Thursday, 8 November 2012

Mid-October saw the international art world flock to London as Frieze week and PAD London dominated the capital's cultural scene.

Mid-October saw the international art world flock to London as Frieze week and PAD London dominated the capital's cultural scene.

This month Frieze London returned to Regent's Park celebrating its 10th anniversary. Straddling the line between fair and event, and demanding answers to the age-old question “What is Art!?” Frieze has become an institution. Some reckon that Dante's journey through the innermost circles of hell would provide more amusement than an afternoon at Frieze. Others hold it to be the Mecca of present-day cultural achievement. Love it or hate it, you can't argue with the 55,000 visitors who made the pilgrimage to London's number one contemporary art show. A truly international selection of galleries from 35 territories exhibited challenging works from both up-and-coming and well-established contemporary artists. Giving young, fresh galleries a platform to show their best talent is part of the Frieze ethos, so, never one to rest on its laurels, this year's event featured a new section. Focus. Introduced at Frieze New York earlier this year, Focus puts the spotlight on twenty galleries, each showing works from a maximum of three artists. This splinter cell of the 175 strong exhibitor army bombarded its eager audience with artworks more baffling and disconcerting than the rest, no doubt this was chalked up as a win for culture.

Frieze Masters is the new kid on the block, with a mature attitude. Taking place in an enormous marquee located across Regent's Park from its contemporary sibling, Frieze Masters aims to present traditional works in a contemporary way. Amazingly the millennium is Frieze's cut-off point for what constitutes the work of a traditional master and “The contemporary way” is a treat for those who like their art in a sprawling monochrome pop-up warehouse conjuring up all the glamour and soul of the Argos waiting zone. Nonetheless the world's biggest and best galleries descended with stunning museum-worthy pieces from medieval icons to modern photography. 20th Century masters from both sides of the pond were well-represented; Warhols and Lichtensteins, Magrittes and Mirós, Picassos... the quality and heritage of the pieces on show rivalled many Modern Art museums. Especially eye-catching was the Helly Nahmad Gallery's stand where two gigantic Calder mobiles suspended from the ceiling swept round above your head. Had I been a few inches taller they could have helped inject a short-lived dose of excitement into the proceedings.

Many jumped at the opportunity to exhibit traditional works under the weighty Frieze brand seeing it as a sure-fire success. Yet Frieze's positioning as a cultural event rather than a traditional art fair seems to attract more window shoppers and socialisers than high-rolling collectors. Of course with such high attendance and equally high entry fee it’s not hard to see where Frieze's bottom line lies. Complimentary tickets aside, 55,000 people paying £35 for entry amounts to a staggering £1,950,000 made on the door alone. If the LAPADA fair were to gain so much from the public's pockets before they even set eyes on the works for sale then exhibitors could show for free! Whether or not the public clues up to this potential case of the emperor’s new clothes it is safe to say that Frieze will be able to reinvent itself. The Frieze brand appears to come first, its exhibitors second.

Sharing the structure used for our own LAPADA fair, the sixth edition of PAD London launched with a strong contingent of 60 leading galleries from Europe, America and Asia. 18 new exhibitors contributed to the fair's striking blend of Modern Art, Tribal Art, Photography and Design. The new layout was logical and relatively spacious, an intelligent departure from last year's labyrinthine warren of well-decked halls. In vibrant contrast to Frieze Masters, the design team did a great job at creating individual and inviting stands rendering the cursory glance from afar, a common technique of art fair attendees, redundant.

PAD, it seems, is starting to stretch its legs, taking its place among the capital's top-flight fairs. The quality of exhibitors, its location and its focus on design as well as art has enabled PAD to find its niche in the increasingly competitive fair calendar. Unlike Frieze, PAD's existence depends on the continued success of its exhibitors and judging by this year's edition it has no problems attracting the cream of the international art market.

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