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Things I Saw and Ate at the Frieze Art Fair

The suckling pig roasting on a spit in the sculpture park outside the fair next to a circle of hip high rubber tongue sculptures was, as it turns out, not just for show.
Photo of Ryan McGinley photo, courtesy of Downtown Traveler (CC/Flickr)

There used to be a restaurant in New York that served live brine shrimp swimming in broth, whole fish cooked and then set into gelatin, and entrees consisting of osso busco and frog legs after which the bones were cleaned and turned into jewelry for you to wear home. Food was a place run by a group of artists who took turns playing chef, and turned cooking into a performance.

The original Food restaurant was only open from 1971-1974, but the concept was revived this year at the Frieze Art Fair on New York's Randall’s Island. The suckling pig roasting on a spit in the sculpture park outside the fair next to a circle of hip high rubber tongue sculptures was, as it turns out, not just for show.

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The menus at the Food 1971/2013 – created by a different artist each day – may not have been as peculiar as the original establishment, but then the NYC Health Department wasn’t handing out letter grades in rough and tumble SoHo back in the '70s.

Thursday’s Menu: Budae Jjigae soup; hardtack with smoked gouda, dried apricot and pineapple, and honey; red pepper beef jerky; hop pickles; TANG drink ($15) – courtesy of Matthew Day Jackson

Frieze touched down for the second time in New York a fortnight ago with its signature tent, on an island otherwise known for its stadium and its sanitarium. Over 180 galleries from around the world installed themselves inside, and weary but eager gallerists and their assistants put on their best impression of pigeons in the spring.

This year, there was a noticeable presence of art that evoked that idiom, “necessity as the mother of invention.” Like the original Food restaurant, which helped starving artists get together for a good feast, there were a number of projects that described innovations to help fulfill basic human needs created by a struggling underclass that is oppressed by or at odds with society at large.

So now you’ve had a little pork belly and some snout in the sun and some social consciousness, and you’re getting a little thirsty. You could hit the biergarten, but there is a special bar for you and your comrades who eschew the law.

A small number of safety deposit keys were handed out at random during the fair, directing you to an unmarked door that leads to a hidden room. Inside you find Liz Glynn’s Vault, a dark room decorated like a bank vault from the 1920s where you are treated to a drink and a cozy speakeasy-esque area to enjoy it in and a performance by the bartender.

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After a long day of slumming around questionable eateries and lawless drinking holes, it’s important to get a good night’s rest. As Krzysztof Wodiczko demonstrates with The Homeless Vehicle, you don’t need a homeless shelter to be homeless with shelter.

Originally introduced to New York City in 1988, this shopping cart on steroids was on display at Frieze courtesy of the Parisian/New York Galerie Lelong. It is said to comfortably sleep an adult, and it compresses to 1/3 of its full length for easy meandering between parks. Also of note—though not on display—is Wodiczko’s Poliscar, a single-person survival vehicle for community activists.

There was also art depicting more recent examples of underbelly innovators, such as [Antek Walczak’s huge panels of lead silkscreened with the new language of the Internet](http://realfinearts.com/index.php?/current/frieze-ny-2013/ ]) – spam bots, Russian mail order brides, and 419 scammers.

My brain hurts from thinking about this: whether art based on spam is still spam—or still art.