It’s Friezing over here

My barometer keeps jumping. One minute it’s backs-to-the-walls time, art2095friezejeppe_heinthe next it’s all lavish parties and third venue vernissages. It has seemed like a growing, healthy trend for performative, lively and cheap art would be neatly distilled in the line-up for this year’s Frieze Art Fair Projects, curated for the first time by Sarah McCrory, formerly of south London’s small curatorial hotbed, Studio Voltaire. McCrory has commissioned Spartacus Chetwynd (née Lali Chetwynd) and her travelling troupe of players to create daily spectacles in the fair on the obscure subject of tax havens (of course, much inter-fair art revolves around the necessarily thorny question of the perceived evils of the surrounding arena of commerce). A wandering group of ‘Ten Embarrassed Men’, by Swedish-born artist Annika Ström, will prowl the fair looking shamefaced – the emasculation of artists or bankers, maybe? There will also be judiciously placed charity boxes (designed by artists, of course) to tempt collector’s monies elsewhere, as well as lots of free-to-air fun in the surrounding park.

Who are they all kidding? Hauser & Wirth are opening their third or fourth space in London (I have genuinely lost count, but it’s definitely the biggest) with a retrospective of fabric works by Louise Bourgeois. Sadie Coles upscales next-door, the Blain-Southern dealership duo split from their Christie’s holding pen, Haunch of Venison, to open a new gallery as well. Then there are Russian squillionaires galore putting on one-week one-offs including pricey Picassos, New York galleries dipping their toes here… I could go on, ad infinitum. My magazine lists some 200 shows on, or opening, in the now designated ‘Frieze week’ frenzy, most of them seemingly launching on Tuesday with a brunch, lunch, press view, rooftop after-party or oyster-laden dinner. Who’s right and who’s wrong? Is art in some kind of reactionary, recessionary funk? The more it gets hit, the harder it fights back? Or are the commercials slowly moving back into easy street, while the public sector prepares for a governmental pounding at the hands of David Cameron’s October 20 spending review/slash-fest? It could be a fall bounce or just the preamble to another, bigger fall.

1 thought on “It’s Friezing over here”

  1. The signs of this bifurcated reality are omnipresent. In New York, too, gallery closings are giving way to gallery openings and people are no longer hiding their Prada purchases in plain brown bags. Average Manhattan apartment prices are back to $1.6 million. This, even while the newspapers are daily heralding the weakness of the economy and the precarious plight of the unemployed.

    How can these two realities coexist? Easily, it seems. It may be uncomfortable to accept, but all the same true, that a thriving luxury culture has comfortably reasserted itself in our post-recession era.

    There are signs that the topmost layer of society has further disengaged from the rest. The share of the top 1 percent, and especially top one tenth of a percent, in the nation’s wealth has actually grown during the Great Recession. While unemployment rates hover around 10 percent, and over 15 percent for the undereducated, for the college educated they are under 5 percent, and for the professional class, well below that. The New York Times yesterday reported that the junk (sorry, “high yield”) bond market is more lucrative than in the days of Michael Milken. Overheard this week at a Manhattan breakfast spot for movers-and-shakers (I’m not making it up): “There is money to be made right now out there. Everyone feels optimistic. It’s the wild west.”

    Social justice aside, this is good news for the art market. The most optimistic thing one can say is that we may be at a moment of greatest disjuncture between the luxury realm, which has begun a recovery, and the main-street realm, which continues to stagnate.

Leave a Reply