Never has the art market had so much power over the perception of what is happening in the art world. Never have the market and the majority of young artists’ aims been so far apart. Frieze London is at the heart of the market in full swing, but one also catches glimpses there of underlying and yet to be determined commercial trends. The three trends I am following for this article have all been noticed by the market, but their impact has still not been fully felt. The most obvious, financially driven of the three is the constant thirst for painting, despite many curators’ spin. The second trend is actually highlighted by Frieze with their introduction of the new Live section: the revival of the importance of performance in art, which in itself is almost anti-commercial, though not nearly as much as it was in the 1970s. The final trend, which interests me most, started in the 1980s in Communist Moscow and is about finding a balance between image and text, and between meaning and aesthetics. It is possible to trace this back to Malevich.
Some of the 10 artists under 40 listed below are market darlings; all of them are showing at Frieze, and so by definition, are not exactly unknown. Grading artists is a degrading exercise, as good artists are invariably trying to revise our vision of the world, our values, and our hierarchies; therefore I have ordered them as I did in my book Global Art Compass, in order of their recent impact on me.
Nilbar Gures is a feminist Kurdish artist, who lives and breathes the troubles at the heart of our civilization. She draws, makes collages and films, and organizes performances within Turkish communities. Her Istanbul gallery, Rampa, is at the fair. In the spirit of Francis Alÿs, she refuses to quite yield to the demand for pure painting, but her drawings and collages tease that desire nicely.
Idris Khan is the most famous artist on my list and he has just made a wall drawing for the reception of Deutsche Bank’s Birmingham building. He was born in the Black Country. He broke the mold of expectation at the Royal College by producing a photographic work that consisted of every water tower photograph ever made by the King and Queen of European photography, Professors Bernd & Hilla Becher. It was as if the photographs were laid one on top of each other. He has adapted this technique to music scores and books. This play on how we receive information today is taken further in the Birmingham wall drawing, in which he builds a star out of printed words from a poem. If one goes close up one can read glimpses, patches, but never could you get the whole poem. Knowledge and poetry are but fragments.
Waqas Khan! I seem to like the clan Khan. He comes out of the school of miniaturists at Lahore in Pakistan. His teacher was Imran Qureshi (whose work can be seen at Corvi-Mora). Five years ago, I ran faster than others to help Deutsche Bank get their first works from Frieze. He later became Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year. Qureshi now makes large installations as well as miniatures, though there is invariably a micro/macro relationship, as there is with Waqas. He is a big man, but his net-like drawings are obsessive, with holes to let the mind loose.
Sun Xun makes films. He essentially sells stills that he has drawn for the films. The relationship between movies and painting/drawing is changing all the time as our visual vocabularies are changing.
Hasan and Husain Essop are twins and much of their work, not surprisingly, is about identity. It is the first time that I have seen Chestbeating (2014), in Goodman’s booth in Artsy’s preview of the fair, but this photograph of a close up detail of a man beating his chest seems to focus on the different meanings chest beating might have to different people. The Essops are Muslims living in South Africa, and their idea of the self and the ego blurs into a bigger view of society. Chest beating can imply an internal crisis, but it can also be seen as an act of mourning for someone else.
Carla Busuttil is also South African and is being shown by Goodman. She won a Deutsche Bank Award when she was at the Royal Academy, London. It is a perennial complaint that “painting is dead.” Nowadays, few artists can be put in the neat boxes of “painters,” “sculptors,” or “photographers.” Ironically, this seems to propel the rising prices of some of the purer exponents whose work has become increasingly coveted—the paintings of Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, Georg Baselitz, Michael Borremans, and Marlene Dumas will all be selling at Frieze and are in great demand. And the galleries are keen to find painters to fill their illustrious steps. There are other painters being touted, such as the very hot Adrian Ghenie and Nicholas Party, but Carla Busuttil is very much a rough painter—her subjects are the rough people who try to rule over us: dictators.
Despina Stokou is a Greek painter who lives in Berlin and is shown by EIGEN + ART, the gallery responsible for propelling the Leipzig School and other painters to fame and fortune. Stokou lets words come out of paint. She only had her first show with EIGEN last year.
Pablo Bronstein is only down at number eight as I have not seen enough work of his lately. He draws like a dream. Architecture, and how we relate to it, has been his overriding theme. At the ICA, his dancers contorted themselves using the past etiquette of the body in front of ‘stage sets’ of buildings. I also love to see his work at Herald St. Choreography increasingly seems to be coming part of an artist’s armoury, as witnessed by Marcel Dzama and Elad Lassry.
Sometimes one just goes with pure, easy visual appeal. The works by Devasher at Project 88 fill that role with me this year. Twelve prints of clouds against a blue sky in a block.
Fairs are about surprises. Romanian artist Ciprian Muresan has made two drawings out of the lives of and books about Piero Della Francesca and Malevich. Either one could prove to be my most coveted work in the fair. As the Malevich show (currently at Tate Modern) reminds me, his broader concept of abstraction still feeds young artists.
Alistair Hicks is Senior Curator at Deutsche Bank and the author of Global Art Compass, Thames and Hudson, 2014.