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Dominic Bliss @DominicBliss

There are sixteen tiny Oriental figurines on a rug. Identically dressed in dark grey suits and red ties, they look utterly lost. A pathway has been torn through the fabric of the rug, presenting them with a forked junction. One figurine encourages them all to turn left, the other to turn right.

This piece of textile art at Frieze London 2015, called Wondering Where To Go, by a husband-and-wife team from Shanghai called Ji Wenyu and Zhu Weibing, might be symbolic of the art show as a whole. Visitors wander aimlessly around the vast tented structure in London’s Regent’s Park, not sure where to go, or what to look at. Even as they home in on a random artwork – and there are certainly myriad to choose from – their confusion grows. With so much variety, so many different media, so much quality (and lack of quality), it’s no wonder their faces display pleasure, bemusement and bafflement in equal measures.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.52.50Wondering Where To Go

The sheer scale and diversity of the work on offer at Frieze London is staggering. There are 164 different galleries from 27 countries around the world laid out across more than 23,000 square metres. Yes, there are the usual mickey-takers: the toilet-roll tubes stuck on top of an empty plastic milk bottle; the chainsaws covered in melted polyurethane; a stuffed badger in a trunk; an old TV on top of spent military shells; the steel bars from a supermarket trolley park; random bits of wood. All the kinds of rubbish (sometimes literally) that only crazed dictators might choose to pollute their living rooms with.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.06.16Republique 2014, by Jason Martin - Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac

Fortunately it’s easy to ignore this peripheral annoyance and seek out the treasures instead. Works such as Channel Islands-born Jason Martin’s 3D painting, Republique 2014 (Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, priced around £100,000). A metre-and-a-half squared, it comprises waves and troughs of purple oil gel slathered onto an aluminium base, and held together with fixing spray. Gallery director Jose Castanal demonstrates how the texture, colour shades and shadows of the painting change, depending on the angle of the spotlight illuminating it. So thick and viscous – a liquid frozen in a moment of time – it dares you to touch it; plunge your face in it, even.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.07.41Carla Accardi Triptych @ Kate MacGarry

Equally impressive are two of the painters represented by Kate MacGarry. There’s a huge triptych on brown linen canvas, with repeated arabesques daubed across it, by Italian artist Carla Accardi who died last year. It was one of her final paintings. Near to it is a re-interpretation of Cezanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire by Franco-Chinese artist Yan Pei-Ming, the huge brush strokes creating his characteristic smudged effect.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.18.59Yan Pei-Ming @ Kate MacGarry

One of the biggest draws of the entire show is American artist Tom Friedman’s sculpture of 26 life-sized styrofoam human figures, entitled Cocktail Party (Stephen Friedman Gallery, priced US$1.5 million). Using characters who look like they’ve come straight out of a children’s cartoon (Think Postman Pat or Fireman Sam), it shows the interaction between party guests. They’re chatting, drinking, hugging, looking at mobile phones, tying shoelaces. Pushed for the space, the gallery has had to cram the sculpture into their stand, offering just a narrow walkway for visitors to circumnavigate which means you’re forced to look on tentatively, and you’re cautious not to knock into the individual figures. You worry you might spill their drinks. You want to catch the eye of the interesting or attractive party guests, and avoid the gaze of the weird ones. Just as you would at a real cocktail party.

 Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.55.05Cocktail Party - Stephen Friedman Gallery

Like much of Frieze London, Friedman’s Cocktail Party is brash, colourful and loud. At a commercial art show this big and this congested, subtlety is rarely rewarded. The gallery owners may try to appear typically cool and supercilious but, underneath, they’re all crying out to be heard, desperate for their works to be spotted.

So it’s refreshing when less brash works succeed in catching your eye. Brazilian artist Lais Myrrha’s Podio Para Ninguem (Podium For No one), for example – a life-sized sports podium made of cement (priced at £600,000). Raw and brutalist, it has crumbled at the edges so that visitors’ feet have crunched it into the exhibition carpet. “What is exposed is the ruin of the place occupied by the victors,” claims the artist’s gallery Jaqueline Martins, rather confusingly. It’s manifestly a protest against next year’s Rio Olympic Games.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.21.44Lais Myrrha’s Podio Para Ninguem

Nearby is a long, thin piece of textile art by Argentinean artist Alexandra Kehayoglou. Entitled Sendero (Path), it’s a representation of a dry river valley as a carpet rug. The gallery, The Breeder, has stretched it right across the middle of their stand so that you’re forced to straddle it awkwardly, but you’re rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the valley.

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.45.43Alexandra Kehayoglou. Entitled Sendero (Path)  - The Breeder Gallery

Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.48.47Sendero (Path)

Much of Frieze London is designed to make you feel awkward or uncomfortable. American artist Ann Agee’s porcelain and stoneware bathroom is a case in point. Entitled Lake Michigan Bathroom (II), it features a toilet, a urinal, a bidet, and a sink, set against an intricately illustrated wall of tiles. The entire bathroom has been painted with images of the human anatomy, of municipal waterworks, of people in various states of excretion. The subject matter may be shit but the overall effect is beautiful.

 Screen Shot 2015 10 16 at 21.46.12Lake Michigan Bathroom (II), by Ann Agee - P.P.O.W Gallery

Finally, to the live performance artists. There are the two creepy twins with conjoined hair who walk round the show hand in hand. There is the chance to discuss the Greek god Pan with a 16-year-old boy in a make-shift cave. There is an interpretation of how a rabbit might listen to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Most popular of all, however, is Ken Kagami. Sporting a baseball cap with a phallus, testicles and breasts hanging from the front, he is offering intimate lightning sketches to any visitor who cares to queue up in front of his desk. Here’s how it works: you stand fully-clothed before him, he examines your face and body, and then he sketches what he imagines your breasts or genitals to look like. “Men – penis. Women – breasts,” states the sign dangling in front of him. “The artist will see your face and know how you look. There is no need to undress.” It’s life drawing but completely subverted. And it’s all over in a matter of seconds.

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As he works, Kagami wears a look of slight boredom on his face. The queue for his sketches extends to more than 20 people. Some must surely be tempted to approach his desk and give him their personal, unclothed view of what he is trying to imagine.

That would certainly confound the roles of artist and subject. It would also allow visitors to wrest back some sort of control. Ultimately it might help them make more sense of the show.


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