‘Welcome to Purgatory’ it says on the wall of the entrance corridor to this year’s Frieze London art fair, a message likely to be greeted with a wry smile by those with a queasy ambivalence about the form and function of this kind of event.

But while artist Lutz Bacher’s black walls and scrawled white text – one of seven Frieze Projects’ commissions – sets a darkly detached tone, the light and colour returns in abundance once you’re inside.

Featuring 164 galleries from 27 countries, this 13th edition feels frenetic and fast paced – or maybe that’s just a reflection of how busy it was on Tuesday’s VIP/press view. With strong solo presentations and some inventive group shows, it’s also less gimmicky, more serious in tone – Mark Leckey’s giant inflatable Felix the Cat at Galerie Buchholz being perhaps one exception.

French artist Camille Henrot at Galerie Kamel Mennour is a particular highlight. Including a series of cartoon-like watercolours that document and parody modern lives – a naked woman in a variety of awkward positions with a laptop, a man masturbating over the same – at its centre is a bronze, abstract sculpture of a contorted body. It’s a strong show that manages to transcend its art fair context.

Sculpture is the sole focus of an enjoyable group presentation at Hauser & Wirth, announced by a quote on the wall from Ruth Asawa: “Sculpture is like farming. If you just keep at it, you can get quite a lot done.”

Exhibited on 42 white plinths, a fascinating collection of work by artists including Louise Bourgeois, Paul McCarthy, Mark Wallinger and Isa Genzken creates a grid of modern sculptural history – and an island of thoughtful reflection.

There’s more to reflect on at Mexico City gallery kurimanzutto’s stand, which presents work by Jimmie Durham, Hyundai Commission artist Abraham Cruzvillegas and Gabriel Orozco. With Durham’s sculptures from found objects, plus Cruzvillegas’ assemblage and Orozco’s painting, it’s a cleverly curated show that’s worth lingering over.

Integral to the fair

Also worth spending some time with this year are the other Frieze Projects commissions which, after a couple of ropey years, now feel like an integral part of the fair again.

Entered via a large grey rectangular box, Jeremy Herbert’s piece requires you to stoop down as you descend into the bowels of the Frieze marquee. There’s a wind machine involved, too.

American artist Rachel Rose – winner of the 2015 Frieze Artist Award – also has some fun with the Frieze tent. She has created a scaled miniature version which we’re invited to go inside. There’s a nice carpet on the floor, relaxing music and colourful theatre lights – it’s like an art fair chill out zone.

There’s space to relax – and recharge your phone – at art collective AYR’s commission, too. Inspired in part by Airbnb, they have created an installation consisting of a series of small bedrooms with double beds, which visitors are encouraged to lounge on.

Most interesting, though, is the work by French art group castillo/corrales. As part of their ongoing project, The Social Life of the Book – which looks at publishing in the art world – they commissioned four writers to produce new sections for an ever-expanding book that will be bound together as one publication once complete.

Only two of the four writers actually hit their deadline for the Frieze commission – a comment on the publishing process itself, perhaps – and their works are available to buy at the fair, along with earlier texts.

Other notable gallery stands at this year’s Frieze include Berlin’s König Galerie with its sharply presented collection of works by Katharina Grosse, Tatiana Trouvé, and more from Camille Henrot; David Zwirner (Chris Ofili and Francis Alÿs in particular); and, in the Focus section for young galleries, Amie Siegel’s Double Negative film installation at Simon Preston Gallery (New York).

At London’s Corvi-Mora, meanwhile, a small collection of Imran Qureshi’s visceral paintings combine both beauty and an aura of death in a blood-red explosion of horror. It’s a jolt of reality from inside the Frieze tent that provides a reminder of the power of art – and perhaps the purgatory of art fairs.

Frieze London continues at Regent’s Park, London, until Saturday 17 October, 12-7pm. friezelondon.com

See more images from the Frieze London VIP/press view on a-n’s Instagram feed 

Also on a-n.co.uk

Frieze week 2015: London’s October art fairs by Jack Hutchinson

Sluice_2015: talks, takeovers and a new publication by Stephen Palmer

A Q&A with… Abraham Cruzvillegas, Hyundai Commission artist by Richard Taylor