The first thing that hits you as soon as you enter Frieze is the raw throb of serious money. It is no coincidence that the freebie newspaper at this gig is the Financial Times. This is the 9th Frieze and it seems bigger and more overwhelming than ever. You have to enter with poise and determination, straight backed and fearless in the face of more art in one place than you’ve had hot dinners. In your entire life.

One way to distance oneself is of course by mobile. Even the waitrons at Gail’s, one of the delicious eateries selling sustenance, have mobiles clamped to their ears, softly muttering as they efficiently clear the tabletops. More and more it is as if we can’t handle reality without filtering it through a mobile – be it live music, an event that clearly only seems real when screened through a mobile filming the event while you gass with your mates, oblivious to what’s actually happening on stage or indeed, your daily work. Likewise art; most people at Frieze were stumbling along the familiar corridors either chatting on their mobiles, taking images or filming the event.

But not I! There was just too much to look at. The rather purse-chilling entrance fee is actually well spent on just people watching alone. Maybe I’m not used to the international art crowd but there were some choice get-ups. Ok, possibly the Richard E. Grant lookee-likee with the Wildean hairdo could have taken it down a notch – cravat and pocket kerchief teamed with a bum-freezer Prince of Wales plaid suit and cerise socks came across as a trifle arch but it was certainly eye catching. The vibe is definitely sexy, a few misjudged face jobs but on the whole it’s like a party where you hope you’ll score at some point. And let’s not forget the artworks.

I decided to ignore the ludicrous luxury boat, which is also an artwork (allegedly) although from what you could glimpse through the perma-throng of seriously ambitious uhm ‘ladies’ it did look stunning. Loved Elmgreen & Dragset’s ‘The Fruit of Knowledge’ (2011), a life-size, hairy ape stretching for a banana while balancing on a pile of books on art, Freud, an Introduction to Chinese economy, wise words from Deepak Chopra and an atlas…guess a fairly accurate summary of what makes our world.

Photo Linda Nylind
Courtesy of Linda Nylind / Frieze

There was also a high amount of lady parts, rendered in both paint and as photographs. Even as a puzzle – ooh clever! Some porni-fied, true, but many hairy, very realistic and at times even attached to pleasantly chubby bodies. Makes you realise, while most women are busy hunched over a mirror, wailing ‘I’m hideous’, men are still getting excited at the sight of a pair of boobs and possibly even more…so why not enjoy it, ladies, we’ll be dead soon enough.

Barry Flanagan’s ‘Large Boxing Hare on Anvil’ (1984) is another sculpture of an animal and wonderfully pugilistic, albeit with a slightly woeful expression. While Ayse Erkonen’s ‘All Together 3’ (2011) has a pleasing mindlessness about it, the careful collection of ceramic animals appearing as if they’re waiting for the centerpiece, a small fawn with a very bashful expression, to take charge.

The amount and abundance of ideas is mesmerising and after a while you find yourself clinging to the golden oldies in the same way you’d rejoice at seeing an old friend unexpectedly at a large gathering. It is just so reassuring to see a familiar piece of art in the onslaught of creativity coming from all angles. Nan Goldin’s heartbreaking series of portraits of her friend Cookie Mueller (including Cookie on her lit-de-parade) are just stunning. You really SEE Cookie, a sort of rough-round-the-edges Kate Moss character, incandescent with fierceness. It is accompanied by a handwritten letter in which Nan Goldin writes ‘I used to think I couldn’t lose anyone if I photographed them enough.’

Sarah Lucas’ ‘Something Changed Raymond’ is classic Lucas, an old wardrobe with 3 lit bulbs suspended from a wire hanger, a rabbit in a jar of formaldehyde placed inside the wardrobe. She just makes you laugh and think at the same time.

Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs of Lisa Lyons and Peter Berlin are exquisite – that fragile human beauty caught in black and white, Peter Berlin in his prime coyly returning your gaze while simultaneously inviting it. And an unexpected gem – tender water colours by Francis Picabia.

And roughly 10,000 other pieces but you’ll have to discover those for yourself. It is unmissable and we’re lucky to have Frieze. Don’t be a square.

Frieze Art Fair 2011
on till 16th October
Regent’s Park
London NW1

Words by Anna Bang


Barry Flanagan, Cookie Mueller, Francis Picabia, Frieze, Lisa Lyons, Nan Goldin, Peter Berlin, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sarah Lucas,