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Enfants in terrible times

This year's Frieze Art Fair featured heaps of recycled ideas. And with budgets squeezed, decadence s

You didn't have to have read the papers to sense the end of something at Frieze. The excess that carried this event through its first five years, and helped to make the London art market a frenzied narcosis of Prada and oligarchs, seemed finally to have run dry. One snapshot of the credit crunch: a dealer from the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York trying to explain the merits of a room-filling David LaChapelle montage of a crystal meth orgy to a pair of well-coiffed Chinese women of a certain age. "David is all about extreeemes," he ventured, gesturing at the oiled flesh and piercings. "And plezzzhuh." The women looked at the bacchanal blankly, and moved on without inquiring about prices. Decadence is suddenly so last month.

At the White Cube stand on opening day, Sam Taylor-Wood and the Chapmans were trailing kids and gossiping as if at the school gates. They had a demob-happy air about them, as if chuffed not to be enfants in terrible times. The art was never quite the point of Frieze; that was always the buzz, generally loud enough to drown out any shouts about the emperor's new clothes. Adam McEwen parodied some of this art chat nicely in his ongoing series of wall-mounted text messages. "Haha ur sooo funny," reads one. But most pertinent, now that some of the in-jokes appear to be over, was another one-liner: "Grow up."

It was a message that might have found some takers among the clientele in Sirkus, an exact re-creation of their local bar made by Kling and Bang, Reykjavík's answer to Gilbert and George. Sirkus, on sale for £350,000, had presumably been intended to bring a little bit of boomtown Iceland to Regent's Park, but in fact was a well-timed monument to the big freeze, and as good a place as any to drown pension-plan sorrows. If this didn't help, assistance was nearby in the form of a foot massage from the Miami-based "artist of the mind" Bert Rodriguez.

Despite his services, most of the voyeurs who wandered among the 158 gallery spaces, weighing up paying £2.5m for Richard Prince's collage of girlie magazine covers, say, seemed already a bit footsore and world-weary, shopping for last year's ideas. For those without a budget, there was the usual highlights trail, like stations of the conceptual cross. This year it moved from Juergen Teller's full-length photo of a naked Kate Moss in front of a plum tree and on to the latest photographic instalments of Cindy Sherman's personal monster's ball; past a trademark Anish Kapoor buttocky protuberance, sparing a sympathetic glance at Michael Landy's art-school pencil portraits of his friends (Landy gave away all his possessions a couple of years ago as a stunt to end stunts, so he's starting from first principles), and on to some Damien Hirst butterflies in a sky-blue sea of paint. You ended up at Cornelia Parker's take on Larkin: a gravestone with "This Be the Verse" carved into it, mixing the "stone fidelity" of "An Arundel Tomb" with some of the poet's more infamous lines.

In among all this recycling, there were one or two memorable moments. O Zhang's photos of Chinese teenagers proudly wearing T-shirts with misspelt western slogans were a sharp take on shifting power lines, and you had to smile at Agnieszka Kurant's three parrots trained to bark like Rottweilers. The day was saved by another of Grayson Perry's glorious prints, this one a Mappa Mundi of the artist's interior life. Perry has that happy knack of incorporating everything you need to know about England at the present moment into his highly crafted etchings. Thus "plastic bag ban" has a little internal tenement, alongside "selfish gene", "Starbucks" and "a cure for evil". There is no time like the present for home-grown satirists, and Perry is fashioning himself into our own authentic, cross-dressing Hogarth.

Tim Adams is art critic of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 27 October 2008 issue of the New Statesman, The death of Gucci capitalism