432 Park Avenue in New York is home to a residential complex with possibly one of the nicest bathrooms you’re likely to ever come across and for a cool £5.6m, it can be yours. Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, showed us all the opposite end of the scale in one famous scene from ‘Trainspotting’. You know the one.
As I approached the gates of Frieze Art Fair last Friday, I was welcomed by a large Deutsche Bank symbol which seemed a little bit out of place. It wasn’t something I was used to seeing at art events that I had attended in the past.
At this point I was somewhat suspicious, and to be honest, not yet convinced.
As I got inside, I noticed the fair was being held in a fairly expensive looking marquee, and the more I investigated, the more I noticed phrases like ‘Art Works by Deutsche Bank’, ‘BMW Lounge’, ‘VIP Courtesy Car Service’ and ‘Free WiFi sponsored by Deutsche Bank’. Again, more clues, but still, I just can’t quite put my finger on it.
At this stage it had been a long afternoon and I decided a trip to the bathroom was in order so I wandered through the mix of people taking ‘selfies’ against art works, countless fedoras and flamboyance, up the slick black carpeted ramp and into what almost looked like a luxury ski cabin. Right then, on that very spot – it wasn’t so much as what scientists refer to as the ‘that’s odd moment’, it was more like the fabled ‘eureka moment’. It’s fair to say the bathrooms in Frieze Art Fair are definitely not 432 Park Avenue, but they are a lot closer to it than the ‘Trainspotting’ toilet or any other bathroom I’ve ever seen at an art exhibition. It was at this point that I realised, it was me that was out of place, not the sponsors.
The fair itself was how you would expect. There was a lot of really diverse pieces and in particular Richard Billingham’s work was really moving; and some work that I wouldn’t be a huge fan of personally, but it wasn’t the point. I didn’t belong there.
Some argue that the art world in general can be exclusive at times and alienate people, but there was more than just this in play at Frieze Art Fair. There was design in this, it was targeted, and not at me. It was sponsored by money because they expected money to be there and that’s who they wanted to appeal to.
I have seen many arguments for and against art fairs like Frieze. Some say that it commercialises art and takes it from the public domain into the private. Or it smothers creativity by guiding the work of artists into safer areas to appease buyers. Some support the fact that the artist is finally getting paid, and who can argue with that?
Whatever side you sit on, the reality is Frieze and fairs like it will continue as long as there is a market for it. Yes, there are negative sides to it, but there are positives too. Trying to control inevitable changes within industries is counter-productive and a waste of time.
I left Frieze Art Fair on Friday evening and pondered what I had experienced. Back to my flat, to my normal bathroom. No fancy ski cabins or bidet for me! It was safe – as safe as commercial art.