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  • Mariana Baião Santos

Confessions of a Frieze Virgin



VI, VII. @ Frieze Art Fair, London © Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Frieze and Linda Nylind


I write as I recover from this visual hangover – visual, emotional, in a post-anxiety state. I write from the sofa, lying down, as the sitting and standing states suggest too much energy to be recommendable for today.


This Monday the 17th, after what is called “Frieze Week”, I write what I have taken upon myself to write, just for the task at hand, as the will must have been lost on the floor of some gallery. The state of visual hangover is hardly commendable, a somewhat rare state in which I never thought I would find myself. I have agreed with myself not to go to an exhibition for a week, I don’t know if work will allow me but the twinkle in my eye and the childish urge to go to everything has died, at least for today. Maybe tomorrow I will feel differently.


Like a seasonal migration, the art world converges to London in October for the Frieze art fair that lasts 5 days, despite life being only two. On the spur of this migration, where the art population quadruples per square meter of gallery space, the events also multiply and the city sees fit, in blind consensus, to have 13435648 events per day. If you don’t have an opening at Frieze Week, you are nobody.


Out of virgin enthusiasm, on the eve of seven days dedicated solely to art, I stack events on my mobile calendar, where the edges of the colored boxes overlap and merge into Venn diagrams about the impossibility of omnipresence. Looking back on my innocent jubilation, commonly known as FOMO – fear of missing out – I count at least five siamese events fitted into each day. Needless to say, dear readers, too much art and not enough Mariana.


Monday starts off busy with a total of five openings visited, in some of the city’s biggest galleries: Thomas Dane, Carl Kostyál, Pippy Houldsworth, PACE and Massimo di Carlo. A glass of wine here, a two or three “hi, how are you”s there, and the challenge of trying to exchange one business card or another. With high heels on my feet, the enthusiasm remains high.


Tuesday, the same scenario repeats itself, an exhibition at Slade University, a few visits to more underground galleries, and the big players: Hauser & Worth, Simon Lee and Marlborough. One more blister on a foot and one less night. Getting home by ten at night and eating a can of tuna – clearly smuggled en masse on the last visit to Portugal. Oh, the Glamour!


The next few days proceed in a similar fashion, shoes decrease in height until it looks like I’m going to the gym afterwards and vision begins to blur in the excessive sea of visual information. Friday was the day of 1-54, an art fair focused on contemporary African art, inaugurated with Barco by Grada Kilomba. There are times when even in exhaustion, the soul is dazzled, this time by the contrast between the brutalist minimalism of the work and the architectural beauty of the Somerset House building. A feeling bifurcated between the pride of sharing the same language and the exact reason why we share it – which replicated itself several times in the encounter of names like Cristiano Mangovo or Francisco Vidal. Given the context of the building, the fair seems like a magical visit to a house filled with art, with paintings over the fireplaces and sculptures between the windows.


Finally Sunday, the day of the eagerly awaited Frieze London & Frieze Masters – while Masters focuses on modern art and the great “masters,” London takes a more contemporary and experimental approach – which may have once been true. I lasted three hours. Between over 100 galleries between the two spaces and surely over 1000 works on the Regent’s Park lawn, I drooled over a few Espressionists, photographed more than my mobile phone can handle, jotted down a few new names, and left when the gallery signs started spinning.


Art critic Robert Hughes describes contemporary art cycles as “bulimic,” in a regurgitation of formulas and trends, easily described in the way it is hard to distinguish one gallery from another in the white cubicles and mirrored walls with sensationalist figurativism and faux-naïf painting after another.


If you ask me to name 10 artists I’ve seen, I might be able to give you 5 I’ve written on my phone and possibly distinguish others I’ve started following on Instagram. If you ask me how many people I’ve met, I can’t say, but you can be sure they all have my business card. If you want to know what the plan for next year is, I’m not sure, but the important thing is to have a goal and not take in more than one can handle. If it was a good week, it was excellent, but now I need a nap.


Originally published in Portuguese on Umbigo Magazine 

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