The Art Fair Boyfriend or How I Survived Frieze Week and Learned to Love the Fair

It’s autumn in London – the sun-dappled days at Hyde Park become distant memories as my brief trip back to California enters my rear view. The temperature drops, the leopard-print bikini begins its hibernation, and I stock up on Wolford tights again. The droves of art world professionals have returned from their envy-inducing Facebook check-ins in Saint-Tropez and Positano to the sudden realisation that Frieze week is fast approaching.

Noemie Goudal viewers at Edel Assanti. Photo courtesy of Edel Assanti.

The first post-summer reunion is at Edel Assanti: the Private View is filled with my much missed gang of art cognoscenti; we all dodge the rain and dive into an ice bin filled with beer and admire the haunting Noémie Goudal photos. Looking up from the tiny world inside the artist’s stereo viewers, I see an almost familiar face. Hmmm…don’t I know that guy? He’s tall and slim with a sort of clean-cut charm extracted from a Ralph Lauren ad. My trusty wing woman and I edge towards the make-shift bar to meet up with some nearby Gagosiennettes. As our little groups converge, he gives me a blue-eyed look and says ‘Hi.’

Of course, I fake it for a while, studying his face before giving in and begging the question as to where we have met. He flashes a devilish grin, explaining we met at the infamous Courtauld party last year at the Notting Hill Arts Club – a party from which I barely escaped with my life. Lovely, he thinks I’m a drunken maniac. After sharing a few laughs about the mess of last year’s party, the two of us, my best girl and my best gay all head out of the gallery towards Soho for tapas – a night which ends in a whirlwind of Prosecco, trannie bartenders and 80’s dance tunes.

He does a mean Footloose impression.

He asks me out to a more civilized date at a trendy restaurant soon after – I’m thoroughly impressed after living in a city where ‘lets meet at the pub at eight’ and I buy my own Guinness qualifies as a date. He helps me with my coat, pays the bill and even walks me home.

Keith Coventry, Looted Shop Front, 1995 Bronze. Installation at the NewArtCentre. Photo Courtesy of NewArtCentre.

It’s now late September, I can feel the art fair panic set in slowly and then accelerate, amplifying at the same rate as the plethora of heady art events. Clearly, there are not enough cocktail dresses to go around. Frieze week approaches like a foreboding cloud. With pulses on the rise, my fellow art professionals become sleep-deprived – we all know it’s not really Frieze until somebody cries. (It’s Saturday before Frieze when my exhausted best girlfriend cries into her Lalani tea and scones at the Burlington Social Club tea party over a missing price list.) I manage to escape the city for one last day of relaxation to catch the opening of Keith Coventry’s show at the NewArtCentre in Rochecourt, appreciating the irony of a show celebrating urban blight in such a gorgeous and exquisite estate nestled in rolling, green English countryside.

I wonder what he is up to.

Thomas Houseago, Portrait Column I, 2012 Tuf-Cal, hemp, iron rebar. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen.

A number of big, blue-chip exhibition openings mark the official beginning of an orgy of private views leading up to Frieze, like the impressive Thomas Houseago sculpture show at Hauser & Wirth, a scattering of monumental, and of course, phallic, sculpture in the glass case of the Saville Row space. The Pace Gallery and David Zwirner both inaugurate their competing flagship spaces in Mayfair with highly attended champagne parties: pristine exhibition spaces sprinkled with the who’s who of the international art world. Luc Tuyman’s at Zwirner’s were pleasantly luminous and interesting, one still life with cabbages bringing to mind perhaps a bigger, more electrified Morandi (or was that the blindingly lit space?) Pace’s highly anticipated Sugimoto and Rothko mash-up of colorless horizon lines was disappointing – Milly Glimcher’s green sequined gown certainly the most dazzling thing in the gallery space. All agreed that Pace served better champagne in larger quantities – which the swarmsters and I still managed to gulp down in less than two hours.

Since it is my old stomping ground, I spend the evening at Pace flirting with old tech crushes and avoiding rival gallerinas, swirling about the crowd in a black leather mini skirt. Halfway through my third glass of Veuve, I see that familiar face enter with his auction house entourage. He is all smiles in his slim black suit, skinny tie and… a motorcycle helmet. Vroom. He introduces me to a few friends, falling in and out of German to English as we both spot and chat with out a few art celebs. I tuck myself into a corner as he slowly leans in to speak over the crowd… My old tech crushes sigh, lower their eyes and empty their glasses. We exit hand-in-hand out of the scrum to find a burger at Mayfair’s Automat. By the end of the night I realize two things: Automat fries are about as close as one can get to In n’ Out fries in London and… I might like this guy touching my knee under the table.

Hugh Mendes, Obama Lama at The Future Can Wait

I ring in Frieze on Monday with a spicy Vesuvius martini at The Sanderson with old friends, swirling the red chili in my martini glass while we all exchange gallery gossip. We crash Gavin Turk’s colorful print exhibition at Paul Stolper Gallery and the over-subscribed Future Can Wait Saatchi Show. The works at The Future Can Wait are about as random as the hipster outfits, and fighting for a drink is hardly worth the effort. A brief blissful moment with Hugh Mendes saves us from the crowd as he shows us his small, careful works featuring news clippings of the Dali Lama. We arrive at our next stop, wobbling in heels over cobblestones and feeling like well-dresssed vampires as tuxedoed bouncers and lines of flaming torches lead us down into a dimly lit church crypt. Lusciously grotesque, the fabulous Metamorphosis show by All Visual Arts includes slimy octopus bodily bouquets by Polly Morgan and surreal, feathered snakes by Kate MccGuire arranged throughout the worn brick archways. Standing out, one painting by Jonathan Wateridge shows a woman, facing away from the viewer. She wears a lush white fur and a blonde bob and walks towards the uncertainty of heavy velvet curtains. There is a Mulholland Drive, LA Noir tone to the work, we cannot see her face, which is perhaps a painfully beautiful one, or a grotesquely disfigured one. And, somehow, I am certain the blonde bob is a wig. As the crowd swells and babbles underground, the bubbles go to my head, I get lost in her world – wondering if she is alone, in danger, or in a some desperate kind of love.

All Visual Arts Metamorphosis Installation

I spend Tuesday afternoon wandering from one auction house preview to another, finding myself far from the action of the Frieze Master’s VIP Preview by nightfall. Preferring instead to check out PAD, the small and more manageable tent on Berkley Square that focuses on design. The big tent is penetrated occasionally by massive tree stumps twisting through exhibitor booths and incorporated by some (some better than others) to showcase their work. Olyvia Fine Art had to be the biggest fail of art fair history with what looked like a garage sale of very bad Condos, Naras and everything else hideously inbetween tacked on a tree trunk. Galerie Vedovi, on the other hand, had an impressive collection, including a graceful little Calder in front of Christopher Wool canvas and a Pistoletto mirror interestingly tucked beside their tree’s rippled bark.

Another sighting draws my eye and shatters my concentration, both from the fair and from my new romance: it’s some one I met at Art Basel. I haven’t heard from him in weeks. Agh. Then it hits me: I’m having an Art Fair Romance…another one. Its a particular type of coupling between art professionals fueled by the beauty, power, money, glamour and booze that wafts through the air at these sort of things – and much like the better known Vacation Romance – its one maybe one seemingly doomed to fail. I make a mental check-list. There was Mr. ArtBasel and the infamous Mr. Venice last year. My god! Is Mr. Frieze doomed to regress into vague statements about emotional availability as soon as the tents are pulled down? I say hello to Mr. ArtBasel, of course, as he is too annoyingly handsome to deny, before making a beeline to the exit. This place is a fucking minefield.

PAD Art Fair on Berkeley Square. © Photo : Nicolai Hartvig

This Art Fair Boyfriend epiphany still reeling in my head, I must escape the cloud of cloudy judgment towards the one place I feel absolutely at home: a string of jam-packed boozy openings in Mayfair. Shizaru Gallery displays rows upon rows of works that fit in with its theme, Bad for You featuring naughty subject matters from cheeseburgers to pills and bullets. The only thing more jam-packed than the wall is the crowd, and although a ‘bad for me’ vodka tonic takes the edge off, I’m quite happy to move on to Gagosian’s elegant, quiet space around the corner to see Giuseppe Penone’s installation of cast bronze branches and artfully arranged thorns on canvas. Flying solo, (the only fail safe method do everything I want in such a small amount of time) I head to Ronchini Gallery to see Conrad Marca-Relli, whose delicate patchwork abstracts do not disappoint. In fact, I dare say the show was my favorite of the evening, elegantly hung, classically beautiful and resplendent in colour.  Spruth Magers is my next stop – to see the black and white sculptures by Fischli and Weiss, placed around the gallery like jumbo, sophisticated Legos.

Conrad Marca-Relli at Ronchini Gallery. Photo Courtesy of Susanne Hakuba and Ronchini Gallery.

Out of the crowd of cigarette-sucking Swiss sophisticates outside of Spruth, I see him, my Art Fair Boyfriend. He is smiling and flanked by a tee-tiny, red lipped and well-furred lady, a sloppy haired man in an all black sheen suit and a tall blonde man wearing flashy studded leather gloves and cradling Balenciaga bag. What a crowd. I meet this artsy motley crew from Zurich. After a glass of wine desperately attained from the gallery’s back room and what seems like a dozen cigarettes between my new friends, he sweeps me up in a cab to hit the Phillips de Pury after party. There is a rumor Simon is DJing – and so we cannot resist.

The Phillips auction house is run amok with half of Made and Chelsea and the dance floor is a pretty adorable, nerdy gathering of middle-aged collectors swaying to Bob Marley’s greatest hits. The few under 40’s sip their drinks and admire the works on the sidelines. A surreal work my Rebecca Horn draws my eye: a wall-mounted box holds a glove and a bloodied egg. Laid on top, a book mechanically opens and closes, fluttering its pages seductively. My best gay friend arrives just in time to fire a sharp quip about the crowd forming a conga line or doing the chicken dance. We all agree that Simon shouldn’t quit his day job and that we all need a new after party. Heading south across the Thames, we arrive at he infamous House of the Nobleman party to see the hodge-podged installation of works in one of London’s most expensive addresses.  Ascending the tower by glass elevator, we arrive in time to admire the most gorgeous thing on the wall: the view through the window.

Rebecca Horn, Lolita, 1997, leather glove, ostrich egg and copper rod in Plexiglass box. Photo courtesy of Phillips de Pury.

It feels like it has been the longest day of my life, but it is barely midnight when we pull up to the trendy Tramp to gate crash Blain Southern’s afterparty. Bare-legged teenagers teeter on their heels outside the club in the chilly air, desperately flipping their hair at the bouncers. I am certainly not on the list – nor am I eager to spend much quality time with these ladies. This door looks like an iron curtain. He assures me it won’t be a problem: I’m his plus one after all. Plus one. The ultimate art fair aphrodisiac…

We head down a flight of stairs, which seems to carry every well-known artist in London – known for drinking well in London. I’m through a few glasses myself when I say hello to one of my own favorite painters. He does look a bit AAWF, so I say, ‘What a crazy party! Having fun?’ He responds with, ‘Ahhhghff skoouud afff blllaahh’ before running directly into the ladies room. Typical. Since the example of behavior has already been thusly set, I toss off my earlier hesitations and philosophical meanderings about art fair coupling and decide to dance and snog the night away on the misty dance floor – outlasting Tim and Sue. We narrowly escape into the night, right before one of our friends boogies into a dislocated shoulder. We later learn he spent the night in the hospital after the ambulance came and peeled him off the Tramp dance floor.

The night was a gorgeous blur. It’s only Wednesday and I cannot actually believe I am alive at this point. He explains that he has to go deal with this very important client at Frieze Masters. I must spend the day at Frieze London for the VIP preview. He has an auction tonight too. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow.’ Goodbye.

It’s official: Frieze has opened it doors to the select few in possession of varying echelons of VIP cards. Like locks in a canal, a portion of the swarm is allowed to proceed dependant on the hour. I caffeinate, hydrate, and eat as many carbs as humanly possible knowing I’m about to run another gauntlet – in heels. The 11 o’clock crowd rushes towards the blue chip galleries, fighting for the best works on display. There is so much money flying through the air, you have to duck to avoid being punched by a million dollar negotiation. This year, like every year, the Frieze tent is so brightly lit in its bright white enclosure, it sears my hung-over retinas. Since every work on display is seemingly neon pink or mirrored, I quickly decide its probably wise to wear my sunglasses inside.

Thomas Bayrle, Sloping Loafers/Smooth, 2012 at Frieze London. Photo courtesy of Frieze.

It is clear straight away that the darling of the whole of Frieze London is clearly Thomas Bayrle. He shows his work en masse at Galerie Barbara Weiss as well as all along the dizzying entrance walls to the fair. His work is great – but making my brain hurt.  The first booth that pleasantly soothes my headache is Matthew Marks, with especially memorable works by Darren Almond and Terry Winters. I admire two large monochromes by Willem de Rooij at Galerie Bucholz and spot a stunning photo by Daido Moriyama at Taka Ishii Gallery. Victoria Miro has a great booth, including the most gorgeous Alice Neel portrait I have ever seen.  Massimo de Carlo also delivered with Massimo Bartolini’s great paper airlines where the artist retraces the folds, crackles and other injuries done to the paper. White Cube, Gagosian and Thaddaeus Ropac presented predictable collections of their greatest and most yawn-inducing hits, putting me in a sour mood. David Kordansky Gallery saved the day with their solo exhibition of works by Jonas Wood, a painter I like more and more with every work I see. A strange colorful mix of David Hockney, Dexter Dalwood and Henri Matisse – his works capture a sort of retro beauty of everyday life with a fantastical and cartoonish eye.

Jonas Wood, Green Room, 2012. Photo courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery.

Day turns to night as the preview party at Frieze begins. The tent fills with familiar faces. I make a leisurely stop at the Stevenson Gallery booth, which is seemingly overgrown with rubber vines of sculptures by Nicholas Hlobo and some beautifully creepy and hairy, woven paper works. I am also happy to spend some time at Thomas Dane’s booth to admire a few works by Lynda Benglis and Alexandre da Cunha. When I meet up with my friends, I am almost completely bisou-bisou-ed out and glad to join in on a glass of champagne in the VIP room. Another twirl or two around the room really does me in. We grab some doughnuts and drape ourselves in provided cashmere throws to shake off the chill coming in through the terrace. After a round of daily recaps, I decide to turn the conversation away from art and end the night discussing more important things: boys. My latest affair is met with booth squeals and words or warning. It seems the Art Fair Boyfriend crux is a common denominator in the crowd. I fear the likelihood of its survival is about the same likelihood any of us will make it to the Sadie Coles after party. Happily, a little shake from my iPhone uplifts me: ‘Lunch tomorrow?’ Indeed.

Stevenson Gallery booth at Frieze London with works by Nicholas Hlobo

As I walk home, I think about tomorrow. I contemplate how with many art events, the day the doors open to the public actually sounds the death knell for the week’s VIP excitement. Louboutin stilettos morph into the dreaded baby buggies and it’s all over before it even begins. It’s all over before it even begins. Perhaps I am drawing too much from this philosophy about the Art Fair Boyfriend, but I cannot help but fear the sense of dread accompanying the beginning of the end. Like any art fair, will that fleeting honey moon period where everyone loves the fair, the excitement and the buzz abruptly end when we all remember what a over-hyped, crowded, stressful calamity it really is? Art Fair Boyfriends may go the same way of so many art fair parties – a rough, guilt-ridden hangover and sad acceptance that everyday life doesn’t always come with free champagne.

But then again, there’s always FIAC.

I might even bring a plus one.