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outubro 22, 2010

Overloading at Frieze por Andrew Mckie, The Wall Street Journal

Matéria de Andrew Mckie originalmente publicada no The Wall Street Journal em 15 de outubro de 2010

Frieze Art Fair, held at this time each year in Regent's Park, is London's attempt to give art collectors the contemporary equivalent of Stendahl syndrome. That is the ailment which has been known to fell visitors to Florence with all the symptoms of a panic attack by overloading them with too much beauty.

Overload there certainly was during the preview for VIPs and the press. There was plenty to see at the stands of nearly 200 galleries, if you could get at them through the throngs of people. Beauty? Well, that is in the eye of the beholder.

If anything is likely to make the visitor faint, it is the prices: the insurance estimate for the work being shown at Frieze is $375 million. Not that anyone was showing any sign of nerves as the VIPs stepped out of a fleet of identical silver BMWs on Wednesday morning, though the uniformity of the parking was interrupted by one old banger turned upside down.

I assumed this was an exhibit, though it can sometimes be hard to tell where Frieze starts and finishes. Before they have got near the gates, dozens of postcards advertising other shows are pressed upon the visitors. A tall fellow with a beard sticks his hand out. "Hello," he says warmly, "I'm Sir Peter Blake. You must come to our exhibition at the Museum of Everything down the road. Here's a leaflet, which you can make into a hat."

It is not difficult to guess who works for the media or in the art world as we line up to collect and present our passes. But even in the current financial climate, the very rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald remarked, are different from you and me and, in a miasma of cashmere, hair oil and entitlement, glide unchallenged into the tent.

At first sight, the ticket booth appears to be a mobile-phone showroom. It is, instead, an installation by Matthew Darbyshire. I press on, to be confronted by the art critic of a London newspaper pulling up his T-shirt to reveal the word "Writing," written across his stomach; by a life-sized model of a boy on a diving board entitled "Catch Me If I Fall," and then by Sir Nicholas Serota, director of the Tate Gallery.

"There is some very interesting work this year," he says, telling me I'll have to wait to find out what his gallery has bought (the Outset Contemporary Art Fund, a charitable trust, supplies funds for Tate's acquisitions at Frieze). This year, I discover later, £120,000 was spent on several works, including a roll of Communist-era Czechoslovakian lavatory paper with inscriptions by the late Julius Koller.

Text-based work, and work on the boundary between craft and art, is prominent. Tracy Emin provides several pieces in two of the most popular forms: neon ("I Whisper to my Past, Do I have Another Choice") and fabric (an embroidered piece reading "You Said No"). Elsewhere, work by less established artists has words cut into felt, printed on linen, or embroidered. At Turin's Sonia Rossi Gallery stand, Annika Ström, who has also produced a performance piece for the fair in which 10 men are wandering around pretending to be embarrassed, is showing two identical watercolor posters which read: "buy one get one free." And indeed you do, the gallery attendant assures me. How much? "€3000. And that one's free."

Money is as much a presence as the art. Most of the conversation is about prices. The Rio gallery A Gentil Carioca is showing a flag sewn from £5 and £10 notes by Lourival Cuquinha, which was auctioned off for £17,000.

And at the big galleries, there seems no shortage of confidence, even though the auction prices of some of the biggest names in contemporary art have taken a substantial knock during the past couple of years.

Thaddeus Ropec of Salzburg was showing Marc Quinn's bronze sculpture of a teenager in a hooded top holding a skull. It sold two of its edition of four almost as soon as the doors opened. Jay Jopling of White Cube was prowling his stand in what seemed, for him, a remarkably chirpy fashion. It was rumored that he had sold Damien Hirst's large installation of hundreds of fish in lucite, "The True Artist Helps the World by Revealing Mystic Truths," for £3.5 million within the first hour. The Gagosian stand was so confident of the blockbuster quality of the work on show (more Hirst, Andy Warhol, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Saville) that it calculated, correctly, that it needn't even bother labelling it.

There are a lot of shop dummies in various states of repair. There are random bits of plywood claiming to be sculpture. Pornography is much in evidence, too, partially obscured by paint, or simply laid out on a desk. Next to a stuffed dog, standing on its hind legs and carrying a placard which says "I'm dead," the artist David Shrigley is painting temporary tattoos on visitors (which explains the critic's stomach). I decline one, but tell him that my children laughed like drains when they saw the dog exhibited in Glasgow's Kelvingrove Gallery a few months ago. "At least it didn't traumatize them," he says. "That's a relief."

Frieze may be exhausting, but it is possible to emerge untraumatized. With a bit of stamina, and if you look hard enough, you may even find something you love hiding away amidst the big names and the downright bizarre. At Copenhagen's Christina Wilson gallery, actually tucked away around a corner and perched on two pins, there is a postcard-sized landscape in oils by Ulrick Møller. It's rather beautiful.

Posted by Fábio Tremonte at 2:44 PM