about our shared years in San Francisco. From my seat, I could keep an eye on dealer Lawrence Luhring, anchoring the end of our table, while artist Matias Faldbakken held court at the “kids’ table” of otherwise longhaired artist types. A few glasses of wine later, it came out that Faldbakken’s chiseled good looks landed had him on a list of the “Top Five Sexiest Men in Norway.” “You have to identify me simply as ‘part of his entourage,’ ” one of the longhaireds cracked, flashing his wrist tattoo while lighting a suspicious-looking cigarette. “I’m just here as his street cred.”
While “street cred” had curious implications in a city of “Sweater Shops,” Auerbach managed to sum up Oslo’s precise charm: “The day before I flew here, I went to Chelsea, and you know how you get that . . . feeling after a day there? Here I went to just three places, and I saw three amazing shows.”
Alas, such golden ratios aren’t so easily obtained in London, even during the pull-out-all-the-stops week of the Frieze Art Fair. Even if they were, who has time to dawdle at an exhibition? By the time my plane touched down on Tuesday morning (the day before the fair even commenced), I was already running late for a Sotheby’s lunch, a Wilhelm Sasnal film screening, and a reception for Adel Abdessemed at Parasol Unit, and I was still avoiding looking at any city maps—after all, who wants to face the bald infeasibility of actually attending all of the events to which one has RSVP’d?
After a quick shower and a critical costume change, I started at Parasol, where Abdessemed was cheerfully signing catalogues. Upstairs in the sumptuous top-floor gallery of the same building, Victoria Miro was hosting a reception for Isaac Julien, while the patio downstairs featured three of Yayoi Kusama’s “Flowers That Bloom Tomorrow.” Skipping the sandwiches and champagne (always an error—catch when catch can, I would later remind myself), I pressed on to Hoxton Square, where Jonathan Viner Gallery’s window display––“Oscar Tuazon: Sex”––inspired a genuine double take. The highlight of the show is a magnificent work made with the artist’s actual bedroom floor, from an apartment that had to be abandoned this summer after a fire. Crossing the street, I weaseled my way into White Cube an hour early, while painter Mark Bradford was still giving the staff the talking-points tour of his exhibition. (The door guards may have relented, but the receptionist was not so easily convinced, interrupting me as I perused the postcards for Christian Marclay’s Clock, opening Thursday: “Umm, do you work for White Cube . . . ?”)
My West End route was more intensive, with stops at Simon Lee for Angela Bulloch, Bischoff/Weiss for Nathaniel Rackowe, and Max Wigram for Pavel Büchler, before I ended up at 21 Dering Street for the well-attended inauguration of Blaine|Southern, which was launching its program with a show by Old BA–er Mat Collishaw. Thanks to the two neighboring pubs, it was difficult to tell where the exhibition crowd ended and began, as a sea of familiar faces slipped easily in and out of the three establishments.
Sweet-talked into sharing a cab to Timothy Taylor, I followed friends to Sadie Coles, where the gallery honored its Angus Fairhurst exhibition (curated by Urs Fischer and Rebecca Warren) with a backyard barbecue of beer and bratwurst. “The artist used to do this for his openings,” Brenda, the gallery assistant, explained, while casually clutching a bronze banana (ostensibly another of the artist’s darkly humorous blends of man and ape). My companion peered closely at one drawing of an ape presented in slices, before remarking to me, rather conspiratorially, “Seem to be an awful lot of monkeys in this show.”
If the smell of the (nonvegetarian) bratwurst reminded me that I hadn’t eaten since touching down in London, I consoled myself by envisioning the promises of the evening’s various dinners, each one stomachable cab ride away. Catching the last minutes of Marina Abramović’s Lisson debut, we continued to delay dinner plans in favor of putting in an appearance at the afterparty, held in a space just outside Google Maps’s realm of expertise. The iPhone’s guesstimated positioning of the party meant our band spent thirty minutes roaming the same Paddington street where our cab driver (casting a doubtful “Good luck!” over his shoulder) had dropped us off. Running into another presumed guest of honor, Ryan Gander, lone and lost on the street didn’t inspire confidence.
By that point, the likeliest option for still catching dinner was the White Cube party at Shoreditch House, halfway across London. Crossing fingers and BBMing friends impassioned pleas to snag a spare entrée, we were beyond delighted to arrive more than an hour and a half late and still be served a full meal. Granted, the Mark Bradford exhibition gave ample cause for celebration, and the Shoreditch House roof, with its open-air heated pool (at one point filled with a set of synchronized swimmers—Jopling’s idea?) and multiple cabana/lounge areas, is ha-a-ardly shabby, but what really impressed was the dinner. Or, more precisely, the way it was organized: Someone had finally had the brilliant idea to serve guests on demand, as they arrived. Within five minutes of finding chairs, we were feasting on vegetable lasagna with family-style platters of caprese salad passed down the table. A brief glance around the room took in artists Glenn Ligon, Dinos Chapman, and David Adamo; dealers Michael Jenkins, Brent Sikkema, and Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn; Guggenheim deputy director Ari Wiseman; curator Okwui Enwezor; real-estate impresario André Balazs and many more, but our table still couldn’t get over the fantastic resolution to the endless art-fair dinner dilemma. “Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?!” Of course, there was scattered talk of returning west to parties for David Roberts Art Foundation and the Museum of Everything, but––having been properly fed and cocktailed––I found myself slipping back into an Oslo state of mind. Maybe just one party—but one amazing party?