A Visit to the Frieze Art Fair in NYC, part I

On May 5th I had the opportunity to visit 2019’s Frieze Art Fair in New York City. This was the eighth edition of this fair, originally founded in London. While I’ve attended many art fairs over the years, this was my first time at Frieze.

An image of 2019's Frieze Art Fair in NYC.
Photo Credit: James Nova, flikr.com

Due to my family and gallery commitments, I was only able to make it on Sunday, the final day of the fair. Personally I prefer to visit a fair earlier in the week. The first few days everything feels a bit fresher somehow: the gallery owners haven’t been completely exhausted by the hordes of visitors yet, the leaflets/brochures/postcards haven’t been pawed over, and the temporary digs have yet to be tread on by thousands upon thousands of feet.

Despite visiting on the final afternoon, a day so windy that the sides of the tent shook, Frieze was a delightful experience. The show felt well-curated and there was a generous amount of high-quality art on display. Yes, like any show, there were a few things that caused me to shake my head, but I was generally impressed.

While perhaps organized-looking on the map below, the layout of the fair felt labyrinthine on the inside.

Map courtesy of Frieze.com

The fair was divided up into sections (denoted by color) with different themes.

Pieces

Works I choose to write about may not be the “Best of Frieze” But after a week, these are the works and experiences that have stuck with me the longest.

One of the most memorable areas I visited was the “Outsider Art” section entitled “The Doors of Perception” curated by Javier Téllez in collaboration with the Outsider Art Fair. This section felt like an “art fair within an art fair” to me. With towering gray walls, one entered this specific section of the show as a mouse does a maze and immediately was lost in an experience altogether different from the rest of Frieze.

Photo Credit: Outsider Art Gallery

Curated with its own specific ethos and theme, Téllez created an experience that had both a cohesive feel yet spanned a large diversity of styles. Galleries and artists work was presented differently and one couldn’t help but admire the obvious craftsmanship that went into so many of the pieces.

Photo Credit: Outsider Art Fair, Taken at Frieze 2019

Falling somewhere between folk art and art naif, outsider art shines a light on what happens when raw talent isn’t necessarily moulded to fit the mores of the traditional art world, nor inspired by the canon of art history. Click on the link to read more.

Noviadi Angkasapura, “Untitled” 2017, ballpoint pen and graphite on paper, courtesy Cavin Morris Gallery, shown at Frieze Art Fair 2019 as part of “Doors of Perception”

“Doors of Perception” focused on pieces specifically that seem to touch upon religion, mysticism, or daydream. The excellent curation by Téllez evoked a certain devotional quality in many of the pieces – whether it was the artist as a slave to his work, with an incredible amount of detail, or literal devotion such as in Guo Fengyi’s pieces (in the photograph below: the longest scroll and the one to its right) where her work were often inspired by her relationship with Qi Gong and other Eastern philosophies.

Photo Credit: Outsider Art Fair, Taken at Frieze 2019
Guo Fengyi, Courtesy of The New Yorker

Work such as Guo’s with its incredible detail and attention to color and mark making, creates a luminous piece that is both destabilizing in its rejection of traditional forms of artwork and yet attractive in its ethereal quality. Placed at the end of one of the more spacious gallery areas, it helped to anchor spaces that often felt cluttered and lacking focus, despite the fascinating art they contained.

The density of much of the artwork plus the manner in which it was hung in tight proximity meant that appreciating it all was a challenge. A bit more space between pieces would have allowed the work to breathe more easily.

Janko Domsic (1917-1983) Untitled. n.d. 12 x 16 in. ballpoint pen on paper. Courtesy of La Fabuloserie, Paris
Janko Domsic (1917-1983) Untitled. n.d. 12 x 16 in. ballpoint pen on paper. Courtesy of La Fabuloserie, Paris

Yet, as a gallery owner, of course I understand: one is only given a certain amount of square footage to display the work. These shows are expensive. I do not begrudge the ways in which things were hung, I just hope that next year Frieze will consider adding another 18 inches of width to each hallway in this area (in the sincerest of hopes that they will keep this concept/area), and that a slightly increased margin between artworks will be considered, even for those hung in groupings/salon style.

Overall Frieze was a fantastic show, and the Outsider Art was a memorable piece of it!

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