Fish Tank

Linda Yablonsky around the 14th Frieze Art Fair in London

Left: Composer and conductor Esmeralda Conde Ruiz with Tate museums director Nicholas Serota. Right: Serpentine Gallery curator Hans Ulrich Obrist with artist Philippe Parreno, dealer Pilar Corrias and LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne. (All photos: Linda Yablonsky)

FRIEZE WEEK IN LONDON isn’t just about an art fair. It’s a marathon of social rubbernecking fraught with FOMO. One has to ease into it.

Last Friday afternoon, I had the good luck to find Pablo Bronstein at Tate Britain, admiring the stamina of the three women performing his suave meld of pedestrian and Baroque movement with “Historical Dances in an Antique Setting,” a commissioned show that has been going on continuously for six months. “The more I see these women, the more I love them,” Bronstein said, before I slipped into the 2016 Turner Prize exhibition and found ICA curator Matt Williams making a stealth visit with filmmaker Jeffrey Hinton. Judging from the always-illuminating (and unexpurgated) comment board, Helen Marten and Michael Dean have the odds.

That evening, Cabinet Gallery set the stage for the rest of the week by opening its new, purpose-built home in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens—a public park that was once the joy of the Victorian leisure class. No worries that decamping from scruffier headquarters in the East End will corrupt the gallery’s subversive character. Few others defy the white cube as boldly as this five-story dodecahedron.

Cabinet has a history of minting game-changers. (Think Jeremy Deller, Martin Creed, Mark Leckey, and Ed Atkins, among other Turner Prize winners and nominees.) Now it means to game the system. “A page is turning for London,” said collector and PICPUS publisher Charles Asprey. “It’s grown boring. Its art is boring. So if you’re going to do something new, you want to make it magical and beautiful, and not be afraid of those words.”

Left: Artist Jim Nutt. Right: Collector Norman Stone with Tate Modern director Frances Morris and collector Nora Stone.

Asprey “facilitated” (i.e. financed) the erection of the gallery he loves best as well as collaborated on its design with Cabinet founder Martin McGeown, his partner Andrew Wheatley, and architect Trevor Horne. They gave the building an additional boost by inviting gallery artists Marc Camille Chaimowicz, Lucy McKenzie, and John Knight to add both structural and decorative elements—specifically windows and, in McKenzie’s case, terracotta murals for balconies that flip the bird to MI6 headquarters across the park.

With Damien Hirst’s Newport Street behemoth just a few minutes’ walk away, the elegant, gray brickface building is expected to gentrify the area, which was hastily and none too prettily rebuilt after its bombing during World War II. For the moment, however, its nearest neighbors are farm animals. “Just wait,” Asprey said, with the confident smile of a man who knows he did something very right. “This is only the beginning.”

For the inaugural show, McGeown could not have made a more brilliant match than to tap Chicago Imagist Jim Nutt, whose surreally geometric portraits harmonize perfectly with the zigzag of the walls and Chaimowicz’s eccentrically angled windows. Knight’s single, tall “zip” of a window peeks out at the park between paintings that startled many first-nighters even more than the building.

Strangely, at least for an American, Nutt is relatively unknown in the UK. The last time he soloed in London was well before many guests were born. “I think he started out as a comic book artist,” one young visitor said. “I’ve never seen your paintings in the flesh before,” another told Nutt. “You really painted the hair!” Nutt smiled. “I did,” he replied. What else could he say?

Left: Artist James Richards and ICA London director Gregor Muir. Right: Artist Ed Atkins.

“Openings at the old Cabinet were never this big,” a regular told me, glancing at the many faces in a crowd that included dealers David Nolan and Isabella Bortolozzi, artist Michael Craig-Martin, Tate Modern curator Catherine Wood, collectors Andy and Christine Hall, and Nutt’s fellow Hairy Who veteran, Gladys Nilsson, his wife. “They’d be lucky to get more than twenty-five people.”

At least sixty came to dinner at St. John, where they seated themselves in cozy claques. Leckey and Atkins occupied a corner with Asprey, and outgoing ICA director Gregor Muir hung with James Richards, the artist on show at his institution right now. Emily King arrived with her spouse, Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover, dressed in notable designs by Anthony Symonds, an art-fashion crossover that Cabinet shares with Bortolozzi, the designer’s dinner partner. Knight, who came from Los Angeles for the opening, pulled up a chair between art historians T.J. Clark and Anne Wagner. Chaimowicz was on hand too, still riding high on the previous night’s opening of his show at the Serpentine Gallery.

“I paid my dues for twenty-five years,” said the proud McGeown, who started Cabinet in an apartment in Brixton, and was first to show Elizabeth Peyton in London—in a pub. Now he’s betting on the duo Max Pitegoff and Calla Henkel, creators of New Theater, which had its American debut only last fall at the Whitney Museum. Stay tuned.

Left: Artist Marc Camille Chaimowicz. Right: Artist Lynn Hershman Leeson and dealer Rachel Williams.

Richards popped up again Saturday night, at Rodeo Gallery in Soho, where dealers Sylvia Kouvali and Janice Guy combined forces to present his engrossing film collaboration with Leslie Thornton (Kouvali), and Leidy Churchman premiered new paintings (Guy). Weirdly, crocodiles were among the subjects of both presentations. Dinner was Indian and held at a hotel on the Strand that was just this side of postcolonial shabby. “Did you see the bar downstairs?” asked Walker Art Center curator Fionn Meade, who has worked with all three artists. “You don’t see bars like that anymore. (It was caged within a clubroom where past presidents of the establishment’s curry club were listed on the wall.)

Next afternoon, an unusually warm and sunny day, pretty much everyone who attended the opening—Richards, Meade, Kestner Gesellschaft curator Milan Ther—came to the ICA for a talk by Thornton, who condemned Jonas Mekas and Stan Brakhage (a mentor) for separating experimental film from the art world for too many decades. Zing!

At the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, artist Ryan Sullivan and Bard CCS director Tom Eccles were checking out Helen Marten’s big solo just as Vancouver-based collector Bob Rennie walked up, on his way to Chaimowicz’s exhilarating art-meets-design exhibition at the main gallery. During a week like this, you run into art people from everywhere no matter where you go. That evening, Paris-based curator Zoe Stillpass and Glasgow dealer Emma Astner were exiting the elevators at Shoreditch House, just as that cute-as-a-button artist couple, Eddie Peake and Celia Hempton, were entering for an early Sunday dinner. The fries were good.

Left: Dealer Isabella Bortolozzi. Right: Dealers Janice Guy and Sylvia Kouvali.

On Monday, a day after Prime Minister Theresa May committed the UK to exiting the EU by March, there was all sorts of hopeful speculation in the press and on the street about how many Americans at auctions or at Frieze would take advantage of a precipitous drop in the British pound. In this atmosphere, it was hard not to see Brexit impinging on Peter Wächtler’s invigorating, musical animation at Chisenhale Gallery. “I agree,” said gallery director Polly Staple. “But he could also be referring to the end of any relationship, or just a desire not to be trapped.” Whatever Wächtler meant by it, the top-hatted character making tracks in the film can’t get away fast enough—and yet never actually runs anywhere but in place.

Angst-ridden characters longing for comfort were also in Sanya Kantarovsky’s show of paintings opening at Stuart Shave/Modern Art. And in her “Trans Genesis” solo at Vilma Gold, Lynn Hershman Leeson had a video sculpture featuring Synthia, a woman whose moods were entirely dependent on the real-time ups and downs of the Dow Jones, visible in a ticker at the bottom of the tiny screen. “When the news is depressing, she stays home in the kitchen,” Hershman Leeson told me. “When it’s good, she goes shopping.” That day, she could have had a bargain.

At Tate Modern, meanwhile, there were hoards of happy people but not enough fish. Inflatable, Mylar fish, that is—the kind Philippe Parreno unleashed at Gladstone Gallery this past spring and that are currently wafting through the Brooklyn Museum’s entrance pavilion as well as the Turbine Hall, where his Hyundai Commission, “Anywhen,” was evolving by the minute, as directed by the actions of microorganisms squirreled away in a bioreactor at the back.

Left: Tate Modern curators Andrea Lissoni and Catherine Wood. Right: Artist Shadi Habib Allah.

“Boundaries are always porous in Philippe’s work,” dealer Pilar Corrias noted. Real life and fiction intersect. Screens and loudspeakers rise and fall, a film of a cuttlefish—narrated by a ventriloquist—unfolds, marquees flash on and off, the very realistic illusion of a thunderstorm occurs, Mylar fish hover at random, a radio program comes on to interrupt sound from the street outside—all to choreography designed by Isabel Lewis and Tino Sehgal, two of Parreno’s many collaborators on this project.

In my opinion, it’s one of the most thoroughly immersive and successful exhibitions this unforgiving space has seen yet. “That’s because there are no objects,” Gladstone said. “Philippe’s work is his brain. It’s not a product.”

Nor were there many collectors at the dinner she hosted with Corrias in the Colony Grill Room of Mayfair’s Beaumont Hotel. At least not the speculative kind, but the Nora and Norman Stone, Thea Westreich and Ethan Wagner kind, with longtime Parreno supporter Maja Hoffmann and younger patron Dayana Tamendarova, who was out with Easton Foundation president Jerry Gorovoy. “I love it,” Westreich said. “I love it,” Nora Stone said. “It’s great, isn’t it?” said Hoffmann. “I nearly got killed by the artwork,” joked New Museum deputy director Massimiliano Gioni, of the show’s lowering screens.

Left: Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum and Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois. Right: Frieze Art Fair director Victoria Siddall.

The head-spinning crowd spoke loudly of Parreno’s appeal to museums and absence from the auction block. Around us were Stedelijk director Beatrix Ruf, LA MoCA director Philippe Vergne, Moderna Museet director Daniel Birnbaum, Pinault Foundation curator Caroline Bourgeois, MoMA PS1 director Klaus Biesenbach, Serpentine chief curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, Beyeler Foundation director Sam Keller, and, of course, Tate Modern director Frances Morris and Tate museums director Nicholas Serota with the exhibition’s curators Andrea Lissoni and Vassilis Oikonomopoulos.

It felt like a conference, except that there were no speeches or toasts or even other artists or any reps from Frieze. “The speeches all happened today at lunch,” Corrias reported. That was business. “Tonight,” she said, “We’re celebrating.”

Left: Chisenhale Gallery director Polly Staple. Right: Dealer Barbara Gladstone with artist Philippe Parreno and dealer Max Falkenstein.

Left: Walker Art Center curator Fionn Meade and artist Leidy Churchman. Right: Artist Christian Marclay collector Thea Westreich.

Left: Curator Nicolas Trembley with dealer Tamara Corm and CAPC-Bordeaux director Maria Inés Rodriguez. Right: Artists Koo Jong-A and Asad Raza.

Left: Artist Christodoulos Panayiotou. Right: Artists Liz Magic Laser and Sanya Kantarovsky with dealer Stuart Shave.

Left: Collector Charles Asprey and actress Charlotte Asprey. Right: Curator Francesco Bonami.

Left: Dealer François Ghebaly. Right: Dealer Christabel Stewart and writer David Bussell.

Left: ICA London film curator Steven Cairns and filmmaker Leslie Thornton. Right: Dealers George Newall and Freddie Checketts.

Left: ICA Philadelphia director Amy Sadao and ICA Philadelphia development director Samantha Gibb. Right: Kestner Gesellschaft curator Milan Ther.

Left: Tate Modern assistant curator Vassilis Oikonomopoulos. Right: Swiss Institute director Simon Castets and High Line Art director Cecilia Alemani.

Left: Stedelijk Museum curator Bart van der Heide. Right: Writer Emily King, fashion designer Anthony Symonds, and Frieze founder Matthew Slotover.

Left: LACMA curator Jarrett Gregory and Tate Modern curator Clara Kim. Right: ICA London curator Matt Williams and filmmaker Jeffrey Hinton.

Left: Easton Foundation president Jerry Gorovoy and collector Dayana Tamendarova. Right: Curator Zoe Stillpass and dealer Emma Astner.

Left: Choreographer Isabel Lewis. Right: Artists Celia Hempton and Eddie Peake.

Left: Collectors Andy Hall and Christine Hall. Right: Collector Bob Rennie.

Artist Max Pitegoff, dealer Martin McGeown, and artist Calla Henkel