Sun, Oct 20, 2013 - Page 12 News List

The end of innocence

Frieze Masters is less art show than mega-mall, a place that sells luxury goods to the super-rich

by Jonathan Jones  /  The Guardian

Absurdly bright lighting adds to the growing sense of inauthenticity. Hey, this is Frieze. It is orgasmically glamorous. The art here can’t look like it’s old and dull. So every painting has a spotlight on it. Everything becomes shiny. That adds to the overcooked look of some of these expensive bits of history.

The light reveals some rubbish. There’s a medieval painting (studio of Giotto, no less) with grossly painted hands. There’s a sculpture by the Renaissance artist Andrea della Robbia with the face of a Victorian clergyman and an ugliness a million miles from the charm the Della Robbia clan usually brought to their painted ceramics. Well, I suppose he was having an off-day.

go modern

If I were buying art at Frieze Masters, I would give most of the older works a wide berth. Leave them for museums who can weed out the really worthwhile and repair the bad restorations. Go for the moderns. At the Dickinson stand, there’s a fantastic Monet of a church beside a dazzling sea, and I believe every brushstroke is by Monet. I also believe Matisse drew every line in an exhibition of works by him at Thomas Gibson Fine Art. Annely Juda has beguiling sketches by the Russian abstract visionary Malevich — who’d have thought this severe artist had so much fun drawing?

Wait, isn’t that a Toulouse-Lautrec? The truth is that, for all my suspicions, there is beauty in bucketloads at this art fair. And it’s all for sale. Why can’t I enjoy that more? I feel tantalized. I also feel stupid. I kid myself that art is some great universal human possession when in reality it is a luxury good for the super-rich. Frieze is the temple to what art has become in our age: a millionaire’s toy.

I thought the first Frieze Masters last year was an improvement on the vacuity of the original fair — but now I realize it’s far worse, because it takes the entire history of art and turns it into an elitist shopping mall. This place disgusts me. It makes art into congealed money. Old paintings have never before looked dead in my eyes; they have always lived and breathed for me, until now. Here they are mummified by the market. Just stuff to trade, basically.

It’s like seeing your parents having sex: innocence is over. I leave through the darkened park, brooding on how an art fair has just taken everything I love and exposed it as shining trash sold by posh hucksters to rich idiots.

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