I recently had the privilege of attending the highly anticipated Frieze London Art Fair 2022, an event that unfolded as a dynamic showcase of contemporary art’s latest, seamlessly blending market optimism with a captivating array of colourful thought-provoking artworks. As an attendee, I found myself immersed in the whirlwind, buzzing with excitement yet also experiencing conflicting sentiments about the fair.
From the very moment I stepped in, I was captivated by the palpable energy and electric atmosphere that reverberated throughout the sprawling Regent’s Park tents. It showed the enduring power of the high end commercial art market to engage and connect the ‘right’ people, although – in fairness – while increasingly transcending race and gender boundaries. The art market, in particular, radiated a renewed sense of optimism post-Covid, with enthusiastic participation from an array of stakeholders including collectors, galleries, artists, and the fans. The fair exuded an air of activity and purpose, reaffirming its pivotal position within a resilient and ever-evolving market and served as testament to the art world’s ability to adapt and intrigue.
Frieze prominently featured artworks exploring the complexities of Woke identity politics, delving into themes of social justice, equality, and inclusivity. These works, no doubt, aimed to ignite meaningful conversations and spur critical reflection on society, shedding light on its inherent inadequacies. While this emphasis on social consciousness underscored a profound belief in the transformative potential of art as a platform for discourse, it also revealed, in the context of an art fair nestled in the epicentres of global capitalism and attended by the world’s wealthiest individuals, a sense of superficiality and a peculiar overconfidence in the symbolic power of art to heal society’s wounds.
One captivating highlight of the fair was the undeniable popularity of ‘total installations’ in gallerists’s booths. These immersive works, designed to inspire awe, did appear to enchant visitors with their saturated colours and textures, perfectly curated for Instagram-worthy moments. They certainly went beyond the boundaries of traditional art fair presentations, offering a populist multisensory experience.
In reflection, my experience at Frieze left me cautiously optimistic about the future of these monumental mega-money events. However, I couldn’t help but recognize – as always – that for the galleries in a fair of this magnitude and reputation, a broader spectrum of artistic styles and themes would have undoubtedly been welcome, perhaps even fostering a greater sense of inclusivity and a more balanced representation of the diverse voices within the contemporary art world. The tendency to prioritize trendspotting and sensationalism seemed to overshadow other equally important practices, however this is simply a place to buy art, so maybe we shouldn’t over think it. Although, surprisingly I did find solace on this front in the separate Frieze Masters tent.
Frieze London 2022 successfully showcased the ever-evolving landscape of contemporary art while simultaneously igniting questions and contemplations regarding its tokenistic commitment to diversity and inclusivity as a panacea for society’s multifaceted challenges. Undeniably, the fair offered thought-provoking encounters and moments of inspiration, fueling a sense of anticipation and excitement for the future editions to come even if it is only elite birds of a feather flocking together or for special social media moments. However, when all is said and done, if you possess an interest in contemporary art, or revel in the art of people-watching or simply like to be hyper-critical, Frieze London stands as an indispensable must-visit, fully immersing you in all that is the art world.
Words by Seamus O’Sculpture