From Shiny things to silliness – Frieze 2011

Published in Trebuchet Magazine, 2011

Frieze was a fantastic opportunity to see a so many of the world’s top artists and galleries in one place. With a multitude of  styles and genres on show from over 170 galleries from around the world, there was a lot of work that caught my eye (as well as a fair amount that didn’t).

I was lucky enough to be given an introduction to the epic art fair, by Frieze associate Carolin Wagner,  making sure I did not miss any of the highlights. The trick to viewing any large exhibition is knowing what you want to see and zoning in on those specific aspects. I will attempt below to share with you my own personal journey and impressions of Frieze Art Fair 2011. (I have also written about Frieze and the questions it brings about on the subject of the economy, the art world, the marketplace, and the notion of value, in Trebuchet Magazine here.)

Frieze gave a great sense of the direction of contemporary art, and brought into focus some recurring themes and styles, coming from pockets of artists around the world. Lots of ‘making’ and assemblages, attention was often on materials and their physical/textural qualities, text art, and also many colourful, playful pieces.

My own focus was on the proliferation of text, writing and language in the art world, as well as any artworks which drew me in by physically engaging me or my senses. Along the way,  I must admit,  I got distracted by some big, shiny, colourful pieces, as my magpie tendencies kicked in. There was a lot of glittering, shining sumptuous work this year.

Seeking for the patterned, intricate & tactile…

This artist was one of my Frieze favourites. Tara Donovan, with work dotted around the Pace Gallery’s booth, really took my breath away. Her practice builds upon organic structures and patterns, making them into very tactile and detailed sculptures and drawings. Below is a sculpture that activated my magpie instincts by bending the light inside it’s many shiny, conical formations; which together made a series of spheres. The viewer is left unsure whether it is constructed out of metallic foil, akin to a Christmas bauble, or something less fragile.


Below is another of Donovan’s pieces, very subtle and equally as tactile – appealing to my love of multiple elements coming together to form a pattern, and the obsessive process this must have required. This piece is drawn entirely using pins in board to construct this delicate shimmering drawing. See the detail below.

Tara Donovan, Pace Gallery, Frieze

More intricate works – here’s a drawing on newspaper by Antonis Donef that I found at The Breeder booth:

 A detailed, dotty piece, depicting cliffs and hills.  Graphite on paper by Jonathan Bragdon:

 This next piece was beautiful and unusual, by Yuko Someya, ‘Heading to the Despair’. Created using Chinese ink, watercolour, pencil and Japanese paper on canvas. I show some details below, but these works were metres wide.

Stefan Bertalan, ‘Network’ – pencil on paper:

Text based artwork…

I was happy to see a lot of word and text based art at the show, and below feature a selection of those that stood out.

This piece by Navid Nuur at the impressive Plan B Gallery booth, was hard to capture on camera. Made of several sheets of glass casually resting against the wall, with silver writing on different sheets to make up a layered sentence  ‘Just another edge of present under standing’. Obscured by the viewer’s reflection, the different elements of the sentence became apparent from different angles and levels. I love a piece of art that makes you do a funny little dance in front of it before it reveals its meaning…

Neons were prolific, and in the format of Tracey Emin style signage/sentences, it felt a bit stale and unoriginal coming from so many different artists. A few were effective though. This pile of words had a more sculptural element whilst also feeling quite like a drawing:


Peter Liversidge, “etc”:

This next Pouran Jinchi piece was spectacular and beckoned me to explore it from all angles. (here it is on video)

Here’s what the Third Line Gallery (Dubai) said about Pouran Jinchi’s work – “Her work suggests a mixture of calligraphy and abstract expressionism. Obsessive, tedious and unrelenting in her approach, Jinchi covers large areas with the smallest and most repetitive of marks, be they script, floral motifs from Andalusian ceramics or the netted patterns of a ghitra.”

The sculptures were made from a clear material formed round into cylinders, which the artist had written on in Islamic script, layering sentences over each other rendering it very indecipherable. (Even more so to anyone like me, who cannot read the script in the first place). The effect was that of something moving, shifting and glimmering – the pattern and form changes as you walk around the sculpture. When you venture closer, the spirals become a detailed pattern of lines and dots, and closer still, an obvious but coded message.  The measured positioning of the text was intriguing. It was not scrawled all over like a rushed scribble. It was ritualistic, quiet, rhythmic. It felt like it was a song, chant or mantra.

Pouran Jinchi

Pouran Jinchi

Pouran Jinchi

Rough and subtle, the New York Times becomes an artwork by Tobias Putrih. I think this was a love or hate piece – simple in materials and technique, & visually effective.

More text work – paintings by Stefan Bruggemann – ‘Definitions and Jokes’:

To add to the textual journey through Frieze, Lauve Prouvost created a project, placing signs around the building to add a touch of amusement whilst traversing the space.

“Humorous, irreverent, and discordant, these installations include a number of hand- painted signs that purport to instil some order into the situation, but often offer little clarity. Playing with issues of language, translation and authority, or with ideas around space and disorientation, the signs are often funny, sometimes sweet, occasionally straightforward and instructional. Prouvost’s signs for Frieze Projects will be made in the days preceding the fair as a response to the architecture of the space and the movement of its audience.” (

Here are a couple:

Physicality and materials

As you know I am often inspired by work which engages the viewer through its form or substance – a very physical, visceral connection can be formed when artwork appeals to our senses, and therefore places itself within a unique and personal context for every viewer.
This ‘floating’ banana kicked off a number of artworks at Frieze which confuse our sense of gravity as well as traditional perceptions of sculptural materials, (bananas being far a from ‘traditional’ medium, I saw at least two.)

The piece below, another from Navid Nuur, was a magnetic rock onto which iron filings had been sprinkled – simple but fascinating, and highlighting physical forces that are present and sensed without being visible to the eye. It also took sculpture back to basics – a stone, an uncarved rock, the starting point of sculpture. In a way he was connecting traditions of allowing the material to instinctively guide the sculptor’s craft, responding to properties inherent in the raw material – the strata and form of rock, the grain and fibre of wood.

Next, A Miroslaw Balka. Not as epic as his giant light absorbing container we experienced at Tate Modern, but with an equal sense of ‘muteness’, unspoken secrets and foreboding. An absence of senses in a way, reminiscent of Salcedo and her concrete filled wardrobes.

I enjoyed the playfulness of this piece, ‘6-pack’, by Magail Reus. Cast in aluminium, somehow the senses are fooled and tickled by the fact that it looks like some ephemeral, dusty cardboard – but is actually shiny and solid. You imagine reaching out and feeling the coldness of this wall mounted metal slab. It also took me back to days of making spray painted collages from bits of cardboard, found whilst rummaging in the ‘materials box’ underneath the art table at school.

Another cast of an empty space. A Rachel Whiteread, recording the negative space of a glass window. Turning a transient unnoticed space into something physical. I love the way her work is at once impressive and unimpressive, monumental and banal, a new reading of undiscovered corners of our world and yet at the same time modestly mundane.


A sensory Nick van Woert – liquids and materials in stacked perspex boxes…

The piece pictured below is a person-sized column made of oasis, scrunched by hand along one vertical edge. A record of the artists hands manipulating the surface, it evoked a strong desire to do the same – I had to try very hard not to press my own thumb into its enticing surface. Somehow with its muted colours, the work also had an absorbant, calm, quietness about it. As if the material had absorbed the sound from the air around it.

Tacita Dean and her dark pieces (also on show at Tate Modern currently):

A sizable, bulbous , reflective Anish Kapoor gives us that slippery feeling that the room is peeling away from us in the Lisson Gallery space…

Another sense tickling work below -there’s  something very physical and tactile about this piece. It makes me laugh as well as I imagine the transition between the two states, and the individual sandy grains wiggling mischievously between the bars and spreading out on the table.

Peter Liversidge’s ‘Doppelganger (blue)’ makes us take a closer look at the objects and materials on his two seemingly identical shelves…

Spot the difference….

Other sculpture…

There were many sculptural pieces to impress, not least of course that British favourite, Antony Gormley. (Here is a video of the piece below, ‘Clutch’, showing how it changes from different angles)


Harm Van den Dorpel’s ‘Assemblage’ at the Wilkinson Gallery was a great sculptural piece contructed from loops of synthetic glass which had been printed on, giving the effect of both occupying a large physical  space and a floaty emptiness at the same time:

In a similar loopy fashion, I was impressed my the minimal but beautiful photographic and sculptural works of Carsten Nicolai showing with Galerie Eigen + Art:

This tactile piece caught my attention – intriguing, sparkly, sticky looking surfaces made of coal slag in these large sculptures by Nick Van Woert…


A giant, sumptuous shell from Marc Quinn:

Tony Cragg’s organic work in Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac:

I loved this Frankenstein tree constructed from parts of other dismembered branches on Johnen Galerie’s booth:

Belu-Simion Fainaru:

Any actual painting or traditional media?

I saw little actual painting, (and less that I truly liked), but this one stood out – John Korner, ‘The Flood’ on the Victoria Miro stand. It had a lightness and a layered quality with transparent areas juxtaposed to deep black swathes:

Another traditional media but with a less traditional motif, also on the Victoria Miro stand – one of the classic Grayson Perry pieces:

A very visceral photographic c-print By Tania Bruguera, rather different from all else that drew my eye: Quite unpleasant and hard to view, but strangely compelling to look at:

& finally a dash of silliness…

There was a lot of fun and silliness going on at Frieze; bright, childish colourful works seemed to shine out this year. Big, glossy, toy-like artworks paraded around us, such as Yayoi Kusama’s Tulip below at Victoria Miro:

  And ‘Rose’ by Will Ryman of the Paul Kasmin Gallery –

And lastly, a sleeping fox that I nearly tripped over in one booth – taking a quick nap and dreaming of rainbows no doubt.


Nicola Anthony is an artist and art writer living & working in London. She seeks to discover things which make her mind crackle with creative thought. Catch @Nicola_Anthony on twitter, or her artist’s website



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