The real stars behind the New York edition of Frieze Art Fair 2018 are the weather gods. The much-touted Fair opened to clear blue skies, a bright sun and summer temperatures, on a perfect spring day. Typically, the art world can be a serious lot, with black as the colour of sartorial choice on any given day. As I approached the signature white tent on Randall’s Island for the VIP preview on Wednesday however, I couldn’t help but notice how cheerful everyone seemed, and also, how black had been traded in for all colours of the rainbow. I don’t know how much power sunshine has over the selling of art, but it certainly tipped the happiness meter.
Frieze New York is my favourite art fair. First, it’s in my hometown. I don’t have to travel that far, whereas others have flown in from across the globe to attend. Second, it feels like a giant U.F.O. has temporarily stationed itself off the mainland for the sole congregation of an eclectic tribe who crave art like most other people crave air. An assortment of gallerists, artists, art collectors, museum directors and curators and so many others from the myriad art world pyramid satiate their collective lust for contemporary art together, for a few short days.
Frieze New York 2018. Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy: Mark Blower/Frieze
Art requires leisurely stretches of time to just look, feel and think, so an art fair isn’t exactly the place to engage with art. But the best art fairs like Frieze can provide moments of sudden insight, of sheer delight at the array of colours, techniques, and materials, and a dizzying experience of creativity, imagination, and artistic courage being deployed in our world today. If you’re lucky, you may even discover an amazing new artist (or maybe a few) and start following their work.
There's lots that’s great at Frieze this year. It’s comforting to see familiar faces from the Indian art world on this other shore. Project 88 and Jhaveri Contemporary, both from Mumbai, are back at the fair. Nature Morte, the stalwart global art fair pioneer from New Delhi, is also back. Project 88 has staple gallery artists on display, including Neha Choksi, Rohini Devasher and Sandeep Mukherjee. A large, lush painting by Amitesh Shrivastava, one of the gallery’s new recruits, is the best work on display. Made up of monochromatic and earthy tones, the fluid brushwork makes this painting a sensory delight.
Amitesh Shrivastava, Rub (2018). Courtesy: Project 88, Mumbai
Jhaveri Contemporary is in the Spotlight section this year. Spotlight focuses on rarely seen works by 20th-century artists and is curated by Toby Kamps (Blaffler Art Museum). The gallery’s display, of the late Mohan Samant’s paintings and drawings from the 1980s, is outstanding. Employing collage and assemblage, the scintillating compositions are so nervy and fresh, they feel like they were done yesterday. The gallery’s efforts have been well worth it. They walk off with the Frieze Stand Prize for their “spirit of risk-taking” and “pushing the boundaries of Indian modern and contemporary art,” according to a statement released by Frieze. It’s a big coup for the gallery and resounding recognition of Indian art.
Jhaveri Contemporary awarded Frieze Stand Prize. Courtesy: Frieze
Jhaveri Contemporary at Frieze New York. Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy: Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai/Frieze
Mohan Samant, Kanyadanam (1987). Courtesy: Jhaveri Contemporary, Mumbai
A mix of established and emerging artists feature at Nature Morte’s booth. Two striking abstract paintings by Tanya Goel are on view, alongside a large, sublime painting by the Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi and a myth-inducing sculpture by L.N. Tallur. Colour photographs by Gauri Gill also adorn the booth. Gill’s brilliant solo exhibition Acts of Appearance is currently on view at MoMA PS1, the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary vassal in Long Island City.
Tanya Goel, Simulcast (2018). Courtesy: Nature Morte, New Delhi
Imran Qureshi, Midnight Garden (2017). Courtesy: Nature Morte, New Delhi
If on the hunt for South Asian art, don’t miss Perrotin’s booth dedicated to Bharti Kher’s work. The gallery presents a mix of her signature op art-influenced, bindi works, an interpretative life-size sculpture of the Goddess Kali and a new miniature-sized grouping of hybrid mythological sculptures called Intermediaries (2018) which are refreshing, and quite wonderful. Another sighting of Indian art includes Anish Kapoor’s concave mirrored surfaces at Lisson Gallery. Just when I think I’ve seen enough of these over the course of my career, I chance upon another beauty. This splendid work has two concave faces hung perpendicular to each other. As I walk by, the warm fiery tones reveal lenticular, reflective surfaces, in which I catch a glimpse of myself.
Bharti Kher, Kali (2018). Courtesy: Perrotin
Bharti Kher, Intermediaries (2018). Courtesy: Perrotin
Anish Kapoor, concave mirrors at Lisson Gallery, Frieze New York
Anish Kapoor, concave mirrors with lenticular, reflective surface revealed. Lisson Gallery at Frieze New York
Frith Street Gallery from London has on display a stunning embroidered carpet with silver and gold threads running across it like rivulets. On inspecting the wall label, I discover the work is by none other than Raqs Media Collective, art stars from New Delhi. I turn around and stationed close by I find one of Dayanita Singh’s signature photographic pillars. I am overjoyed at the serendipity of the unexpected encounter with more Indian artworks.
Raqs Media Collective, The Necessity of Infinity (2017) and Dayanita Singh, Time Measures Pillar (2016-2018) at Frith Street Gallery. Courtesy: Frith Street Gallery, London/the artists
Raqs Media Collective, The Necessity of Infinity (2017). Based on a Tenth-Century correspondence between Al Biruni and Ibn Sina). Image courtesy: Frith Street Gallery, London/the artist
As I saunter through the art fair, I revisit old favorites as well as works by recognizable stars: a breath-taking Louise Bourgeois sculpture at Cheim & Read; a jazzy columnar sculpture by Daniel Buren at Lisson Gallery; an intricately crafted ecosystem by Sarah Sze at Victoria Miro; a shredded oil-skin painting by Angel Otero at Kavi Gupta; a shimmering tapestry made of bottle-caps by El Anatsui at Jack Shainman; a delightful optical work composed of elliptical forms by Olafur Eliasson at Tanya Bonadkar Gallery; bright anime barbies by Takashi Murakami at Gagosian; and the quiet splendor of a monochromatic painting by Idris Khan at Sean Kelly, to name a few.
Louise Bourgeois, Couple (2004) at Cheim & Read, Frieze New York
Sarah Sze, Model for a Weather Vane (2012). Courtesy: Victoria Miro, London/Venice/the artist
I poke around, as I usually do, at galleries from the non-western world and smaller galleries to explore emerging artists and trends. I discover Walid Raad, a Lebanese artist, at Galerie Sfeir-Semler, a two-location gallery from Hamburg and Beirut. Two handsomely made paintings by the artist adorn the walls. Referencing museum architecture, the works comment on the institutionalization of art from the Arab world. Closer to home, there’s Andrew Edlin Gallery from the Bowery exhibiting dazzling paintings by Summer Wheat. The artist has invented a genius technique of filling aluminium mesh with acrylic paint, creating the illusion of intricately woven tapestries that explode with colour.
Walid Raad, Letters to the Reader_015 (2017) at Galerie Sfeir-Semler, Frieze New York
Summer Wheat, Night Garden (2018). Courtesy: Andrew Edlin Gallery
The prize for the most Instagram-worthy work this year goes to California-based Robert Therrien’s ultra-cool magnification of a table and chairs at Gagosian’s booth. I, along with everyone else, register the behemoth on my social media feed to record my presence amongst the art world’s glitterati. Outdoors, one can take in Mood Sculpture (2017), a colourful totem of goofy emojis by Tony Tasset, and Shady (2018) a minimalist construction by Kapwani Kiwanga, who has been commissioned for Frieze Art Award. I also happen to witness a group performance in the art fair aisles called Suffragette City (2018) by Lara Schnitger; a hilarious medieval-style procession marching with elaborately made banners and slogans like “Love Your Boob.” I do, thank you.
Robert Therrien, No title (folding table and chairs, green) (2008) at Gagosian, Frieze New York
Tony Tasset, Mood Sculpture (2017) at Frieze New York. Courtesy: Hyperallergic
Kapwani Kiwanga, Shady (2018). Photo: Mark Blower. Courtesy: Mark Blower/Frieze
Lara Schnitger, Suffragette City (2018) at Frieze New York
Traipsing through an art fair can be a fatiguing affair. By the time I hit my stride in the afternoon, the temperatures have climbed to sweltering levels. Cosy smiles give way to heat-beat measures. I run into artist friends Yamini Nayar and Kanishka Raja at Frankie’s, a stylish pop-up restaurant in the tent. Together, we sip on $5.00 Diet Cokes that come in real bottles with tall glasses of cubed ice and lemon wedges. I look up, and directly across from me is a metallic artwork with an image of the American flag inscribed with the word, “Moratorium.” Next to it, a colourful poster reads “DARKER. GAYER. DIFFERNT.” I go back to sipping my coke.
That’s why I love Frieze. Everything feels possible.
Sharmistha Ray is an artist and art writer in New York City.