As a first-time visitor to Frieze New York, I seem to have fallen on a good year. At last year’s fair, an air conditioning problem raised the temperatures in the tented compound at Randall’s Island to unbearable heights and interrupted the festive happening. I was told by two gallery directors that passed-out booth sitters were seen carried out of the fair’s tents and guests cut their visits short for fear of dehydration. This time around, cooler weather and a better-managed climate control system offered a hospitable experience, and new themed sections with an eye on marginalized populations save the fair from the crushing boredom of normal blue-chip dealership.
Moving away from spectacle and gimmick, the 8th edition of the glamorous art fair is marked by more extensive curated sections with a special focus on unseen and under-represented art. The biggest section, Spotlight, is curated by Laura Hoptman, the director of the Drawing Center in New York. The section’s booths showcase overlooked 20th-century artists including Luis Fernando Benedit (Argentina), Bijan Saffari (Iran), Suzy Lake (Canada-US), and Joan Brown (US).
A section titled Diálogos turns the spotlight on Latinx, Latin American, and Caribbean art. El Museo El Bario’s director Patrick Charpenel and curator Susanna V. Timkin curated the section on the occasion of the museum’s 50th anniversary.
For the average viewer, a stroll through Diálogos amounts to an educational experience. James Cohan and Kavi Gupta galleries show Dominican artist Firelei Báez’s mythical paintings over Works Progress Administration (WPA) architectural sites in the American South. Royale Projects shows Mexican-American Ruben Ortiz Torres’s “4 of July BBQ” (2017), which features a monochromatic star-spangled banner made from the ashes of a burnt American flag. Galerie Lelong shows a selection Havana-born Ana Mendieta’s photographic works, and Hutchinson Modern showcases work from the decade-long career of the long-overlooked Dominican abstractionist Freddy Rodriguez.
At the north entrance to the fair, two columns by this year’s Frieze Artist Award winner Lauren Halsey welcome visitors. “Prototype Column for tha Shaw (RIP the Honorable Ermias Nipsey Hussle Asghedom) I & II” (2019) pays tribute to the slain rapper in hieroglyphic carvings referencing his song lyrics. Right behind Halsey’s columns, Yayoi Kusama’s monumental “Narcissus Garden” (1966), with its blanket of reflective stainless steel spheres, dominates Victoria Miro’s booth.
Red Grooms’s “The Bus” (1995), presented by Marlborough Contemporary, was perhaps one of the most Instagrammed pieces at the Wednesday preview on May 1. The piece is a ten-foot-tall by 22-foot-long sculpture of a New York City bus inhabited with life-size sculptures depicting everyday New Yorkers. Visitors are invited to “ride” the bus along with the inanimate passengers. The piece is available for $550,000.
Another hotspot was New York’s P.P.O.W booth, where fairgoers clamored to grab $10-$50 works painted in situ by artist Steve Keene. Buyers had to pay in cash on the spot by sliding their money bills into a wooden box at the booth.
Many of the blue-chip galleries at the fair offer no special surprises. Gagosian shows works by sculptor John Chamberlain and painter Steven Parrino. David Zwirner follows with another dual presentation of Harold Ancart and Christopher Williams. Hauser and Wirth’s booth is dedicated to a Jenny Holzer solo.
Special mentions must include Nari Ward’s Arabic version of his shoelace-made “We the People” (2018) with Lehmann Maupin; Lenz Geerk‘s meditative painting “Silence I” (2019) with Roberts Projects; Maryam Hoseini’s disjointed bodies with Rachel Uffner; Katherine Bredford’s celestial “Night Clock” (2019) with Canada Gallery; and finally, Olivia Erlanger’s large installation piece with And Now, where mermaid tales protrude from laundromat machines. Gems like these, scattered along the never-ending corridors and looping labyrinths of the fair, are worth enduring the back-ache, the dizziness, and the terrible stench of money.
Frieze New York 2019 continues through Sunday, May 5 in Randall’s Island Park (Randall’s Island, Manhattan).