Frieze New York 2014. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
NEW YORK - Early May in New York is a time when the city weans itself out of the winter and into the freshness of spring. It is a new season with many cultural offerings in tow, and amongst the most exciting is the explosion of the best and most compelling presentations of international contemporary art. These past weeks saw the major bi-annual New York auctions of Contemporary Art at Sotheby’s, Christies and Phillips where a staggering estimated $ 2 billion worth of contemporary art was bought and sold. The Whitney Biennale, a staple of the city, expanded the milieu of art on view exhibiting the more experimental variety of American contemporary art. Supplementing the auctions and museum exhibitions was a surge of art fairs that have developed across the city like NADA, Pulse, The Contemporary Art Fair NYC, Cutlog and the Pool Art Fair. On display at these fairs was the whole gamut of the contemporary sphere from the established names to spaces dedicated solely to un-represented artists. The American appetite for art, particularly New York’s, rejuvenated this spring in a bold, confident and engulfing manner with collectors, curators, auction house personalities, dealers and artists buzzing over the many venues in a fascinating balance of art and commerce.
Frieze New York 2014: Roberta's Pizza. Photography by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
It is in this atmosphere that Frieze New York – a relative new comer to the New York contemporary art circuit – seems to have firmly established its flavor with a distinctly Big Apple note. It is the new American kid sibling to the main London art fair that has been a stalwart of the international art fair calendar for many years. In just its third year, the fair has managed to transform Randall’s Island into a creative melting pot for international art and is firmly now a staple of the contemporary events of the week. Over 190 international dealers exhibit art in a temporary, quarter mile long white tent along the East River. The international feel of the fair in some ways poignantly reflected the dense diversity of its host city and was further enhanced by some of the best New York restaurants, sprinkled over the fair in ‘pop-up’ style. They included notable names like Blue Bottle Coffee, Fat Radish, Frankies, Spuntino, Cantina, and Roberta’s, who’s thin crust broolyn pizza made in a clay oven on site are a feature that sometimes make me question the real reason I keep coming back to Frieze. Among the interesting features this year, Frieze Projects re-staged an on-site hotel – “Al’s Grand Hotel” – which was a re-imagined art project created by the Los Angeles avant-garde artist Allen Ruppersberg in 1971. The temporary hotel came full with a lobby, bar and two rooms, one of which featured a massive crucifix propped up by a volume of Proust, rentable for $350 a night.
Frieze Projects 2014: Al's Grand Hotel (1971) with Public Fiction (2014). Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro / Frieze.
Much of Frieze’s unique allure however was in its solo presentations of exhibitions. It was reassuring how many dealers dedicated their booths to single artists. Amongst the highlights this year were New York’s grande dame Barabara Gladstone, who in her first year of participating in the fair, mounted a seminal presentation of 200 works on paper by Carrol Dunham dating from 1979 to the present moment. They were presented on three walls in a grid formation. Akin to pages from a personal memoir, they tracked an artist’s wicked imagination evolving over time in comically grotesque compositions. David Zwirner, another stalwart New York gallery scene exhibited acclaimed Yayoi Kusama’s latest spotted composition, Pumpkin 2014.
Frieze New York 2014: Carroll Dunham, Gladstone Gallery, New York. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro / Frieze.
A strong favorite of mine was London’s Wilkinson Gallery who showed American avant-garde firebrand artist Joan Jonas. The video and performance artist will represent the United States at the next year’s Venice Biennale. The gallery presented works from 1960 that used mirrored clothing in groundbreaking improvisations hung from the ceiling in addition to to some audacious calligraphic paintings.
Frieze New York 2014, David Zwirner, New York. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.
But what I have quickly come to enjoy about Frieze New York over the last three years is the refreshing offerings of contemporary art from outside of the North Atlantic axis. Siefer-Semler Gallery from Beirut, displayed two small paintings by the Lebanese-American artist Eltel Adnan that had beautifully balanced and thoughtfully colored abstract compositions. Stevenson Gallery, a gallery from Cape Town displayed a solo presentation of the Dutch photographer Viviane Sassen whose work vacillated between documentary scenes of Senegal and Uganda and abstracted shadow plays. In the Namibiam desert, Sassen positioned mirrors and colored Perspex above the fine red sand; each image shows a single moment, though the series floated in the realm of conceptual thought. There was a strong showing from Brazil this year. Galeria Jaqueline Martins showed historical photographs from Refina Vater, a pioneer of Brazilian art. One series of self-portraits features Vater dresses up as various female archetypes dates from 1975, years before Cindy Sherman took on the mantle, and a style later echoed by Indian artists Pushpamala N. and Clair Arni. Sri Goswami’s Project 88 displayed the works Neha Choksi, Sandiip Mukerjee, Tejal Shah, Shreyas Karle and Raqs media collective in what has come to be known as her signature singular and minimal style.
Frieze New York 2014, Maria Nepomuceno, A Gentil Carioca, Rio de Janeiro. Photograph by Marco Scozzaro. Courtesy of Marco Scozzaro / Frieze.
The juxtaposition of art created in the major geographic centers of the art world, against the more burgeoning regions created an enriching cross-dialogue between emerging and the more established creative strains. There was some commonality bred by basic human concerns that are universal like love, loss and freedom. There was also a commonality developed due to the influence that virtual access in a shrinking world has parlayed on human experience. The art on display represented a post-modern pluralism, yet was nuanced with distinctions that were particular to the geographic spaces and political moments they were made in.
I anticipate and am hopeful for a time that we could have such a celebration and attention to art of the moment in India. It is a challenge for a culture that is bestowed with centuries of exquisite mastery of craft of a representational kind, to move towards embracing art that is less representational and more conceptual in nature. This development of creative expression reflects an aspect of the current trajectory of human evolution. The human industrial consciousness has been an amazing thing and has brought us to the age of iPhones, virtual social communications and Twitter. The art of our moment has evolved as well capturing iconic moments of human social history in a different expression.
Priyanka Mathew is Head of Sales of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art.