Frieze Artist Project Says Art Fairs Are All a ‘Rat Race’


On an Astroturf field, just outside the tent where Frieze Los Angeles is currently hosting its fifth edition at the Santa Monica Airport, is a literal rat race. The project, courtesy of LA-based artist Sharif Farrag, is part of a curated section titled “Set Seen” organized by the Art Production Fund.

For the work, Farrag has affixed ceramic sculptures, via zipties, onto several R/C cars that resemble large rats. Each is adorned with several iron-on patches meant to match the personality of each ceramic sculpture, including car numbers, license plates, and other decal-like symbols.

Related Articles

Will Ferrell at Frieze LA at the Santa Monica Airport on February 29, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

“I made the ceramics first and when I was picking out patches for each one I was thinking, how do I create a personality for each head,” Farrag told ARTnews as a race was going on.

For the performance, Farrag and his team, dressed in custom-designed white jumpsuits, line up six ceramic rats at the starting line and count down for the race. After three laps, a winner is declared. Oftentimes, the cars crash into each other and, by Thursday afternoon, a few of the rat sculptures had lost their ears. The first-place winner receives a trophy, topped with an orange ceramic cone made by Farrag, who presents it and takes a photo with the winner, just as if they had won a Formula One race.

“I wanted to build up energy by creating an incentive, so people actually wanted to win,” he said. “I’m learning that it actually makes a difference.”

I partook in one of the races-cum-performances, choosing the ceramic rat with a patch of Ghostface, called Ozone. Even with a practice run, I wasn’t very good, crashing into the cones that demarcated the track, hitting peoples’ feet, and even managing to run into the two-row bleacher that was not that close to the track.

Rat Race is Farrag’s first public project and builds on his ongoing body of work involving abstracted cars and motorcycles made in clay. “I wanted to try out making sculptures that could be interactive and activated by other people,” he said. “Then the rat race idea came up as a way to make fun of competition—winning, losing. … I think it’s also a way to address survival within competition.”

Atmosphere at Frieze LA at the Santa Monica Airport on February 29, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

Atmosphere at Frieze LA at the Santa Monica Airport on February 29, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.

River Callaway for ARTnews

As with a number of LA artists, like Jason Rhoades (whose car-related works are currently the subject of an exhibition at Hauser & Wirth in downtown LA), Farrag, who grew up in the Valley neighborhood of Reseda, said his interest in cars stems from the necessity of having to drive everywhere as an Angeleno, as well as his experience of being a food delivery person several years ago.

“Cars and transportation are a big part of my life—it’s why I keep making them [car-related sculptures], not because I love a [certain] brand of car,” he said. “I’m always in a Prius, going into zones while I drive. I come up with a lot of my ideas in the car. This is just another aspect of driving, just the race-side of it.”

There’s also a sense of humor imbued in the performance, which isn’t necessarily intentional, according to the artist. “The funny part is that I’m not even trying to be humorous, but I’m open to people laughing,” he said, beginning to laugh. “It’s just who I am; it’s kind of been that way all my life: ‘Oh yeah, that way funny? I said something serious.’”

But Farrag drew a comparison between his project and the high stakes of what was happening just inside the tent, especially on the fair’s first day where collectors are rushing to buy works (likely ones they had put on hold based on PDF previews), galleries aiming for a prime spot in the fair’s layout, or even artists showing with the right gallery.

“Being at an art fair, competition is prevalent.vThere are all these competitive parts [to an art fair] that are often overlooked. I wanted to address that competition and make fun of it,’ he said. Then, he added, “Today, people have been having fun. It’s also, in a way, a way to let off some steam from the fair.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *