Before entering the vast white tent (250,000 square feet to be precise), which returns once again to Randall’s Island for the 2016 opening of Frieze New York, visitors are pre-warned, as always of the multitude of things on view. It’s impossible – even for the most trained art expert – to see absolutely everything, so one should also be ready to be overwhelmed. And yet, as I sat at the middle of the tent, surrounded by offerings from 202 galleries across the world, and who knows how many artworks, one thing certainly did not escape my sight. Appearing to have lost all sense of balance, a man suddenly and most bizarrely stumbled over me. As I had been resting my feet – but not my eyes, it was clear that the man, who was dressed in a brownish and aged-looking suit whilst pretending to pull up his sock, was here as a performer. This is Frieze after all; the biggest and most fashionable international art fair in the world. After witnessing this man “trip” over on a number of different ‘victims,’ I decided to finally check my pocket. Tangled in my keys was a small metalwork object shaped like two kissing seahorses. At first determined to return it and reveal that his ‘prank’ had not been left unnoticed, I decided to keep the little sculpture, for this was the first – and likely last time – I was to leave Frieze with my own piece of art. Hired by American artist David Horvitz, hoping the performance would be completely invisible, the official pickpocket was however perhaps one, albeit not the least, of the most noticeable characters parading at Frieze’s fifth New York edition.
From embalmed animals to live ones, there is a plethora of exciting and surprising things to see at what is a carnivalesque event. Highlights include the re-staging of Maurizio Catalan’s “Warning! Enter at Your Own Risk. Do Not Touch, Do Not Feed, No Smoking, No Photographs, No Dogs, Thank You”, originally held at Daniel Newburg Gallery in 1993. After having been refused permission to remove the wall that separated the Daniel Newburg Gallery booth from the neighboring gallery David Zwirner gallery, the young Italian artist had decided to exhibit a live donkey as, in his own words “a symbol of his own inability to produce any decent artistic idea”. As part of this year’s Frieze project and in tribute to the former Soho gallery, which closed in 1994, a donkey was once more exhibited under a crystal chandelier. As an emblem of the sophistication of the art world, Cattelan’s gesture excites audiences as much as it is enrages animal activists. Further highlights include the much anticipated reconciliation between Larry Gagosian and Damien Hirst. Dedicating their entire booth to the British artist’s early-Nineties work, this year’s offering by the Gagosian includes a butterfly canvas, a pharmaceutical cabinet, and two preserved animals in true Hirst style: a ram and a small shark. “Great artists, like great people, have second acts,” declared Gagosian to the New York Times. Indeed the rekindled bromance, which split mysteriously in 2013 after a seventeen year relationship, today has crowds eagerly gathering to witness some of the YBA’s most iconic work.
Showcasing an exciting combination of works ranging from the most renowned artists of the last 40 years, to newly discovered contemporary artists, this year’s selection demonstrates a particular emphasis on female practitioners, as well as on artists with recent and upcoming institutional shows. Returning with three specially curated sections: Spotlights, Focus, and Frame, this fifth edition is turning the spotlight on emerging and often overlooked artists and galleries. Frame for instance is dedicated to solo presentations by galleries under eight years old. Mixing and contrasting medium and techniques, many artists featured in this year’s Frame have worked around the themes of “transformation” and “growth” as conceptual ideas. From Rochelle Golder (Eli Ping Frances Perkins, New York) whose coalescent and unstable objects follow the principle of ‘growth as host’, to Joe Zorilla (Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles) who creates ‘models’ as crystallized thoughts and unfinished declarations, and finally Phillip Zach (Freedman Fitzpatrick, Los Angeles), whose works are to be read as large bodies of thoughts following their own logic, these emerging artists demonstrate a fresh and experimental play between the temporary and the concrete. Hannah Perry’s practice (Jeanine Hofland, Amsterdam), on the other hand, explores the artist’s own sensitivity to the everyday. Best described as an “audio – visual melting pot,” her work mixes film, sound-pieces, prints and performances. For Frame, Perry has decided to present a multi-media installation made up of a mirrored light box placed on the floor from which earphones spit aggressive and rapid sounds. While being bombarded by the repetition of the word “fucking” along with indiscernible brusque noises, the participant is faced with a silkscreen print, which has been painted over, smacked and even kissed by the artist. Working around ideas of love, anger, the male gaze, to pop music and street culture, Perry’s installation effectively translates the artist’s ‘cut and paste’ sense of reality.
Rita Ponce de León (80M2 Livia Benavides, Perú) also presents an interactive work, intended to “open situations of connection and creation of meaning with others”. Participant are asked to sit at a table and write about the person sat in front of them, or perhaps the color yellow, or even to confess their own misfortunes, as the installation forces visitors to confront both the physical and philosophical within the concept of social interaction. Finally, a sense of everyday experience is further evoked in Liu Shiyuan’s work (Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai), which responds to the dispersion of contemporary Chinese culture, in a play between reality and fiction. Covering the entire booth (walls and floor) in patches of carpets, on which are written extracts taken from internet archives, this colorful and humorous textural mosaic enacts the patterns of cultural shocks felt within and towards communities of the Chinese diaspora, while condemning the “flatness” proffered by the internet.
With the extravagant array of works, people, and quirky performances to see at Frieze, sections such as Frame allow audiences not only to discover new and emerging artists and galleries, but to engage in a more intimate dialogue with contemporary art, a phenomenon too often classed as exclusive. Expecting an estimate of 40,000 of visitors by Sunday, this year’s New York edition – true to form – has already accomplished quite a show.
From the 15-metre long inflatable baby by American artist Alex da Corte greeting visitors as soon as they get off the ferry, to the mime artists with painted faces playing around in Italian architect Mario Bellini’s Kar-A-Sustra, the atmosphere at Frieze is closer to that of a circus. Even Sir Gabriel, Cattelan’s donkey, had to cut his performance short on Thursday not to miss his part in La Bohème! One leaves both marveled and exhausted, and fairly relieved to get back to the neighboring island, which has never felt more sane and peaceful.
By Margaux Donnellier