"Thank God the artworld never changes."
I stare at my Christian Louboutin Pour Lili 120 pleated leather sandals. The bus we’re on trundles down the Caledonian Road. It’s been a long hard stretch inside Pentonville Prison for my friend Belgian Phil. Once he was a leading collector of Young British Art, but an incident involving a reneged-upon promise of first refusal on Chapman Brothers sculptures, a blameless White Cube sales intern and a shotgun ended in a lengthy sentence at Her Majesty’s Pleasure in North London.
“Indeed, Phil, indeed. Art will remain constant, my friend. In a few stops we’ll be at King’s Cross and then it’s a quick jog to Regent’s Park for Frieze.”
“Jog? What’s happened to my VIP car? Indeed, what’s happened to my VIP pass? What’s that printed-out-ticket thing you’re holding?” He peers at the piece of paper in my hand. “Fifty quid? You’re paying fifty quid for each ticket? But don’t we get in free?”
“Erm... times have changed a bit, Phil. You know, you were away for a long time and they refreshed the VIP manager a few times, and then the list organically evolved, and...”
“But what about you? Surely you have a VIP card?”
“Well, I did, but last year’s column about the fair didn’t go down so well. Matthew Slotover rescinded my pass and demanded that I never refer to that cover photo of him for Fantastic Man again.”
“What, you mean the one on the cover of issue 15 with the tagline ‘Mastermind of the Frieze art empire’ that you sent to me in prison? That cover made me very popular – my fellow inmates used to book it for 15 minutes of quality private time. Who would have known that prisoners could be so interested in contemporary art?” Phil looks into the middle distance, momentarily distracted before snapping out of it. “But fifty quid?”
“Well, Phil, these days you get two fairs for that price. Frieze and Frieze Masters, and Frieze is even better value for money, as it’s a smaller tent that’s more fresh and focused.”
“OK...” I can hear the hesitation in Phil’s voice, but then he perks up. “Well, as long as all my favourite drinking buddies, like Martin Klosterfelde and those girls from Rivington Arms, are there to welcome me again, I don’t really mind.”
I look outside and see a municipal swimming pool. I am filled with an almost unbearable melancholy. Suddenly clutching Belgian Phil by his now-faded two-tone Snoop Doggy Dogg Doggystyle Coat Jacket, I confess. “Look, Phil, things have changed. It’s not the artworld that you knew and loved. A curator was top of the Power 100 list last year!”
Phil looks stunned and upset. He topples sideways into the aisle of the bus, upsetting the Tesco bags of a tall, elegant African lady who is heavily wrapped in traditional dress.
“Who?!” he asks.
“Cote ti!” admonishes the African lady.
“Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev,” I reply to both.
Each looks at me blankly. “I know, I know,” I add, flustered. “Look, we were under pressure. The editor wanted us to be – you know – more intellectual than just nominating David, Larry or Iwan again.”
Phil picks up a mango and, after cupping it very gently and rolling it between his palms, hands it graciously back to our African beauty. “This is Africa’s year,” she intones. “This week at parties you must say how you skimmed Frieze in order to spend more time getting acquainted with sub-Saharan contemporary art at 1:54, the boutique contemporary African art fair at Somerset House, where you acquired a number of works with the intention of gifting them to a leading European museum.”
Phil looks at her in wonder, and then back to me. The bus slows and I motion to get up. He shakes his head.
“No, GG. You are right. The world has changed. You must go alone to Frieze. I will stay here with this kind lady. A new world awaits me: Africa.” He shuffles across the aisle, inadvertently stepping on his new friend’s Aso-Ebi, the traditional family dress of Yoruba persons. The dress rips, revealing a distinguished English gentleman sporting a set of rimless glasses.
“Hold on,” I cry. “You’re not an anonymous African lady. You’re Sir Ni...” But the man has stuffed the mango in my mouth and now strikes me firmly on the head with a ready-made Tesco value lasagne. The Belgian pushes me down the bus stairs with the cruel force that he must have used on the unfortunate White Cubette all those years ago. Dazed, I look up and see Phil and his new friend lean over the top of the stairs. They shrug their shoulders and burst into a P-Square-style Alingo dance routine. I fall out of the bus, alone, the lights of the Euston Road fading in autumn’s chilly embrace. GG
This article was first published in the October 2013 issue.