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All the fun of the fair

Linda Khatir and Michele Whiting are back from Frieze. Linda reports:
Well here I am, just nesting down again in deepest darkest Devon after a truly wonderful trip to London where the best experiences were the Jerwood drawing prize, the Saatchi gallery’s photography show, and of course the un-missable Frieze London, the international showcase for contemporary art.

The Jerwood Drawing prize is always a delight, the galleries small and comfortable and every year we find surprises (you can see the catalogue for this, and previous year’s shortlisted artists on the Jerwood Space website). Look out for news of an OCA study visit to the Jerwood Drawing prize when its on tour to Birmingham.
On the Thursday morning Michele and I arrived early at Frieze in Regent’s Park and queued in the rain for our pre-booked tickets, people spotting while wondering if we would ever reach the desk. Three quarters of an hour later we had been joined by OCA student Lucy, and tickets in hand, we sprinted the perimeter of the park in search of the cafe where (we hoped) the rest of our group would be waiting. With half an hour to go before our timed entry, students gradually arrived and after a quick cuppa, we explained how best to navigate the aisles, who and what to look out for, and where and when to meet up later. We also handed out a sheet of information and a task list. These included: 1. try to spot the prize-winner for the most innovative stand, and say why you think it is worthy of the prize, 2. select three pieces that might be appropriate for the Tate collection, and 3. Try to spot a repeated trend, thread or theme.
On arrival at the main hall the group dispersed, each of us drawn like a magnet towards a different stand. Half way through the afternoon we met up again and discussed questions raised by the work, for example: a set of images of Henry VIII and his wives where the hands seemed real but far too big for the bodies, and the faces stiff with dead and glassy eyes – perhaps waxworks borrowed from a museum juxtaposed with real human hands? We discussed whether the images were photos, drawings, paintings or all of those things.

After the fair some of us braved the rain and met up again in the cafe to discuss the proliferation of painting this year, also the revisiting of arte povera and nouveau realism (sculptural assemblages of found objects) and the lack of moving image, installation and porn. We wondered if this reflected the current financial crisis and the issue of art as investment; paintings and other ‘crafted’ objects perhaps a safer bet than highly conceptual or temporary approaches.
After a long but rich day we all went our separate ways and agreed to carry on our conversation via the OCA blog.

The next morning, before heading back on our long journeys home, Michele and I stopped off at the Saatchi gallery for the opening day of a major photography show featuring works by artists from around the world including the mesmerising ‘magic of Persia’ (film, photography and found objects) and Karl Lagerfeld’s ‘little black jacket’; with stunning black and white images of beautiful people wearing the ubiquitous Coco Chanel jacket (designed, believe it or not, in 1916).
The huge rooms that make up the Saatchi space allow photography to be viewed in a range of ways – as stills, moving images and installation, and the Yoko Ono space combined all of these in a simple and elegant manner. But by far the most impressive work of art was Saatchi’s only permanent installation – a quiet space occupied by Richard Wilson’s lake of black oil called 20:50. I had only ever seen this in photographs – in ‘Installation art, space as medium in contemporary art’ (de Oliveira, 1996) – but to visit the work ‘in the flesh’ is unforgettable; an immersive multi-sensual experience, almost impossible to measure in visual terms; the mirrored black surface seeming fathoms deep, or not there at all – like the night sky or the ocean depths. Catch it if you can ….
IMAGES. 1-3. Frieze London, and 4. Saatchi gallery (photos taken by Linda Khatir)


Posted by author: Jane Parry
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8 thoughts on “All the fun of the fair

  • It is interesting to read what you say about the proliferation of craft made objects, the revisiting of certain styles and the lack of certain media. How all this relates to the current financial crisis is fascinating. I like your idea of getting the students to look for repeated trends and themes.

  • Did you mean to say’ the lack of moving image, installation and porn’? I agree with you that 20.50 is worth seeing . Of the three different gallery spaces it has occupied I think this is the best.

    • Yes Jim, I did mean to say ‘the lack of moving image etc.’ as in relation to previous years, there was certainly a step back from these approaches, and where they did appear they seemed more subtle and worked well with the rest of the show. We also thought that some stands, although made up of individual pieces, had taken an installational approach, creating a greater whole from its parts, considering each element in relation to another and in relation to space, light, sound, movement, architecture etc. (for example the prizewinner for most innovative stand).

  • I had not ever been to an Art Fair before so it was an amazing experience, even if a little overwhelming — there was just so much to see. I found I was drawn to the artists I know and so the fascinating mark making in Julie Mehretu’s caught my attention, and the lovely mother and child drawing by Jennie Saville. It was also the first time I’d had an opportunity to closely examine Tracey Emin’s drawings. I found them interesting and skilful but I don’t think I would call them beautiful drawings.
    I loved the very gestural work of Nigel Cooke in his Storm and Shattered Tree and the David Nash paintings and sculptures.
    I saw the cardboard looking sculptures of Andreas Lolis, the very rocky looking figures of Hans Josephsohn and the bronze horse head of William Turnbull that appealed to me more than the others. I think they were all in the sculpture park, but it was raining hard when I walked round so I didn’t make any notes.
    I can’t say I spotted a trend , unless ‘anything goes’ can be called a trend. The reviews I’ve read, because of Frieze Masters seem to dwell on the old/new relationship, and according to Rachael Campbell Johnston (Thursday’s Times) ‘contemporary art is at the end of its cycle’.

  • Having not been to Frieze before, it was difficult to have a clear scale on which to pin this years event. It was not as animated as I had expected or though there was some performance art – I particularly enjoyed the group of individuals frozen in the acts of waving, filming with mobile phone, inspecting labels to painful excess and striking superior ‘30s style poses.
    There was also less ‘shock’ than I had been encouraged to fear or had hoped! Often people-watching was better than the art looking.
    Being a painter, Ivan Seal’s sculptural and dynamic monotones were an early favourite – energy that only seems to rest for the briefest of moments. I also liked photorealest Kevin Cargrave, for his painterly accuracy; Neil Gall for an understated painting of his own origami like construction; Jenny Saville, as always, for the raw energy and, in the end, Karel Funk for his very appropriate yellow hood.
    I was also interested by the use of text in a few works but unfortunately I failed to take a note of the artists names.
    Now all I need to do is return next year to make a comparison.
    Thanks to the tutors & the OCA.

  • A huge thanks to OCA and Linda and Michele for organising this. It was a brilliant study visit. I would never have gone to this off my own bat, and was wondering, having looked at the pre-visit research material, what I had let myself in for. For me, the point about a study visit is to extend my horizons and not just to go for an exhibition which I might have attended anyway. This exhibition was certainly an education in the depth and breadth of the comtempory art scene. I was impossible to see everything and we all madly dashed in different directions. Meeting up for discussion and emergency cake afterwards was delightful. Thank you so much.

  • Like Steve I would not have chosen to visit Frieze if it had not been for the OCA study visit opportunity. Apart for Linda’s and Michele’s briefing and a look at the fairs’s web site, I had no real pre-conception of the scale and variety of works being exhibited. I was pleased to be able to recognise works by Jenny Saville, Grayson Perry, Picasso and Tracey Emin to name a few. However it was the vast arry of artists I had yet to discover that was so overwhelming e.g. David Nash (cork sculptures), Mary Mehretu (pen drawings)and Maria Nordin (watercolour portraits). I also found people watching interesting and could have sat happily sketching capturing the atmosphere had time allowed, a few photgraphs had to do as reminders. Unfortunately I was so absorbed in the exhibition I got stuck in the long exit queue and missed the pre-arranged post visit discussion. Thank you Linda and Michele for an interesting afternoon.

  • It was a fascinating fair this year, and I am delighted that so many of you got so much out of it. Personally I was taken by so many works on paper and the surfacing of particular drawing techniques that have seemingly been in abeyance for some while. Difficult economic times are making this type of show ‘safe’ of that there is no doubt, and I was very interested to note that generally the scale of the work seemed more cynical, i.e. domestic/boardroom/gallery sized, pre-determined and less to do with the subject in hand, so I guess we’ll watch this space and see what happens next year… good discussions at the end and a great and much needed cuppa!

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