It’s been a few years since I braved the Frieze London Art Fair: its ticket prices and overwhelming maze of celebrities and art has left me feeling little connection to the spectacle on show. During one particularly bad year, my very belief in the purpose and importance of “art” was challenged by a conversation between fur-wrapped oligarchs, debating which Koons would go best with their sofa. A sign of my own naiveté perhaps, as Frieze is, as a gallerist friend reminded me, a trade fair, and, (to quote Withnail) free to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t.
Above Image: Sarah Crowner, Installation view of Simon Lee Gallery, 2016, photo courtesy of the artist and Simon Lee Gallery. Photo by Peter Mallet.
Despite all the cynicism that surrounds such a spectacle, one cannot escape the fact that it is a, possibly unique, opportunity to see a snapshot of what’s going on in global contemporary art, all under one roof – well, tent. This year’s 14th edition of Frieze did not disappoint, showcasing more than 160 leading galleries, plus the usual menagerie of extra-curricular events. Although as glossy and corporate as ever, the art on show seemed to reflect the anti-professionalism that appears to be a growing reaction against the “big gesture” of the established art market. Although there were the standard Koons, Kapoors and Hirsts dotted throughout, the overriding feeling as I pounded the aisles was that these giants were making way for lesser known, more visceral, younger, dare I say it, even female, artists.
Of course, as I was there on behalf of Cfile, my mission was to seek out and determine whether the phenomenon of clay-as-poster-boy for trendy, contemporary sculpture had stuck. On walking through the main gates and being confronted with the Gagosian stand entirely given over to Edmund De Waal vitrines, it appeared my job was going to be easy. What I was surprised at was not only the sheer volume of ceramic sculpture on show, but also the standard and variety. It’s hardly news anymore, but clay seems to have thoroughly infiltrated the denizens of the contemporary art world. What is encouraging is that its tastes seem to be evolving and expanding: old masters such as Ken Price and Betty Woodman have centre stage, as well as young devotees from both more traditional backgrounds (Takuro Kuwata, Alison Jacques Gallery) and less traditional (what Frieze would be without a Jesse Wine nowadays).
A preoccupation with the domestic interior, an exploration into the world of design and an investigation into the making environment were all trends that featured heavily, (see cfile article: Marketplace | The Booths and Spectacle of Frieze Fair London) In this environment, clay seems to sit very comfortably, either as the bold visceral statements of Johannes Esper, Galerie Greta Meert, or the finely crafted porcelain and wood hybrids of Sudarshan Shetty, Galerie Krinzinger.
When the world is in such disarray and the global political landscape is so uncertain, the idea of just doing things, not waiting for a better time or a bigger space, is an attractive one. Clay’s ability to capture the personal, the familiar, the DIY predilections of many artists, seems to continue to provide a language that communicates to public, makers, and collectors alike.
The only way to tackle such a vast onslaught of visual noise that is ‘The Art Fair’ is to turn every corner, hoping to discover something that shouts above, or whispers below, the general cacophony. Here are some that spoke to me:
I came across these about halfway through my Frieze voyage, and they instantly made me forget my need for caffeine. Perhaps a fairly typical fine art clay-offering (big, expressive, full of finger prints) but there was something incredibly honest and immediate about the unglazed forms. Esper gave a real sense of exploring the tactility and weight of the material, that acted as a corner stone to my tour of the fair.
Something a bit more traditional, but who doesn’t love Julian Stair’s quiet, poignant punctuations?
Aldridge has been quoted stating, “all my work might be about vessels, the idea that everything is contained by something.” Indeed, what could be a more abstract form than a bowl, with the capacity to contain nothing and everything?
Crowner’s tiled tables (see the featured image) were yet another example of the fine art world’s exploration of design and the functional. Personally, I was very excited to see these works, not only at Frieze, but with a whole stall given over to them. A sign perhaps that field boundaries truly are beginning to shift.
Adding wooden legs and heavy glazes, Stöhrer, like Aldridge, takes traditional decorative objects as his inspiration. There was a real spontaneity and movement captured in these bizarre, colourful “vases,” that was both joyful and surreal. Vessels more akin to Triffids than roses, perhaps.
I could go on, but let me leave you with a shot of Takuro Kuwata’s installation at Alison Jacques Gallery of 8ft high sculptures, inspired by traditional Japanese tea bowls. A real celebration of technique and skill, Kuwata really shows the way that artists are continually subverting tradition, to ensure contemporary ceramics remain a relevant form of expression in contemporary art. Keep an eye out for my next review of his solo show for more images and insight into his work.
Eva Masterman, based in London, is a regular contributor to cfile.daily.
Do you love or loathe these works of contemporary ceramic art? Let us know in the comments.