This feature is part of our week-long coverage of Frieze London art fair 2014, which runs from October 15-18 at Regent's Park and contains art from over 160 of the world's most exciting contemporary art galleries.
As we discussed in our review of this year's Frieze London, the art fair has taken some exciting risks in commissioning Frieze Projects and Frieze Live pieces that challenge and discuss the function of contemporary fairs and the art market.
At the entrance of this year's Frieze London, visitors will notice a booth that appears earlier than most booths do (and if anything, are usually the expensive property of big-name galleries like Gagosian or David Zwirner). With a bright red carpet that pops in the even brighter lights above, Shanzhai Biennial—the art trio whose name already includes the term for Chinese knock-offs and imitation culture ("shanzhai") and implies an examination of commercial art systems (notably, biennials, which they have now done three of)—has executed their Frieze Live commission. They are selling a a £32,000,000 house for Shanzhai Biennial No. 3: Hamilton Terrace, in addition to quilted calfskin, Frieze-branded bags for £5,000.
Shanzhai Biennial has decided to use their prime real estate at the fair to sell actual real estate in the heart of London, a city whose expensive housing market is continually discussed in relation to social inequality and urban sprawl. In twin retail installations at the booth and gallery Project Native Informant, Shanzhai Biennial have also taken the brand of Frieze a step further, commenting on the canvas bag typically given out at art fairs for free. In an interview with Art in America, they said, "If someone has a bunch of bags, [the art fair bag] is the worst bag that they have. But there's no bag that says more about their habits of consumption or the level of sophistication of their consumption—also their travel, and how often they're able to take a couple of weeks off."
In the same interview, they add, "It's clear that Frieze is a luxury brand with incredible cachet." Knowing that, they took their own brand, and that of Frieze, into other brilliant, important conversations. Read our interview with them below, and if you're in London, visit the fair and their booth today through Sunday, October 18 from 12 p.m. - 7 p.m.
What do you hope to communicate in "brand building" for Frieze, both about Frieze and the system of art fairs as a whole?
Shanzhai Biennial is really a brand, in fact probably more really a brand than "real" brands. It's a pure brand unencumbered by products—which are always really a drag on the aura of images of products—slowing down their circulation. Think for example of how many millions of people love and desire Louis Vuitton without ever owning a piece of it. At the end of the day, we produce only this kind of desire without having produced a single object for sale to date.
Why do you think you were approached by Frieze to complete your third Shanzhai Biennial as part of the new "Frieze Live" series?
We think it means our advertising is working? The first target of our campaigns is really the art world and press themselves. We basically say outright in all of our communications that we are not at all artists, and our work is completely self-serving, which has had the curious effect of making it impossible to believe.
What can people purchase from your booth at the entrance of Frieze?
We are using the cultural real-estate afforded us by Frieze to sell actual real estate in our booth. Our entire project is geared around promoting a 32 million pound estate: Hamilton Terrace (St John's Wood, London, NW8), for which we will of course be taking a healthy commission.
How do you think the art landscape, particularly performance art, has changed in recent years?
We can’t really speak to performance art in particular, but art in general has become more and more useful. For example, it’s indispensable to schemes of real estate development and "re-urbanization."
Contemporary art is popular and profitable. You see younger artists not only presenting themselves as corporations or trend forecasting agencies, but in fact being corporations and trend forecasters. It’s a transition from the coy idea of contradiction embodied by someone like Andy Warhol to a more pure and 1-dimensional hypocrisy.
But we don’t mean that in a bad way. It’s a complete social trend on all levels. Half the shows on television now don’t have a single redeemable character, and people love it.
How do you think collectors and the art market have shifted in order to buy or engage with performance art?
It’s very much like the change you see with social media—and involves the same challenge in monetizing peoples' attention. An artist may have a hundred thousand "likes," but when you do not produce objects, you present an initial problem for the market.
I think performance art is very much like advertising, which is why although SHANZHAI acts exactly like a brand, it is understood as a performance. An advertising campaign is like a military campaign; it is much more about taking territory than making money. It burns money to take territory. At the end, this territory, of course, is more valuable and scarce than money no matter it’s value on the market at any given time. Which is why at 32 million pounds, Hamilton Terrace is still an absolute steal, especially as it is soon to be inscribed in the history of art and culture through our performance at Frieze.
What's on the horizon for Shanzhai Biennial, given that you've already done three biennials in three years?
Well, addressing the previous question, we are in the process of developing a SHANZHAI BIENNIAL IPO to launch in the next two years, which we think is a rational approach to selling the kind of value we have been developing so rapidly over the past three years. After all, we’ve had three biennials in only three years—which is twice as many as any other biennial on earth.