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Now in its sixth year, Frieze New York is diversifying. Though the 2017 edition of the London-based mega-fair has all your typical trappings of a mall designed for blue chip collectors — vintage Mike Kelley from Skarstedt, new Anish Kapoor sculptures from Lisson Gallery, fresh Llyn Foulkes from Sprüth Magers, massive Nick Caves from Jack Shainman, a bounty of Carol Boves at David Zwirner, “provocative” Elmgreen & Dragset installations from Massimo De Carlo — there are also plenty of surprises. The most bizarre may be one of this year’s commissioned Frieze Projects, by the Swiss artist Dora Budor, who has hired actors resembling Leonardo DiCaprio to traipse around the tent dressed as some of the actor and collector‘s most famous characters. (Another of this year’s commissions, a dazzlingly surreal animated dream journal by Jon Rafman, is uncannily incredible for very different reasons.)
The booths themselves hold plenty of unexpected treasures, too. The most startling may be the stretch of spaces showing pre-Modern, non-Western art. Paris’s Galerie Meyer, for instance, has a stunning array of spirit boards from Papua New Guinea: traditional objects that were typically arranged in shrines in large communal houses. A little farther down the central aisle, Donald Ellis Gallery has a stunning and eclectic display of native and indigenous artifacts, including Plains Indians ledger drawings, wooden sculptures, and ritual objects from the Pacific Northwest.
As is often the case at such enormous fairs, the strongest booths tend to be those devoted to a single artist, and there are plenty of examples of this at Frieze, including a standout coterie of women artists. A personal favorite is Simone Subal Gallery’s presentation of works by the late Pop artist Kiki Kogelnik, whose playful and bold paintings and sculptures do not seem to have aged a day. San Francisco’s Anglim Gilbert Gallery is showcasing similarly playful but far more loosely rendered paintings by Judith Linhares. Michael Rosenfeld Gallery is also showcasing a pioneering woman artist whose work has only gained in gusto: its booth of metal and textile sculptures by Barbara Chase-Riboud is not to be missed. Nearby, Kobe-based Gallery Yamaki Fine Art is showing a spread of Kimiyo Mishima’s incredible ceramic sculptures, which she silkscreens to make them look like paper goods, including newspapers, manga comic books, packaging, and cardboard boxes.
Two of the standout painters of the current Whitney Biennial also have solo booths at Frieze. David Kordansky Gallery is showing a new set of Tala Madani‘s irreverent and scatological scenes, which perfectly nail the diffuse lighting effects and colors of a bleary club night. Glasgow-based gallery Mary Mary is showing three new large paintings by Aliza Nisenbaum that depict domestic scenes layered with narrative details.
To be sure, there are standout solo booths by male artists, too. The most prominent, due to the sheer scale of his portrait paintings, may be Alfred Leslie, whose work is on view at Bruce Silverstein’s booth. His enormous triptych painting “Americans, Youngstown, Ohio” (1977–78) is an ambiguous monument to a very specific yet somehow universal time and place in modern US society. Nearby, Kayne Griffin Corcoran is showcasing the impressive and eclectic oeuvre of seminal Japanese artist Tatsuo Kawaguchi. The works on view range from colorful abstract paintings and mirrored tabletop sculptures to wall-mounted configurations of vinyl, acrylic, and resin that evoke Eva Hesse. More singular in approach is the work of the late Cuban American artist Felipe Jesus Consalvos, whose inimitable and precise collages can be found in the Fleisher/Ollman booth applied to guitars, stools, chairs, mirrors, garbage cans, and more conventional flat surfaces too. Another artist whose aesthetic evokes the single-minded labor of the stereotypical outsider artist, Étienne-Martin, is being shown by Paris’s Galerie Bernard Bouche. The sculptor’s rough-hewn and loosely figurative assemblages of plaster, wire, wood, and found materials are instantly engrossing and pulse with inner life. In Casey Kaplan’s booth, two sculptures by Kevin Beasley also possess inner life, although for much more obvious reasons: The sculptures, made from colorful dresses and kaftans coated in resin, conceal speakers that play back ambient noise from microphones hidden around the fair. Snippets of conversations and half-heard words emerge from the hoods, suggesting a ghostly presence.
Naturally, there are plenty of worthwhile works beyond Frieze’s solo booths; you just have to sift through lots of forgettable art to find them. Or they’ll stop you in your tracks as you stroll by — such was my experience of a very large new graphite-on-paper triptych by Kara Walker, “Securing a Motherland Should Have Been Sufficient” (2016), which dominates the Sikkema Jenkins & Co. booth. The cinematic and enigmatic scene, which shows an act of either valor or betrayal, seems to reflect Walker’s increasingly fantastical interests. Another showstopper, though of a decidedly more playful sort, is Anton van Dalen’s “The Pigeon Car” (1987), which anchors PPOW Gallery’s booth devoted to members of the East Village art scene of the 1970s.
In addition to the aforementioned works, Frieze is ripe for contemporary art trendspotting. Some are not particularly surprising, like a prevalence of rainbow-hued works and several appearances by the new and most recent US presidents. However, walking the aisles during Thursday’s preview, I was struck by the prevalence of two types of works: text-based art, much of it incorporating neon lights or vinyl letters applied directly to the booth walls, and artworks incorporating or consisting entirely of more or less untreated rocks. Both, it seems to me, are emblematic of the desire for a kind of permanence and site-specificity, features of contemporary art that are inherently incompatible with the nomadic and ephemeral nature of art fairs. Even so, the writing’s on the wall: This year’s Frieze New York rocks.
The 2017 edition of Frieze New York continues at Randall’s Island Park (Randall’s Island, Manhattan) through May 7.