Walking outside of Frieze New York’s north entrance, the first thing fairgoers will probably notice is a large inflatable ballon of a kind of pig/baby hybrid, hovering ominously above everything, doing battle with the New York skyline. The balloon is the work of Philadelphia artist Alex Da Corte, and part of a projects program presented by Frieze and curated by Cecilia Alemani.
“Well, it’s a large parade float, which is a replica from the film Batman, Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989,” Da Corte told me during a brief chat over the phone earlier this morning. The piece is called Free Money. (After some clarification, it turns out that balloon is actually a replica of a replica. It is riffing on a 1993 Philipe Parreno work inspired by the film.)
In the scene in question, the Joker throws a parade, enticing Gotham City residents with the promise of $20 million bucks in cold, hard cash, raining from the sky, Magic City style. The people show up and money does momentarily flow, but only before the Joker attacks everyone with a deadly gas called Smilex.
“Just from the gate I was considering the fair as another kind of stage set, and making this parade float felt like it conceptually made sense in relationship to New York as Gotham City,” Da Corte said. To him an art fair functions “sort of as a similar event” to the one that occurs in the “scene in Batman when the Joker flies these parade floats over a city full of people in the streets.”
Just outside the fair, the ballon feels thrillingly dystopian. It does the good work of adding an air of menace to an event that on the surface amounts to a brightly lit showroom for contemporary art, but could also be seen as a cipher for some of the world’s more troubling issues. I asked Da Corte if, like the Batman scene, there would be any actual free money hailing from the sky at any juncture over the course of the fair. “You should go and see,” he told me with a laugh. Hopefully no gas, though!