You could be excused for trying to buy the three Meyer lemon trees at Frieze London in the booth of Los Angeles gallery Various Small Fires, which is staging Survival Piece V Part II: Lemon Orchard Fragment by the husband and wife duo of Helen Meyer Harrison and Newton Harrison. They are beautiful, especially when lit not just by the standard art fair booth lights, but also by photosynthetic lights atop them, lodged into thick hexagons of dark mahogany.
But while the lemons the trees produce are free, the trees themselves are not for sale. Hung behind them are framed Survival Piece instructions by the Harrisons, and when followed correctly, you can grow an orchard yourself. (The works are $45,000.) It’s called Survival Piece because you can use these instructions to grow lemon trees in case of, you know, nuclear holocaust. Various Small Fires won the Frieze Art Fair Stand Prize: Focus Section 2017, and in the announcement, the judges lauded the fact that it was both “timely and conceptual.”
The booth is a nice tweaking of what an art-fair display can be, but Focus, a sector of the fair that lets in only galleries that were opened in 2004 or later, is chalk full of great presentations that are often more adventurous than what is on offer from the big cruise ships in the main sector of the fair. Serving as advisers for the section were MoMA PS1 curator Ruba Katrib, who’s a new Frieze hire, and Fabian Schoeneich.
A varied crew of spaces brought a welcome oddball character to the proceedings. Oslo’s VI, VII built an entire fitting room in the fair— an installation by Than Hussein Clark, lush with green and red carpets and beads strewn on the walls. Collectors can buy the objects, or, as one would do in a true fitting room, they can have bespoke dresses made for them. Depending on the materials used, those can run up to $20,000.
Brussels and Bushwick’s Clearing gallery, always a highlight of the fair’s Focus sector, had on offer a new work by Korakrit Arunanondchai, Untitled (Dirt Painting), 2017—cracked eggshells and menacing tubes emerging from the tar—for $80,000, and a striking 2015 sculptural work by Zak Kitnick that was being shown in what feels like the appropriate city. It consists of a series of cheap umbrellas on plastic folding tables, one red umbrella mixed in mischievously among the black ones. Shockingly, it didn’t even rain in London during Frieze for once!
At Seventeen, Jimmy Merris presented a video installation for £4,000 (about $5,230), the television sets stacked atop one another, but he also gave the booth a few paintings. He began painting just a few years ago, and made these works alone in a desolate part of Wales. Fittingly, they show a figure steeped in isolation and despair. The gallery had already sold a few of them for £5,000 ($6,530).
Next to Various Small Fires was another booth recognized by the Frieze higher-ups. A work by Hannah Black, at the booth of Arcadia Missa, had been acquired by Tate Modern through the 2017 Frieze Tate Fund, an endeavor sponsored by the Frieze investors WME | IMG. The three-channel video installation is made all the more lovely by figurines in little T-shirts sitting on benches, which Black first showed at Bodega in New York, where some were acquired by the Julia Stoschek Collection. They’re just sitting there in the booth, letting us watch them watch the work.