Prosthetic Aesthetics

"Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs, he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on him and they still give him much trouble at times." Sigmund Freud

Frieze Masters and Frieze Amateurs – Strong and Weak Aesthetics

The very naming of “Frieze Masters” implies that the original “Frieze” is populated by amateurs. Not in the derogatory sense, but in its original meaning of Amateur – “Lover of…”. It seems that every commercial brand concerned with beauty seeks to differentiate itself according to a Strong or a Weak aesthetic. This oversimplified categorization was introduced to me, over a Nando’s dinner, by Yearning Kru, artist and collaborator. The concept is that art tends to polarize itself into either the Weak (natural/amateurish/aboriginal/my-five-year-old-could-do-that), or the Strong (artificial/composed/classical/learned/”good drawing”).

This division has been exacerbated by certain “avant-garde” figures throughout art history who have championed the Weak while actually being Strong themselves: to name some obvious examples, Picasso, Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, Joseph Beuys, Cory Arcangel. Without putting too much of a political angle on things, the Strong tend to be self-perpetuating, dominating, elite ideas of what is “Beautiful”, whereas the Weak tend to champion the idea that “EVERYBODY IS AN ARTIST” (copyright Joseph Beuys) – and therefore the Weak is often dismissed because it is not seen to elevate human creativity above the conditions from which it emerges.

Giorgio Morandi: always a solid bet for Strong Aesthetics. On show at Frieze Masters, of course.

Cory Arcangel – Super Mario Clouds, Whitney Museum 2003. Although Arcangel has taken the folk-art of the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) to blue-chip status, this would not be shown in Frieze Masters…

Being an amateur used to be seen as an advantage. It meant that you were wealthy, and had the freedom from the enslavement of work in order to enjoy art, in order to spend time with literature, painting, history. As the world becomes increasingly industrialized, being a professional has taken over the socio-economic niche that used to belong to the amateur. Old money hates the Nouveau Riche, and it that exact same dynamic that leads to a split between Frieze Masters and Frieze Amateurs.

Frieze New York, 2012. SO-IL Architects designed the temporary structure on Randall’s Island. VIP Entrance.

Louis Vuitton – 150th Anniversary Pavilion. Not photoshopped.

Frieze has expanded voraciously. The Frieze banner includes publishing (Frieze magazine, Frieze deutschland), trans-Atlantic outreach programmes (Frieze New York), and satellite organisations of luxury goods (Frieze Masters). Note also the similarity between the Frieze machine, the LVMH luxury goods conglomerate, and the VICE fashion and lifestyle group. Between them, they span the entire range of aesthetics-for-sale.

In one corner, championing aesthetically Strong luxury goods, we have LVMH – (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennesy) -the self-proclaimed “world leader in luxury, and its portfolio of over 60 prestigious brands of Wines & Spirits, Fashion & Leather Goods, Perfumes &  Cosmetics”. All of their products are exceedingly well manufactured, with premium materials, packaging, and quality control.  In the other corner, championing the Weak aesthetic, we have the Vice conglomerate of magazine, publishing, creative agency, and related clothing labels. They champion Street Style, the ad-hoc, the thrown together, the just-fell-out-of-bed-with-this-outfit.

Attacking the culture of art fairs and the commercialization of beauty is ultimately futile. It is only a good thing that more and more people are able to witness art-objects and judge for themselves whether they are beautiful or ugly. If anything, it would be wonderful if the difference could be amplified – into two complementary art fairs, Strong Frieze and Weak Frieze. Buying a ticket secures could secure entry into both, so everybody can make up their own mind.


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