An All Access Pass To The Frieze Art Fair

Words: Charlie Newman

The Frieze to me, as an outsider, was the upmost elite affair. After all, it is equivalent to the Met Ball of the fashion world, and the Cannes Festival of the film world. The rope was lifted thanks to a most generous friend of mine, and with exclusive tickets in hand I entered the flurried, frenzied marquee of the Frieze Art Fair, Randall’s Island, New York – quite possibly the priciest tent in the States.

As a keen gallery goer, I was visiting each station initially as an individual exhibition, but it quickly became clear that this perspective was crude and simply not the point. The Frieze is a financial and social platform.

Sponsored by Deutsche Bank and much to our dehydrated relief, Stella Artois, this complimentary pair gently schmoozes and boozes the melting pot of art dealers, curators, patrons and the filthy rich buyers.

Once I got my head around this matter it was much easier to glide from one section to another without getting too distracted by the incessant noise and pushing and shoving of the overwhelmingly cool crowd; indeed they were, I spotted Kate Moss, James Franco and Adwoa Aboah to name but a few.

This makes the event sound all too inaccessible for a lowly Muggle like me, but of course this is not true. Nobody could fail to appreciate the beauty of the art on show.

What particularly impressed me about the fair was that they championed blockbuster artists such as David Hockney, Alex Katz,Takashi Murakami alongside up and coming artists.

Director Victoria Siddall and Artistic Director Loring Randolph, wisely divided the tent into four main themes, each organised by individual curators. Curator Ruba Katrib from MoMa PS1, shone a light on 18 emerging artists represented by 18 new galleries in the ‘Frame’ section, the largest of them all at the fair.

Toby Kampf, Director and Chief Curator at the Bluffer Art Museum in Houston, similarly dedicated his ‘Spotlight’ section to underrepresented contemporary artists, consisting of 35 galleries from across the globe. Whilst Kampf defends the now, Matthew Higgs’s ‘For your Infotainment’, defends the past, displaying works from the late art dealer Hudson’s (1940-2014) Chicago and New York ‘Feature Inc’ gallery. Inevitably Adrienne Edwards ‘Live’ feature was the most forthright.

Her background as curator of performances at the Whitney, made a perfect marriage with Lara Schnitger’s ‘Suffragette City’ represented by the Anton Kern gallery. In light of the #Metoo movement, Schnitger’s procession of volunteers holding fabricated banners felt reminiscent of the Punk movement.

Whilst we idly mooched from one stand to the next we were suddenly faced with the reality of the current political climate. By alleviating the discussion from news forums and “onto the street it’s completely out of context”, the problem became palpable, “part of daily life.”

This idea of mundane life was further explored by Scottish artist Kevin Harman at the Ingleby gallery. The idea of his ‘Skip 13’ (2012), was born in 2002. With a lack of funding and studio space he turned to waste sites at the weekends. Free from workmen, during those hours he worked day and night to remove everything from the skips. Painstakingly categorising all the contents into colour, material and size he would then proceed to reorder everything back into the skip, creating whole new worlds out of what we perceive to be as rubbish.

Successful and money making rubbish it now is, ‘Skip 13’ sold for $70 000 this year and is 16th in his series that now bears fruit all over the world.

From realism to illusion, I was transformed by Pierre Huyghe’s ‘L’Expedition Scintillante Act 2’ (2002.) We stumbled into the blackout and watched in mesmerised silence at the Lightbox which had technically no show at all, but nevertheless it was quite beautiful to follow the classical music, the fading splashes of colourful light and sweeping smoke.

Without an actual performer, we as the audience were allowed to insert our own idea of the protagonist, or perhaps even none at all. The freedom of the viewers choice was refreshing in what at some point felt like a technicolour tent of attention seekers trying to out do one another.

Another gallery to take the plunge and only show one individual artist on such a large scale was the Xavier Hufkens gallery, displaying Tracey Emin’s stunningly honest series on the notion and journey of love illustrating “a whole discussion about love and what love makes you feel like.” The stand really stood out as “one pure idea and quite dramatic.” The large canvas and abstract application of vivid paint was like nothing i’d ever seen of hers before.

From the large scale to the smaller I particularly enjoyed Rabhi Mroue’s ‘Leap Year’s diary’ 2006-2016 at the Sfeir-Semler gallery. Composed of many small frames scattered across the wall containing tiny, little people, made from newspaper cuttings, it was a beautiful reflection on human life and an interesting exploration into the idea of the individual within the collective.

It was a most fascinating day, at times exhausting, but I’ve learnt to come armed next year with boundless energy and to sign up for the insightful talks which I sadly missed out on.

Cruising along the Hudson on my return ferry to Manhattan, staring up at the concrete jungle, I felt as though I had left behind another jungle a slightly more colourful and alluring one at that. If only I had a heavier pocket to take some of it home with me.