Jump Start

Linda Yablonsky around the 13th Frieze Art Fair

Left: Writer Hilton Als and artist Glenn Ligon. Right: Dealer Elisa Uematsu and artist Cerith Wyn Evans. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

NILSSON’S “JUMP INTO THE FIRE” plays in my head from the start. Over four days in London, the racing pulse of that Goodfellas song underscores the pace of events detonated by the thirteenth edition of Frieze.

Monday the twelfth is breakneck joy in the trenches of art. It begins at the ICA with the headbanging launch of Zhang Ding’s “Enter the Dragon” (pace Bruce Lee). The black-box theater of this normally sedate institution is alive with the immersive sound of acid punk and electronica—played simultaneously—by Bo Ningen and Powell under flashing strobes and from behind curtains of revolving mirrors on opposite sides of the room. Cosponsored by K11 Art Foundation, Zhang’s exhibition will bring in two bands twice a day for thirteen days. He says, through a translator, that it’s his version of community organizing.

His show, researched in a ten-day club crawl with curator Matt Williams, is the wow version of the ICA’s other exhibition, “Side On,” by artist and Anal House Meltdown co-DJ Prem Sahib, whose mute sculptures sing the visual codes of close encounters in the underground gay club scene.

Back on the street, my art antennae point East to Victoria Miro Gallery and the one-two punch of a pair of talks by writer Hilton Als. Glenn Ligon, Eric Fischl, April Gornik, and 2013 Turner Prize finalist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are all here for the first. Along one wall is an expansive mural of silhouettes by Kara Walker; adjacent is a huge, manipulated photograph of Stone Mountain, the landscape of her childhood. Against this backdrop, Als delivers the most succinct and personal insight into Walker’s life and work I’ve ever heard.

Left: Chisenhale director Polly Staple and Frieze cofounder Amanda Sharp. Right: Dealer Maureen Paley.

With hardly a pause for breath, Als picks up a few more VIPs, the collector César Reyes among them, and moves to Miro’s space next door for another poetic disquisition on “Forces in Nature,” the show he has curated. Works by Alice Neel, Chris Ofili, Francesca Woodman, Verne Dawson, and the undeservedly underrecognized Celia Paul illuminate the presence or absence of the male form in landscapes both psychic and natural. We all melt.

A pit stop at Stuart Shave for Mark Flood’s latest foray into lace paintings and the deep sea of digital art. Just one couple of collectors in the gallery, transacting with it. The opening is an hour away. Off I go to Chisenhale, where I am totally floored by A magical substance flows into me. It’s a nonpolitically political, semidocumentary film by the musically named Jumana Manna, the twenty-seven-year-old artist born in Palestine and based in Berlin. It shares space with smooth relics of the human form, sculptures that could be ancient or modern. I’m captivated by the whole installation, but the clock is ticking and there are many miles to go.

Chisenhale director Polly Staple joins me for a run at openings in Mayfair, but wait! Maureen Paley is closer. We arrive in the quiet hour before the FOFs (friends of Frieze) descend on Liam Gillick’s replay of works from the 1990s adjusted for now. It’s all about portent and possibility. “People are really excited about this show,” Paley says. “I’m so happy.” No wonder. We’re in a room with the makings of a bonfire. There’s incendiary text on the wall. Beneath our feet, swirls of silver glitter, painted with a vodka fixative. If only we had time to drink in more of it.

Two shakes later we’re at Gagosian in King’s Cross for a show by Jonas Wood. I like Wood. In his shamrock-green knit cap, he looks like an overgrown leprechaun. The Angeleno’s new paintings of tall vessels by his wife, Shio Kusaka, fairly levitate in the big room. Smaller canvases of imaginary, wood-grain flower pots are endearing. “I was fooling around and got a little carried away,” he says. Good move.

Left: Dealer Anton Kern and artist Jonas Woods. Right: Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas and dealer Mónica Manzutto.

Wood’s patient driver Gazemend is waiting outside in his van. He gets us through the rush-hour traffic as if it weren’t there. By dusk, we’re at Pilar Corrias. People sit along a narrow bench transfixed by Ian Cheng’s digital animation that projects an apocalyptic future. (Is there any other kind?) I can’t follow the many strands of narrative. A quick take tells me that, if the mind be nimble, its wild dogs, icy craters, and fictional celebrity-god will not get in the way of enjoying the experience.

The opening of Elmgreen & Dragset’s “Self-Portrait” is in cheek-by-jowl progress at the Mayfair Miro. For this tombstone-like array of paintings on canvas, paper, marble, and metal, the duo has replicated—at considerably larger scale—the museum wall labels of works by other artists that have affected their own collaboration. The show also signals Elmgreen’s departure from London. He’s moving back to Berlin. “For the price of a tiny studio here, I can get a whole house,” he says, sounding a familiar refrain.

Thomas Demand is standing outside Sprüth Magers, where he is showing photographs of architectural models abstracted to an admirably chiaroscuro degree. The reception has attracted one actual architect, David Chipperfield. “He hates the show,” Demand says. “He told me. It’s too much architecture for him.”

We’ve got empty seats in the van and Gabriel Kuri needs a lift to Tate Modern. We swan into the private view of this year’s Hyundai commission in the Turbine Hall, Empty Lot, by Kuri’s countryman Abraham Cruzvillegas. It’s not empty. Steel scaffolding with caged supporting pillars fills the yawning space, interrupted only by a staircase. We climb it to the mezzanine bridge and discover, beyond the several hundred heads of attending curators, artists, and patrons, tall grow lights beaming down on thirty-four triangular flower beds that extend forward on a platform shaped like a prow. Each raised bed contains dark soil that the artist collected from public parks all over London. In time, we’ll know if the invisible stuff that wafts through the city air has seeded itself in the beds. What will pop up, no one knows, but probably it won’t be an art gallery or shoe shop. Let’s return in a few months.

Left: Curator Tom Eccles, architect Annabelle Selldorf, and artist Liam Gillick. Right: Artist Gabriel Orozco.

The Cruzvillegas posse on hand includes compadres Gabriel Orozco and Tamayo Museum director Juan Gaitán. With them is the chef from Rosetta, a favorite haunt in Mexico City, who will cook for the afterparty at Village Underground, a cavernous nightclub in Shoreditch. “She came with a hundred kilos of Mexican ingredients,” the proud Cruzvillegas says. Awesome.

But ooh! A performance by the limber Japanese percussionist Keiji Haino is about to begin at White Cube Bermondsey. Fill the van, I say! The artist Samantha McEwen climbs in. So do Tate performance curator Catherine Wood and MoMA media and performance curator Stuart Comer. Now we have a clown car. “He’s just so good!” Comer whispers once we’re in the gallery and the musician is spinning, gonging, and clanging through a feature-length composition of hammer on metal that, at times, sounds remarkably like the bells of Saint Mary’s.

Watching from the front row is Cerith Wyn Evans, the artist who asked Keiji to play within his exhibition of exquisitely wrought chandeliers of glass tubing. Hanging from the super-high ceilings, they send up the sex machines of Duchamp’s Large Glass with geometry extracted from the movements of actors in Noh theater. It’s complicated. We exit to rolling drones.

The air in the van is thick with art talk until Gazemend pulls up to St. John and Paley’s buffet dinner for Gillick. The artist is in an effusive mood. Annabelle Selldorf, Michael Stipe, Sarah McCrory, Peter Saville, Rebecca Warren, and a hundred other people—you probably know who—hug the bar. Bard CCS director Tom Eccles takes the landing over the former abattoir and, like a minister calling his flock, launches the publication of Gillick’s new book, From Nineteen Ninety A to Nineteen Ninety B.

We want to read this ur-text for curators, but not today. Right now we have a problem: Where to go for a nightcap? The dinner for Woods at Berners Tavern or for Thomas Demand at Bellamy’s? What about the Connaught, where Massimo De Carlo and Miro are toasting Elmgreen & Dragset? There must be hundreds of similar gatherings in town. We can’t decide but the Village Underground is on the way to wherever. With artist Josephine Meckseper and McEwen, I stop in. Dealer Mónica Manzutto hands us plates of something hot made with corn. We catch dealer Chantal Crousel doing a hippity-hop across the dance floor, discuss the attributes of tequila with Asad Raza, then get back on the road. Elmgreen says his party’s breaking up. Wood doesn’t reply to texts. It’s 1 AM. The day is done.

Left: Dealer Jay Jopling and Bianca Jagger. Right: Frieze Projects curator Nicola Lees and artist Asad Raza.

Hopes high for Frieze, the next morning I get on the long line of collectors waiting to get inside the tent in Regent’s Park for the VIP preview. The black-on-black entryway, designed for Nicola Lees’s Frieze Projects by Lutz Bacher, is graffitied with phrases like “Welcome to Purgatory.” Ten minutes later I’m behind the bookstore and in the cave of Pan. It’s Raza’s contribution to Frieze Projects. Students on tree-trunk stools engage visitors in dialogues about gods and monsters. If this reminds anyone of Tino Sehgal, that may be because Raza is the producer of Sehgal’s situations. He’s taking this opportunity to branch out on his own.

Farther on, presentations are generally chaotic. The tent’s hot, bright lights are oppressive. Artists just can’t keep producing new work for every fair. There’s a limit. With an electric blue carpet to enhance small paintings by Peter McDonald, Kate MacGarry’s is an exception. So is Esther Schipper’s charcoal arrangements of wall and floor—very handsome. The dealer dressed herself in the same palette. Gavin Brown’s exhibition by Kerstin Brätsch and the Belgian team of Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys is among the more elegant, though it’s Stuart Shave/Modern Art’s pairing of washing machine sculptures by Yngve Holen and digital Rothkos by Mark Flood that takes the Pommery Champagne prize for best stand. Of the qualified galleries, says Jewish Museum deputy director Jens Hoffmann, a judge, “It was the least cluttered.”

The fair has a veritable mascot in Mark Leckey’s giant inflatable of Felix the Cat, which is scrunched into a corner of Daniel Buchholz’s booth and slowly losing air. Swiss collector Suzanne Syz snaps it up without asking the price. She doesn’t care. At White Cube, Jay Jopling is squiring Bianca Jagger around artworks by Hirst, Emin, and Knoebel. Orozco is visiting Kurimanzutto, taking time from his current sojourn in Tokyo. “In Mexico City, we have too much quality of life,” he says. “Especially nightlife. “ He wants a break.

Dealers at São Paulo’s Mendes Wood can’t catch one. Too busy. I spy Jeffrey Deitch in an aisle, phone to ear. “It’s a wonderful fair,” he says. He loves it. Marc Foxx is selling out his booth. In two days Lehmann Maupin will change its whole stand. “Grr,” goes Rachel Lehmann. “People keep touching the art! And these are adults, not children.” Behavior at art fairs is not refined. The place is overrun with “advisors,” to the annoyance of many. Remember when sculpture didn’t sell? It’s everywhere here.

Left: Artist Isaac Julien and Whitechapel curator Lydia Yee. Right: Artist Sol Calero and Studio Voltaire patron Valeria Napoleone.

Visiting Frieze Masters is a whole other trip. With its plush carpeting, low light, and expertly curated stands—some are collections of antiquities, majolica, netsuke, and antique fish hooks selected by Norman Rosenthal—the Selldorf-designed tent knows nothing of chaos. There are discoveries to be made every few steps. De Grunne from Brussels has Indonesian wooden figures that predate Roman antiquities and are hitting the market for the first time ever. It had to happen. Nothing escapes branding anymore. But being at this fair is like walking into an encyclopedic museum where everything’s for sale. If only Frieze were as tight as this.

Valentino is here with his entourage. Anthony d’Offay is making the rounds too. Isaac Julien and Whitechapel curator Lydia Yee drop into Paula Cooper, who is showing a marvelous 1970s wheel of rope by Jackie Winsor. Alexander Gray has Xerox paintings by Jack Whitten of the same vintage. Bologna’s P420 introduces textile and wood works from the same period by a complete unknown, the seventy-five-year-old radical Romanian Ana Lupas, and Alan Cristea is showing a suite of Richard Hamiltons, circa 1944. I’m bouncing off the walls.

The evening starts in Kensington Palace Gardens, where Studio Voltaire patron Valeria Napoleone, collector of art by women only, is holding a dinner for one hundred guests. “What is this, the Israeli embassy?” the taxi driver asks. Ha-ha. I can only stay for drinks. Micheline Szwajcer and Gavin Brown have requisitioned Wiltons, the most old-fashioned and traditional restaurant in Mayfair, where dinner is in honor of de Gruyter and Thys, but the latter is absent. He’s got a flu and a lecture on cars to do the following night. Harald is mad for cars, de Gruyter says, adding that the pair’s artworks will never find their true form. “They will be victims forever,” he says. I don’t know what this means.

Cabinet Gallery’s Martin McGeown is holding down a back booth with Leckey and dealer Isabella Bortolozzi. Also in the house is Martin Creed and Beatrix Ruf, who alights after dinner to Wolfgang Tillmans’s house, where American and British artists, dealers, and curators (mostly male) are crawling over every floor. A Tillmans mixtape plays in the background, actually the recording of his recent DJ gig in Brooklyn. The guy gets around.

Left: Artist Wolfgang Tillmans and Stedelijk director Beatrix Ruf. Right: Artist Tania Bruguera.

I’m a New Yorker. I understand. In London, I want to see everything, but there’s too much and the city’s too big. I head back to the fair. It’s late in the day, not so packed, especially in the back, where the younger galleries in Focus are quarantined. “Some of our collectors never found us,” says dealer Robbie Fitzpatrick, “but we’ve done really well with Amelie von Wulffen.” I get that. Frieze is for business, Frieze Masters for experience.

Tania Bruguera, the artist whose pronounced campaigns for freedom of speech earned her eight months of house arrest in her native Havana earlier this year, is giving a Frieze Talk to a packed house. She’s flown over for a single day from her fellowship at Yale. “I do political art,” she says. “It’s less important for it to be beautiful than effective. What will hurt power most?”

The audience is rapt when she speaks of the one-hundred-hour reading of a Hannah Arendt book that Bruguera gave during the Havana Biennial last spring. She applauds the Cuban government for choosing that moment to jackhammer the street outside her house, an attempt to silence her that she characterizes as “very creative.” You can’t do political art if there’s no need for it, she says. For one thing, it doesn’t sell, but you never know. As noted before, neither did sculpture back when.

Now I’m heading east again, for an evening view of Emily Jacir’s show at the Whitechapel. I want to see Leckey’s film at Cabinet, and Sarah VanDerBeek at the Approach, and Matt Connors at Herald St. I’m missing a lot, because it’s going to take an hour to cross London, where Silka Rittson-Thomas’s Rise Projects is hosting “Snails in Notting Hill,” a dinner in a derelict, Brutalist house slated for demolition. This is only going to happen once. Go, I must.

There is no heat. There are no bathrooms. But this house has something no other can claim: a total, site-specific environment by Nicolas Party, who has painted walls, floors, stairwells, ceilings, tablecloths and the stools at the makeshift tables with rabbit, leaf, and snail designs in very fruity colors. It’s like a doll’s house for grownups. Wonderful fun. The young ceramicist Jesse Wine provided the plates.

Left: Kunsthalle Zürich director Daniel Baumann with dealers Toby Webster and Silka Ritson-Thomas. Right: Collector Michael Xufu Huang.

Among the guests are dealers Tim Blum, Thilo Wermke, and Toby Webster, with Kunsthalle Zürich director Daniel Baumann and collectors of two generations. Bil Ehrlich and Shane Ackroyd represent one, Tiffany Zabludowicz and Michael Xufu Huang (a student at U of Penn) another. “I started collecting when I was sixteen,” he boasts. “Me, too,” Zabludowicz replies. “So did I!” says Baumann. Isn’t that weird? A few minutes later, Ehrlich tells me when he acquired his first artwork—at age sixteen. What are the odds?

Thursday is for catching up but all I manage to get in are the Jimmie Durham and Rachel Rose shows at the Serpentine. I keep hearing that Durham has given two of the most profoundly moving speeches of the week, both of which I missed. Now I have to move carefully; it’s another night of bounty. Colm Tóibín and Rachel Whiteread sign limited-edition books at Mags in Berkeley Square. What now? Will it be Timothy Taylor’s dinner for Meckseper? With beautifully minimal display windows, she is showing an elegant gray painting of semen on canvas and a stuffed New York rat. “It had to be a New York rat, and it had to be male,” she says. But how can I resist the Kickstarter/Glasgow International dinner in the basement of Barrafina, where all the young female dynamos on the scene are massing? I stop by the Royal Academy’s Ai Weiwei show. The artist is back in Beijing. I don’t get out clean.

I’m winding down, and just as I realize that I have spent a full week in London without running into Hans Ulrich Obrist, I stumble into a command performance of Olde English folk songs by Emily Sundblad and Matt Sweeney. They’re appearing before an international audience of sixty people invited to Chelsea by Fiorucci Art Trust director Milovan Farronato, who is hiding behind a beaded veil.

“You’ll like our finale,” Sundblad says. “It’s ‘Wall of Death.’ ”

Left: Dealer Lorcan O'Neill with artists Rachel Whiteread and writer Colm Tóibín. Right: Artists Emily Sunblad and Matt Sweeney.

Left: Artist Josephine Meckseper. Right: Artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and dealer Glenn Scott Wright.

Left: Artist Zhang Ding and dealer Lorenz Helbling. Right: Artist Jos de Gruyter.

Left: Dealers Steve Henry and Paula Cooper. Right: Dealer Kate MacGarry.

Left: Frieze Art Fair director Victoria Siddal and collector Vanessa Branson. Right: Tate Modern curator Catherine Wood.

Left: Curator Germano Celant with dealer Nicholas Logsdail and Max Logsdail. Right: Serpentine codirector Julia Peyton-Jones.

Left: Dealers David Nolan and Anthony D'Offay. Right: Artist Gabriel Kuri.

Left: Artist Ingar Dragset. Right: Artist Laurie Anderson and Michael Morris.

Left: Artist Mickalene Thomas. Right: Artists April Gornik and Eric Fischl.

Left: Collector Tiffany Zabludowicz. Right: Artist Celia Paul with collector César Reyes.

Left: Artists Jesse Wine and Nicolas Party. Right: Samdani Art Foundation founder Nadia Samdani and the foundation’s artistic director Diana Campbell Betancourt.

Left: Dealers PIlar Corrias and Silvia Squaldini. Right: Dealer Nicky Verber.

Left: Artists Space director Stefan Kalmár. Right: Artists Mark Wallinger and Thomas Demand.

Left: Dealer Esther Schipper and Serralves Museum director Suzanne Cotter. Right: Dealer Isabella Bortolozzi.

Left: Dealers Max Hetzler and Samia Saouma. Right: Dealers Olivier Babin and Lodovico Corsini.

Left: Artist Amalia Pica. Right: Artist Celia Hempton.

Left: Artist Michael Elmgreen. Right: Bice Curiger, artistic director at Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles.

Left: Collector Bill Ehrlich. Right: Collector Nicoletta Fiorucci.

Left: Collector Maria Baibakova. Right: Artist Ryan Gander.

Left: Dealer Alex Logsdail. Right: Dealer Fabienne Stephan and artist Betty Woodman.

Left: Dealer David Kordansky and advisor Meredith Darrow. Right: Dealers Andrew Kreps and Sam Orlofsky.

Left: Dealer Francois Ghebaly. Right: Dealer Marc Foxx.

Left: Dealer Matt Wood and collector Alain Servais. Right: Dealer Peter Currie and Glasgow International director Sarah McCrory.

Left: Jewish Museum artistic director Jens Hoffmann. Right: Metropolitan Museum curator Sheena Wagstaff.

Left: Museo Tamayo director Juan Gaitan. Right: Dealer Jose Kuri with Hammer curators Anne Ellegood and Connie Butler.

Left: Dealers Casey Kaplan and Loring Randolph. Right: Musician Keiji Haino.

Left: Dealer Cristian Alexa and MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci. Right: Collectors Peter Handschin and Martin Hatebur.