This weekend a short detour, from the edge of the European continent to the big island that is (in a special way) part of Europe but above all, its British. Why did I go there? To consume vast amounts of art together with some friends from Holland and Belgium. Besides the Frieze Art Fair there are lots of exhibitions running at probably the 100 plus gallery’s that London counts. So we rented some bikes -yes, we’re Dutch, so what!- and hopped from gallery-to-gallery-to-fair through central London. After so much art, in all its shapes and sizes, you don’t know anymore what art is or supposed to be (even if I ever did before). Especially after wondering around on a crowded, pressingly warm fairground, walking from stand to stand, gallery to gallery. They we’re all there from New York to Hamburg and Beirut trying to sell some artifact.
I wonder if Walter Benjamin could have predicted this phenomenon when he wrote ‘The work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ in 1935. At least ‘the exhibition value’ is something that gets an whole other dimension on fair than in a museum. Perhaps Rem Koolhaas’ remark in the talk show at his Serpentine Pavilion (designed together with Cecil Balmond) together with Jeff Koons and Hans Ulrich Obrist last weekend (wasn’t there though but Sam Jacobs was).Koolhaas replied after a list of what art did according to Koons, “Are collectors a fair representation of mankind?” There you have it, problem number one, which is even more present in an art fair than any other exhibition venue.
But lets not go into the ‘what is art’ elaboration, that’s more something for a PhD topic. So just some general observations about the arts.
art work by Julian Opie
There are always a fair share of art that revolves around the play/remixing/twisting with popular imagery and mainstream culture. Often effective I think, especially accessible for non-connoisseurs, although this ‘trick’ is wearing out, it has been around since the Andy Warhol.
There is also a some craftsmanship returning, very hard to capture in a photo, but I have seen some small surrealist oil paintings with a level of detail, and expressive use of the medium which echo’s the renaissance painters. But also innovation of the classic overwhelming sublime paintings of Romanticism. (image above)
And than the object, the immaculate shiny object is always close and attracts people like magpie. From Jeff Koons ‘Cracked Egg’ to this one that I liked most the hammer and sikle lying on a mirroring cube pedestole. Ambiguity of the ideal materialization of a fallen ideology, like a the Platonian shadow in the cave finally gets to see its original from the realm of the gods.
Finally one of the art works that made the biggest impact was one where you totally got immersed in the hidden world of outcasts. The ‘Iron mill’ in London was converted in a overpopulated shabby hotel with rooms populated with prostitutes, refugees, einselgangers, illegals, an electronics dismantling factory hall and some odd excavation site. Only all the inhabitants had left, and the art lovers were poking their nose into a world which blurred the boundaries between reality, the absurd and life in the margins of our society. Imagine yourself flipping through the agenda and checking the working hours of a prostitute’s bedroom.
Closer to home there is still enough inspiration in daily reality for art to protest, revolt and be critical. Gallery Sfeir Semler based in Hamburg as well as in Beirut showed work addressing war-struck Lebanon. The audience was walking over the art (after the first hesitation) which was the urban plan of Beirut cut from foam. This piece by Marwan Rechmaoui, combines the feeling ‘that it is inappropriate to walk on a piece of art’ with destroying a city through bombing it, through sharing the perspective of the bomb or rocket striking from above.
In the future more on Turkish artists for now enjoy the photo report of the London art circus