Some dating wisdom has it that the third date is make or break, the one when you decide whether or not to move forward. This is the third year of the Frieze New York art fair, and I’m just not sure I see us having a future together.
Last year I was charmed by the performances and booze, but this year the booths at Frieze feel stale. It’s a fair, so that’s not really a problem — shiny work, as well as purposefully ugly and purposefully weird work abounds, and collectors will buy much of it — but for those holding out hope for a flash of experience, an artwork that will stop you in your tracks … don’t. The tent still feels airy and looks nice. The food is still delicious and overpriced. Randall’s Island is still a lovely place to visit, even in the rain. Yet Gagosian Gallery still shows Ed Ruscha. David Zwirner brought Yayoi Kusama. Andrea Rosen Gallery set up a small, completely uninspired Ryan Trecartin installation, and White Cube has a new diorama featuring crucified Ronald McDonalds by Jake and Dinos Chapman. Frieze New York feels nothing if not rehearsed. And why not? Art fairs basically happen year-round at this point. Dealers know what works. Little effort required. Sucks for the rest of us.
Still, I can’t help but wish that someone somewhere had proposed something even just slightly outside the art fair box, and that someone else somewhere had said “yes.” As it stands, the closest thing to that at Frieze is a re-creation of a past work, Allen Rupersberg’s “Al’s Grand Hotel” from 1971, for which the artist turned a two-story house into a hotel and performance space. As part of Frieze Projects, and in collaboration with Los Angeles project space Public Fiction, Rupersberg has restaged “Al’s Grand Hotel” inside Frieze. It features a cozy chic lobby with a bar and welcome desk, where you can reserve a room for the night starting at $350. Be careful which room you choose, though: one is a bridal suite that includes flowers on the bed and presents on the table; the other is the Jesus Room and features an enormous wooden cross blocking the bed. “You’re staying here … in that room?” one woman asked another as I was standing nearby. The future occupant — unassuming, middle-aged, dark gray hair — smiled cheerily.
Even within the bounds of traditional gallery booths, it’s possible to do something new: consider this year’s Armory Show, which presented a surprising exhibit of art from China and its first-ever gallery from Saudi Arabia. Frieze 2014, on the other hand, is painfully Western-centric, with a welcome sprinkling of participants from South and Central America and Asia. It was almost a uniform truth this afternoon that the art I found most intriguing was being shown by galleries I don’t know well, if at all, including: visionary collages from the 1960s and ’70s by Kikuji Yamashita and Hiroshi Katsuragawa at greengrassi; an oversized carpet that looks like a messy painting out of Bushwick by Steinar Haga Kristensen at Johan Berggren Gallery; a challenging new assemblage sculpture by Abraham Cruzvillegas at Galerie Chantal Crousel; part of a conceptual installation focused on the hands of figures in Old Master paintings by Iñaki Bonillas at ProjecteSD; and sewn fabric sculpture contraptions by Sonia Gomes at Mendes Wood DM.
The Frame section, devoted to galleries established fewer than eight years ago, also contains some standouts, due in part to that relative newness and to the required solo-presentation format, which at a fair offers a cherished moment of possible concentration. (As a side note, Derek Eller Gallery’s solo presentation of Karl Wirsum, not in Frame, is excellent.) There, I was drawn to Lena Henke’s dissonant mix of materials, the simultaneous fluidity and rigidity of her sculptures shown by Real Fine Arts, as well as Kazuyuki Takezaki’s scrambled landscapes that look both handmade and digital at Misako & Rosen. Nearby, Ariel Reichman has constructed a literal landscape, an oasis of green amid the desert of white that functioned as PSM gallery’s booth.
But white wins out at the end of the day; Frieze New York feels more than ever like what it quite simply is: a very pretty trading floor. Not everyone is making out well, though: the kids working the coat check have a jar out asking for tips.
Frieze New York 2014 continues on Randall’s Island through May 12.
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