October 23, 2013

Frieze Week in London

The historic city of London has always had a lot of compelling reasons to go for a visit.  Now, in addition to Wimbledon and Ascot (or the occasional Royal Wedding!) is Frieze Week, an action-packed merry-go-round of art fairs, museum openings and auction previews all centered around two enormous tents installed in Regent's Park.

The original Frieze Art Fair opened in 2002 as London's contribution to the contemporary art scene.  It became so successful that last year the organizers invented a satellite fair - Frieze Masters - dedicated to more historical works of art from ancient times to the year 2000.  I had the good fortune to be in London last October and attended the inaugural Frieze Masters and enjoyed every minute.  In contrast to Art Basel, it is more than just an art fair.  While not as expansive as TEFAF in Maastricht, this fair presents a wide variety of works from oriental rugs to Dutch Renaissance paintings, from African masks to medieval manuscripts and a lot of great 19th and 20th century drawings and paintings as well. 

This year's edition featured even more exhibitors, over 120, from around Europe and North America, providing a wide variety of treasures for sale.  While there were many beautiful works to admire, one in particular caught my eye.  On the stand of Sam Fogg, London, was a 17th century polychrome "mermaid chandelier" with such charm that I was happy to see it was already sold so I didn't even have to think about the price!

But there is much more to Frieze Week than just Frieze Masters!  On the other side of the Thames is the Tate Modern's marvelous exhibition "Paul Klee:  Making Visible". This comprehensive survey of the Swiss artist's work created mainly between the two World Wars offers an insight into his relationship with color and abstraction.  From his beginnings as a member of Der Blaue Reiter [The Blue Rider] group (including Macke and Kandinsky) through the Bauhaus years and his subsequent "demotion" at the hands of the Nazis, to his final canvases painted while he was suffering from a fatal illness, Paul Klee (1879-1940) continued to produce art that was whimsical and charming.  One of the very few artists who was a steadfast family man, Paul Klee's approach to his work as "taking a line for a walk" was as solid as his values.  Though his paintings and watercolors are dreamy and lovely, they were created with as much rigor and determination as any of the more "serious" artists.

The exhibition now on view at the Tate Modern is the first large scale retrospective of Klee's work in well over a decade and the first show ever organized using the artist's own numbering system.  This unique perspective allows visitors to see the works as the artist intended and is a very special opportunity to appreciate Klee's beautiful, colorful work in a whole new light.

Now we're heading back across the river to the National Gallery and their newly opened exhibition "Facing the Modern:  The Portrait in Vienna 1900".

From its formation in 1867 until its demise at the end of World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the largest, most populated and most powerful territories in Europe, and, as is often the case, the arts thrived during this period of prosperity. As citizens became wealthier they often commissioned portraits as a declaration of their success.  The period around 1900 was an artistic heyday with a burgeoning middle class and a new school of painting that reflected the contemporary morality and styles.

This exhibition is organized historically from the "Old Viennese" (at the beginning of the Empire), through the changing political and social attitudes that came with mass immigration until the demise of the Dual Monarchy at the end of World War I.  The evolution of the portraits is clear.  From the early formal compositions, to the much less stiff representations of the "New Viennese", and finally the anxiety ridden faces reflecting the uncertainty of the impending collapse of Vienna's reign over Europe.  The highlight of the show is, of course, the gorgeous works by Klimt and Schiele, (one of which is involved in a battle over un-returned Nazi loot from Austria) but the exhibition as a whole provides an interesting perspective on a watershed time in modern history.

The last stop proves that the art world really can be a whole lot more fun than staid museums or dignified art fairs.  As a promotion for their upcoming auctions of modern and contemporary art in London and New York, Sotheby's pulled out all the stops with an "Out of this World" cocktail party.   I should have known when the entryway carpet was covered in silver sparkles that we were in for something special!  Pretty servers in silver "space girl" dresses offered fancy drinks in test tubes while handsome waiters with white "mod" sunglasses poured champagne from magnum bottles!  The music boomed, the crowd was gorgeous and the drinks were flowing, and while it might not have an ideal environment in which to view expensive art, it was a heck of a good time!

No comments: