Perhaps I arrived at Frieze London 2019 – that colossal tent in Regent’s Park – already thinking about space because of the mass of white, stretched out and at odds with the turning trees of October.
The annual art fair is a convergence of collectors, galleries and institutions who uproot artworks and serve them in proxy-gallery booths to collectors and the public. As places that are both transitory and transactional – for passing through, for sharing picnics, for buying art – the park and Frieze have a lot in common and so perhaps it wasn’t so strange to find Sterling Ruby, Hito Steyerl and Lee Ufan here in all their glory. Tents and parks also imply temporary respite, but Frieze is no such thing – it is a frenetic and visual tarpaulin-sealed bubble, showcasing solo or group works from a dizzying 91 galleries that travel from as far as Lima, Peru and Kyoto, Japan to connect, sell, see and get seen.
Frieze is spaces within spaces, within spaces – itself delineated into ‘zones’ to organise the galleries based on size, age, reputation, financial means and supplemented with dark, subterranean lounges and east London eateries, for weary legs.
But space – remembered, reconstituted, staged, altered – was a central preoccupation of the work too. Royal College of Art alumni Tim Stoner’s gestural landscape paintings at Modern Art London implied a nostalgic, verdant green England, while Ryan Gander worked with his newly invented type set ‘Set in Stone’, based on the pebbles from the beaches of his childhood for a mixed media calligraphic print series at Tokyo’s Taro Nasu. Norwegian painter Ida Ekblad at Galerie Max Hetzler, evoked the comfort of a childhood bed in Sleepover Landscape (2018). In other places, artists reconfigured the familiar spaces of our collective childhood or the domestic, like in Kaari Upson’s latex pink and mauve woodland, where trees in artificial hues hung suspended from the ceiling evoking the dusk, and dust, of her Californian childhood. As part of the Live performance, Khvay Samnang staged a narrative-driven dance between dragons that signified China and Cambodia and explored geographical and cultural relations between them.