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Frieze week, London and White Cube, Bermondsey

October 18, 2011 by Kay

By Sue Hubbard

Recession? What recession? The collapse of the Euro-zone? Who’d have guessed? One in ten Londoners unemployed; never? It’s Frieze art week in London and the glitterati are out on the town. My email in box is awash with invitations to private views, post opening parties, and champagne brunches. Everyone is hurrying somewhere, being terribly, terribly busy and in demand. Apart from Frieze itself there is the Pavilion of Art and Design in Berkely Square, a sophisticated boutique fair that brings modern design and the decorative arts together and Multiplied at Christies, the only fair devoted to art in editions, as well as Sunday - young, cutting edge and more alternative than the main event. Lisson Gallery held a magnificent party at 1 Mayfair, in a deconsecrated church filled with strobe lighting, while Blain Southern’s do after Rachel Howard’s opening show, Folie A Deux in Derring Street, was in a beautiful 18thcentury town house just down the road. (Howard, who used to paint Damien Hirst’s spots, is a fine painter in her own right). There are dinners and receptions for collectors, art historians, journalists and pretty much anyone who can blag their way in. Getting into Frieze itself is made as difficult as possible to keep the tension high. Being there and being seen is the name of the game. This is a parallel universe to the one most mortals inhabit and light years away from the life of the young woman, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week, who’d been made redundant, applied for 140 jobs without success, and was, now, with her daughter, living on job seekers allowance of £67.00 per week.

Whatever the private qualms of the art world movers and shakers about the future prospects of the art market really are, they’re not letting on. From all the parties, the flowing champagne and the PR babes in their short, short skirts and high, high heels arriving at yet another opening, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ‘90s had never ended; art is the new rock n’roll.

Rachel Howard's Folie A Deux at Blain Southern until 22nd December
© The artist, courtesy of Blain Southern

Since its launch in 2003 by Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover, the publishers of Frieze magazine, the fair, held each autumn in Regents Park, has gone from strength to strength to become the byword for edgy contemporary art. In fact, it’s been so successful that it’s about to spawn two new versions, Frieze New York and Frieze Masters (which will deal with traditional works), giving it, as Matthew Slotover suggests, “a contemporary view on historical art.”

Contemporary art has a way of changing the socio-economic structure of a city. It’s happened in New York and Berlin, as well as in London. The previously rundown area of Shoreditch, off Old Street roundabout, found a new lease of life when infiltrated by artists looking for cheap studios, to be given the seal of approval by the opening of Jay Jopling’s de luxe White Cube in Hoxton Square, the gallery that represents artists such as Jake and Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst and Anselm Kieffer.

Not content with venues in Hoxton and St. James, Piccadilly, White Cube has now opened up in Bermondsey, in the badlands south of the river known for its ancient antique market, but now awash with little bars and designer boutiques. The private view resembled a Cup Final, with queues snaking down the narrow street. Anyone who lives there must be rubbing their hands at the instant increase in the value of their property. This new palace to art is extremely beautiful, with highly polished concrete floors and yards of ubiquitous glass and white walls. And it is huge, more like a museum than a commercial gallery. I asked one of the directors, Tim Marlow, if they were trying to give the Tate a run for their money. “No,” he smiled with enigmatic charm, “all of us in London are working together to ensure this remains the best city in the world for art.”

Bermondsey will be the largest of White Cube’s three London sites. The building, which was primarily used as a warehouse before the current refurbishment by the architects Casper Mueller Kneer, now includes three principal exhibition spaces, substantial warehousing, private viewing rooms, an auditorium and a bookshop. The ‘South Galleries’ will provide the principal display area for significant exhibitions, while three smaller galleries, collectively known as the ‘North Galleries’, will feature an innovative new programme of exhibitions.

As a space it is perfect for strong conceptual work; work that is likely to be bought by blue chip businesses and collectors with private galleries. But it is not a place for the feint hearted artist; one who wants to explore the small, the poetic and the understated. Everything about the place says, ‘art is big business and don’t you forget it.’ The inaugural show ‘Structure & Absence’ is a group show that features the Chinese scholar’s rock as an organising device or motif and features work by, among others, Andreas Gursky, Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Agnes Martin, Gabriel Orozco. While Kitty Krause’s work looks spectacular,some of the painting looks a bit lost.

Kitty Krause, Inside the White Cube, Bermondsey until 26th November
© The artists Photos: Ben Westby Courtesy White Cube

But back to Frieze. Frieze New York, scheduled for next May, will export the London model to the Big Apple. They already have an office in New York and 170 top flight international galleries will show contemporary work in a purpose built structure on Randall’s Island Park, overlooking the East River. With the downturn in the fortunes of the Armory Show, Frieze New York looks like an act of opportunistic artistic colonialism.

And this year’s Frieze in London? Well everyone is biting their nails to see what the sales figures will be like. This year’s fair is bigger than ever with 33 different countries participating and 173 galleries. And what is there to see? Well just about anything that you ever dreamt that art might be, including a pair of caged live Toucan birds at the Max Wigram Gallery to Ewan Gibbs subtle pencil drawings on paper of San Francisco at the Timothy Taylor Gallery. GiÀ³ Marconi have devoted a whole booth to Nathalie Djurberg, who currently has a show at Camden Arts Centre. Here she has a new video The Woods (2011)which is surrounded by her surreal puppets: goats and hippopotami, writhing crocodiles and beasts with large bollocks, all guaranteed to haunt your dreams. And in case you’re confused about the relationship between money and art, as part of Frieze Projects - a series of special commissions - the artist Christian Jankowski (of the Lisson Gallery) has joined forces with CRN and Riva, two luxury yachting brands of the Ferretti Group, to create The Finest Art on Water, a limited edition boat The Aquiriva Cento, a sort of floating penthouse with every luxury imaginable.

The fair is, as usual, full of the mad, the bad, as well as some extremely good work but, as always, it has to be searched for. Richard Ingleby’s stand from Edinburgh with works by Calum Innes and Ian Hamilton Finlay is a rare model of restraint and good taste amid the brouhaha, as is the elegant Frith Street stand that includes Tacita Dean (currently showing her new work at the Tate Turbine Hall) and Cornelia Parker’s 30 Pieces of Silver (With Reflection), 2003, where pairs of silver objects, one flattened, the other complete and whole, hover above the floor like yogic flyers. Pensive and reflective they encourage the viewer to consider notions of mortality and permanence.

But perhaps the last word should go to Michael Landy’s absurd Heath Robinson Credit Card Destroying Machine, 2010, which as its name implies chews up and spits out credit cards. Now presumably that is ironic. For what would the art world be without those all important little bits of plastic?

Sue Hubbard is author of Adventures in Art,
a publication by Other Criteria  which draws together 70 essays on contemporary and modern art over the last 20 years of Hubbard's career.

An award-winning poet, short story writer and novelist, as well as an experienced critic, Hubbard’s collected essays are part biographical, part lyrical reviews of today’s programme of modern art in Britain and provide an honest account of the diversities, originalities, and disappointments found there.