Glass reviews Frieze Masters 2017

DISTANT from Frieze London in proximity and tone is its six year old “sibling”, Frieze Masters. The 15-minute walk seemed much longer after hopping from booth to booth in the contemporary art marquee (Frieze London). Considering the walk led to 6,000 years of art, 15 minutes seemed a parsimonious investment. Frieze Masters is defined as the art historical aspect of the fair but could also be considered a sociological, anthropological, religious, geographic exploration of the man’s relationship with visual art.

Museum culture informs the code of conduct at Masters whereas eschewing codes of conduct seems to prevail at Frieze London. If there was a cultural slogan in the contemporary section, “conform to non-conforming” would work well. Frieze London is obviously a living, breathing example of the zeitgeist. Individualism has exploded.

Freize MastersSixth century Sarcophagus at Egpytomania by Salon 94 and Antiquarium Ltd

Frieze Masters veers towards a more collectivist approach. So much of the ancient art available to modern man is not credited to individual source. Making oneself their own muse, model, and subject is the norm in our digital age. Some even confuse themselves for art without making any, a  conundrum that can be attributed to the selfie and social media. In defense of consumerism, had Warhol not been intrigued by the disposable he may not have endured . Some would say art has flourished, others would say metastasised. If one veers towards the latter, then Frieze Masters is aesthetic oasis. In art institutions and museums, people are often appear solemn as they take in the gravitas of the work around them. Frieze Masters was not as hushed or stern as the museum
There are far fewer at Frieze Masters. The cost of the tickets inhibit many (£64 is double the cost of a weekly Travelcard for central London).  A senior staff member told Glass that  “(we) intentionally limit the number available to avoid overcrowding.” The frenetic energy one picks up in Frieze London dissipates at Masters. The coatcheck in Frieze London is a correographing a queue that takes as long as airport security. At Masters, the situation was reversed. Four friendly attendants clamoured to assist as one bag was checked in. The significantly lower footfall certainly affects the __ of the staff.
Keith Haring’s Pyramid Sculpture at Egyptomania by Salon 94 and Antiquarium LtdKeith Haring’s Pyramid Sculpture at Egyptomania by Salon 94 and Antiquarium Ltd

The marquee is hi-spec in comparison which turned out to be an important detail as work that has lasted 6,000 years requires a more permanent seeming backdrop. Contemporary art is fleeting, so the flimsier booths in Frieze London do not detract from the work. The seating in Frieze Master’s encouraged one recline and contemplate the work. Generously placed and plush, the seduced the visitor into a cosy contemplation. Frieze London’s benches reminiscent of ‘urban furniture’ encouraged the flow of people.

The exhibits are a classicist’s fantasy. Marble plinths with early Italian sculptures. Illuminated manuscripts. Cartography. Old Masters. Early Christian Art. Islamic art. Egyptomania is the collaboration between Salon 94 and Antiquarium Ltd, a series of ancient Egpytian art and modern interpretations.  With leopard print sofas , a Keith Haring sculpture at its nucleus, and somewhat un___ sarcophagus nestled in a corner, it both confuses and entertains. Anyone who has seen Egyptian anquities in Western insitutions (and in Egypt) has probably never seen them propped up next to anything other than more mummies or adjacent  civilisations archaeology. Haring’s “Pyramid Sculpture” inevitably distracted the visitor from the sarcophagus made in the sixth century BC, reminding one that the title of the exhibition was Egyptomania, not Egyptology.

Dan Flavin’s first neon tube from 1963 at David Zwimmer Gallery Dan Flavin’s first neon tube from 1963 at David Zwirner Gallery

David Zwirner sold all of its booth before noon on the invite only collectors day. It was the Dan Flavin incandescent tube that stood out most. Feieze Masters has only been running for six years but is responsive to the trends of Frieze. Noting that young (or less experienced) collectors consistently purchase contemporary work because they recognise it and understand the market has skewed the success of sales of work by Old Masters and other art historical genres. Thus, one must quesiton whether the modern focal points are bait.
Miro and Calder
Joan Miro and Alexander Calder at Galerie Thomas

In defence of the more recent work on display, Alexander Calder’s mobile harmonising with Miro’s corresponding pallette was a mesermising curation. The cohesiveness at certain booths was comforting after trying differentiate ancient relics from new takes on them.

Axia Gallery’s curation of Early Christian and Islamic work brought the religions together visually, rather than contrasting the iconogrpahy the styles. Pottery from Syria in the 13th century BC with an Islamic inscription may sound like a stark contrast to a silver plaque representing Christ (a piece from Byzantine Empire known to be one of the earliest examples of such iconography). However, because they were made close to each other in time (by ancient standards) and region, they have a stylistic resonance. Other relics from Mesopotamia, the Roman Empire, and the Mediterranean highlighted a what is arguably one of the most significant periods in human civilisation. It is refreshing to see religions unified in any context.
illuminated manuscripts
Illuminated manuscripts at Frieze Masters London
It is said that at some point, all works of art were contemporary. Which makes the prospects for Frieze London in the next century utterly terrifying.
by Yasmin Bilbeisi