Frieze London’13… should this piece be there?

Walking the labyrinth of this year’s Frieze London was a bit like exploring a huge playground for adults… or children actually. Lots of bright colours, smiley faces, flower-power daisies, a dog seemingly made of balloons twisted together and Jeff Koons’s  vast, kitsch (hideous) sculptures surrounded by bodyguards… Image

There were also many collage-based works, which of course interested me. Paint applied over photographic and printed material, transporting the literal reality of a photograph into another, more imaginative sphere. Several fun, beautifully crafted, clever and witty pieces too – large embroidered till receipts raising everyday rubbish into a grander sphere.  And a few pieces by some of my favourites – Cornelia Parker, Francis Alys, Tacita Dean – that added a depth and authenticity that I know I can trust.


Some of the work is undoubtedly rubbish, part of the Emperor’s new clothes syndrome that I learnt from my recent experiences at Art College is all too alive and kicking. It makes it hard for the uninformed, or even the moderately- to well-informed, observer to distinguish what art is worth trying to engage with and what is not. At one point I was looking at a child-like drawing of a talking lemon only to look down and find myself almost treading on an exact replica of the original Auschwitz sign ‘ARBEIT MACHT FREI’ arranged in three pieces, as it had been found when it was retrieved from the thieves that stole it in 2009. Even the tools used to cut it up were dotted around it according to some arbitrary aesthetic .


I don’t think things get much more serious than the Holocaust, so seeing the infamous words in such a commercial and showy-offy context inevitably felt distasteful. It was as if they had fallen from the sky of another world, like the Coca Cola bottle in the film The Gods must be crazy. The artist apparently wants it to “reference historical memory” and I guess it could just be argued that putting it here could be a good thing, a wake up jolt to remembering what has been before… But what a lame, vague and inadequate explanation “referencing historical memory” is. Surely another level to the work needs to exist if you are going to engage with one of the biggest atrocities ever? And when a guide came round and revealed that this was the last of 3 editions, each selling for 300,000 Euros (or was it pounds?) I felt a little sick. He himself didn’t know what to make of it and wondered what and where the work of art was within the piece. Maybe my background makes me more sensitive than others to the preservation of an aura of humility and respect around anything to do with the Holocaust. Or maybe this fulfils all the criteria of art – to challenge, confront, ask questions, reveal, remember etc etc. Then again, maybe it is simply a demonstration of the superficiality, insensitivity, greed and opportunism the current art world encourages and feeds off.

My blog format only allows me to insert four images when I had wanted to share at least 10 scenes from the fair. So I’ll wrap up with what I found to be quite a powerful piece in which art reclaims some of its more mature voice to say things that otherwise remain unsaid.


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