Friday, 12 October 2007

Nip and tuck

There is the crackle of money around London this week as the Frieze Art Fair opens its doors - or, more accurately, as it's in a huge marquee in Regent's Park, opened its tent flaps. It's an international event, with the biggest and most influential commercial galleries from around the world selling work, and it's not just the big UK money it attracts.

In fact, it’s hard for a while not to take your eyes off the people around you as they make their way around, or eavesdrop on their conversations. The richest seem to be mostly American, over no doubt, to add to their collections or museums. There is a discussion between four American seventy-somethings in the Lisson Gallery space about the currency of the 400,000 figure they have just been given by an employee for a piece on show. Was it euros, pounds or dollars? They couldn’t help but laugh, and may even have smiled if their nip-and-tuck faces would allow it.

For them, and for many others, Frieze, now in its fifth year, is the newest port-of-call in the art market tour. Minions linger around them, personal assistants and curators I suppose, with clipboards in hand. Alan Yentob from the BBC, the presenter of Imagine, waits dutifully in the queue to speak to one remarkably preserved couple, who are pickled in haute couture, and bedecked with pinnacles in the art of dentistry, ophthalmology and plastic surgery.

Around town, too, everyone waits. Big shows are timed to open this week, while the international art set are in town. The auction houses time sales so that they fit in with Frieze. New magazines launch.

What about the art? There are the eye-catching exhibits that catch the media’s attention: Berlinde de Bruyckere’s dead pony, Rob Pruitt’s flea market (a whole stand given over to what appears to be a jumble sale), the Chapman brothers cheerfully defacing the Queen’s face on twenty-quid notes, and Gianni Motti’s live cross-legged policeman (described as an intervention, presumably because it is beyond the walls of a gallery space).

But there are lovely things tucked away in smaller galleries, though, such as Peter Callesen’s works at the Emily Tsingou Gallery, who works with little more than sheets of A4 paper and a scalpel. With the whiteness of a Reinhardt and the precision of a surgeon, Callesen makes small, witty, understated monuments. In a sea of work that appears to have been assembled quickly to leave a unfinished feel, they sing in their craftsmanship.

They sound as if they could easily be overlooked, but they can’t. There’s a crowd of young people around them, art students perhaps, taking photos of them on their phones. None of them seems to be a collector.

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