Garden Variety

Kate Sutton at the Frieze Art Fair

Left: Serpentine Gallery codirector Hans Ulrich Obrist with Hélène Cixous. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Curator Jens Hoffmann. (Photo: David Velasco)

WHO KNEW LONDON HAD SO MUCH SUNSHINE? Saturday afternoon, I found myself basking under brilliant blue skies seeping through the semitransparent geodesic dome constructed for the annual Serpentine Gallery Marathon. This year’s theme was “Gardens,” apparently inspired by the contemplative black hortus conclusus Peter Zumthor built for the gallery’s eleventh pavilion commission, and it offered an intriguing and welcome juxtaposition to the hubbub of Frieze Art Week. I settled into an enviable seat alongside Bidoun’s Negar Azimi, artist Fritz Haeg, and Tate Modern curator Stuart Comer while the marvelous Etel Adnan, guest six in the illustrious roster of participants, prefaced her poetry with an aside on flowers: “They are little things and we are used to them, but like everything in life, they are formidable things.”

The observation itself was a minor detail, a sentimental fact in the context of her reading, but I took it, along with the London sunshine, as a call to reconsider the things one gets “used to,” particularly in the contemporary art world, and especially during fair weeks. Thus far, it had been several days of very “little things” indeed, but—as one can easily forget—just because it’s familiar doesn’t mean it can’t be formidable.

I could have used this insight at the opening of the Frieze Art Fair on Wednesday, where most of the work came across as solid, stately, and, well, “little.” There were some notable exceptions. My first stop during the 11 AM early-bird kickoff was Jordan Wolfson’s latest video, Animation, masks, which was making its debut at Johann König. The expertly crafted CGI “Shylock” (“Not my doppelgänger!” the artist swore) flips through a fashion magazine, occasionally lifting his eerily liquid eyes to recite Richard Brautigan’s “Love Poem”: “It’s so nice to wake up in the morning all alone and not have to tell somebody you love them when you don’t love them anymore.”

Left: Collector Valeria Napoleone, Stefania Pramma, and dealer Jessica Silverman. (Photo: Sarah Thornton) Right: Dealer Chistabel Stewart. (Photo: Kate Sutton)

Down the aisle at Team Gallery, dealer José Friere had pegged Banks Violette’s drawing I’d Rather Be Killing My Family as the surefire camera-phone favorite for the week. It was already a clear lure for the fair’s ever-present insects—one of the drawbacks of hosting a fair in a park—which had affixed themselves to works by Violette, Ryan McGinley, and Davis Rhodes. “That’s the thing about Frieze flies,” gallery director Miriam Katzeff deadpanned. “They know a hot young artist when they see one.” Weirdly, there weren’t any flies on the platter of flank steak in Darren Bader’s installation at Andrew Kreps. The work was a literal conversation piece that enlists two twentysomethings—“Tim” and “Gaffi”—to spend the day making small talk amid potted plants and raw meat.

Typically understated Thomas Dane packed quite a few conversation starters of his own. Viewers who gulped at Glenn Ligon’s negro sunshine turned the corner to find Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine, a colorful, cobbled-together contraption straight out of a children’s book. On one side, the lovely assistant would grind a gear mounted with felt markers, and the machine would proceed to churn out a presigned, made-to-order “Michael Landy” drawing. In exchange, the collector would feed his or her credit card into a metal shredder, which would then spray the plastic splinters onto the floor below. Curator Jens Hoffmann thumbed through all his frequent flyer cards until he found an appropriate sacrifice. “Do you guys take American Express?” he quipped, before whipping out a Visa. “Oh wait, no, better this one—it has the most debt.”

Left: Dealer Alex Zachary, artist Ken Okiishi, and dealer Peter Currie. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Dealers Miriam Katzeff and Jose Freire. (Photo: David Velasco)

Formidable things in the Frame section included Ken Okiishi’s slowly spinning zebra-print umbrellas (whose fabric was lifted from former Manhattan staple Gino) at Alex Zachary. Equally hypnotic was Susanne Winterling’s elegant foray into jellyfish-themed iPad art, which anchored one corner at Jessica Silverman. Those who made it to Bischoff/Weiss at the end of the row were rewarded with Raphaël Zarka’s superbly observed Gibellina. The pair of videos track the Sicilian city’s split response to the 1968 earthquake that left one half of the city as a sort of sculpture park, while the remains of the other half were coated in concrete as part of Alberto Burri’s massive (twenty-plus acres), never fully completed memorial sculpture Il Grande Cretto. “The most amazing thing about the Burri piece is that it exists at all,” Zarka had mused over dinner at the Groucho Club.. He showed me a few more pictures of the site, including one of teenagers making out alongside the cracks. “Yeah. It’s kind of a tourist stop now.”

Thursday afternoon I toured the exhibitions at Tate Modern and then took a quick spin (well, as “quick” as syncopated video screenings allow) around Whitechapel’s Wilhelm Sasnal show before dashing down the District line to the ICA, where Paul Chan was in conversation with Museum Ludwig director Kaspar König. The latter introduced Chan’s 2009 Sade for Sade’s Sake by saying, “When I first encountered this work at the Venice Biennale, I found it obnoxious,” to which Chan gamely responded, “Well, first of all, I’d like to thank you for publically insulting my work.” Chan then launched into a discussion of art and lawlessness: “After all,” the artist reminded us, “crimes are committed every day—mostly during working hours at a bank.” Chan dedicated his lecture “Every Artwork Is an Uncommitted Crime” to Occupy Wall Street, planting seeds of guilt that would start to flare later when—after a very lavish dinner at the former house of Lord Astor—I returned to the ICA to find it partially occupied by a party for Gagosian Gallery.

Left: Artists Cory Arcangel and Takeshi Murata. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Duncan Campbell. (Photo: David Velasco)

SO THERE I WAS SATURDAY, under the sunshine at the Serpentine, reconsidering my week while Marathon participants like Hélène Cixous and Wolfgang Tillmans (who showed photos of his windowsill) reminded me that the “art world” could produce more than just a door pass at Groucho. Meanwhile, strains of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” seeped from the newly perforated walls of the Serpentine. The song drives Anri Sala’s knockout solo show, but it also happened to summarize the mood of the out-of-town marathoners. Was all this worth another night or two in London?

For those who said “yes,” Saturday night provided a bounty of openings on the East End, including the freshly rechristened Campoli Pressi (né Sutton Lane) and the newly relocated Hotel, who were sharing the space that previously served as Tillman’s studio. “This used to be one of the most beautiful studios in London. And it had some of the best parties, too,” Comer reminisced, surveying what was now Hotel’s meeting area. I recognized a few of Tillmans’s plants still on the windowsill. Oohhh, if they could talk.

Left: Artist Helen Marten. Right: Artist James Richards and Chisenhale director Polly Staple. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Actually, if they could talk, Hans Ulrich Obrist probably would have interviewed them already. I myself would have asked them to fill me in on that evening’s discussion between artist Duncan Campbell and author John Lanchester, who wrote a layman’s guide to the economic crisis titled Whoops! Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay. “In the States, the title’s actually not Whoops! but I.O.U.,” Hotel’s Christabel Stewart marveled. “I’m not sure if we should read into that or not.”

Next it was off to Chisenhale Gallery for a very well-attended performance featuring Young Turks James Richards, Ed Atkins, and Haroon Mirza. After, the gallery joined forces with Herald St, Modern Institute, Vilma Gold, and Studio Voltaire to host what was supposedly the party that night, at the Efes Pool Hall. A bulging, beer-laden crowd swarmed Stoke Newington Road; those who did get inside warned of the influx of sixteen-year-old Essex girls. I sought shelter in the basement club Vogue Fabrics, at a party I only later learned was being billed as “Anal House.” (I guess the punning works better when you say it with a British accent.)

I had intended to spend Sunday at the Sunday Art Fair (naturally), but waking up with the bright red cock drawn on my hand from a party the night prior (thank you, Dalston door guys, for keeping it creative), I decided my Sunday fair would just have to be FIAC. After all, only a few more seats remained on the 4 PM Eurostar, and I had another week of formidable things awaiting me in Paris.

Left: Shumon Basar and Antonia Carver. Right: Gagosian's Valerie Blair and Samuel Adams. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Artist Raphaël Zarka and dealer Raphaelle Bischoff. Right: Artist Fritz Haeg. (Photos: Kate Sutton)

Left: Darren Bader's piece at Andrew Kreps. Right: Vermelho's Akio Aoki. (Photos: David Velasco)

Left: Artists Silke Otto-Knapp and Frances Stark. Right: Artist Isaac Julien. (Photos: David Velasco)