First Wave

Left: Dealer Sadie Coles with artist Anish Kapoor. Right: Dealer Shaun Caley Regen with artist Matthew Barney. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

FORGET RADICAL THINKING. To be avant-garde today means being first out of the gate. Last Friday in London, for example, the Sadie Coles, David Zwirner, and Herald Street galleries threw the switch on Frieze Week three days early. Absent the nattering crowds and competitive pressures of the art fair, all three openings—for shows by Matthew Barney, Kerry James Marshall, and Ida Ekblad, respectively—were actually fun, and definitely put best feet forward.

Marshall’s emblematic debut with Zwirner at the dealer’s Grafton Street townhouse made the art of figurative painting seem vital again, even stylish. Ekblad is personally very stylish. “I love the shoes,” collector Paul Ettlinger enthused when he saw her at Herald St’s new satellite space in Soho. “Especially with the brocade mini!” Hanging out in the basement office, the artist was surrounded by male admirers of her epigraphic paintings and drawings as well, while the small storefront on the ground floor filled with young people on hand for a live set by the Norwegian singer Nils Bech.

Around the corner on Kingly Street, Barney had painted the walls of Coles’s floor-through gallery a tasteful gray, all the better to frame the exhibition’s forensic centerpiece, Crown Victoria, the exposed underbelly of a Crown Victoria chassis cast in zinc, entrails and all. Barney has an uncanny ability to eroticize both death and machinery, and this was a case in point. Think Alien monster in postcoital exhaustion, or rather postmortem mummification, vulnerable, regal, and terrifying all at once.

Left: Dealers Barbara Gladstone and Allyson Spellacy. Right: Tate Modern director Chris Dercon with Metropolitan Museum curator Sheena Wagstaff.

Barney held court in Coles’s VIP room, er, office, where dealers Barbara Gladstone and Shaun Caley Regen hobnobbed with artists Sarah Lucas, Andro Wekua, Anish Kapoor, Jürgen Teller, and Angela Bulloch, and the married chefs Fergus and Margot Henderson, off-duty for a change—the only night they would be in the foreseeable future.

The dealers were also en pointe. “Five of my artists have shows in London right now,” said Gladstone, a Frieze holdout. The one (besides Barney) stirring up the most buzz was Kai Althoff and his show at Michael Werner, while Regen could boast of Walead Beshty’s over-the-top solo turn at the Barbican’s Curve Gallery.

But this night belonged to Barney, whom Coles feted with a pass-around dinner in the gilded-and-mirrored Louis XVI environs of the Pompadour Ballroom in the Hotel Café Royal on Regent Street. The hotel, recently restored and updated by architect David Chipperfield, who was present, was once the epicenter of the London social scene and the stomping ground of Oscar Wilde, Aubrey Beardsley, and Arthur Conan Doyle, Coles said.

Left: Artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. Right: Artist Kerry James Marshall and designer Duro Olowu.

It wasn’t the same, of course—what is?—but the dinner provided something of a contemporary-art-world version. The nonprofits were well represented, by Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick, Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple, and Serpentine Gallery codirector Julia Peyton-Jones, who worked the room from one end to the other like an unusually charming politician. Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover, having handed the reigns of the fair to Victoria Siddall, seemed quite relaxed in this company, while Siddall promoted the business by promising a new tent with carpeting and low lighting to replace the shabby, noisy, and teeth-gnashing old one. (“We’ll see,” was the general response.)

With sun in the sky and the air warmish, Saturday proved a lovely day to tour the galleries. And early arrivals for Frieze were out in force. Fresh off the plane from New York, New Museum artistic director Massimiliano Gioni and High Line Art director Cecilia Alemani went straight to the Serpentine to see a blissful Cerith Wyn Evans show and another even sparer one by Trisha Donnelly. Christian Marclay and Barbican curator Lydia Yee were checking out the David Hammons show at White Cube in Mason’s Yard. In the back, hanging out in designer Duro Olowu’s salon-like boutique, was an ebullient Kerry James Marshall, while New York dealer Casey Kaplan and soon-to-be London dealer Dominique Lévy took considerable pleasure in Marshall’s show at Zwirner. At Hauser & Wirth, I spotted Magasin 3 director David Neuman at Pierre Huyghe’s show and SF MoMA curator Gary Garrels at Paul McCarthy’s almost literally shit-faced show of paintings.

The evening brought the opening of an inspired new slide show by Anne Collier and a loopy, crime-drama video installation by Marvin Gaye (formerly Spartacus) Chetwynd at Studio Voltaire in far-off Clapham, and the opening of former Istanbul dealer Sylvia Kouvali’s new Rodeo gallery above a sex bookshop on Charing Cross Road. “It’s great to see galleries return to Soho,” said Frieze coeditor Jennifer Higgie, citing Herald St, Coles, and Marian Goodman, who is opening her new London gallery on Tuesday. “And it’s wonderful to see such a cross-section of people here,” Higgie added, gazing upon a crowd of the young and the grizzled chowing down on pizza between works by Tamara Henderson or climbing the stairs to Banu Cennetoğlu’s archive of bound newspapers published all over the UK on September 4, 2014. The capsule view it gives of Great Britain is surprisingly expansive. (Weirdly, front-page headlines on The Times of London, The Guardian, and The Independent the day before each called out a different disease, not just Ebola but also HIV and diabetes.)

Left: Artist Richard Tuttle with Tate Modern curator Achim Borchardt-Hume. Right: Dealer Sylvia Kouvali.

Sunday brought a nasty, all-day rain and exclusive, very VIP previews of Richard Tuttle’s Turbine Hall commission at Tate Modern and his five-decade retrospective at Whitechapel. “It was wonderful to see the disbelief on people’s faces when we announced that Richard had accepted this commission,” Tate director Nicholas Serota told a crowd that included former Tate curator Sheena Wagstaff and her current Metropolitan Museum colleague Ian Alteveer, Pace Gallery founder Arne Glimcher, Miami collector Craig Robins, and the elegant Praful Amichand Shah, the Indian textile manufacturer who produced the fabrics for “I Don’t Know . The Weave of Textile Language,” Tuttle’s buoyant installation in the vast Turbine Hall.

It was indeed curious to see an artist better known for the eccentric shape and the delicate object take on the colossal scale of this commission, paid for by privately donated funds. (Hyundai’s on tap to sponsor next year.) Suspended from the ceiling, the work consists of large, cylindrical and otherwise vaguely four-rigger-like pieces of shaped wood either wrapped in crimson or pinned with saffron cloth by the artist over six weeks spent on site. “My first dealer, Betty Parsons, made the point that a work of art should be alive,” Tuttle said. “I didn’t know what she meant then. Now I do. The artist’s job is to make something that’s alive.”

It’s billowing here, that’s for sure. “The secret of this work is the indigo fabric underneath,” Shah whispered. It is not visible. “You have to see the whole thing from above,” said Tate Modern director Chris Dercon, admitting that the upper floors were closed for the evening. “And wait till you see the catalogue,” he added. “It’s the third part of the show.”

Left: Dealer Ash L'ange and Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple. Right: Artist Anne Collier and dealer Liz Mulholland.

The second, in case you’re wondering, is the supremely well-paced exhibition at Whitechapel, which focuses on Tuttle’s use of fabric in his sculpture and in which everything is visible while remaining mysterious. Works that have never been shown in America are here, including the almost cartoony Clutter from 2008–12, and the rather daring Ten Kinds of Memory and Memory Itself from 1973. It consists of a few squiggles of rope on the floor. “Why can’t the floor be used for drawing?” Tuttle asks in one of the elegiac but straightforward poems he wrote as wall text for the show. “The textile should be as free / On the floor as on the wall – more free / If textile has love.”

“I think Richard is a very good artist,” said Tuttle’s understated wife, the poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. Speeches at the dinner, hosted by dealer Stuart Shave in the baronial hall of 2 Temple Place, were also poetic, particularly Blazwick’s. She described the indescribable Turbine Hall installation as “a gigantic, winged structure” where color becomes “a measure of time.” She also characterized the work as “the most dramatic shift of scale ever done by one artist.” Dercon quoted Tuttle as saying, “Once the order has been found, everything can be changed around”—a useful aphorism for understanding this enigmatic and influential artist. But Tuttle, of course, said it best, when he concluded his own speech by charging the assembled guests with the words, “Go home. Figure it out. And may God protect you.”

With that, let the Frieze Week games begin.

Left: Frieze Art Fair director Victoria Siddall. Right: Dealer Stuart Shave with David Roberts Art Foundation curator Vincent Honoré.

Left: Artist Ida Ekblad and dealer Nicky Verber. Right: Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick and dealer Arne Glimcher.

Left: Artist Andro Wekua. Right: Artist Antony Gormley with dealer Roger Tatley.

Left: Chefs Margot and Fergus Henderson. Right: Collector Craig Robins.

Left: Artist Pablo Bronstein. Right: Praful A. Shah and Robert Coffland.

Left: Musicians Jonas Barsten and Nils Bech. Right: Artist Sarah Lucas.

Left: Dealer Toby Webster and artist Jeremy Deller. Right: Carol LeWitt with poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge.

Left: Artist Christodoulos Panayiotou with Fiorucci Art Trust curator Milovan Farranato and artist Patrizio di Massimo. Right: Artist Sam McEwen and collector Richard Massey.

Left: Collector Thomas Bechler with Kunsthalle Basel president Martin Hatebur. Right: Barbican curator Lydia Yee.

Left: Artists Jeff McMillan and Cornelia Parker with Metropolitan Museum curator Ian Alteveer. Right: Collectors Martin Bolsterli and Gitti Hug.

Left: Collectors Nicoletta Fiorucci and Giovanni Russo. Right: Curator Christabel Stewart with Tate Modern curator Tanya Barson.

Left: Frieze editor Jennifer Higgie. Right: Collector Cristina Bechler.

Left: Collector Garrick Jones. Right: Fiorucci Art Trust curator Stella Bottai.

Left: Glasgow International director Sarah McCrory and Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple. Right: Collector Paul Ettlinger and designer Raimund Berthold.

Left: Dealer Jörg Johnen. Right: Publisher Brendan Dugan and photographer Hugo Rittson-Thomas.

Left: Guggenheim Museum curator Pablo León de la Barra with artist Amalia Pica. Right: Collector Dillon Cohen.