London art fair tributes decade that shook the world

One of the world’s largest art Fairs, Frieze London, is paying homage to the era with a new section: ‘The Nineties’

Saffiya Ansari

Published: Updated:

The end of the Cold War, the election of Nelson Mandela and the rocket-rise of the wonderfully wild Spice Girls, the 1990s was indeed a seismic decade.

Now, one of the world’s largest art Fairs, Frieze London, is paying homage to the era with a new section, “The Nineties.”

Fashioned by Swiss-born curator Nicolas Trembley, 14 European galleries have revisited and reconstructed ground-breaking exhibitions from the decade that have impacted contemporary art.

The ambitious section recreates art installations featured in galleries across London, Paris, Cologne and New York in the 1990s, an era dubbed “the decade the art world changed.”

Students of Western art know the 1990s for the pioneering, eyebrow-raising and sometimes shocking art of the Young British Artists, led by the now infamous Damien Hirst, which included the much talked-about Turner Prize shortlisted “My Bed” (1998) by Tracey Emin.

Emin’s piece, which scandalized the art community, was her real-life bed displayed in all its embarrassing, revealing glory. Stained sheets, worn underwear, tissues, cigarettes and empty alcohol bottles littered the bed and shone a less-than-rosy light on the artist’s life.

For his part, Trembley strives to spotlight other artists who made their mark in the decade, in a conscious bid to not over-promote the YBAs in his exhibition.

To that end, Trembley invited Berlin-based gallery Mehdi Chouakri is showcasing work by Sylvie Fleury, a contemporary Swiss pop artist much-loved for her sculpture and mixed media works.

Born in 1961, the Geneva-based artist is “known for her portrayal of the commercialization of fashion and luxury,” a gallery representative told Al Arabiya English.

Her piece "A journey to fitness or how to lose 30 pounds in under three weeks" grabbed attention with 12 TV monitors from the erase, playing a loop of staid fitness videos.

Also popular with the heaving crowd was a quirky piece by French artist Pierre Joseph “Characters to be Reactivated,” originally conceived between 1991 and 1995, at the Air de Paris gallery booth.

The dynamic work features a “human sculpture” which is replaced by a photograph after day one of the exhibition. A gallerist told Al Arabiya English that they had “tried very hard to retrieve some of the photographs sold after the first showing in the 1990s, but clearly nobody was willing to sell!”

The envelope-pushing work on show is the product of an era when “artists were in a very liberated position,” Trembley, who was unavailable for comment at the fair, previously told Frieze magazine’s Caroline Roux.

“Ideas and politics were more important than objects - there was a kind of dematerialization,” he added, “the artists were free to question to the context of art, and engage the social issues of the time - the breakdown of the Berlin wall, the AIDs crisis, and the emergence of the web.”

Despite a trend toward such global issues, artist Richard Billingham decided to use his artistic magnifying glass to documented the life of his family who lived in a chaotic flat outside Birmingham in a series of giggle-worthy photos titled “Ray’s a Laugh” (1996).

Billingham exploded on to the art scene with his work featured on the cover of Artforum International Magazine by January 1997.

The Nineties section at Frieze London has selected the most iconic photos from the series which, according to gallerists at the event, have not been seen since 1996.

Frieze London and its sister fair Frieze Masters feature more than 300 galleries from around the world, with the event set to run until Oct. 9 in London’s Regent’s Park.