HAS “Frieze“ finally frozen over? I found myself puzzling about this as I walked down from the pavilion of Old Masters (often paired with modern or contemporary works to enhance or to embellish them) to that of the in-your-face Modernists across Regent’s Park.
I was mindful, too, of a remark of the late Warden of my college, who was a brilliant scientist who served on the Board of the Tate. Asked with what criteria one might evaluate modern art (his official college portrait is by the celebrated Bryan Organ (b.1935)), he had reflected simply, “Do you like it?”
That was in the 1980s, and the #MeToo movement and the post-deconstructionist world, emptied of material existentialism, has made inroads into how we think about art and possession.
“Frieze Week”, which in London, despite the name, lasts only a few days across the first weekend in October, spawns any number of pop-up events elsewhere and new openings in established galleries.
On paper “Notre Dame/Our Lady” probably looked too good a title for the editor to pass up, but anyone expecting to find a plethora of ecclesiastical commissions of the Madonna and Child would have been disappointed in the heart of Mayfair. Boogie Wall gallery is a radical new Amazonian adventure, offering a gallery space for women artists which aspires to provoke discussion of the misrepresentation of women in the art world to reclaim identity from the male gaze.
Run by a Swiss gallerist, the opening is an international group show with pieces by the former Swedish model Alice Herbst, whose oil paintings rework photographs from celebrity magazines and glossies of the past 50 years; a French Sengalese artist, Delphine Diallo, who first worked in the music industry and whose fibre-pigment prints subtly explore and exploit gender and race; and Namsa Leuba, a Swiss-Guinean photographer.
Leuba’s photos, the most interesting reason to visit the male bastion of Brook Street at a breakfast time, examines an aspect of Orientalism in the sexualised images of Polynesian women in Western art. For me, it made the perfect introduction to the much more worrying, intelligently curated, winter show at the National Gallery of Gauguin portraits (to 26 January 2020).
Driven by the need to attract a new generation of collectors, many exhibitors at Frieze Masters had paired the old and the new. This was more or less successful, and clearly many had spent vast sums on an enhanced interior design.
The Parisian Galerie Chenel showed ceramics by Picasso alongside Ancient Greek pots. Showing jointly again, Hauser & Wirth’s retrospective of the post-war Italian avant-garde artist Fabio Mauri neatly interrogated the Italian Renaissance works shown alongside by Moretti Fine Art, which included a heart-stopping Pietà of Mary and John kissing the wounded hands of the dead Christ. Less happy, perhaps, was the conversation between the Argentinian Italian Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) and the art of the Low Countries held by De Jonckheere.
Such collaborations can work, as Colnaghi is currently able to show in the ninth-century former Abbey of St Gregory in Venice. It was once owned by the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, who gave it to Cary Grant when he was her husband. The designer Chahan Minassian has transformed the cloister into a living space that shows off works from the Grand Tour in the space where Canaletto once painted his famous view of the Bacino. The bathroom looks out on the theatrical comings and goings in front of Santa Maria della Salute.
Raccanello & Leprince offered a rather different perspective on historical viewing by mounting some 20 16th-century maiolica dishes from Gubbio and Urbino in Italy as if they were wall decorations set in black wooden polygonal frames. Cardinal Mazarin’s Will (1661) indicates that this was how he displayed an entire dinner service of tableware that was already a century old.
Whether the collectors drive the market or not, it is the art itself that will lead the field. Maybe Sir Rex Richards was right all along: “Do you like it?”
“Notre Dame/Our Lady” is at Boogie Wall, 50 Brook Street, London W1, until 27 October.