Sunday, October 18, 2009

Frieze Week: Tuesday

Damien Hirst - as may well have become evident in the past decade - is not a man to do things by halves. Not a skull with zirconia, not a cabinet of real pills, not a pickled terrier, and now not a normal white-walls-and-bare-brick Soho gallery. No, Damien has paid £250,000 to refurbish rooms in the Wallace Collection, hanging them with his own blue silk as a backdrop to his 25 new paintings. And last night everyone came to see, spectate and gawk.

Damien was keeping well away from the throng upstairs, almost all of whom were talking about whether he would turn up or not, looking gleeful at both possibilities. It was pure luck that when I went in search of a drink, I found him in the courtyard, which was mostly empty; he was looking much more relaxed than he would once word spread and the photographers realised.

His new paintings - all done by Damien himself, rather than his previous production-line approach - are not a wholly-new departure for him, since they feature his favourite motifs: skulls, butterflies, spots. They float on deep blue backgrounds with thin white cages locking them into the plane. There is some terrific brushwork and not a little Francis Bacon.

'Bacon? Who's he? Never heard of him,' says Damien when I ask him about his influences. 'I prefer eggs and beans.'

Setting himself against the old masters of the Wallace Collection - Gainsborough, Velazquez, some great Murillos - creates a grand prospect for failure. I'll leave his degree of success up to you.

What was a certain success was the party: Tracey Emin, one of the Chapmans, one of the Gallaghers, Alexander McQueen, Patrick Cox, Nicky Haslam, Jay Jopling, Lily Cole (looking like one of the baby-faced Gainsboroughs). Ivor Braka, the art dealer, was almost refused entry because he looked too scruffy.

The core crew peeled off to Jay Jopling's dinner afterwards.

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The other big dinner last night was that for Ed Ruscha, who is having a retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, at Skylon. Guestlist to follow...

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Afterwards, to the Anish Kapoor after-party at the Royal Courts of Justice. Oh yes, art has invaded the law. (Only a matter of time before there's an art gathering in the PwC boardroom.) Anish had been showing new work at the Lisson Gallery, but many people went straight to the Royal Courts, which looked more like Cannes in July than the Strand in October. There was gentle orange lighting, plenty of trees and sofas, and so many cocktails it gave new meaning to 'being called to the bar'.

The crowd was mainly collectors early in the evening and gallerinas later on. Plenty of people made a beeline for Nick Hackworth of Paradise Row, but there were also notable spots from Sotheby's, Sky Arts and almost every gallery north of the river.

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Today: Frieze opens to collectors, Frieze launch party late tonight, the Tatler and Vanity Fair parties, a party at Christie's for their contemporary sales this week and All Visual Arts at One Marylebone.

Read Monday's diary here
Read Wednesday's diary here

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