Yesterday was the opening day of Frieze, the international art fair in Regent's Park, four days when anybody interested in art – the art of being seen, that is – has to be there. The big opening was full of artists and VIPs from all over the world checking on their favourite galleries. I fell in love with and bought an abstract (not one of the more expensive works - and certainly not the painting I enquired about that turned out to cost 1.5 million). Maybe that swayed my judgement but I thought the general standard was higher than last year. The experts, on the other hand, were muttering darkly about the effects of the slump still being very real in the art world.
Art is, of course, the new couture: an indulgence for a few, most of whom are primarily interested in buying a name or an association with a super-cool gallery. I watched two trophy wives dressed in the height of fashion having a Howard Hodgkin explained to them. It was clear that they were bored but would buy, having been sent out by their doubtless wealthy husbands to do a little social shopping. One can only hope that some of their dinner guests might appreciate it. There are always quite a few of these elegant women on the first day. Most of them are Russian, Italian or Spanish, as far as I can tell. And beautifully dressed and bejewelled. There are also rather alarming men drifting around in bizarrely coloured suits. This time an Italian fashion businessman was wearing embroidered shoes – not for sale, thank God. The real experts are usually the nondescript little guys in macs rather than designer labels. They don't pose. They deal.
I finished off the day at the Royal Society of Arts, where I was part of a panel for a public discussion about the ethical and practical design implications and opportunities in hacking. I was there as an expert, but I confess that I learned a lot more than I gave. One of the Design and Society debates, it considered whether hacking design was folly or theft or, on the other hand, whether it heralded a new democratic dawn. Sadly, no conclusion was reached - largely because at least 10 minutes were lost when the power-point projection by lead speaker, Otto von Busch, froze and was very unwilling to unfreeze itself. The other speakers were David Godber of the Design Council; Paul Thompson, newly appointed Rector of the Royal College of Art, whom I had not seen for many years; and the chair, Scott Burnham. All bona fide experts and very interesting. Good questions from the floor. I found it very stimulating.