The Preview of the Frieze Masters Art Fair, London
“Unrivalled among Fairs Worldwide for its Quality, Range, Seductive Displays and Scholarly Interest.” Financial Times
The annual Frieze Masters Art Fair is taking place in Regents Park, London until October 19th and plays host to more than 120 of the world’s leading galleries under one roof. Illuminating the wonders of both historical and contemporary art, this is London Fashion Week for the art world. I was lucky enough to be given a ticket to the preview day, which allowed me to wander between the galleries alongside the world press and many a famous face. You will fall in love with pieces, you'll be repulsed by others, but there's no doubt that this year's art will have a strong impact. Over the last 11 years Frieze has gained an exceptional reputation as being one of the world’s most prosperous international art fairs and three years ago Frieze Masters was launched. It’s led by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the minds behind Frieze magazine whose criticism of art and culture has captured the imagination of the art world.
It’s not only art, but also endless opportunities for intellectual stimulation that make the fair so unique. For someone endeavouring to make my way in the art world, it was a veritable dreamscape. There were talks by Wim Pijbes, Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam on Collecting beyond Contemporary as well a rare conversation with the elusive Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of the Courtauld gallery. This all takes place within the beautifully curated setting of a vast white marquee. To my delight, each gallery were given limited choice as to their preferred colour of paint and flooring, which didn’t stretch far beyond a spectrum of greys. This contributed to an overall atmosphere of calm, which put collectors at ease and separates Frieze from many other international art fairs whose curation is poorly managed.
In comparison to competitors like the London Art Fair and Art Basel and Art Basel Miami, what makes Frieze Masters so beguiling is the involvement of a broad spectrum of art from any period pre-2000. This results exciting clashes like antiquity juxtaposing contemporary film, Andy Warhol’s prints or flourishing Renaissance panels. As I observed anonymously, swathes of sartorially-blessed art lovers glided down the walkways of the grisaille tent and it seemed that the wealthier the patron, the more eccentric their outfit. It was equally as captivating as the art to perch and savour the fashion statements being made by these characters like Valentino than to see the paintings themselves. I must also add that the ease with which many visitors would spontaneously purchase wildly expensive and somewhat nihilistic artworks was particularly enlightening.
Our charming host was a dear friend Johnny Van Haeften whose eponymous gallery of Dutch and Flemish Old Master paintings on Duke Street, Mayfair is world-renowned. His gallery space at Frieze was the base from which we immersed ourselves in the competition and in contrast to the claustrophobia of the London Art Fair at the Islington Design centre earlier this year we were intensely grateful for the lack of crowds on this opening afternoon.
I started with a twirl around undoubtedly the most poignant piece, the true belle of the ball '1968.' Helly Nahmad, London have given us The Collector 1968, which is a re-constructed Parisian apartment belonging to an imaginary writer, collector, philosopher and poet. Slightly in contrast to the image of the 'starving artist,' the walls are lines with the lusted after works of Miro, Picasso and Fontana amongst others. Designed by Robin Brown and produced by Anna Pank, it also leans on an enchanting accompanying essay by Sir Norman Rosenthal. When asked to describe the fictional dweller, the creators declared him to hold the fatally attractive characteristics of being "passionate, intellectual and reclusive... he’s living and breathing art.”
He's imagined to have begun life in post-war Milan before moving to Paris to explore the 'visual poetry of the great artists of his time.' Reminiscent of the dwellings of Nouvelle Vague heartbreakers, it's not hard to picture the hedonism that accompanies the setting. As I circulated this installation with its dirty dishes, disheveled piles of love letters and dense literature, I was moved by this portrait of a man searching for some elusive euphoria or content. As I looked around me it was clear that as an audience, we all rather fell in love with him as we poured over postcards and personal photographs. But, as with real life, we were falling in love with an idea, a romanticised notion of bohemian happiness. I have always wished I had been born many years earlier and this piece captures a perfect nostalgia for a life I'm too late to truly live.
Our tour continued at the united Berheimer Colnaghi Gallery who are based between the epicentres of art; London and Berlin. They were a star attraction as a result of the indulgent array of Horst P. Horst’s delights that they had for sale. Given the popularity of his present Horst: Photographer of Style exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, it was a privilege to stand so close to his work, absorbing the sensuality of his compositions. Symptomatic of the diversified nature of the fair, the same gallery was concurrently exhibiting the romantic Daniel Seghers’s piece Swags of Flowers adoring a Grisaille Cartouche with the Virgin and Child.
Some of the more alluring exhibitors were the photography dealers Edwynn Houk who are based in New York and Zurich. Their sensual range of nudes was utterly beguiling and certainly provoked a little lust. Not only was British photojournalist and photographer Bill Brandt’s Nude, London, 1956 particularly captivating with its simple appreciation of female curves from behind, but the modernist Man Ray’s Surimpression, 1930 exemplified a more innovate approach to figurative work. My preferred piece was the American fashion photographer Herb Ritts’s enthralling Tatiana with Black Sand, Hawaii, 1987, which evoked a certain sense of curiosity as to the subject’s peaceful expression.
Then came the particularly poignant participatory works of the Espaivisor gallery, Valencia. The experimental artist Graciela Carnivale had created the installation Encierro (confinement) in 1968, which was a multi media display drawing on performance art and photography in order to capture the heated atmosphere in Argentina. Members of the collective Grupo de Arte de Vanguardia de Rosaria sought to re-evaluate the contemporary art scene in the late 1960s and this illustrates their journey.
Tuccocio di Gioffredo da Fondi’s paintings at the Galerie G. Sarti, Paris were dominated by the masterpiece The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine of Alexandra with St. John the Baptist, 1490. Made with ground gold this work is reminiscent of the exquisite panels I saw in Verona not so long ago. Another floral work was the Hague-born artist Simon Pietersz Verelst’s oil painting A Vase of Flowers, which was breathtakingly simple, but demonstrated incredible mimesis of nature in its purest form.
In terms of hospitality there’s no doubt that Cahn International based in Basel and St Moritz were miles ahead of their contemporaries. They not only gifted us with exquisite boxes of dark chocolates in faultless memory of my chaperone’s sweet tooth, but also allowed a little camaraderie in the form of trying on a Hellenic helmet worth well into the six figures. A sense of humour within the art market is certainly a characteristic to covet.
At Sperone Westwater, New York I was captivated by this Gilbert and George, Photo-piece 1971, which was a naturalistic collage of monochrome photographs, which simply captured the pair in organic settings. A little further on were the holdings of Frankfurt’s Galerie Anita Beckers. The video installation Vulcanologie of the Emotions, 1971/73 by Peter Weibel was an installation displayed across 16 monitors, which depicted a nude man in various challenging poses.
The New York gallery Otto Nauman Ltd were the holders of the notorious Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn painting Portrait of a Man with Arms Akimbo, 1658 that was to sell for well into the millions and has been the subject of debate across the world's auction houses. However, I must admit that despite the excitement, I found this portrait of a man painted in an earthy brown palette somewhat dull in relation to their achingly romantic Felix-Henri Giacomotti work Zenobia Discovered by the Shepherds on the Banks of the Araxes, which evokes an enormous sense of empathy and longing to help this wounded beauty.
Finally, the Leila Heller Gallery, New York drew me in, not because I was seduced, but rather repulsed by the display of paintings made from compacted mud and soil. Although, upon further investigation Marcus Grigorian’s Wedding Bouquet, 1965 made out of ceramic coins, nuts, comb and shells was rather intriguing. I liked the sense of collage, which fitted with the romantic theme of matrimony.
I would highly recommend splashing out on a last minute ticket to Frieze Masters, because if you have an ambition to work in the art world, it is a fascinating way of experiencing a plethora of international galleries with a diverse range of art without leaving London. The bookshop is also brilliant. The ticket is indeed expensive, but if you think of how many different works you’re being exposed to, there’s no doubt that it’s a worthwhile investment. Even if you’re more interested in fashion than art, I assure you that you’ll be utterly bewitched by the weird and wonderful outfits of the attendees. Forget thesatorialist.com, this is street style at its most intriguing.
Written by Flora Alexandra Ogilvy, founder of Arteviste.com