LONDON — How to describe Frieze Masters? Think of a free market version of Tate Modern, the National Gallery, the British Museum, and the V&A, all collaged together inside a tent. It’s enormous — though not so vast as the original Frieze, across Regent’s Park to the south — and scattered with gorgeous objects dating from around 3,000 BC to now.
The best thing about it is wildly unexpected, even nutty, juxtapositions of items that, in conventional art history, have nothing in common whatsoever. This occurs particularly on the stalls occupied by two dealers specializing in divergent fields.
Thus Karsten Schubert makes a nicely odd couple with the Tomasso Brothers, producing a display of Bridget Riley’s trademark curvilinear abstractions next to renaissance and classical marble sculptures. I’m still wondering why it works, but it does.
Similarly wacky exercises in art historical compare-and-contrast are to be seen in the space that is shared by Peter Freeman and Kunstkammer Georg Laue. The latter contributes a chamber of curiosities items, including a marvellous display of racquets used for the game of pallone, but resembling spiked sculptures by Brancusi. There’s also a jointed lay-figure of the kind used as an ever-patient model by 18th-century artists, but looking distinctly surreal. Nearby, just as curious in their way, are minimalist drawings by Agnes Martin.
Hauser & Wirth team up with Moretti, so a gleaming, rather phallic modernist bronze by Hans Arp (a.k.a. Jean Arp) confronts a 15th-century Italian cassone panel. That Arp, from a more orthodox point of view — early modernism famously being inspired by ancient and non-European cultures — might have had something in common with some of the fabulous things at Rupert Wace. Among these are a large Cypriot pot, various Bactrian ritual objects also with a strongly phallic look, and a pre-dynastic Egyptian vessel, all from the third millennium BC.
As I walked around, my eye was often caught by the older and odder things. At Sam Fogg, a leader in the medieval stakes, I was stopped in my tracks by a brass chandelier from the Southern Netherlands, c. 1480-1520, which is a dead ringer for the celebrated light fitting in Van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait.” At Helly Nahmad is a rather different sort of artistic inspiration: recreations of heavily graffitied interiors from the mental institutions visited by Jean Dubuffet in the 1940s, when formulating his style based on the art of the insane. Opposite is a selection works by the artist.
At least one exhibition managed to combine antiquity and classic modern in one piece: part of a focussed exhibition of works byMichelangelo Pistoletto from 1958-61 at Galleria Continua features a cast of a classical bronze orator facing his own reflection in a gigantic mirror.
There are plenty of museum-class objects on show, ranging over 5,000 years. Bridget Riley is not the only living artist given spotlight treatment. Marlborough Fine Art has, naturally enough, an array of works by Frank Auerbach, including a fine charcoal portrait of his friend and fellow artist Leon Kossoff from 1950, which actually predates the earliest piece in the current Tate retrospective.
There’s also a splendid Sickert of the Church of St Jacques, Dieppe, at the Fine Art Society; fine Florentine sculpture at Bacarelli and Botticelli; and an intriguing display of early Christo — emerging from pop art and abstract painting — at Annely Juda. Indeed, there’s far too much worth looking at to list here. A dealer I was chatting with suggested that Frieze Masters is now the best London art fair — better than Frieze itself. Obviously he’s not an unbiased witness, but I suspect he’s right.
First published by Blouin Artinfo