The thing I love most about Frieze Masters – apart from the obvious quality of the artworks – is the sheer variety the fair has to offer. Modern and historical galleries come together to showcase their very best works: from the ancient era, through old masters to twentieth century superstars. All in the very contemporary setting of a rather large tent.
Collectors travel from far and wide to access the finest pieces, and the sales data (or sales rumours as some may end up to be), speak for themselves. While the most expensive piece sold at the fair is said to be Franz Kline’s 1956 ‘Laureline’ from Van de Weghe Gallery for $8 million (£6 million), the second was an extremely rare Book of Hours from 1493 that sold for $3.5 million (£2.65 million) - both illustrated below. According to Fine Books Magazine, this early Renaissance piece was illuminated by the Master of Anna Sforza in Milan, and shows how art was used to link social, religious, and political life. So, while many of the top sales were twentieth century art and sculpture, according to Artnet’s ‘Price Check’, the demand for ancient, medieval and renaissance artworks and cultural objects was still ever-present.
However, as a Modern and Contemporary specialist, my top five may not be as broad as some may have hoped. But these five pieces not only moved me, but I feel are vital pieces in art history.
This beautiful Surrealist oil painting is fascinating both in its simplicity, and in its unity of René Magritte’s regular iconographic elements. A dreamscape, the curtains and window through to a daytime sky juxtapose interior and exterior; night and day; the concept of concealing and revealing. The almost photo-realistic rendering of the landscape and curtains makes this strategy of displacement – placing objects out of place to defamiliarise the familiar – all the more powerful. As the viewer, we feel that we are getting a sneak peek into another time or place, making it both exciting and unnerving at the same time.
Eykyn Maclean’s placement of this piece is also key to its influence. Entitled ‘Space Encircled’, the stand – pictured at the top of this article – focuses on the use of negative space as an integral part of paintings and sculptures. By curating the whole booth around this concept, originally surmised by Russian avant-garde artist Alexander Archipenko, it adds an extra dimension to each displayed work, making the separate plains and three-dimensional nature of Magritte’s work particularly stand out.
This bright and vibrant metal sculpture on Mnuchin Gallery’s stand is typical of John Chamberlain’s work from the late 1950s onwards. As one of the most influential three-dimensional abstract expressionists of the twentieth century, his twisting sculptures concentrate on colour, form and materiality. They are made from scrap metal, discarded car parts and other industrial offcuts, as the sculptor believed that ‘common materials are best materials’. Some critics have likened the folds of the metal to those in Renaissance sculpture around a figure…I’m not sure, but it certainly does ‘make the viewer’s heart beat’, as Chamberlain strived for.
This monumental bronze sculpture of a horse for me epitomises the beauty of Frieze Masters. Created in 1999, the modern piece is reminiscent of many of the objects from classical antiquity that surround it at the fair. The strong profile and arched neck hail from classical sculpture; there is a primitive feel not dissimilar to early African masks about the head; and the overall aesthetic is almost of an ancient or medieval axe. My first thought was ‘Trojan Horse’: both the visual trickery, and the concept of a horse as a tool in battle. And yet on closer inspection, the pared back simplicity of the two intersecting planes is more cubist in its principles. Additionally, the perfectly balanced forms and stylised nature are reminiscent of Brancusi, whom Turnbull visited in the late 1940s. All in all, a striking piece in the perfect central position on the Offer Waterman stand.
A Japanese artist, best known for mixing performance and painting, this artwork by Kazuo Shiraga is energetic, dynamic and powerful. Influenced by Abstract Expressionism, he often painted with his body, being known to suspend himself over canvases and swing back and forth, using just his feet to create unique textures. As part of the Gutai avant-garde movement, he aimed to engage physically in order to create dynamic paintings – something that he has certainly succeeded with here. As well as an explosion of energy, this painting – exhibited by Axel Vervoordt – has an intense materiality and tactility. Clumps of earthy tones and gestural strokes of rich red almost hang on top of the lively splashes and sprays of green, that look to have been thrown directly at the canvas. This is a stunning example of the work of an artist that had process and rebellion at his core.
I couldn’t end this post without a shout out to Dickinson’s much talked about ‘Hepworth Garden’, and specifically Barbara Hepworth’s monumental ‘Bronze River Form’. Modelled after her studio and garden at Trewyn (now the Tate’s ‘Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden’), this booth is a thing of pure beauty. Walking into the main tent, you are filled with a sense of calm: the organic shapes, clean lines and lush greenery immediately whisk you away from the hustle and bustle of the fair to a coastal haven. Hepworth is arguably Britain’s most prominent modernist sculptor, and the centrepiece of this stand – her 1965 ‘Bronze River Form’ – is as important a piece as any. Created at a time when she was highly influenced by the Cornish landscape, she had reverted to smooth and simplified forms. The hollowed centre, three holes and smooth, almost reflective surfaces allow for an increased interaction between object and environment, while the narrowing towards the right retains the characteristics of the tree from which the original piece was carved. A beautiful centrepiece for a stunning garden, and hugely inspiring art fair.
To see a time lapse of how this incredible stand was created (courtesy of Dickinson Gallery) click here.