In a few hours of this being written, the curtains will be closing on another week of London art fair crazy, as it shifts itself over to Paris for FIAC and another few days of hard selling. Before we kiss goodbye it’d be good to take a few minutes to praise that quirky and brave choice taken by only a few galleries throughout art fair, the “one artist booth”.
Often, as one trawls the isles of another bouncy floored and curiously lit marque, trying desperately to filter the cacophony of visual noise thrown out from every gallery the “one artist booth” is like a moment of calm, a moment when one can collect themselves and remember that, along with 99.9% of the visitors to these things, we’re here to actually look at art. This is the central Dickensian irony of the art fair – it’s the best place to see art, it’s the worst place to see art, it is a tent of wonder, it is a tent of boredom, and so on. The problem is of course that we the public are basically peripheral to the purpose of the fair, the exhibitors really don’t care about us because the public don’t actually buy art, and they will pretty much have a good idea of who their buyers already are, and the buyers don’t even get to the see the public as they have the place privately to themselves for a whole day beforehand, and, when forced into entering the fair on a public day, always have the luxury of the VIP lounges, entrances, cars and after hours meetings.
So why are we, the public, there? You could call it a fringe benefit to the organisers, and the public – with so much art on display it is a chance to see pretty much whatever you want, and worth £30 for tickets.
Which is what makes the single artist booth so interesting – the gallery are balancing making their booth stand out, against perhaps not drawing in the buyers who aren’t attracted to the work of the artist you’re displaying. Essentially it’s a risk, and in a risk averse market (or this type of risk anyway) it takes some balls. The payoff for the public is that we get to see art in some kind of gallery context, not lined on the walls like a super luxury version of Ikea’s interiors section.
The stand out single artist stand of this year’s Frieze was Kate MacGarry’s. The East London gallery leapt out from those around it with its electric blue carpet and selection of the work of Peter McDonald, his equally bright palette of blues, pinks, and yellows offering something calming through its equilibrium and balance, and also searing with energy. The bubble headed characters are both child-like and sophisticated, their opacity and interaction giving an idea of our permeability, of how we take up things and people in the world into ourselves, give an idea of an internal life. But it’s also just a huge relief to see something visually consistent, the funny thing being that while they might not even know it, this approach, especially when executed this well, does attract the public, it’s a generous and confident approach and it creates a buzz. In a world where most galleries are striving to be one of the big players, and do the conservative and hard edged commercial, it’s great to see someone bold and brave enough to really show art, to not bring it down to interior design.
By James Loks