Frieze Up By Alex Larman

Alex Larman discovers that contemporary art is still a cool draw in today’s market….

This year’s Frieze Art Fair defied rumours of a meltdown in the global art market with a wider range of exhibitors, artists and visitors than ever. The house champagne was Laurent-Perrier (£12.50 a glass) and the temporary restaurant was an offshoot of Le Caprice. At the opening, Tracey Emin and Patrick Cox could be seen circulating, perhaps sizing up their next purchases. The atmosphere was as good-humoured and frenetic as you’d expect from one of the world’s leading art fairs, and perhaps also due to the comparatively small size of the venue. It is rumoured that it’ll move from Regent’s Park to a bigger site in Hyde Park next year.

Some of the world’s most influential dealers, such as Larry Gagosian and Jay Jopling, showcased their latest acquisitions such as Richard Serra’s Promenade and Robin Rhode’s nine part Who Saw Who. Much of the hype around the event circled on the remarkable and disturbing new work from Jake and Dinos Chapman, called Hell, which is a re-imagining of an earlier piece destroyed in the 2004 blaze in a storage warehouse housing their work, as well as that of many other Young British Artists (YBAs). Hell is a striking work, graphically showing all kind of atrocities and Nazi symbolism using three-dimensional models. It seemed to attract as many sneers as praise – perhaps the Chapman brothers’ status as enfant terribles of the British art scene is starting to wear slightly thin!

Other highlights of the exhibition, which this year seemed as geared towards installations and performance as it was about actual figurative art, included the artist Norma Jean, who made a strange, interactive piece called The Straight Story, which consists of three identical glass booths, each equipped with an ashtray, water cooler and ventilation shaft. Visitors were welcome to go into them and smoke (cigarettes not provided!) and effectively become a living piece of art. While the overall effect was bizarre and somewhat gimmicky, it was typical of the lateral thought that went into this year’s festival, as could also be found in such innovations as the American artist Bert Rodriguez offering foot massages, which proved very popular with the punters. The most alarming feature, for many, might be Tue Greenfort’s piece Condensation, which drains off visitors’ sweat into clinical-looking recycled bottles. The intention might be to make a serious point about the environment and wastefulness, but watching as your sweat drips away is a disturbing experience.

The crowd was, as usual, a mixture of the fantastically well-heeled and the more eccentric; men dressed in full eighteenth century attire jostled casually with trophy wives dripping in Prada and Gucci. While this year’s Frieze was perhaps short on the headline-grabbing controversy that it would dearly like (despite innovations such as a travelling band of gigolos called Los Romeos, a project by the Spanish artist Dora Garcia), it is still London’s most compelling modern art festival.

However, the credit crunch has made some impact. Works from highly collectible artists such as Jeff Koons and Jean-Michel Basquiat went unsold, and Christie’s postwar and contemporary sale garnered only about half of what they expected (£32 million).

For more information about the fair, visit