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I remember that when I saw the film by Sofia Coppola I went to bed with a vague sense of anxiety. I couldn’t help but identify with that feeling of bewilderment, or even boredom, of those characters in the face of what went on in that distant city. It was with this same sensation that I returned from Frieze NY. Not because of the great or poor quality of the works. I returned restless because of the sheer excess of what was on offer. It was a programme that drove one into a sort of frenzy, not just to consume but also to what I would call a new form of satisfaction: I was there, I saw –heard, ate, touched, interacted- with it. It’s just that in the competition of “The Fair”, it seems that to offer everything, for all the senses, is where increasingly it’s all headed. Without stopping to consider how this tendency for excess steals away any pleasure and far from satisfying the public, leaves it more dissatisfied.
To illustrate this a bit: there were 180 galleries, more than 1.000 artists from 32 countries and works in all types of format, including performance. Then Frieze Projects, Frieze Talks, Frieze Sound, a tribute to FOOD (the restaurant opened in 1971 in Soho by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden), and the Sculpture Park –in which the immense red, dog shaped balloon by Paul McCarthy, overshadowed various works commissioned by Frieze Projects (and which by the way sold for US$900,000… latex and hot air). And if this list wasn’t enough, there were still the innumerable exhibitions in the Chelsea galleries and all the works placed on the Highline.
The reason for the stress is clear. Then, comes bewilderment. People paid more attention to their iPhones, iPads and the garments paraded by those attending, than the pieces or the projects. The most popular pieces seemed to be those that had mirrors and/or reflective surfaces (of which there were more than a few). Initially I thought about the efficiency of those pieces as they seemed to confront the spectator with subjects such as the fiction of the image, or the permanent abyss that exists between what is seen and what is really there. More fool me. Later I discovered that it was to avoid the large queues in the toilet, for those quick retouches with no need to wait, just in case they managed that photograph that would grant them 5 minutes of fame in a fashion blog.
There’s yet more. One would have to mention how amazed they were by works in colours that matched this season’s trend (neon and ethnic were the winners) and those that “paid homage” to Duchamp (yes, there was a 2013 version of ‘Fountain’ and another of ‘Hedgehog’, in different galleries and by different artists). The other “influential” artist was Gustav Courbet with ‘The Origin of the World’, only that the multiple versions presented finally revealed the identity of the muse.
One has to be pretty determined in Frieze NY to find another panorama. Two performances, a show in Chelsea and three conversations from the Frieze Talks programme were enough to satisfy me. This itinerary included Suzanne Lacy, Joan Jones and Douglas Crimp, the performance by Tino Seghal “Ann Lee” (2011) in the Marian Goodman gallery, works by Richard Sierra from the years 1966 to 1971 in the David Zwirner gallery (amongst which there were five extraordinary short films: ‘Hand Catching Lead’ (1968); ‘Hands Scraping’ (1968); ‘Hands Tied’ (1969); ‘Frame’ (1969) and ’Color Aid’ (1979-71)) and the performance ‘Heave and Shudder’ by Audrey Chen (cello/voice) and Nate Wooley (trumpet) at the Anton Kern Gallery.
This was sufficient for me. It left me enough time with each project to make me realise that each one of these artists, though quite different on more than one level, had something in common. In their work, there was no desire for fame, or any arrogant flaunting of the knowledge accumulated during their lengthy or brief education. The works arose out of a genuine desire to transmit what it means to have, as a point of departure for creating, the effort and questioning involved.
Once again, all things considered, these proposals weren’t “crowd pleasers”. Which raises the subject of a phenomenon that I call the ‘Alka-Seltzer’ effect– the effervescence of the public in certain spaces, that for their quantity and “quality” neutralise the effects of the art, in comparison to these proposals that show a more critical art where the public is more limited. But to go on about why this happened with these productions by the artists such as the ones I’ve mentioned, would rob me of that hedonistic pleasure, in the style of Michel Onfray, which I feel every time I remember each one of these experiences. So this is as far as I go and I end with a refrain, dedicated to the galleries, organisers and curators of fairs: There is none so blind as those that cannot see
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)