LONDON – The Frieze Art Fair has morphed into a city-wide phenomenon of massive proportions. Six full days in London still required choosing among the fairs, museums, galleries, auctions, lectures, receptions, shopping and nightlife.
Frieze is jammed from the moment it opens. This year featured 150 international galleries plus outdoor sculpture in Regent’s Park and a panoply of events, talks, film, music, etc. A new section of the Fair, titled Frame, was dedicated to solo artist presentations from young galleries. The fair was very lively with plenty to see, although not equal to Basel (Switzerland) in terms of the breathtaking quality and range of the more senior fair. The accompanying Zoo Fair was alternative and edgy, featuring video, installations and casually installed object works. The Fairs are just the beginning of the visual feast in London.
London’s bad boy, Damien Hirst, managed another coup during the Fair with his installation of paintings at the Wallace Collection, a national museum of unsurpassed holdings including French 18th century painting, furniture and porcelain with superb Old Master paintings and world class armor. The juxtaposition of the Hirst paintings with the historical material in the stately mansion created a huge buzz. Hirst’s paintings are by his hand, purportedly sans assistants, and herald a new chapter in his work. Although the paintings were widely panned in the press, they were reportedly all sold, generated enormous crowds and conversation, and once again, seemed to give him the last word.
The Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts was spectacular. Internationally acclaimed, a 1991 Turner Prize winner, and one of the most significant sculptors of his generation, this was a show to savor and to remember. It occupied five galleries, a first for a contemporary artist at the RAA. It surveyed Kapoor’s career to-date, showcasing new and previously unseen works. It was my favorite show of the week, along with “Maharaja”, a blockbuster at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
“Maharaja” presents the splendor of India’s royal courts, from the beginning of the 18th Century through the influence of the British empire and on to the establishment of India’s independence. Over 250 objects symbolic of royal status, power and identity including, paintings, jewels, furniture, photographs and even a car, dazzle in their beauty and refinement. Historic film footage adds to the immediacy of the exhibition. It’s the kind of show in which the V&A truly excels.
Tate Britain has become a wonderful amalgam of historic British works combined with the best of the up and coming Brit artists. The lobby featured the Duveens’ Commission, a hypnotic installation by Eva Rothschild. Other galleries showcased the 2009 Turner Prize nominees. They include Enrico David, Roger Hiorns, Lucy Skaer and Richard Wright. The winner will be announced on December 7. Also on view was “Turner & the Masters”, an exhibition which juxtaposed the great Turner paintings with related works by Rubens, Canaletto, Rembrandt, Poussin and Titian.
Southern California had a huge presence in London with two major retrospective exhibitions, Ed Ruscha at the Hayward Gallery and John Baldessari at Tate Modern. Both shows were terrific and both artists were present to be feted and make themselves available through lecture presentations and conversations at the institutions and at Frieze. The SoCal presence extended through the Saatchi Gallery exhibition, “Abstract America: New Painting and Sculpture. Dominant artists from LA included Patrick Hill, Sterling Ruby, Mark Bradford, Jonas Wood, Matt Johnson, Bart Esposito, and Jedediah Caesar.
In addition to Baldessari’s show, “Pure Beauty”, which features more than 130 works including paintings, books and prints, Tate Modern is presenting ”Pop Life”. This major overview show unites artists from the 1980′s such as Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and others who have embraced commerce and the mass media to build their own “brands”. Reviews have been mixed. However, using music, memorabilia and lively installations, the exhibition captures the energy, innovation and boldness of the period. In addition to the above, Sophie Calle was at Whitechapel with the fabulous show, “Take Care of Yourself”, a highlight at the Venice Biennale in 2007. The Courtauld Gallery featured Frank Auerbach’s paintings of London building sites, considered to be among the most important contributions to post-war painting in Britain.
Not to be outdone by the museums, the shows at the London galleries were stellar. Among the most memorable were Anselm Kiefer at White Cube; Glenn Brown at Gagosian; Grayson Perry at Victoria Miro, Yinka Shonebare at Stephen Friedman, and Walead Beshty at Thomas Dane. And then there were the auctions at both Christie’s and Sotheby’s…I covered so much ground in London, I actually got shin splints!
NEW YORK – I always like stopping in New York for a few days on the way back from Europe to mitigate jet lag. I caught two pivotal shows at the Metropolitan, among other significant ones around town. Robert Frank’s “The Americans” celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of his seminal suite of black and white photographs made on a cross-country road trip in 1955-56. The book of prints depicting American Life was initially criticized. Eventually it became recognized as a masterpiece of street photography.
Another masterpiece, “The Milkmaid” by Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is on view from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in a cameo exhibition of wonder. The exhibition brings together all five paintings by Vermeer from the Met’s collection along with a select group of works by other Dutch artists to lend historical context. This occasion marks the first time “The Milkmaid” has been seen in the US since the 1939 World’s Fair.