Frieze London Contemporary Art


Ring that bell, the contemporary art heavy weight that is Frieze is back in town, celebrating yet another monumental influx of collectors, buyers and cold hard cash. Raking in arms full of dough onsite and across the city – just how much you ask? Well… hundreds of millions to be exact!

Over the past few years Frieze has established itself as one of the most lucrative and respected events on the European contemporary art calendar, and whilst figures and attendance would allude that this year’s 13th edition of Frieze has gone off yet again with a massive bang… sadly as a spectator, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.

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Let’s begin with the one you hopefully missed…. Frieze Sculpture Park. Predecessor’s of what’s normally Frieze’s star attraction have include KAWS with his towering wooden Pinocchio piece Small Lies last year, Yayoi Kusama’s giant signature pumpkins, and many many more large scale installations. So was this year some kind of test? Maybe I missed a secret trap door behind a tree where the actual sculpture park was taking place…. I hope so! Because if not, what I witnessed in gale force winds was some very bland, uninspiring sculpture. Including a bit of deflated tar poling which looked like a missing prop from a poor man’s production of ‘Heal the World’, and some small ceramics bags of litter, entitled …..’Litter’. At the end of the day money talks, so maybe Frieze has just gotten a bit lazy and stopped putting effort into the area’s art lovers and non art lovers could appreciate for free, especially when’s there’s serious business to focus on inside.


Not for the faint hearted, the early sales on VIP day this year were as strong as ever. Hirst’s highly anticipated return to Frieze with his Holbein paint swatch piece sold within early hours of the doors opening for $1.2 million, whilst Chinese contemporary man of the minute Ai Wei Wei’s Iron Root scooped up €500,000. Other sales included various sculpture pieces such as Martin Creed’s cactus’s at Hauser and Wirth’s plinth booth, which seemed to be a talking point. Despite the return of repeat offenders for the gallery including their colonic bear work from last year’s Frieze which surprisingly still hasn’t shifted.

Across the park Frieze Master’s presented some beautifully curated booths to accompany their lots, many of which sold on average upward of £500,000 to well over a million. Off site, auction house Sotheby’s reported a jaw-dropping £89.9 million in total sales during Frieze Week.

But facts and figures aside, incredibly strong and exciting art was of course ever present. Big names, big talent, and fresh newcomers held up the fair’s reputation and the lack lustre area’s such as edgy standout photography from Wolfgang Tillmans, neon from Tracey Emin, and fun loving sculpture pieces from Anish Kapoor, Mark Leckey’s giant inflatable Felix the Cat, a four-legged eggplant, Gary Webb’s metallic palm tree, a lounging nude blonde, tapping skull drums from the Marion Goodman Gallery, and marching miniatures from Shanghai artists Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing.

Tokyo artist Ken Kagami packed a big package with his live project. Sitting at a desk adorned with a giant turd sculpture, Kagami attracted queues of punters who eagerly giggled and awaited a complimentary personalised felt-tipped drawing of either a penis or a set of boobs presented to them within 30 seconds.


Good bits aside, there was some absolutely ridiculous pieces as always. A stool with a wrapped cable around the legs was going for €25,000, whilst artist Lucy McKenzie presented last year’s tax bills pinned on to a blue board. Other classic’s came from a mounted bit of bicycle frame, a set of old printers with piles of crumpled up and discarded paper, and a 7 piece row of washing machines.

Of course this is a fair which once sold a Yacht, and last year a man sleeping in a chair for $100,000 entitled Sleeping Guard in which the owner received neither the guard, the chair or even a picture of the ‘faux guard’ sleeping in said chair!!!

There was also an annoyingly increased presence this year of the ‘social media figure’. Pouting, and posing in between, on top of and around the art work. I was at one booth where the curator had to tell a girl 5 times to step away from a painting she was leaning against, only for her to continue getting the perfect shot and nearly kick over an adjacent sculpture as she delightfully pranced off!

But don’t get me wrong this is contemporary art at the end of the day, and in a lot of way’s it’s the high concept, talking point pieces and the popularity around them that make Frieze what it is. But at what point do you draw the line, at what point does a gallery curator pop out from behind a piece of neon flanked perspex and go “Fuck it, you got us! This is all one big artsy joke!” As the rise in demand and ticket prices to collect art from these cult artists continues, does shitloads of money and the types of buyers who are sealing the deals come with those who seldom ever had any taste, and does that therefore dictate the direction the fair is going?

Who knows for sure. Regardless, worth the 6 figure price tag or not, I refuse to look at a wall draped with 3 extension leads for a deeper meaning….especially when that’s not the first time I’ve seen a non-ironic, shockingly over priced statement extension lead!

Words by Tracy Kawalik
Photos by Tracy Kawalik

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