Above the Mantlepiece

Back to Angel tube and the Business Design Centre to have another look at the London Art Fair, this time undistracted by the private view crowds and complimentary drinks. If the famous October Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park is characterised by being enormous; internationalist, in both the spread of galleries showing and the artists being shown; and almost self-consciously cutting edge, with most of the art coming in the form of installations, mixed-media assemblages and the like – then welcome to anti-Frieze. The London Art Fair is big but, if pushed, you could certainly have a quick look at every stall without needing a break for coffee; and the galleries and artworks on display are mainly British, although there are some exceptions to this rule. Perhaps the most retro-radical aspect of the Fair, however, is that in contrast to today’s fashions in contemporary art, the vast majority of artworks on display here are not just figurative oil paintings on canvas but of a size that means you could probably fit one comfortably onto the wall above the mantelpiece in your living room, should you be so fortunate to have a spare one. Were you to buy something at the Frieze fair then, chances are, you’d need a custom-built extension to your house, in order to display it properly. The other attractive thing about the London Art Fair is that some of the work is actually affordable and, if you saved up all your pennies and cancelled the annual holiday, you could almost certainly find something you liked, by a name that you’d heard of, and that was also an appropriate fit for both wall and wallet. On the other hand, if something takes your fancy at Frieze then, after getting a builder’s estimate for the extra room in which to install it, you’ll probably need to see a broker to arrange a second mortgage to get the funds to pay for it.

So, did anything threaten the ceramic security of my personal piggy bank? Well, Advanced Graphics had a good selection of limited edition prints by John Hoyland, Craigie Aitchison and Bert Irvin, all around the £1,000 mark, while Wilson, Stephens & Jones had some interesting signed postcards of Christo’s eccentric wrapped-up buildings for £500. As for window shopping, among those other artists whose work is always worth taking a look at, and who cropped up in more than one booth, were Bridget Riley, Henry Moore, Alan Davie, Elizabeth Blackadder and JD Fergusson. Notable by their general absences were Hirst, Emin, and, perhaps more surprising, Blake and Hockney. Prizes for the works that lingered most in the mind go to the vase full of poppies by Augustus John (Browse and Derby) and the full face portrait of Angela Merkel by Colin Davidson (Oliver Sears Gallery), although I think I’d actually only care to own and display one of them. As for Marcus Harvey’s desperately, childishly provocative sculpture of a reclining Mrs Thatcher adorned with fake, comedy breasts and pig’s head, this should be placed in cold storage, prior to an appearance at Frieze later in the year, where it would certainly be much more at home.

Leaving the fair I grab a copy of Mike von Joel’s magazine State, another entertaining read and the perfect complement to The Jackdaw, that I bought a few days ago, not least by way of the fact that it’s a free publication and printed in full colour glossiness. Both magazines contain odd snippets of artworld news and gossip, and occasional interviews and reviews, but what distinguishes them from just about all the other art publications currently available is the sound editorial policy that favours humour and irreverence above pretension and pomposity. State is also notable for having pages of paparazzi photographs of artworld luminaries in attendance at private views, charity functions and the kinds of VVIP openings to which I don’t get invited. I’m unfamiliar with most of the faces of these mini-celebs and recognize few of the names, although Simon de Pury, Lord Harry Dalmeny, Valentino Garavani, Stanislaus von Thurn und Taxis and especially Hugo Hamper-Potts would surely rate as potential candidates for inclusion in Beachcomber’s famous List of Huntingdonshire Cabmen.

On a more sombre note, MVJ pays tribute to the late Leslie Waddington, whose gallery showed so many wonderful exhibitions over the years, and who sadly passed away last month. Some time ago, I was engaged to write a report on the Basel Miami Beach art fair for State of the Art (an earlier manifestation of State magazine) and needed some photographs to illustrate the article. Seeing Mr Waddington walking around the Fair, I took a snap of him, prior to asking if it was ok for me to do so. He said it was fine before adding that perhaps he might be due a small modeling fee. Despite his reputation as a shrewd and skillful dealer, on this occasion I’m pretty sure he was joking.

Having forgotten to take any photographs to illustrate my last blog posting, I realise that I’m going to have to make a return visit to the Parasol Unit. Luckily I spot a bus going in the right direction so off I go. Unfortunately, Parasol is one of those galleries that doesn’t allow photographs to be taken in any of the exhibition spaces so I snap a screenshot from the video that’s playing on a continuous loop in the bookshop. It’s an interview between the artist, Julian Charriere, and the gallery’s director, Dr Ziba Ardalan, so, in the interests of further research, I decide to put on the headphones and listen in for a while. A long, discursive introduction ends with the doctor asking her patient patient to explain the thinking behind the choice of the exhibition’s biblical title, For They That Sow the Wind. This then receives an equally long, discursive reply, the sole point of which seems to be to allow the artist specifically to explain that the exhibition has nothing whatever to do with the completion of the quote and the reaping of any whirlwinds – as I had incorrectly, but quite reasonably, surmised in my blog about the show. That the artist goes to great lengths to tells us absolutely nothing about why he did choose the Old Testament title and the fact that both he and the curator are speaking in English but with Clouseau accents adds somewhat to the overall bumptiousness of the discussion. So I make my excuses, give up listening and say au revoir, with the kind of excruciating French accent that makes Prince Charles sound like Maurice Chevalier.

Leaving the gallery I carry on walking to Old Street and then take the Northern Line down to London Bridge and continue on to the White Cube Gallery, for the penultimate day of Gilbert & George’s The Banners exhibition. As the exhibition’s punning title suggests, the artistic duo have used the format of newspaper headlines to issue forth a curious series of injunctions, including ‘Burn That Book’, ‘Ban Religion’, ‘Decriminalise Sex’, ‘God Save the Queen’ and half a dozen others of a more sexually explicit nature. As the accompanying leaflet usefully explains, The Banners define, ‘…a moral vision that is at once libertarian, atheistic, monarchist and existential…’, and that they, ‘…propose the disruption of modern conventions or sophistry as a means of encouraging individuals to think for themselves.’ Being an individual and thinking for myself, I suppose I support the idea that others should do likewise but if I agree with some of the philosophical sentiments I still can’t help finding the manner of their propagation just a little bit weak.

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