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Frieze New York, the inaugural edition, launched its four-day art extravaganza on May 6th in a space bordered by East Harlem, the South Bronx, and Queens on Randall’s Island—hosting international works from over 180 galleries. Walking through the long white tents, spectators admired contemporary art from all over the world: Berlin and Paris, Dubai, Sao Paolo, London and L.A., to name a few.
The fair was divided into three main sections: galleries, Frieze Projects, and the sculpture park located along the East River. Curated by Cecilia Alemani, this year’s Frieze Projects program included expanded performances by eight different artists, the majority of which were held outside, adapting to the surrounding environment or responded to Randall Island’s eerie past.
Uri Aran’s project converted an abandoned ticket shack, situated next to the main pier, into an examination room to observe the interplay between doctor-patient relations. Influenced by the island’s many hospitals, he used these filmed interactions between doctors and patients as a way to depict figures of authority and those who succumb to power roles.
Another Frieze Project, Joel Kyack’s Most games are lost, not won, featured a baby pool, playing cards, fake cigarettes, and other youthful and child-like memorandum inside the tent; in addition to a country fair game-filled trailer outside where spectators had the chance to win Kyack’s art. A winning prize was among a variety of different human organs painted on long, dressing mirrors. Truly precarious, it was his art confirming the uncertainty of whether a risk is worth taking. This idea of the unknown was a common theme represented in the fair’s works. Even when a piece of art made a statement, like Barbara Kruger’s Too Big To Fail, there was always room left for self-reflection and interpretation. As with most art, the viewer’s insight is the missing element.
Some works were more personal than others, like Samara Golden’s Bad Brains, displayed as a part of Frieze Frame. Golden created a mixed media installation responding to the haunting spirits of Randall’s Island. The island serves as a burial ground for the poor and once housed a homeopathic hospital and idiot asylum in the 19th century. The island’s past paralleled Golden’s creepily converted space, evoking dark, disturbing feelings from the spectator.
John Ahearn’s reconstructed “South Bronx Hall of Fame,” a project first started in 1979, was another Frieze favorite. The exhibition involves sculptures of all types of people from South Bronx neighborhoods: artist friends, drug addicts, local residents, kids, and the homeless. In response to the thirty-year difference in his ongoing show, Ahearn said, “All those gritty 70s low-budget NYC movies are the best, and I hope that the South Bronx Hall of Fame will stir feelings about life in the city in the 70s. The portrait castings look like Polaroid’s from another time.” Over the duration of the fair, Ahearn created a new series of portraits, performing live sculptural castings daily.
As is well publicised, Frieze Art Fair attendees are not only patrons of art, but also buyers. According to the art insurers Hiscox at London, the fair’s art was estimated to be worth a combined $350 million. Since most of the art comes directly from the studio, the prices tend to be less expensive in comparison to pieces by well-known artists.
There were twenty new or young galleries represented in the Frame section, three of which —47 Canal, Bureau, and Crystal—sold their collections on the first day of exhibition. People floated in and out of the galleries, mostly to admire the eclectic collections and not buy. Among the crowd were hipsters and high-class partakers; you could spot the occasional ripped-jean, plaid-wearing spectator, but most were dressed to impress.
It would be impossible for all of the fair’s art to share a common theme, but there were certain characteristics that could be used to describe a number of works. Many of the pieces were ironic and contradictory in nature, like Darren Almond’s Perfect Time, a wall of split numbers that never matched up to make a sensible whole, even when the other half mechanically rotates over a set period.
Others were more in-your-face, containing obvious messages like Allen Ruppersberg’s Untitled, 2012, a collage of President Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald photo copies, combined with words like “assassin” and “dead.” No matter what messages the works produced or feelings they evoked, all of the art pieces were thought-provoking and reflective.