Frieze NY - 2016

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Frieze NY - 2016

Postby NYC_Correspondent-tm » Thu May 12, 2016 7:00 pm

Early May is such a mixed-up time here in New York . We’ve shed the worst of the terrible winter, have been rewarded with sweet bursting of cherry blossoms and other flowering trees that introduce some organic color back into the dull brown and greys that we have endured since fall, and are patiently waiting for the strident heat of summer. This mid-spring in particular has been especially grey, cool and rainy. It was on one of these days that I navigated my way up to the Frieze art fair, currently in its fifth iteration in New York. Located on a grassy stretch of Randall’s Island - a bit of land between Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan - the Frieze has the sense of being removed yet present. It slides into the landscape, energetically far from the action of the city, but provides its own burst of colors inside.

Getting up there and back is a fucking chore, particularly without a car. There are really two options, either taking a special ferry from the 34th street or the 90th street piers, or a bus from the east side of Manhattan. I took the more frequent ferry at 90th Street. North Brooklyn to the fair was an hour and a half schlep on two trains, a long walk, and a ferry. The ferry ride, however, is quite nice - with the skyline to the left and the island to the right. Randall’s Island is actually the northern half of conjoined islands - the other half is Wards Island, most famously home to the looming institutionally monolithic Manhattan psychiatric hospital. Also, Rikers Island prison is not far away. As my friend remarked to me about Frieze at its location - Art Prison. Not quite, but not too distant.

Upon stepping foot out of the ferry onto Randall’s Island, I felt a sense of ease that occurs only when I leave the concrete and steel tunnels and alleys of the city, or after a particularly decent yoga class. The island is still close enough to feel a part of the city, but distant enough to produce some breathability and perspective. Up a slight incline on the walkway from the ferry landing looms the enormous snaking tent that houses the fair. But this is far form any pavilion or camping tent. Rather, the structure is more a fully functioning convention center, measuring 15,000 feet long, with a 250,000 sq. ft. interior. Each year, the north entrance lawn - the one closest to the ferry landing, has featured a towering welcoming sculpture. For example, 2013 featured a Paul McCarthy shiny prodigiously sized red twisted balloon-like dog. This year featured an inflatable cartoonish crying baby in a diaper in a splayed crawling pose, with a massively cheeked, wide-opened mouth, a single tooth in the upper middle, while the top of the head was comparatively miniaturized. The installation, by Alex Da Corte, was called Free Money, and was inspired by the Batman movie in which the villain, The Joker lures people onto the streets with a parade, then festoons them with free money, only then to gas them with disfiguring poison. An apt, sardonic warning to anyone entering, although a little too smugly self-referential.

Also on the north lawn, I saw the last moments of a performance installation by Eduardo Navarro. The performance consisted of a group of people dressed in mauve longsleeves, grey flannel overalls and a matching soft helmet, with a circular mirror attached around each of their waists, and a smaller one on the top of their heads. The piece was meant to reflect the unpredictable movement of clouds, thereby acknowledging and transmitting transitory states. The outfits blended nicely in the overcast afternoon, although a more open puffy cloud spring day would have been eventful, as I ended up focusing on the performers and their outfits more than the reflections that comprised the performance.

Regardless of individual success of these pieces, both installations extended the fair into the outside world, dissolving some of the physical and psychic boundaries that form the parameters of an otherwise market driven event in a confined space. Add the island location, and the fair succeeded in its crafting of its own footprint, removed from the even stricter confines of the adjacent urban grid.

Walking into the fair is as overwhelming as walking into any other wide open space bustling with people, and stuffed with art. But because the tent was only so wide, and extending in a few rows for the entire length, the primary navigational work was already done. Moreover, the design of the tent allowed generous amounts of natural, yet diffused light to pour in, creating an even more open feeling. In this sense too, the tent is ideal for the location and for reducing some of the anxious intensity that comes along with exposure to so much visual stimulus within a concentrated locus.

Just beyond the entrance, one of the first pieces that blew out my retinas was a Carsten Höller plush-toy-pink octopus on the ground in the Massimo de Carlo booth, tentacles curled and stretched, with partially-closed yet alert eyes peering from atop a sac head. The lightly, almost furry, textured surface both adding to, and detracting from a sense of realism. As I hadn’t had enough coffee yet, the cognitive dissonance happily confused additional neurons, priming me for the onslaught ahead. As I wound my way around the booth, I ran into a set of fantastic black and white Rob Pruitt panda prints hanging next to each other - one an inverse black/white of the other. These each contained a compilation of varying pandas from realistic in bamboo laden environments, to electrified street-art clips such as one on a toilet with an interlocking line, vibrating background, and one sitting with a boombox on its lap, appearing to wear headphones. The effect was immersive, mandala-like, and abstracting, causing a readjustment of cuteness perspective.

Not much farther into the fair, I walked right into the Pace gallery which was crammed a solo Fred Wilson exhibition. Amongst the works exhibited, were one of his glass, glossy chandeliers, and black glass drips on the walls. A number of other galleries throughout also featured solo exhibitions by major artists. Among the big draws were William Kentridge at Marian Goodman’s booth. I love most things Kentridge, and this small collection, while mish-mash by its nature, was wonderful. The booth had a couple of his kinetic sculptures, metal frameworks on a rod, and one swirling metal with a red and black accordion - both with metal hand cranks - machinery from a former era - that spun the attached sculpture. I didn’t see these in action, but ones I’ve seen before create an entirely new image as the sculpture spins. One wall also featured a series of his dictionary pages with ink drawings. The largest pieces on the back wall were made from Indian ink and torn paper on soft textured Hahnemuehle paper. My favorite of the bunch was of a sketched out skeleton riding a horse over a pile of blotty heads, entitled Plague II.

Gagosian was wagging his Damien Hirst around, now that their relationship has been patched up, and the booth attracted some of the largest crowds. The centerpiece on the back wall was one of Hirst’s dominating iridescent circular butterfly wing mandala that drew all eyes directly toward it. Up close, the wings were mixed and mingled with paint - as engaging in detail as from distance. Additionally on site was a tank containing a black sheep with golden curled horns suspended in formaldehyde that incited the most chatter. Surprisingly, maybe my favorite was an almost miniature work from his dots series. Most of the series I detest as cynical, but the small form had the dots packed close together like pixels, and was subtly sublime where everything else was brash.

Like any vast art fair, there were far too many booths and works to recall. And there was nothing really creating any cohesive theme to the fair and therefore, made it impossible to thread through the experience. I know I missed, or passed by loads of wonderful work, even as I was dismissing so much as agitatingly shameless marketplace pieces, like giant rusted, twisted nails by the Cuban duo Los Carpinteros (which apparently were widely loved, but I found to be annoying and begging for a Connecticut living room floor). But there was plenty of great work - of what I saw:

My favorite was a large installation by David Altmejd called Le desert et la semence, in a hidden corner room of Andrea Rosen gallery. The work took over the entire room, the majority in a large rectangle one could walk around, with sand in the center close to the ground in the middle of shattered glass, while the highest stretches were installed on the ceiling. The piece told an evolutionary tale in stages: the first stop showed stages of two hands crafting an oval from sand at the bottom, eventually becoming a coconut. The next stages showed the head becoming more formed to a fictionalized human male, crafted as if by multicolored clay with realism elements, but yet surreal as the head in its most human form was still misshapen with crystals emanating. Each stage was placed slightly higher than the last, above cracked mirrors. Walking around back revealed further stages of the head separated by plexiglass, one with a hole through the center. Each angle provided another viewpoint, with remarkable symmetry along the way. For example, I was able to look through the hole and see an overlapping in-line perspective of that series of heads. The evolution did not stop at human form, animating slowly into an a furry man-beast shape as the heads rose form the platform and were suspended from the ceiling. The evolution ended with seeming wolf heads attached to the ceiling, with clusters of crystals growing from them. The work was elegant with the balance and interplay between the cracked mirrors reflecting each moment into the next, and the modeling of life as we know it, from a particular narrative, and into the next.

Other work that made me stop for a bit were dark bronze cast heads and upper torsos, with other media, by Nicole Eisenman at Anton Kern. My favorite of these was one called R Changel of Peace, that was of a haunting-faced decorated war hero of some sort. The eyes in particular were abstracted and with the upper face seemed to have some sort of protective covering. The nose was a rectangle sticking straight out, and the teeth were skeletal. The shoulder epaulets were the only part of the bronze that was burnished. On its chest were an assortment of colorful, ribboned medals, stamped with pictures and were for achievements like Global War on Terror, Afghanistan Campaign, and Efficiency Honor Fidelity. Above the medals on the left side was presumably the officer’s title of Inspector on a stamped pin. The lack of arms, the deathly abstraction of the face, juxtaposed with the brightly thriving medals and ribbons stuck with me more than most any other work. Another of her heads was smooth, with no features at all, called Self Portrait with Thoughts. Attached to the head, chest and right shoulder of this one were plexiglass cubes containing pictures - like ones that were popular in suburban homes in the 1980s. The pictures thus defined the life world of experience.. The pictures were assorted images, such as an arctic scene with a massive blue glacier, a hospital bed, and the iconic scene from the movie E.T. in which Elliot was biking away from government agents with a covered E.T. in its basket. Except here, E.T. was the distorted Ecce Homo restoration from Spain, and Elliot was similarly disfigured. Subtly, yet clearly, the piece exemplified an abstracted set of life experiences and image exposure, possibly distorted by memory and perception.

Lokal_30 a gallery from Warsaw, showed paintings by Ewa Juszkiewicz in which classical pieces of aristocratic looking women are reworked, with their faces obscured - one with leaves, flowers and twigs and longer hair, and the other - the better - with strips of dress matching aqua and gold satin and lace wrapping around her face. Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery showed a smeary distorted simple field painting of a woman’s head, Dolly, by Margot Bergman. The hair was oversized and helmeted, with distinct line borders as if painted by a child without nuance but also with largely visible brushstrokes in tones of blonde with fat open Trump-like pursed thick lips and one large brown open eyes and one closed. The flesh was primarily two tones from light peach in the lower half to more earthy rose-dirt marks in the eyes and forehead. Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac showed two Pepto-Bismal pink sculptures by Erwin Wrum, both crafted with polyester and other material. One was a VW bus, about 4.5’ long (134cm) with bursting protruding fat round sides, aptly titled Fat Bus. The other was of an oversized soft clock hanging on the wall behind the bus, with tire tracks running across it, called Lost (Clock).

Elsewhere, Jack Shainman showed a mix, including a Nick Cave cultural knick-knack sculpture bush with strings of beads surrounding a stereotyped figure of a black boy that looked like work from his Made by Whites for Whites series, and a medium sized rippling El Anatsui piece with more rhythm in the positioning of his bottle caps than I’ve seen in the past. At Victoria Miro, there was a grouping of Yaoyai Kusama large red soft tendrils rising from the ground. Somewhere I saw a great Sarah Sze sculpture, wires and detritus like cosmic dust gatherings balanced in a breathy moment. I heard Maurizio Cattelan recreated a piece of his with a live goat. I missed it.

Other than the art, the Frieze appears to try to enable people to have a full day outing. There are eleven different restaurants, a juice bar and an espresso booth (in addition to the espresso available at various restaurants). There is an area for outdoor seating with picnic tables set up, amongst a Juice Press, a burger place, and other food stands. Inside there are periodic places to eat and sit with views of the nearby rivers. Most of the food places are from trendy Brooklyn joints, with decent enough food. However, NYC adds some additional Randall’s Island tax of 20% that jacks up the price of everything on top of the already high prices, making eating or having anything absurdly expensive. Luckily one of the booths this year was taken over by the algae and soy protein engineered meal substitute Soylent, where robust youngish men and women in coveralls were handing out free bottles of their primary product, and packets of their experimental compressed algae paste, both in specifically designed packaging for the show. Soylent was created as an affordable meal replacement by someone in Silicon Valley for those arduous times when eating a regular meal is inconvenient - like when you’re up for weeks coding the coming of the singularity apocalypse. Or you don’t want to pay 20% additional tax on food. I drank my lunch. Certainly less disappointing than the macchiato I had at the ordinarily reliable Brooklyn based Pedlar, as it was made horrendous by overheated milk, and its silly cost.

The thing with the Frieze is that while they certainly have stamped their own footprint and created a go-to event in Spring, with various satellite fairs coalescing around the weekend, the fair itself still felt removed and soulless. There was a discernable lack of excitement and buzz that happens at other major events in the city, and particularly the primary comparison point of the Armory show. I understand the Frieze opts for something else - a cool factor that feels like an elitist tourist in New York here to stop in and then jetset to the next country, even in its attempts to integrate local flavor and itself into the island surroundings. While the Armory might be a faded remnant of its origins, it does at least have a historical thread to meaningful art roots, and still attempts to use that history. And it does so with the electric energy that is quintessentially New York. The Frieze here feels nakedly new, and ultimately unimportant beyond the week and the market.

But, for a showy art fair getaway, this one is nice for a day away from the city. You get to see some great art, see what’s happening in the market - particularly with European galleries that might not otherwise show in New York, find some new works to buy, have some decent food at poor exchange rate prices, and watch the glut of dealers and galleries trying to feed more crying hungry mouths, like the float out front portends.
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