ART BLANCHE: Frieze, Framed

On Saturday, the greyest of grey days, I reluctantly embarked on the ferry bound for Randall’s Island just moments before a torrential downpour ensued. I watched as picturesque lightning struck very near the Empire State Building, then the Chrysler Building, then along the Upper East Side, as the vessel traveled up the East River toward the Island and its current attraction, the Frieze Art Fair. The London-based art fair’s second New York installment promised work from over 180 galleries in a massive tent accompanied by a surrounding “Sculpture Garden”, a number of cafes, and even a secret speakeasy.

As one of 45,000 visitors to the fair, I found the trek to the island a necessary evil. I marveled at the location upon arrival, as I was greeted by Paul McCarthy’s gargantuan Balloon Dog, which became the unofficial mascot of Frieze New York.

My first experience of Frieze was overwhelming; it was difficult to process the amount of work and number of galleries and artists represented. All of the usual art fair “suspects” were represented — neon lights, mirrors, large-scale text – and many recognizable artists and artworks. In addition, there were a number of more surprising works that greeted me from under the brightly lit climate-controlled tent. Here, I’ll give a brief overview of some of the standout pieces of the fair and why I found them worth a second look.

Spencer Finch’s neon Sun (Over the Sahara Desert 1/2/11), at James Cohan Gallery, was reminiscent of Dan Flavin’s fluorescent installations of the 1960s but with a contemporary, digital aspect. As I mentioned, art fairs are notoriously (and humorously) filled with neon sculptures, but Finch’s example was beautifully executed and managed to bridge the gap between contemporary art and modern art of the mid-century.

Another favorite of mine was Jim Lambie’s 2000, at Galleria Franco Noero. Reminiscent of Art Povera – specifically calling to mind Michelangelo Pistolleto’s Venus of the Rags — the readymade, DIY quality of the assemblage of belts inspired me to create my own.

Rounding a corner, I encountered Valeska Soares’ stunning Finale, an installation featuring an antique table arranged with glasses filled with liquor. The mirrored table top provided a surprising extra dimension to the work, while the installation as a whole referenced the Decorative Arts and display, with a possible nod to Feminist Art of the 1970s, such as Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party.

John McAllister’s oil painting, Days Gently Embered, grasped me with its neon hue and subtle brushstrokes betraying a wispy nature scene. It was a welcome respite from the avant-garde work representing much of the fair and called to mind the pastels of Wolf Kahn and Expressionist canvases from the turn of the 20th century.

Finally, Offensive/Defensive, by Liza Lou, was one of the most unassumingly impressive worksI encountered at Frieze. Consisting of bugle beads placed end on end with seed bead decoration, the work combined the idea of craft and pattern with a more nuanced, expressive image made using the same materials.

Many of the works I found most compelling at Frieze were by artists I had not yet encountered or knew very little about, which is exactly why I find art fairs valuable as a writer in pursuit of beautiful things — one is able to view a cross-section of the global art scene without overt curatorial connotation. I departed Randall’s Island feeling inspired to both research and create, which, in my mind, made the half-hour-long ferry ride in a torrential downpour more than worthwhile.

Were you able to attend Frieze? What were your favorite pieces? Tweet @artfullyawear with the hashtag #friezeframed to join the discussion.