Review: Frieze New York 2019 - Randall's Island
This year is the eighth edition of Frieze New York and it is becoming more familiar and user- friendly. Possibly since it is now well-established and some of the initial kinks are worked out. Since it has gotten pretty warm under the tent in past years, there has been a successful effort at air conditioning when necessary. It did not seem as crowded as before and the urge to present aggressively hip, over-the-top installations for their own sake seems to have diminished. Most of the usual suspects, the high-end Chelsea and Madison Avenue galleries, were on hand showing as much variety as possible in the space available.
The usual curated sections Frame, solo presentations of emerging artists; Focus, a platform for galleries younger than 15 years old; and Spotlight, solo presentations of significant work by overlooked artists and rarely seen work of modern masters, were all there. In addition there were two new very relevant and timely sections. Diálogos, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of El Museo del Barrio and focuses on the most important LatinX and Latin American artists across the spectrum. Most fascinating and new to me, was JAM (Just Above Madison), which pays tribute to a pioneering organization from the mid-1970s and 1980s. Founded as a much needed, non-profit platform for African-American artists. It, notably, nurtured the early work of a number of currently established artists, such as David Hammond, Adrian Piper and Lorraine O’Grady. The Doors of Perception, in collaboration with the Outsider Art Fair, brings an unfortunately-named category for visionary self-taught artists closer to the mainstream of accepted art forms. Electric, presents VR and AR works by various artists with different approaches. These sections serve the purpose of creating structure, to what could seem like a massive and unfathomable excess of riches.
Coming in via the North entrance one was greeted by the imminently optimistic tableau of Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden, consisting of a carpet of shiny silver balls in front of a huge Chris Ofili painting of amorphous female figures emerging from the ocean and seeming to crawl up a primordial-looking mountain to the heavens. It is a vision that stops you in your tracks in a good way. There were a number of really fun things on offer, as well.
At PPOW Steve Keene was actively making work in a faux studio/salesroom. He had lined up wooden panels on which he was painting multiple images simultaneously, which were then moved to display shelves and priced to sell from $10 - $50 each. They were flying out. There was an example of the subversive art of Michelangelo Pistoletto, a photo-realist mirror painting of a man with his back to us in an attitude which suggested that he was taking a leak on the sidewalk. These always cause a double-take. The discovery of a life sized squishy- looking NYC bus by Red Grooms, which encouraged viewers to get aboard and check out the marvelous parodies of New York City archetypes riding on the bus, always brings on a bit of nostalgia and a smile. Olivia Erlanger’s life-sized mermaid tails seemingly being sucked into laundry machines had a whimsically macabre quality at And Now from Dallas, and clearly had a feminist edge to it.
There was quite a lot of strong works of photography being shown. For me the JAM section was particularly vibrant and engaging. In JAM1 were a series of dynamic black and white images by and of the performance artist Senga Nengudi seemingly in an acrobatic contest with bands of fabric and slender poles. Hauser and Wirth presented a series of Lorna Simpson’s portrait heads composed of found photographs collaged onto paper images in various iterations illustrating her continuing exploration of gender, identity, race and hair. Jenkins Johnson Gallery showed the work of Ming Smith from the 70s. Her technique in making her black and white images involve deliberate camera movement, double exposures, darkroom manipulations, collage and painting to eliminate specificity and to create engaging enigmatic images.
Specific to the history of JAM are the images of the conceptual artist David Hammond in the 1980s taken by the much younger Dawoud Bey. They show Hammond doing his own brand of protest art, a useful visual record of an important figure, and reveal the emerging talents of Dawoud Bey. Revelatory and fascinating to me was Lorraine O’Grady’s documentation of her 1980 -1983 protest against the racial and gender inequities in the art world. She would appear at fancy art events with a tuxedoed date, wearing a white evening gown (fashioned from white gloves), a tiara, elbow length white gloves, and a cross-body ribbon emblazoned with the name of her avatar, Mlle Bourgeoise Noire. The name dripped with irony and pointed criticism, aimed at both the art world elite, perpetrators of exclusionary behavior, as well as their collaborators and enablers.
Apart from the JAM section there seemed to be quite a bit of work from African, African- Americans, and Latinos. Vielmetter showed the work of Paul Mpagi Sepuya who creates beautiful enigmatic images of naked male bodies artfully layered and overlaid with additional intertwining limbs and body parts in such a subtle way that one is drawn to close examination to try to understand how he has accomplished his results, which are both sensitive and erotic as well as very personal. Ryan Lee shows the work of Martine Gutierrez, taken from her faux- fashion magazine entitled Indigenous Woman. It is an over the top parody of the white fashion publishing industry. She makes elaborate, bizarre and witty images of non-white females – demons and goddesses - wearing all manner of exotic objects as accessories. The hand-painted frames add to the totality of her vision, which addresses all of our visual assumptions. Otobong Nkanga showed a gorgeous woven textile called Double Plot which references the history Nigeria, her country of origin, and includes spherical photos which appear like planets. It has a very mythological feel.
And if that is not enough of a gift for art lovers, there are 16 works of sculpture at Rockefeller Center by such well-known artists as Nick Cave, Kiki Smith, Hank Willis Thomas and Walter De Maria, among others. This will remain on view through June 28.