A Tale of Two Cities: Frieze & Paris Plus (October 2022)
In October this year, two major art fairs took place in quick succession: Frieze in London, and Paris Plus by Art Basel in Paris.All eyes were on Paris Plus because it took over from FIAC - a fair that for decades had been THE contemporary art fair to see in Paris. Paris Plus is the new hot property in the portfolio of Art Basel, the leviathan of global art fairs.
Having visited both fairs this month, I was struck by how much more navigable, airy and curatorially exciting Frieze was in comparison to Paris Plus. Perhaps it was the fact that this was the first edition of Paris Plus; the fair had to be put together in record time, whereas frieze is a well-established and well-oiled art magnet for celebrities and art collectors. This discrepancy might also be due to Paris Plus taking place in the Grand Palais Éphémère (a temporary exhibition hall on the Champs de Mars) which had been packed tight with galleries while the Grand Palais is undergoing refurbishment.
At Frieze I felt that galleries presented artwork in a spacious and sensitive way, often by taking a punt on one or two artists and displaying them exclusively. Some also playfully varied the architecture of their stands. This year’s fair was a solid show, with lots of highly accomplished and established artists. I would love to see gallerists taking more risks and showcasing wackier pieces. I thought that several booths stood out as having been exceptionally well designed and curated. The best was Stephen Friedman Gallery’s presentation of Jeffrey Gibson’s first solo survey in the UK. Plinths were painted red and the walls were decorated with an intricately patterned wallpaper that lent itself perfectly to Gibson’s Choctaw-Cherokee inspired works.
In Paris Plus, by contrast, artworks were crammed onto the walls and it seemed that the galleries themselves were not given enough space to effectively install work. I hope that in its future iterations, Paris Plus shows more up-and-coming galleries, and that the galleries no longer feel the need to cram so many works on each wall. Despite these teething problems, I imagine that with Art Basel behind the Paris Plus show, it will go from strength to strength in the coming years. One aspect of the fair that I loved was how Paris Plus installed sculpture around Paris (taking its inspiration from Frieze’s Sculpture in Regents Park),
in particular in the Jardin des Tuileries and on the Place Vendôme. Against the backdrop of the Place
Vendôme, the work by Alicja Kwade looked particularly stunning.
For the uninitiated, what strikes you most upon entering an art fair is not just the art, but also the ambiance. Depending on your point of view, you will either love it or loathe it. Personally, I love people-watching and so soaking up the atmosphere is a must - particularly at Frieze, where the British viewers dress up to rival the artworks on the walls. Inevitably there’s a lot of tippling champagne, instagramming, hailing friends, air kissing and selfie-pouting going on.
But what about the actual art on the walls, I hear you say. Without further ado, here are some of this year’s highlights…
In Paris, I enjoyed Katherine Bradford’s beautifully dream-like and comic acrylic painting Men in the Sky with Onlookers. I was very impressed by the colours and energy of Leelee Kimmel’s canvases, and Nathanaelle Herbeli’s semi-transparent, aquatic paintings of interiors. The American artist Robert Kushner’s painting Pink Camelia was exquisite with a delicate gold-leaf surface. The Ivory Coast painter Roméo Mivekannin is definitely one to watch: his portraits are an irreverent spin on Western tradition, upended by references to West African spirituality and power.
Finally, I was fascinated by William S Burroughs’s 1987 mutli-media work Space Door, and emotional, symbolically-charged works by Barthélémy Togo.
In London, my favorites included Grayson Perry’s Chris Witty cat, because of its hilariously uncanny resemblance to the man, and a sculpture by Leonardo Drew that conveyed a sense of density and explosion. Elias Sime’s colourful, abstract pieces made of reclaimed electrical wires and hard-ware components had real presence. I also loved the re-presentation by Blindspot Gallery of Hong Kong–based artist Trevor Yeung’s 2019 installation, Between Water, in which 25 plastic cups, half-filled (or half-empty, depending on your view) with water, are precariously hung from the ceiling. They are arranged in a grid and spaced out approximately 120 cm (nearly 4 feet) from each other, which to the artist is the polite distance one might keep from a stranger, but during the pandemic gained new significance as an artwork about bodies, autonomy, disease and survival.
Last but definitely not least, Frieze exhibited well-established artists who didn’t fail to deliver incredible work. I particularly loved Theaster Gates’s wall-relief Colour Study with Red and Gray made of industrial enamel, bitumen, wood, rubber and copper metal. I also loved Hew Locke’s work Hinterland, reworking a public sculpture of Queen Victoria and superimposing on her image ghostly figures of annihilation, death and empire. Last but definitely not least, the minimalist and tactile works of Harmony Hammond were wonderful to discover.