Frieze New York 2017. Reality, times a thousand


Teatro delle Mostre, Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome, Frieze, New York, art fair, Frieze 2017

Frieze Projects.
Teatro delle Mostre: Tribute to Galleria La Tartaruga, Rome


On Friday morning, as I was getting ready to travel to Frieze, and I was complaining via Whattsapp with a friend of mine about how far it is from downtown Manhattan, and even more so from my Bushwick apartment, and about how the price is unreasonable ($46; I am press and allowed free entry, but what about the other artists), he wrote: «Americans treat art fairs like museums, and museums like art fairs. Maximize & Gentrify.»

Frieze New York is indeed on an island in front of East Harlem, and you can reach it by ferry or via bridge, which adds to the expense of getting into the fair. On Friday I got discouraged by the weather; it seemed like I would have to build a giant boat to get there, and save some animals in pairs on the way. On Saturday, as I finally arrived at the ferry stop, I made the upsetting discovery that the ferry only happens on the fair’s Friday (once a year then; that seems reasonable). To avoid 45 more minutes of commute, I jumped in a cab, which ended up amounting to more than $20 – or the equivalent of 2 hours of work at minimum wage in the state of New York, after taxes. As an expat, I do what all Americans hate about us: I criticize. But anyone who will (and they do) not acknowledge this state of things is usually someone who has something to gain from it – sadly, oftentimes artists who think the system is made for them, or at least that if they stand under the table long enough, they will catch the occasional falling crumble.


Lisson Gallery, Anish Kapoor, Frieze, New York, art fair, Frieze 2017

Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery


As a result, art fairs are generally really stressful, unless you come by cab from your Upper X Side pied-à-terre. Again, this is the public they are seeking to attract, and it is in a way how culture is regarded especially in the States, the basis for all cuts to art funding: art as a commodity/service for a small part of the population – the privileged. The problem is obviously pervasive of all markets, the art market not being the exception anywhere in the world, as it diligently pursues its capitalistic impasse of eternal conflict between efficiency (quality) and private interest (profit).

At least, when you enter these art fairs, you’re sure you’ll be entertained. Oh well, it better be worth those 46 bucks! I like it when they have a good number of fair-commissioned projects, as in the case of The Armory Show with big environments/installations interacting with the fair itself. Sometimes you may ask yourself WHY a famous gallery chose a specific body of work to fill their giant booth – and if you don’t like the artwork or don’t find it significant enough, you may as well explain it with: «because of the art market.» For certain, the confidence a famous gallerist shows in featuring 245 (fictious number) neon installations inside their massive gallery stand will in itself make the artwork prices soar.

My favorite thing was part of Frieze Projects: a video installation by superstar artist Jon Rafman, always on point with contemporary culture in-the-making, and able to involve his audience. Rafman’s video installation Dream Journal (2017) seems at first designed according to «tradition», behind a dark curtain that leads to a cube-room where you take a seat like you would at the movies. The difference here is in the seats themselves: barely lit by the video happening on the screen in front of them, we can make out what appear to be added textures of layered, organic materials – as they remind us of a mixture of physical decay, a wax-museum lab, and a crocodile hunter’s home-made seats of choice. Rafman’s video is a descent into hell, though the title mentions «dreams,» and the sim-characters who navigate his disturbing digital world keep talking about «waking up inside» (gaining consciousness, or rather waking up inside another dream, as it happens in the video?) – but wake up they can’t. Each dream is contained within another dream, a circular structure that holds reality as according to most «oriental» religions, and whose acknowledgement is a nightmare in itself. Ça va sans dire, all the nightmares are very real to our society and even to the oneiric experience of each of us. There is no awakening, or truth to be found, as everything is and ISN’T, we can’t tell one from the other. It is, indeed, hell.


Jon Rafman, Dream Journal, Frieze, New York, art fair, Frieze 2017

Frieze Projects: Jon Rafman, Dream Journal (2017). A view of the installation


For most of the rest, I’ll let the artwork speak for itself through the photographs I am presenting here. I will arbitrarily talk about work that resonates with some of the concepts behind Rafman’s, and specifically the baring of our supposedly all-knowing mind of the assumption that truth can be rationalized, and thus comprehended.

The installation by Galleria Continua is overall remarkable, but one artwork in particular kind of broke my heart: Arcangelo Sassolino’s Le solite cose (The usual things, 2017), where a pile of footballs is contained and constricted by metal strings that form a simple grid of bars around it. Whatever our «usual things» are, our conception of them as «usual» disempowers and deflates their potential, a condition in which they can’t be themselves fully.


Arcangelo Sassolino, Ai Weiwei, Jonathas De Andrade, Galleria Continua, Frieze, New York, art fair, Frieze 2017

Arcangelo Sassolino, Le solite cose (2017)
Ai Weiwei, Pillar (2009)
Jonathas De Andrade, What’s left of the 1st horse race of downtown Recife (2012-2014)
Installation view at Galleria Continua


Even Adrian Paci’s I rivoltosi (The rioters, 2014) at Frith Street Gallery makes us question our understanding of what we’re looking at: Who are these rioters? Are they good or bad? They might be both – we add – according to the context in which this detail-deprived painting will be placed. Are they immigrants? Refugees? Of course they are, this is Adrian Paci, and confirmation comes from his other diptych on show, I bagnanti (The bathers, 2014), where similar characters are seen submerged in the sea, their life drama deflected by the paintings’ quiet title.


Adrian Paci, Frith Street Gallery, Frieze, New York, art fair, Frieze 2017

Adrian Paci, I rivoltosi (2014) at Frith Street Gallery


Finally, at Gagosian’s presentation of the always appealing slash perturbing artwork by painter John Currin, we find his usual «erotic bodies» multiplied by a thousand, so you can linger on the different styles and historical references for female portraiture (but isn’t this like saying, «erotic portraiture»?), so you can make out the meaning of the artwork by yourself, all the information you need is there, and we don’t have to take on the burden of explaining it ourselves.

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


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by Matilde Soligno
in Focus on the American East

Wed Development by Digital Art Factory