Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Little Bit of Frieze


Here we go, then - 1 million artists and over seven million pieces of work. All of it for sale.
It can only be Frieze Art Fair.
By row D I actually can't see anything. As usual there's far too much to take in and my eyes just give up. They hand in the towel. They refuse to carry on. They are ex-eyes (etc etc).
We are all there, bumping into each other and saying hello and wandering along for a bit in the big Frieze soup for a while then detatching and meeting up again...
You don't really look at art at Frieze, you look at other people and you look at small examples of reputations. You shop. You buy.
Or many people do. It is, after all, just a big, noisy trade fair, with lots of stalls selling their wares, and then trying to sell more. Nothing wrong with that. Just like most other industry trade fairs.
But we still find it all a bit difficult. I lose count of the conversations I have with people who say 'this isn't the art world,' when it quite clearly is. Might not be the bit of the artworld that they like, but it's defintely a major part of what keeps people interested. And it's growing each year. And it won't go away.
Anyway, what do I care? I'm in the VIP Lounge, sipping a mojito and eating creme brulee canap├ęs. Or at least Lena is. 'These are great,' she says, carrying canapes and glasses over to us from the bar.
Tracey Emin is in here too, signing her big new book. And there's lots of people going up with the big new book and saying how much they like her.
Which is nice.
Just before it ends I figure I ought to get a signature too. Except I don't really want to get a book or anything signed, nothing that could then become an object which I would have to keep and puzzle over. I have a little idea.
Unfortunately, as I go up to see her there's a guy in front of me talking to her. Carl Freedman. Bloody Carl Freedman, hell, that's all I need. Yep, that Carl Freedman who wrote the book on her and used to go out with her a long, long time ago and who she doesn't now have a great relationship with. She's looking pretty pissed off, looking away from him and he's looking like he's enjoying it. She refuses to meet his eye.
He turns and looks at me 'I just put my head in the lion's mouth,' he grins, then clears off.
Leaving me and a well pissed off Tracey.
'Hi,' I say, being all lovely and pleasant. 'I was wondering if you wouldn't mind signing my...hand?'
I figure this will work. I get a signature on my hand for the rest of the night, it slowly fades, there's nothing to sell or to worry about at the end of it, just a cute little memory.
'No, I won't sign your hand, I'm not signing flesh.'
She's not laughing.
'The last two times I signed people's skin they both died,' she says.
I figure maybe she has a point here. I don't want to die. Specially not because Tracey signed my hand. What is she? Some kind of voodoo woman?
'I'll sign some paper or something,' she says, 'but not your skin. People go and have my signature tattooed on them.' She flicks over a little paper napkin. 'I'll sign this,' she says. 'Then you can put it on ebay later.'
I say I was trying to avoid all that object business.
She looks at me as if to say, 'prat.' Then she laughs.
I thank her and take my napkin.
Now what do I do?
Well, here's what: Leave Frieze and head down to Year_06, one of the many alternative fairs that have sprung up round the big party. This is the thing put together by the Keith Talent boys: thirty one galleries from Europe and the US.
As we leave the Frieze tent and are looking to cross the road a Canadian voice, coming from a small, anxious looking middle age woman, stops us. 'Could you tell me how to get to Charlotte Street, please? I'm diabetic you see, and all my things are there, in the Charlotte Street hotel. I'm from Canada.' She doesn't look too steady and I'm thinking, woah, lady, you need to get there quickly for sure - but isn't this too much information already that you're giving me? I recommend she gets a cab. I point out the best corner, just across the road from us. 'Best place, there,' I say. She thanks us and ambles off.
We cross the other road ourselves and I see a cab start coming up the road towards her. It looks like a done deal. Suddenly, though, there's a whole lot of shrieking - 'TAXI! TAXIIII!' and Tracey and her mate are haring across the lanes of traffic, waving their arms around, towards this cab.
We stand and watch. Will the driver stick with the original Canadian woman who really needs to get to the Charlotte Street hotel before she keels over? Or will he pass her over and let Tracey, a well known shrieking celebrity - 'guess who I had in the back of my cab tonight?' - get in?
Well, Tracey's shouting and waving, still running like a banshee towards the cab, and the Canadian woman is doing a fairly ineffectual, but quite moving, queen mother type wave.
OK, you are the cab driver: What do you do?
Exactly right. You pull up sharply, stop for the guy in the black suit who's chivalrously stepped out of nowhere in front of all these women, get him straight in and on the back seat and put your foot down, hard...
We trudge off on our route, leaving three women on the pavement to a conversation about bad cabs, London art and diabetic collapse...
A little later and we are standing in the Mary Ward house where Year_06 is happening. We are drinking beer and, because we suddenly got hungry and they were selling it, eating a cheese sandwich.
Lena wails: 'two minutes ago I was drinking mojitos and eating creme brulee - now I'm drinking a warm beer that cost 2.50 and eating an old cheese sandwich....'
She has a point.
There are lots of people here and I see the Keith Talent boys (looking very smart in suits) moving around the place. They seem pleased - if a little tired. But I have to credit them, they've pulled it off.
A couple of galleries already sold most of their work this morning, before they even opened. There's a real freshness to a lot of the stuff here and I'm delighted by both stuff I've seen before and new stuff too. Also, the gallerists all seem friendly and eager to chat and relaxed about the whole thing. It's a really good vibe.
'Look,' says Woodeson, 'I've found you!' He points out the piece at the top of this posting. It's by William Powhida, who has done a whole series of neatly observed skits on the artworld and it's archetypes. Worryingly, I think the picture above does actually look a little like me....
He's drawn a picture of Tracey too, in amongst a load of other people, in a piece called The London Enemies List.
It's getting late and I blow my nose, wondering if I'm getting a cold.
Then I put the used napkin back in my pocket.

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