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#MeToo: Depictions of Doom at Frieze 2018

Laurie Anderson, Frieze Talks, Frieze London 2018 (Photo by Linda Nylind)

Frieze London 2018 has been labelled the ‘#MeToo art fair’ for featuring more female artists, particularly in the new Social Work section devoted to ‘80s and ‘90s women who challenged the art market. Taken as a whole, Frieze 2018 may have contained the usual art-fair fare, with its an array of loud formalist pieces (splatter canvases, mirrors with elaborate aluminium prints, neon signs and the like) targeted at typical first-tier art collectors. Yet the pieces that stood out were indeed, regardless of the gender of the artist, united by their resignation and profound disillusionment with monumentality. This year’s theme for Frieze Talks, Autobiography, reflects a curatorial strategy that has selected intricate manifestations of contemporary psyche over explicit references to current events. Speaking as part of the series on Friday, Laurie Anderson gave a warm yet chilling perspective on storytelling and the fate of the world in the midst of accelerating political and social change.

Upon entering the fair, visitors are greeted by the back of Urs Fischer’s Francesco, a wax sculpture of the Italian curator Francesco Bonami who emblematizes a stereotypical art-world snobbish intellectual. The figure is turned away from the front of the fair and on his phone, either imitating or setting an example for the many fairgoers refreshing feeds and taking snapshots. Nearby is Tatiana Trouvé’s installation, The Shaman. Far from being the typical man-made fountain associated with the great western civilizations, Trouvé’s work is shrouded in shrubbery, while water trickles instead of spurting. Taken together, the works of Fischer and Trouvé might be considered anti-monuments. Their statements cynically reference the exhibits of the pavilions of nineteenth- and twentieth-century world fairs, subverting the content and form of patriarchy.

Tatiana Trouvé, The Shaman, 2018 (kamel mennour, Frieze London 2018. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.)

Other sculptures support this commentary. Both Jenny Holzer and Kevin Francis Gray express their disillusionment in marble. Their works force viewers to question both the legitimacy and the permanence of civilizations and their statements in stone.

Laurie Anderson, meanwhile, discussed the end of humanity in relation to climate change and contemporary technological media. Confronted with a backdrop of letters snowing over a projection of Manhattan, the audience was reminded of 9/11 and the possibility of nuclear winter. Reading from her memoirs, All the Things that I lost in the Flood, Anderson rhythmically captured her stint working at a McDonalds and a week-long visit to a rural Amish farm. Despite comforting the audience with therapeutic humour, Anderson ultimately explores existence ‘at the end of a story... with no one to tell our story to’ – similarly, perhaps, to other artists at Frieze.

Meanwhile Brooklyn-based Robin F. Williams and Cape Town’s Cinga Samson offer eerie depictions of figures unable to cope in their ambiguous, perhaps even post-apocalyptic, environments. The barren landscapes and flat horizons in each force us to consider symbols of vanity, from the fork-as-comb in Williams’ piece to the Louis Vuitton jacket and fan in Samson’s, in contemporary art, in sharp contrast to the material ostentation of classical portraiture. Williams’ and Samsons’ representations investigate how the psychology of near decimation is subsumed within various identities. In the Focus section for emerging artists, Alexandra Noel’s solo show gives a much quieter version of endings and vacancy, featuring oil and enamel panels entirely void of figures and dramatic in their small scale.

Cinga Samson, Figurative Self Portraits (blank, 2018 Focus Stand Prize Winner, Frieze London 2018. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.)

Frieze 2018 is an odd experience where poignantly pessimistic depictions of doom float among works being sold for nearly a million pounds. The irony is that the Frieze art market possesses enough resources to remain above the fray of political change that mostly threatens women, ethnic minorities, and socio-economically compromised classes. Is it possible that buyers will viscerally relate to these messages when the works are hung on their walls? Hopefully something will get through.

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