The 20th annual installment of Frieze — London’s biggest and most influential art fair — has officially begun.
Recently dubbed “a graveyard of creativity for tasteless one percenters” by one critic, Regent’s Park welcomed a mixture of flushed international art collectors, industry insiders and the city’s style set.
And while not every attendee is a dedicated patron of the arts (there’s too much else to do, such as getting a 3D facial scan at skincare brand Barbara Sturm’s “Anti-Inflammatory Lounge”) Frieze has long held the reputation of platforming satirical, boundary-pushing art.
In 2007, for example, an installation called “Flea Market” flogged original artworks along with a random collection of several artist’s own possessions — including portrait painter Elizabeth Peyton’s used sofa — with prices starting at £0. Similarly, one piece of performance art on show in 2009 offered visitors the chance to receive a personal walking lecture in string theory (a theoretical framework used in physics).
But during the arguably most commercially successful period in art history — where record-breaking auction sales regularly reach tens of millions of dollars, and collection is seen not as an eccentric lifelong passion but a savvy financial investment — can modern art still surprise us?
Frieze London seems to think so. Scroll down to see the strangest and most esoteric installations on display at this year’s art fair, which runs until October 15.
A grape soda fountain
London artist Adam Farah-Saad’s first solo exhibition presented by Public Gallery featured a large reworked steel drinking fountain similar to those seen at children’s parks or playgrounds.
This version would probably prove more popular with those under 18, too, since it exclusively pumps out KA Black Grape Soda instead of H2O. According to the gallery, Farah-Saad’s work explores the non-linear quality of memory, particularly in relation to adolescence. Surrounding his functioning grape soda sculpture was a wall mounted with a pull-up bar and a steel CD disc display featuring Mariah Carey’s 1997 album “Butterfly.”
Not your childhood bouncy castle
Tucked away in the bottom right corner of the tent is an imposing, all-white inflatable turret by London-based Mexican artist Débora Delmar. While it might be reminiscent of birthday party moonbounces, this castle — titled “Caballero Alto” (2023) after the watchtower of Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City — engages with colonial history. In the late 19th century, the fortified castle was the site of a bloody battle between Mexicans and Americans in which many soldiers on both sides lost their lives.
A video of a bird in a cat cage, in a cat cage
The sound of squawking first draws you to Thai artist Wantanee Siripattananuntakul’s installations at Gallery VER. On the floor to the left of the booth is what looks like a small travel cage fit for a cat. The chirping, thankfully, is not coming from a real bird but instead a video of a parrot — also in a cat cage.
Siripattananuntakul considers Beuys, his female gray parrot, named after German artist Joseph Beuys, to be his artistic equal and creative partner. The layered cages in the piece “Freeze TV” (2016) are, according to Gallery VER, a reference to the limiting effect of the TV industry, whose subtle suggestions of social hierarchies and absolute truths trap watchers inside “an invisible cage.”
Gillian Wearing, one of the Young British Artists associated with disrupting the industry in the 1990s, presented a mildly disturbing larger-than-life charm bracelet. In “My Charms” (2021) a blinking eye, a dismembered ear and a floating hyper realistic replica of Wearing’s head become eerie pendants attached to a bronze chain. While suggestive and gruesome, the piece is ironically up-to-the-minute fashionable and strikingly reminiscent of emerging New York-based jewelry designer Haricot Vert.
A desk fan and an open book
Perhaps the most Friezesque installation in the entire fair is that of Indian artist Shilpa Gupta, named “100 Hand Drawn Maps of the United Kingdom,” (2023). It does what it says on the tin: whereby a black notepad filled with basic geographical outlines lies on a table. Placed 20 inches away is a rotating electric fan causing the pages of the pad to flutter between drawings. The arbitrary gust of air dictating what version of the UK onlookers are greeted with is designed to reflect the equally subjective question of political borders and territory.