LONDON — Frieze Masters is the distinguished, mustache-waxed cousin of the regular Frieze London art fair. As an offshoot focused on the so-called “masters” of western painting, things can get quite stuffy with impassible Impressionists and the occasional crusty Picasso.
Worth greater inspection at Masters, however, are the handful of galleries that have transformed their booths into concept-showcases implicitly aimed at catching museum curators’ eyes. While crowds on preview day flooded Hauser & Wirth’s faux “forgotten museum” of all-bronze artworks and eBay items, I found something worlds more compelling down the hall at Salon 94 and Antiquarium Ltd.’s shared space.
The two New York galleries have partnered to create a stunning exhibition titled Egyptomania. Remember the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles? This show has the same sexy energy as the song, minus historical inaccuracies and 1980s hair teases. Egyptomania crosses three millennia of history to juxtapose Ancient Egyptian artifacts with the contemporary artworks that they influenced.
Is this fascination or fetishism? This small curatorial excursion isn’t able to answer that question, but its offerings act as guideposts. Small Egyptian statuettes populate the booth’s many corners, while one immense statue greets visitors at the entrance. The booth’s walls are filled with Egyptomania’s contemporary offerings: Judy Chicago, Carlo Mollino, Hans Hollein, and Laurie Simmons. These are all fine additions, but the blockbuster inclusion is Keith Haring.
Sitting at the center of the exhibition’s floor is a large gold and blue pyramid by Haring. The artist inundates this bichromatic object with his patented hieroglyphs. Small cartoons vogue, strut, and breakdance across the pyramid. (Reportedly, Haring was foremost inspired by the “Tutting” dance move, which takes its name from King Tutankhamen.) In the gallery’s right alcove, there are an additional two prints by Haring, that showcase how he occasionally combined his super flat, comic aesthetic with allegorical symbols.
In hindsight, maybe pairing Haring with Ancient Egyptian art is an obvious juxtaposition for any transhistorically-minded art nerd. But seeing this thought experiment manifested as a mini-exhibition reinforced a need for more research into Haring’s Egyptian references. It also reaffirmed the ancient empire’s still-strong grip on the imaginations of artists in the ‘80s and subsequent decades.
Frieze Masters 2017 continues through October 8 at Regent’s Park (London, UK).