Frieze Art Fair
Pavilion of Art and Design London
London: V&A Publishing, 319 pp., $75.00 (distributed in the US by Abrams)
DAP, 304 pp., $65.00
London: Tate Publishing, 240 pp., $34.95 (paper) (distributed in the US by Abrams)
London in early autumn this year felt very much like a tale of two cities. One was the glittering international souk that briefly materialized during the Frieze Art Fair, the annual contemporary art exposition that since its founding in 2003 has become one of the obligatory stops for plutocratic collectors on a year-round circuit that includes the European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht in March, Art Basel in June, the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) in Paris in October, and Art Basel Miami Beach in December.
Thus despite the troubled global economy, London in October was flooded by an acquisitive tribe comprised of American hedge fund managers, Russian oligarchs, and Middle Eastern movers, sheikhs, and sheikhas who thronged the blindingly lit Frieze tents in Regent’s Park to stock up on investment-grade artworks with a cumulative insurance value of £223 million. This latest edition of the fair featured a number of pieces that commanded seven figures, and more than a few works seemed to comment, directly or indirectly, on the present state of the global economy and the role that art has come to play as an instrument for parking the wealth of the super-rich in a time of shaky markets.
One piece for sale at Frieze and cunningly attuned to the particular tenor of the moment was Credit Card Destroying Machine (2011), a kinetic sculpture by the British artist Michael Landy. This thirteen-foot-high industrial-orange-painted apparatus—part Rube Goldberg cartoon contraption, part Jean Tinguely self-destroying sculpture—devours and mangles plastic bankcards fed into it. It went to a European collector for £120,000.
Many Frieze visitors also made the rounds of several smaller selling exhibitions contrived to capitalize on traffic generated by the big fair, most notably the Pavilion of Art and Design, a top-of-the-line fine and decorative arts bazaar held in a tent in Berkeley Square. The private view for this more traditional show drew an eclectic mix of American moneymen, junior members of the royal family, Continental fashion moguls, and million-dollar decorators. The wares on offer reconfirmed a recent tectonic shift in the tastes of the super-rich, away from English and French eighteenth-century antiques, long the international lingua franca of grand domestic furnishing, and toward early- to mid-twentieth-century design, as signified by a monumental dining table, circa 1900, by the Viennese Modernist architect Adolf Loos, priced at £200,000.
Concurrent with Frieze and its offshoots, another, quite different London was carrying on less giddily under much-reduced circumstances. On October 13, the borough council of Brent, a racially diverse working-class area in northwest London, summarily shut six of the twelve public libraries it operates, including the Kensal Rise Library, which was opened by Mark Twain in 1900. This drastic deprivation of free access to books for citizens who could not otherwise afford them was one of the most personal and telling manifestations of the severe cuts in government…
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