Published  08/05/2016

Frieze New York 2016

Frieze New York 2016

There were dogs, a screaming blow-up baby and a real donkey, but there were also museum-quality installations and small joys to be had at the New York art fair’s fifth incarnation

Randall’s Island Park
5-8 May 2016


Heading out to Frieze on preview day, I thought all was over; a damp drizzle, a soft art market, and traffic to Randall’s Island choked up by a lane closure. Returning, my spirits soared as high as the pink balloon floated cheekily above the white tent that this year stretched out to give more galleries more space. With so much to see, and so thoughtfully presented, the challenge was to pause long enough to make the acquaintance of new galleries and – confirming that we are bridging a generation change – new artists.

Although Frieze is still a frisky new entrant to New York’s venerable art fair landscape, its international focus gives it bragging rights. Incredibly, among the 186 countries represented, there were more than 25 galleries from Latin America – the preponderance, in what felt like a last hurrah showing, from Brazil. Signing the fair’s importance, most of the big dealers – David Zwirner, Sean Kelly, Paul Kasmin, Marianne Boesky – manned their booths. Strong showings of word art, floor art, abstract art, wall sculpture, 3D printed art and the sculpted form, demonstrated all these to be flourishing – only neon seemed retro, perhaps because represented by a very been there Tracey Emin. Work wasn’t jumping off the walls, but the dealers seemed unfazed – “We’ll know by Saturday,” said the gallerist holding the fort at Mor Charpentier. “Frieze is generally slower than the Armory Show, but sales always pick up at the end and the networking is great.” All the collectors I spoke to had come with a wish list – among the works heading it were Isa Genzken’s complicated collages given pride of place at David Zwirner, which achieve a level of disarming sophistication with foil, mirror, plastic and photo prints.

The inevitable amusements verged on silly – artist David Horvitz staked out pickpockets to reverse-scenario street theft by inserting objects into viewers' pockets, Sean Raspet filled the Société Berlin booth with Soylent, a meal supplement product given out free. And several of the artist commissions were too cute – the much-feted American artist Alex Da Corte floated a helium balloon of a screaming baby (please!) and Heather Phillipson’s wagging white dogs cluttering the public spaces verged on obnoxious.

Happily, thanks to a growing number of museum-quality installations, teaching moments abounded. Two walls, coincidentally facing each other, showing William Kentridge at Marian Goodman, and Bernd and Hilla Becher at Sprüth Magers, constituted an inadvertent but instructive face-off between the charcoal and film – between the political heat of living portraiture and the lifeless cool of abandoned industry. The Pace Gallery mounted a dazzling installation of Fred Wilson that placed the late-career artist comfortably in the present moment. In contrast, the career-spanning installation trumpeting Damien Hirst’s return to the Gagosian stable looked appallingly dated. And the restaging of Maurizio Cattelan’s first New York Show celebrating his emergence from retirement, which premiered a real donkey, had the feel of a misfired revival – perhaps because said donkey had premiered days before at the Metropolitan Opera’s vibrant staging of La Boheme.

The small joys were first encounters with work one should know. I liked the performers wearing mirrors reflecting the clouds, staged by artist Eduardo Navarro. I was intrigued by Faig Ahmed’s new-narrative carpet weavings. I paused longest before two urethane and aluminium pieces by Los Angeles artist Kaari Upson – she has said of her work that it is alive only until it leaves her studio – because they share the primal mystery of Lee Bontecou’s stitched canvases.

The big takeaway was to never pass up a fair. Art is homeless until shown, loved and bought. And an art fair – beyond sales, beyond contacts and celebrity spotting – is art’s home away from home.

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