Saturday, May 25, 2013

Big Five Oh, part 2: Frieze

Robert Boyd

After we went to Cutlog, my nephew Ford and I had some lunch and then headed over towards 34th Street and the East River. This is where Frieze's water taxis were docking, and also where we would be meeting my friends LM and DC. LM and DC are two collectors who I have known for a long time (before they were art collectors, in fact). LM had secured four passes for Frieze on Thursday, which was a "preview" day. LM and DC are quite serious art collectors who represent a class of collector one rarely hears about. We usually read about the Steven Cohen type of art collector--the hedge fund guys, the Russian oligarchs, the titans of industry, etc. But people who spend four or maybe five figures for a piece of art are much more common. It's these collectors I know. For LM and DC, Frieze was mostly about looking around (as Frieze art tends to be very high-ticket work), LM did buy work at Pulse, and DC came very close doing so as well.

LM and DC look remarkably different--LM wears a supremely casual uniform of shorts, Tshirt and ever-present messenger bag. DC came from his work that day in a tailored suit and he favors custom-made shirts. Their tastes are different, too. They noted over the course of the next couple of days that neither of them had a single artist in common in their collections (although as we shall see, this may change). But as collectors, they approach work in a very similar way--they are deliberate and thoughtful. They think a very long time before committing. They do the research they need to feel comfortable with their purchases. If you are an artist, this is the kind of person you should want as a collector.

LM and DC at Frieze

As for me, my income puts me mostly in the looky-loo category. I collect work I love when I can, which is rarely. I didn't expect to buy any art at these fairs. (As it happened, I did end up buying a piece of art--but not at Frieze.) For me, Frieze was like a vast, uncurated museum of contemporary art. There are so many pieces that I found myself looking for two or three pieces that have some superficial similarity that I can declare to be a trend. As it turns out, you can make lots of "fake trend" groupings with the art at Frieze. It's hard to be completely original. Here are some of the "trends" I saw at Frieze.


Monica Bonvicini, Belts Couch, 2004, black leather men's belts, iron, fabric, parquet, 21 2/3 x 63 x 78 3/4 inches at Johan König

Mathieu Mercier, Untitled (Belt), 2013, Leather belt, plexiglass box, plinth, 62.9 x 13.3 x 13.3 inches at Mehdi Chouakri

Two isn't enough to be a trend, but still I was struck by the fact that there were two separate belt sculptures.

Elaborate Sculptures of Disposable Containers

Jürgen Drescher, Moving Box Freestanding 1, 2012, aluminum cast, 41 3/4 x 17 1/2 x 14 inches at Galerie Rodolphe Janssen

Andreas Lolis, Untitled, 2013, marble, 10 x 72 x 64 cm at The Breeder

Andreas Lolis, Untitled (detail), 2013, marble, 10 x 72 x 64 cm at The Breeder

Robert Whitman, Garbage Bag, 1964/2013, installation of 2013 transferred reconstruction: original 16 mm film loop to DVD, color, silent. "Pioneer" supermarket bag, portable miniprojector with memory stick, frosted plexiglass lens, fiberglass cast, media pedestal, 16 x 12 x 6.5 inches at Air de Paris

I admit that Robert Whitman's Garbage Bag is not really like Andreas Lolis's piece and Jürgen Drescher's moving box, both of which sculpt garbage out of fine, permanent materials (marble and aluminum respectively). But I really liked Garbage Bag, so I include it here. As an aside, if you're a collector, how do you keep Garbage Bag? Paper bags are not exactly known for their permanence. This is an issue I will return to later.

Political Art

Political art is never really a "trend," but is instead a constant. There is always someone doing it. But you expect to see it in non-profit spaces, not in giant indoor art markets like Frieze. Galerie Lelong decided to do a whole booth full of "political art," which amused me greatly. I mean, it wasn't like they were using this art to make a political statement (some of the art referred to political situations from long in the past). For them, "political art" was just a programmatic decision. It could have been "minimal art" or "Brazilian art" (they were, in fact, also showing a lot of Brazilian art).

Leon Golub, The Assassin, 1972, acrylic on Belgian linen, 92 x 57 inches

Nancy Spero, South Africa, 1981, handprinting and typewriter collage on paper, 26.5 x 40.5 inches

Nancy Spero, Argentina, 1981, handprinting and typewriter collage on paper, 26.5 x 40.5 inches

So naturally they included pieces by Leon Golub and Nancy Spero, whose expressionist political works are classics.

Cildo Meireles, Tiradentes: Totem-Monument to the Political Prisoner, 1970, suite of six black and white photographs, 4.75 x 7 inches each

Cildo Meireles's piece, Tiradentes: Totem-Monument to the Political Prisoner, comes from a time when Brazil was under an increasingly harsh military dictatorship (although one that left artists alone, for the most part, perhaps recognizing their utter impotence as far as politics goes). The title is excellent: Tiradentes was a Brazilian independence plotter who was captured and hanged in 1792. He is a national hero and one whose name the military dictatorship couldn't really outlaw (unlike figures like, for example, Che Guevarra).

Yoko Ono, Imagine No Fracking at Galerie Lelong

Yoko Ono, with a little help from her dead hubby, took a bold stand and commanded us to imagine no fracking. So I did: I imagined us importing huge amounts of liquified natural gas from Middle Eastern despots; I imagined natural gas costing $13 per thousand cubic feet (instead of about $4.50) and poor people suffering in the cold because they couldn't afford to heat their homes; I imagined thousands of working-class American roughnecks and roustabouts out of work. I also imagined how funny it would be if this piece were shown at the Texas Contemporary Art Fair or the Houston Fine Art Fair.

But real politics did surprisingly intrude into the proceedings at Frieze. Frieze has made itself infamous for using only non-union labor, which in a heavily union town like New York is quite a ballsy move. (Ironically, the art fairs at Brown Convention Center in Houston both use union labor.) Normally this fact doesn't seem to bother the exhibitors and certainly doesn't bother the rich glitterati in attendance. But artists might be a little annoyed, and one of them, Andrea Bowers, spoke out.

Two copies of the letters were posted next to huge blowups of pro-socialist/union political cartoons from the 19th century by Walter Crane.

Her other artwork seemed to have a political edge as well.

Andrea Bowers at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

But to me, work like this at Frieze is just another high-end consumer product. Her letter, on the other hand, addresses a political situation that has to do directly with Frieze. You can't be at Frieze, see this letter, and say you support the unions because just by being there you are supporting Frieze management. This letter forces you to realize your own complicity--and therefore to take a side. Compare this to Yoko Ono's Imagine No Fracking, which requires nothing of the viewer. The Frieze visitor can say, "Oh, yes, I am against fracking," because it cost him nothing. Fracking is something that some people do in some distant parts of flyover country. But when Andrea Bowers calls attention to a bad policy by Frieze, she's talking about the guy whose job it was to mop this spill up.

I found that hard to ignore, but I don't know about the average Frieze-goer.


But more of a trend was art that seemed related to pornography. This was work that took pornographic imagery (whether it was already existing or made up by the artist is not always clear)and transformed it in some way to make it art. None of the transformations were minimal--this wasn't just someone putting a pornographic video into a gallery and making it art through the act of recontextualizing it. These pieces were substantially, visually changed.

Thomas Ruff, chromogenic print with Diasec at David Zwirner

Thomas Ruff, chromogenic print with Diasec

Like these huge blurry photos by Thomas Ruff. They were all called "nudes" followed by a four digit alphanumeric code. According to a really thoughtful review in The Guardian by Geoff Dyer, they were taken from pornographic websites. Dyer points out, "Ruff's decision to call these pictures Nudes encourages us to see them as part of – conceivably as culmination of and commentary on – a major tradition in western art that has cloaked itself in any number of religious, mythological, aesthetic and moral guises." And I think this can be said of all the porn-related work at Frieze.

Johannes Kahrs, Untitled (kliene freundin), 2008, oil on canvas, 167 x 107 cm at Xeno X

With photos, the line between porn and art is blurry. After all, almost all porn is lens based. (And I would add that very little if any porn is painted in oil paints, a medium which at this point in history is in the exclusive domain of "art"). So how do we look at this piece by Johannes Kahrs? Oil painting of a nude woman=art. Legs spread for a beaver shot=porn. The ambiguity is delicious, and his painting technique is superb.

Richard Prince, untitled, 2012, ink jet and acrylic on canvas, 63 1/4 x 50 1/8 inches at Sadie Coles

Richard Prince plays up the ambiguity by reusing an older pornographic image. Pornography+time lessens the impact of porn. Nostalgia turns something that was furtive and shameful in its time into something completely acceptable and even fun. (Bettie Page, for example.)

Kendell Geers, Mouthing off, 1993, 9 TV sets and 9 dvds, steel shelves at Galerie Rodolphe Jansssen

South African artist Kendell Geers had several pieces at Frieze, including Mouthing off. But only Mouthing off dealt with porn. Each screen showed kaleidescopic images that only revealed themselves to be porn after close examination. Which I did. I pointed this piece out to DC and he declared that he found it "disturbing." It a piece of art can get a rise out of someone, I guess it has accomplished something.

Nicole Eisenman at Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects

Sometimes it's just the pose that recalls pornography. This crudely depicted figure by Nicole Eisenman is showing us the figure's asshole--as so many porn photos do. I liked that she depicted the asshole as a little asterisk shape. It reminded me of Kurt Vonnegut's drawing of an asshole in Breakfast of Champions.

John Wesley, untitled, 2011-2012, acrylic n canvas, 52 3/4 x 31 3/4 inches at Matthew Marks

John Wesley had a series of nude paintings at Matthew Marks which while not "hard core" were obviously meant to look like pornographic pictures. The woman above posing suggestively witht he intend of showing off her breasts. (But what makes the picture very erotic is the wedding ring.)

Vinyl Records

I don't think vinyl record art is really a trend, but who knows? In an era where it is supremely easy for artists to make recordings and play them through digital devices, there is something about any artwork that involves a vinyl record that makes me take notice (Michael A. Morris's A Gentle Mind Confused, for example).

Renata Lucas, Longplay at A Gentil Carioca

Renata Lucas is a Brazilian artist who specializes in "architectural interventions." And to display Longplay requires an architectural intervention of a very physical sort--a turntable has to be installed into the floor with a wall on top of it. This is one of those works that is a challenge to a collector, because not only does she buy the work, she has to build a wall for it. But since I'm not building a wall, I had the option to just enjoy it--which I did. (And let me add here that her Rip de Janeiro gallery, A Gentil Carioca, has the best website I've ever seen for a gallery. Apparently Ernesto Neto is one of the gallery's owners.)

Jack Goldstien, untitled at Galerie Buchholz

I really want to listen to a record called The Quivering Earth.

Jack Early, Jack Early's Ear Candy Machine, 2009, lacquered wood, 1920s Victrola horn, turntable, vinyl record, plexi, black lights. 8 original tracks, all songs by Jack Early "with a little help from his friends" at McCaffrey Fine Art

This was part of a huge Jack Early extravaganza, including two giant installations.

Jack Early, Jack Early's Ear Candy Machine, 2009, lacquered wood, 1920s Victrola horn, turntable, vinyl record, plexi, black lights. 8 original tracks, all songs by Jack Early "with a little help from his friends" at McCaffrey Fine Art

Jack Early, Jack Early's Ear Candy Machine, 2009, lacquered wood, 1920s Victrola horn, turntable, vinyl record, plexi, black lights. 8 original tracks, all songs by Jack Early "with a little help from his friends" at McCaffrey Fine Art

Jack Early, Paul (John Is the One That Is Dead, Actually), 2011, light green paint, wood, poster board and plexi, 82 x 24 x 33 inches

I will admit that this made me laugh.

Jack Early, Linda McCartney (What Do You Call a Dog with Wings), 2011, pink paint, wood, poster board and plexi, 48 x 24 x 16 inches

But I wondered what collector would really want to own (much less display) such mean-spirited works like Paul and Linda McCartney. Still, they made me laugh! (The Linda McCartney joke was one that I heard back in the 70s--even then I felt guilty for laughing at at.)

Jack Early, WWJD, cross, foorprints, clouds, original audio track: Hey Jesus, 2012, printed Lexasm lights, plywood, muslin, lentils, printed cotton

Ultimately, it seems like Early has become enamored with certain aspects of 70s pop culture, but can't refrain from making fun of it. I was amused briefly, but it seems like very transitory stuff. That said, I couldn't hear the songs in the loud crowd--maybe they have merit.

How Do You Display and Conserve These Pieces?

OK, I'm veering away from trends to something that was repeatedly on my mind at Frieze, artworks that would be a challenge to own. I've touched on this a bit with the Robert Whitman and Renata Lucas. And obviously, if we think of the art world as a whole, lots of pieces of art are temporary and not really meant to be conserved. They aren't meant to be collected. There may be some collectible residue--photographic documentation, for example. But to me, it's surprising to see such pieces at Frieze, which I think of (naively?) as a bazaar for selling very valuable collectible merchandise to well-heeled collectors, right? So how do you collect this piece by Chadwick Rantanen?

Chadwick Rantanen, untitled at the Standard

Chadwick Rantanen, untitled at the Standard

This installation by Chadwick Rantanen consists of plastic bins filled with water with thin films of oil (oil paint?) floating on them. The film ends up making very intriguing designs, which I assume are mostly random. Definitely an interesting and thought provoking piece. Obviously it can't be transported. If you were a collector, you'd have to have it recreated in your space. But how long does it last? How long can you have oil floating in water? What happens to the design over time?

Tony Feher, (Singer of Many), 2008, 31 glass bottled with screw caps, water, food color and painted wood shelf, 8.25 x 108.5 x 3.5 inches at Sikkema Jenkins

And with Tony Feher, I've often wondered how long does food color last? I assume it's organic and can therefore probably rot or get moldy. Maybe decay is prevented (or at least delayed) by virture of being in a closed bottle.

Foreground: Joseph Grigely, We Need a Drinking Song, 2012, crystal urethane, 75 x 55 x 55 cm. Background: Carsten Höller, The Smoke of the Melon, 1994, watermelon, pipe, 30 x 30 x 35 cm

We Need a Drinking Song by Joseph Grigely will probably last for centuries if taken care of, but Carsten Höller's The Smoke of the Melon is made with a real watermelon, which will go bad. So if you're a collector who owns this, do you just replace the melon every now and then?

Houston Artists

Another thing I'm on the lookout for at these places are any artists from Houston. At any given time, I suppose, there are some artists from Houston who have managed to flicker across the consciousness of the art market. These are the ones whose work one would be most likely to see at Frieze. This time around, it was Trenton Doyle Hancock and Mark Flood, both of whom have had big gallery shows in New York in the past year.

 Mark Flood at Stuart Shave

This Mark Flood is pretty but also pretty typical. I saw better examples a week later in Austin at Russell Etchen's show of work from his personal collection.

Trenton Doyle Hancock (clockwise from upper right): Red Head, 2013. acrylic and mixed media on canvas; The Veil, 2013, acrylic and mixed media on canvas; It's Between You and the Dark What Happened in Central Park, 2013, acrylic and mixed media on canvas at James Cohan Gallery

James Cohan Gallery brought quite a bit of Trenton Doyle Hancock, which was very nice to see.

What did LM and DC like? Their tastes, as mentioned, are not identical. LM expressed admiration for some video work, which I'm pretty sure is not to DC's taste. But both of them like Andreas Gursky.

LM and I discuss Gursky (photo by DC)

Andreas Gursky at Sprüth Magers

Andreas Gursky at Sprüth Magers

These photos of reflections on water were pure magic.

We were there for 6 hours. Then for some crazy reason, we decided to walk to Harlem. Here's what the Frieze tent on Randall Island looks like from the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.


1 comment:

  1. Chadwick Rantanen uses hydrographic film. It is not oil.