Seeing and Being Seen
A Preview of Frieze New York

Voyeurism and exhibitionism—the projects of this year’s Frieze New York revolve around these themes. In addition, the Deutsche Bank-sponsored art fair’s offer is more political than usual. The talks as well as many works engage with migration, the legacy of colonialism, racism, and feminism. A preview by Achim Drucks.
The projects are viewed as barbs, as subversive commentary on the activity at Frieze New York. The fair was curated by Cecilia Alemani, the director of the High Line Art Program, who is responsible for ensuring that the park built on an elevated rail line in Manhattan is one of the city’s cultural highlights thanks to many commissioned works. Alemani prefers interdisciplinary, performative, and experimental works. This is apparent from her projects this year, which are devoted to seeing and being seen. “There isn’t a better place than the fair to look at people and art—and to be looked at in return,” explains Alemani, who is also curating the Italian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. “This year’s projects make us aware of this dynamic.”

Jon Rafman takes this game to the extreme. The Canadian artist transforms a fair booth into a mysterious cinema where he is showing his new videos, computer-generated erotic films in 3D. But the viewers of his works are observed themselves, because fair visitors can see them the from the outside while they are viewing the films. Dora Budor, in turn, plays with visitors’ hopes of encountering celebrities at the fair. She is sending three doppelgängers of a famous art collector to the fair—perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio, who has been spotted at Frieze New York a number of times.

With her projects Alemani also repeatedly draws attention to institutions with a future-oriented program. This time it is the Rome gallery La Tartaruga, which promoted installations and performances from early on. An example is the 1968 action  Il Teatro delle Mostre, in which the gallery presented the work of a different artist everyday for 28 days. At Frieze New York, two of these actions are being revived: Giosetta Fioroni’s performance The Optical Spy, in which an actress reenacts the daily life of the Pop artist, and Fabio Mauri’s installation Moon, a reconstructed moon landscape. These historical works are supplement by contributions of young artists. While Ryan McNamara combines performance and dance, Adam Pendleton’s works are in the tradition of concept art. His performances, videos, and installations are dedicated to the situation of the black community in the US, from the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s to Black Lives Matter today.

This year’s Frieze Talks also focus on sociopolitical issues. For this reason, curator Tom Eccles invited Claudia Rankine. One of the most important voices in African-American literature, many of her poems and essays investigate everyday racism in the United States. Last year, Rankine was given a “Genius Grant” by the MacArthur Foundation. With the 625,000 dollars in prize money, the author is planning to open the so-called Racial Imaginary Institute, a think tank-cum-exhibition space where the issue of race is viewed from different perspectives. She will present this initiative at the Frieze. 

Shuddhabrata Sengupta from Raqs Media Collective, that was commissioned to realize a work for the Deutsche Bank in Birmingham, England, in 2014, leads a podium discussion on art and political involvement. The participants include three artists who react to social issues in very different ways. Tania Bruguera conceived her “Arte Útil” as a response to the political conditions in her home country Cuba. This “useful art” encompasses actions and performances that champion freedom of opinion. In her projects, Jeanne van Heeswijk collaborates with young people and local residents to develop new perspectives for neglected urban spaces, while in his videos the Albanian artist Anri Sala deals with political questions in a rather indirect, poetic manner.

Against the backdrop of the discussions about the building of a wall between the USA and Mexico, the theme of the first major symposium presented by Frieze New York is particularly relevant. It relates Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, a large-scale project in which more than 70 institutions from all over Southern California are participating. The exhibitions and events aim to illustrate the immense influence of Latin American art and culture on the Los Angeles area. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA stands for exchange rather than ostracism. The fair itself is an example of cultural and international exchange. As the director of the Frieze, Victoria Siddall, puts it, it is truly “a vital and unique platform for art and ideas” with a global scope. The more than 200 participating galleries come from 31 different countries around the world. And the audience flocking to the fair tent on Randall’s Island is just as multicultural as the art scene.

We live in difficult times, and many of the works on view at Frieze New York react to this situation. For example, the London-based Maureen Paley is presenting two very politically active artists: AA Bronson and Wolfgang Tillmans. Tillmans, a photographer, is not only a critical observer of the globalized present, but is also fighting against the increasing nationalism in the world and for a united Europe. The last living member of the legendary artist trio General Idea, AA Bronson has since the 1960s created works that meld conceptual art, subversive humor, pop culture, and activism. Meanwhile, Thu Van Tran delves deeply into colonial history. Her current works at Meessen De Clercq deal with the raw material rubber, which for the young artist symbolizes France’s oppressive treatment of Vietnam during the colonial period.

The utopia of a world without borders inspires the work of Andrea Galvani. In its lounge, Deutsche Bank is presenting a selection of his photographic works from its corporate collection. For his video installation The End (Action #1), he had more than 30 places in Central America filmed while the sun was setting over the Atlantic Ocean. This impressive footage is projected on different walls and spatial elements, creating a meditative cosmos gleaming red and orange in which the very notion of geopolitical frontiers suddenly seems absurd. “The only way to extend a limit is to cross it,” says the artist.

Feminist positions are also well represented at the 2017 Frieze New York. Alongside well-known names such as Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, and Catherine Opie, new discoveries are on view, including Susan Cianciolo. Her works fuse fashion and art. Following Cianciolo’s invitation to the current Whitney Biennial, her works are now finally known not only to insiders. Kiki Kogelnik, Austria’s only Pop artist, lived in the 1960s in New York, where she became friends with Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. “Pop became a way of life,” she explained and staged herself as a walking happening wearing extravagant outfits. Women and fashion, as well as rockets and cannons, are among the favored motifs in her collage-like pictures.

The mixture of such discoveries, international newcomers, and established positions, coupled with the noncommercial supporting program, gives Frieze New York a unique profile. To arouse enthusiasm in contemporary art among the younger generation, the fair initiated a comprehensive education program, enabled by Deutsche Bank. It includes Frieze Teens, a program that offers high school students who are interested in contemporary art an exclusive glimpse behind the scenes. Prior to the fair, the students take part in weekly workshops and meet well-known artists such as Nicole Eisenman and art experts. The program has its highpoint during the Frieze, when as guides the young people can pass on the knowledge they have gained about current developments in contemporary art to student groups.

Frieze New York
Randall's Island Park
May 5 – 7, 2017