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Frieze 2009

DAVID BATTY: Winding through the many stands at London’s Frieze art fair it’s easy to feel like you’re in an upmarket department store rather than an exhibition space. Think of each gallery like a designer brand stall, all displaying their most fashionable artists to vie for your attention – and money. Just as in Selfridges or Harvey Nicks, there’s a real brand hierarchy, with the megabucks galleries like London’s White Cube bagging the best spots. 

A red and white banner unfurled in one of the stands summed up the mood at this year’s fair with its declaration LONG LIVE AND THRIVE CAPITALISM. If the artist did intend the message ironically, it could well be the mantra of the gallerists, dealers and collectors hoping for a return to the boom years before the credit crunch.

The seventh Frieze was certainly more bustling than last year’s, when the participating galleries looked somewhat shell-shocked by the banking meltdown that provoked a 20-30% plunge in prices. Perhaps the news of all those multimillion-pound city bonuses has raised their spirits.

Every year, there’s a few works that appear to mock the commercial imperative of the fair. London gallery Ancient & Modern had watercolours, porcelain statues, sculptures, photographs, dried flowers and a Virgin Airlines souvenir thimble on display – all the property of artist Alan Kane's mum and dad. All rather kitsch but it invites you to think about collecting and the sentimental as well as financial value of the objects we surround ourselves with.

San Francisco-based artist Stephanie Syjuco provided a more direct commentary on the art market. She and a group of colleagues produced cheap knock-offs of the expensive works at the fair. Relatively speaking, it was the Poundland of Frieze with nothing priced higher than £500. For example, you could buy a copy of a self-portrait by the Turner prize-winning Mark Wallinger for £500. The real thing – which was on sale at two other galleries in the fair - costs £75,000.

The Danish collective Superflex offered hypnotherapy for those in thrall to the filthy lucre. They showed four three-minute films about the global economic crisis, which involve a hypnotist asking you to imagine you are the invisible hand controlling the market, that you have lost your job, that you are the currency speculator George Soros, and finally to imagine you are no longer bothered by such worldly cares.

Something tells me Tracey Emin didn’t watch. A new work called Neon Life displayed at her New York gallery Lehmann Maupin’s stand laid bare the financial transactions at such events. On the wall were the instructions to commissioning a neon text piece: pay £10,000 for a list of questions – your answers to which will determine Emin’s design of your own personalised version. If you like her preliminary sketches, you then pay another £55,000 for the finished work. She will make no more than 10 versions and about half had already been commissioned. It was hard not to think of Emin’s recent threat to quit the UK, partly in protest of the new 50% tax rate for people earning more than £150,000 a year. Looks like it’s au revoir Tracey.

 



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