Frieze and its ever-multiplying layers – some fantastically rich, others disappointingly dry – has expanded into a millefeuille so dense that you wonder whether organisers Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp have ever heard of museum fatigue. Today, 30 to 45 minutes is apparently the concentration cap – the point at which you can no longer bring yourself to give a shit yet keep walking past the frames. Knowing this, the majority of London’s public might feel they had been spared the ordeal of entering the tents in Regent’s Park, where half an hour will get you through almost nothing of the fair. By some freak of programming the best of the works curated to accompany this giant selling spree could be seen for free by anyone outside the fair this year.
Down the road in Euston, Dance Umbrella put on Disabled Theater by choreography’s French bad boy Jérôme Bel. Bel worked with Theater HORA, a Swiss troupe of professional actors with learning and mental disabilities. His role was to ‘not direct’ them, simply providing a stage on which they were invited to express themselves in response to a series of prompts. Examining different forms of theatricality, the performance was a sensation.
Cerith Wyn Evans’s serene promenade up the Regent’s Canal with Susan Stenger was more obtuse but no less fabulous. She rode with him in a stubby blue barge, playing her woody, ghostly flute. They came cruising alongside the weeping willows towards an audience-packed bridge beside the geometric netting of London Zoo’s aviary. Above the bridge one of Wyn Evans’s white neon signs misquoted a line from James Merrill, ‘So, I came to know what the japanese (sic) puppets taught us, namely, what it means to be moved….’, aiming to be viewed as much by the birds as the humans. There was Wyn Evans’ typical emphasis on wit, but the texture of the performance had soul too, the setting modern with a whisper of the occult. Stenger’s sounds ramped up as they sailed under the bridge, and Wyn Evans, remaining in the shaded bows, waved just once to the few who could see him from the lower towpath, before donning his wide-brimmed hat and … staying hidden.
Far less retiring, Isabel Lewis’s An Occasion as she called it, was directly sensual and relied on dialogue with the crowd, who sipped free beers on vintage furniture. While DJing she used the bass to deliver palpable vibrations, laughing to one woman, ‘It always feels good to feel those vibrations down there’. She was using sound and other senses to prompt people to feel the ambience of objects around them (the density of the concrete floor, the radiance of the plants). That Lewis did all this without instigating an immense audience cringe – despite her persistent eye contact – was near miraculous.
A similar attention to how art feels through the body made the regular Sculpture Park (in the English Gardens beside the Frieze tents) rather good this year. There were disappointments: seeing another of Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin(s) on a verge seemed a lazy choice following her over-exposure and appearance here last year, but these smudges were drowned out by successes. Martin Creed’s video Work No.732 was glorious shown 10-feet-tall between a towering fir tree and a red-berried holly-bush. It’s easy for a moving image to claim our attention, but still this work was beautifully placed, and wittily curated, opposing a contemporary spin on the neo-classical nude by Reza Aramesh, and Work No.732’s techy presence rubbed perfectly up against its neighbour, a wicker hut with primitive faces on each wall.
Gabriele de Santis’s giant emoticons looked as surreal as could be in front of the historic Regency houses beside the park – an unattainable effect in a white cube. Richard Nonas’ series of boulders in pairs, titled Wedge, subtly echoed the vertebrae of Matt Johnson’s neighbouring Baby Dinosaur, and tempted more than one visitor to sit on the artworks. For many the centrepiece appeared to be Small Lie by KAWS; this giant slumped cartoon character, encased in dark wood parquet, towered above the trees proving too good a photo opp for many to resist. Not Vital’s globular HEAD (Mao) provided equal entertainment as local teenagers stopped to take distorted selfies in its mirrored surface before leaving it to reflect its leafy surroundings.