Cool Kids and Bathroom Smokers: The View from the Middle of Frieze
Frieze 2013: Randall’s Island
Editorial Note: Today (Monday, May 13) is the last day of Frieze, and yesterday tickets and transportation sold out: the fair recommends online booking to avoid disappointment.
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It’s somehow fitting that this year’s installment of the Frieze Art Fair takes place during the same weekend as the opening of Baz Luhrmann’s 3D adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Luhrmann’s movie has been criticized for its emphasis on excess, its literally in-your-face materialism. But, in the final analysis, under those unnecessary trappings, the story is really pretty damn good.
Frieze, in its second year at Randall’s Island, also tells a great story, even if you sometimes have to look beneath the bloat (and pay a $42 entrance fee) in order to discover it. With over 180 galleries (about half of them from Europe) spread over territory the size of three football fields, it is easy to come down with a case of art fatigue. But the nice thing about Frieze is that it balances excess with the sort of refinement that allows the fairgoer to forget, at just the right moments, that the whole thing is founded on crass commercialism.
For starters, there is the whole middle section of the fair, which features the Frame and Focus selections, the Frieze designation for participating galleries founded less than six years ago (Frame) or in or after 2002 (Focus), each showcasing a single artist whose work has not previously been seen in an art fair context (Frame) or a curated project specifically proposed for the fair. These are the fair’s cool kids, its bathroom smokers: they strike just the right mix of not caring at all and caring a lot, of posturing and earnestness. There is, in many of the Frame booths, a kind of compelling, contagious energy, as if the people involved have not yet had the chance to become jaded, to lose faith, and the results are a little rough around the edges in a really nice way. These aren’t underdogs exactly—one of the Frame artists, Stewart Uoo, showing at New York’s 47 Canal, has a small show at the Whitney, which opened the same day as Frieze, and features his former art school classmate, Jana Euler, who happens to be part of the Focus display at dépendence—but they also have not yet grown complacently satiated by success.
One of the Frame standouts is Julia Rommel at the consistently excellent New York gallery, Bureau. Rommel’s understated monochromes have a stunning simplicity, and they serve in the manner of a sorbet palate cleanser during a multi-course meal: a necessary corrective, a chance to remember why you are there in the first place.
Rommel’s work speaks to a truism oft forgotten in this era of blockbuster museum shows and auction extravaganzas: less is usually a whole lot more. In fact, over and over again, it is the most restrained exhibitors that strike the sharpest at Frieze. One excellent example of this is Cheim & Read’s booth, which includes Pat Steir’s beautiful Birthday Painting. For whatever reason—experience? national disposition? royal decree?—London galleries are especially apt at this. At Maureen Paley, Paul P’s small-scale portraits, suggesting a terrifically depressed Elizabeth Peyton, are wonderful, as is Maaike Schoorel’s painting, Vanitas. And there is something playfully innocent about Birgit Jürgenssen’s Polaroids at Alison Jacques Gallery. An exception to good London taste is White Cube, highlighting Damien Hirst’s medicine cabinets and Tracey Emin’s neons in a rehash of last year’s offerings.
Still, there is at least one point when the axiom invoked above fails to hold up or simply disintegrates in the face of insistent spectacle. At the fair’s North entrance stands Paul McCarthy’s Balloon Dog, courtesy of Hauser and Wirth. Giant and vibrantly red, it suggests an unabashed delight at taking the whole shebang in stride. On Friday afternoon, the sun lighting up the Frieze tent, Balloon Dog practically signaled the coming of spring and renewal.