This year, the galleries may have been playing it safe with their choices of art on display, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing…

It is key to remember that a fair is not like an exhibition or a biennale. A commercial gallery will put on an exhibition that the public will appreciate. A biennale has a strong political and cultural element to it, as well as providing a chance for major gallery owners to suss out who the next big thing is. And then there’s the fair. The fair is all about money. From how big the stand is to the names that keep cropping up – provoking your inner voice of reason to tell you that this is the artist who will make a solid investment. Half the fun of Frieze Art Fair is the people watching, the glamour and the trends.

Most people enter Frieze with a strategy. Due to the sheer enormity of the space I would happily shake the hand of anyone who manage to not get lost more than once. However my strategy this year was to take note of the artists deemed a safe bet during these unsettling times.

…as if they had been prised from the legs of a miniature Tweedledee

It was no surprise to see Emin crop up more than once. White Cube chose to display one of her more unique works: a tapestry of one of her paintings. The piece is unusual, but with a name that resonates in the auction house like Emin’s does, I sincerely doubt there was much risk involved.

Spitting into some pink legs? Surely not!

To my delight I also spotted at least two Erwin Wurm sculptures – my favourite called Spit Pot, at Xavier Hufkens, which can only be described as a teeny-tiny pair of bright pink trousers, with shoes on, standing in the corner as if they had been prized from the legs of a miniature Tweedledee so fast that they still have the capacity to remain standing.

Jason Martin was another hit this year – brushing shoulders with Wei Wei and Kapoor at Lisson – he is an artist I wasn’t previously familiar with, but his work certainly made my top ten this year. His application of the paint engulfs the entire canvas with apparent brushstrokes and an oily thickness that shimmers like Asian hair.

…covered in scissors, decapitated manikin limbs and children’s toys.

All that lovely plastic...

Of course it wouldn’t be Frieze without some humour thrown in the midst. Victoria Miro were showing a life-sized chimpanzee reaching for a banana, whilst balancing on a pile of books that include the bible and Richard Dawkins The Selfish Gene. The sculpture, by Elmgreen and Dragset, amusingly encapsulates the debates that surround the human condition.

Michael Landy’s Credit Card Destroying Machine was also never short of an audience. This rather odd contraption looked as if it belonged on the set of a horror film. The entire thing was covered in scissors, decapitated manikin limbs and children’s toys. Once the somewhat significant piece of plastic was handed over, it was then shredded into a million pieces whilst the formidable machine drew you a picture in exchange.

Not all of the artworks were confined to their lots. The fair was also punctuated by small black canvases, 28 in total, brandishing the words: “Ideally here your mother would be waiting for you” and “Ideally in this room would be a busy African market,” by Laurie Prouvost. This work in particular summarised the sentiment of this year’s Fair: a bit subtler but just as clever.

This year was less art-in-your-face…

I’m neither a dealer, nor a market specialist, but according to several sources the galleries at this year’s Frieze were playing it safe. They need to continue to sell in a recession and therefore putting out the most saleable works – the most notable of names – instead of taking risks, seems like a logical strategy.

Not only was this an advantage in terms of the number of works sold, but the entire aesthetic of the fair was calmer than the previous year. In Frieze 2010 I couldn’t get away from the neon lights and wacky colours. This year was less art-in-your-face, and more, “why don’t you appreciate this;” “what do you think about that?” There was a sense that every piece had been very carefully chosen to meet the tastes and price range of the (mostly foreign) collectors.

If the galleries really are taking fewer risks to ensure decent sales, by the standard I witnessed this year, the recession is doing the art world a favour. 

Images courtesy of Erwin Wurm and Michael Landy

 

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