Frieze Frame: A Snapshot of the New York City Art Fair

Frieze Frame: A Snapshot of the New York City Art Fair

Art lovers all around New York City flocked to Frieze Art Fair on Randall's Island. Here we look at the standouts of an intense (and perhaps insane) event

Art lovers all around New York City flocked to Frieze Art Fair on Randall's Island. Here we look at the standouts of an intense (and perhaps insane) event

Text: Eduardo Andres Alfonso

Sprawled out on a single level, Frieze New York hosted over 200 galleries, 10 restaurants, VIP Lounges, a bookstore, lectures, discussions, and cocktail parties for four days in a tent on Randall’s Island. It is a pop-up city, on the scale of Burning Man, but with more bureaucracy, and the trimmings of Chelsea. It is not a festival; it is a space that triggers the emotions symptomatic of spending too much time in shopping malls. This, to be fair, is not specific to Frieze. All art fairs, and the exhibitors who participate in them, contend with the grey zone between temporariness and institutionalism in someway, and many try to build out a sense of place through curation and installation.

Many of the micro-exhibitions at Frieze took advantage of nomadic circumstances. The “Spotlight” section, “dedicated to solo artist presentations,” was certainly the most youthful and vibrant-feeling area of the fair, and had the character of a small museum more than a trade fair. Valerie Keane’s pendant sculptures, exhibited by High Art from Paris, were shown vis-à-vis steel frames, allowing the pieces to hang off the ground unobstructed. They were a uniquely bizarre set of forms, and stood out as both mature and fresh, not just within the section but the fair at at large.

Valerie Keane, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and High Art, Paris.

More exhibitors worth noting from within the Spotlight oasis were Cooper Jacoby’s show with Mathew Gallery from Berlin. Elevated on a steel platform, the fossilized gutters made of fiberglass resin that were shown at its perimeter had an air of belonging in a natural history museum. Night Club’s presentation of Gordon Hall’s The Unset, a varied set of fragments, is composed of a family of objects which are at once a single sculptural landscape and distinct groups of works, which can be arranged according to the artists rules of relationships. The groupings shifted several times throughout the exhibition, and had the playfulness a children’s block set. These three booths (and Sam Moyer’s work, mentioned later) contended with the limitations of the art fair. Their booth retrofits were easily the most successful out of the many that used a similar strategy.

Gordon Hall, The Unset (in two configurations), 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Night Club, Chicago.

Other galleries decided to forego curated ensembles all together in favor of solo presentations. Sam Moyer’s installation with artist Rodolphe Janssen was the most striking transformation, and is deserving of the superlative best makeover. A plywood shell, built in her Greenpoint studio, was transported to Frieze and re-installed about 2 feet off the walls of the white cubicle creating a more intimate space. The warm browns of the plywood instantly humanized the booth and played off of the natural marbles, which Moyer uses in here abstract “paintings.” The term painting does little to describe the structural and material prowess of these works: they are assemblages made by insetting marble and granite slabs into a canvas. They are so precisely made that the marble flutters between being perceived as an image and as a material creating confusion between painterly effect and material appliqué.

Sam Moyer, installation view. Courtesy of the artist and Rodolphe Janssen Gallery, Brussels.

Many galleries balanced multiple artists within a limited space to great success. Rachel Uffner’s booth paired Pam Lin’s sculptures with Leonhard Hurzlmeier’s witty portraits of matriarchs, femme fatales, and bathers. While it may have been one of the denser constellations of work stuffed into a space scantly larger than 10’ x 10’, it was well calibrated. Set in a few large groups atop of Enzo Mari tables, Pam Lin’s ceramic sculptures are the result of a research-based practice, which idealizes and recreates forms from the Soviet avant-garde, where sculpture, architecture and design were held as the way towards utopia. The references to both Enzo Mari’s open-source D.I.Y. practice and the communist avant-garde came across as sarcastic given the extremely high volume of money being exchanged in the name of art, but frankly if you can’t find a small pleasure in the irony then you would’ve likely had a panic attack upon entering.

Pam Lins and Leonhard Hurzlmeier, installation view. Courtesy of Rachel Uffner, New York.

Insituto de Vision from Bogota, Colombia, received well-deserved praise for its salon style installation of Otto Berchem’s botanical paintings. The silhouettes of foliage rendered in flat black and overlaid with vertical bars of primary colors were explained to me by the Insitituto’s charismatic director Beatriz Lopez as a method the artist has used to survey the fauna of Colombia, which is strikingly different than that of his native Connecticut. Pia Camil’s stunning Tunica para una mujer added more color to an already saturated set of works creating a mood which was not at all somber in contrast to many others. The booth, like many other international exhibitors at the fair, was a friendly reminder that art is definitely alive and well outside of major American cities and European capitals.

Wilson Diáz, Otto Berchem and Pia Camil, installation view. Courtesy of the artists and Instituto de vision, Bogota.

At the end of a long visit, Avery Singer’s most recent painting, created for Frieze, which was on view at Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler made for a great paragon of the anxieties and successes of the fair at large. The painting shows the head of a cybernetic woman, modeled in polygons. The grey head fades into the gray background. A blue grid that is projected into the space of the painting defines the depth of the head. Besides being an excellent painting, exhibiting both classical prowess and contemporary edge, it was also strikingly emblematic of the psychological delirium that is Frieze.

Avery Singer, Untitled, 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.

Many galleries entirely boycott the ordeal, but it looks like it is here to stay. So while volume alone may have made the whole scene somewhat inaccessible, it is also the sheer scale of the enterprise that draws thousands of visitors back to the tents on an island that once housed an insane asylum. Again, art takes irony.

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