As Frieze New York opened to VIPs this Wednesday, midway through the second week of fairs the city has seen in a row, a line stretched toward 11th Avenue. Everyone seemed buzzed with excitement, and the energy continued to be felt inside, where thrumming crowds were packed into the aisles. By the day’s end, several dealers reported robust sales.
Among those in attendance were collectors like Lonti Ebers, Maja Hoffmann, Estrellita Brodsky, Komal Shah, Pamela Joyner, and Ricard Agakawa, as well as museum directors and curators like Johanna Burton and Naomi Beckwith. Former Real Housewives of New York star Kelly Killoren Bensimon even pushed me out of the way to take a photo in front of a Jack Whitten work.
Below, a look at the best on offer at the 2023 edition of Frieze New York, which runs until May 21 at the Shed in Hudson Yards.
Jack Whitten at Hauser & Wirth
The title of this solo presentation, “Not Just a Formal Exercise,” takes its name from a quote by the late, great artist: “Getting rid of all the chroma and taking it to black and white is not just a formal exercise. I’m very much aware of the meaning of black and white in American society, which informs who I am as an African American.” True to that inspiration, Hauser & Wirth is showing works from throughout Whitten’s career that are predominately black and white, with shades of gray thrown in. There’s a wonderful experiment with Xerox art (Whitten interned at the company in the ’70s). That piece, from 1975, pairs nicely with a triptych made a decade earlier, Heads in Motion XII, Portrait of a Lady I, Heads XII (1964). An untitled piece from 1976 is mesmerizing, vibrating before your eyes and giving the effect that it is made from corrugated steel instead of just acrylic on canvas. Like the other works here, it’s a testament to Whitten’s mastery as an artist.
“1973” at Michael Rosenfeld Gallery
Group presentations at art fairs are rarely successful; they give the feeling that the galleries mounting them are simply trying to offload backstock. That isn’t the case for this powerful grouping by New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. Titled “1973,” the booth is meant to mark—and mourn—what should have been a joyous occasion, the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, which enshrined the constitutional right to an abortion. But with the Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization last summer, Roe v. Wade was overturned at the federal level and access to safe and legal abortion is several states is no longer possible. As a way to reflect on this dichotomy and inspire a call to action, the gallery has brought together works made by 13 women, all dating to 1973. Some are explicitly political, while others are not. It’s a way to showcase what was in the air during that year. Standout works include pieces by Mary Bauermeister, Betye Saar, Louise Nevelson, and Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose Kolo I (Orchidee I) immediately draws you in.
Carlos Villa at Silverlens
As I mentioned in my newsletter introduction Wednesday morning, I was looking forward to seeing the works by Carlos Villa that Silverlens was bringing to Frieze. The gallery’s booth did not disappoint. Presenting works from across his career, it tracks the developments of an underknown but important artist from the latter half of the 20th century. The earliest works here showcase his experiments with Minimalism, with a grouping of drawings from the same sketchbook that aesthetically share an affinity with a later and much larger abstraction mostly in purple. But the stars here are Villa’s mature works: a coat, a diptych painting, and a feather-covered door. In the first two, Villa’s presence is intimately felt. He tried on each of his coats; a crease on one side shows where his body altered the work’s composition. In the painting, a small imprint of his face contrasts with the lush red underpainting.
But it is the feather-covered door, titled American Immigration Policy (TBD of 2), from 1996, that steals the show. As you approach this slightly ajar black door, you soon realize that it leads only to the white wall onto which it hangs. Villa sought to create a foundation for Filipino American art history, partly as a reflection on his own lived experience—his parents were immigrants and he was raised among a community of Filipino immigrants, who no doubt faced the harshness of this country’s immigration policy. That history hangs in the background of this striking work.
Takako Yamaguchi at Ortuzar Projects
To complement its current solo show for Takako Yamaguchi, Ortuzar Projects has a tight five-work survey that looks at her practice from 1990 to 2021. (The solo show features all new works completed in 2022.) Yamaguchi has worked in distinct series across her career, with the earliest work here referencing the work of Diego Rivera. Titled Small Radial Symmetry (1990), it features a figure set in a desert landscape with a sumptuous, curved river and exploding volcano. The tour de force of the show, however, is a work that the artist recently revisited. In 2009, she looked to Photorealist painting and wanted to try her hand at it as a conceptual gesture. The works were not well-received and did not sell, staying in her studio for over a decade. Then in 2021, she had the brilliant idea to put some of these works behind a vibrant Plexiglas artist frame. The shocking one exhibited here is encased beneath a see-through layer of neon pink.
Nan Goldin at Gagosian
Currently the subject of a traveling retrospective that debuted at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Nan Goldin has been on a roll as of late, having recently joined Gagosian’s roster. Her solo booth at Frieze New York is her first project with the gallery, showcasing her series of grids, which she first began 15 years ago. Drawing from her archive of thousands of images, these grids have a vibe all their own. Goldin has exhibited a number of her most famous works as slideshows, and these works act as a way to translating the format for the second dimension. “I consider my grids a chapter of the slideshows on the wall. . . . They are like storyboards,” Goldin says in an accompanying artist statement. “In the 1990s, I was influenced by Color Field painting. It doesn’t relate to my work, but I like art that’s completely different from mine. And I started making grids as an homage to the Color Field painters.”
Gold (2016) presents the artist’s emotional and psychological response to the titular color, whereas Veiled (2011–14) pairs Goldin’s candid shots with images taken of various paintings of nude women from the Louvre, which commissioned the work. Of the latter work, Goldin says, “It started from my desire to bring the subjects in the paintings and sculptures to life.”
Emma Prempeh at Tiwani Contemporary
In the fair’s Focus section, one standout work comes via emerging British artist Emma Prempeh, who completed her MA at Royal College of Art in London just last year. At first glance, the work seems to be merely a large-scale painting, showing three generations of Black women in a kitchen as they make her grandma’s famed rum cake. But if you spin around, you’ll notice a projector mounted on the facing wall, pointed directly at the left-hand side of the piece. At various intervals, the projection rears up, causing bottles to appear atop the sink and the faucet to turn on. But in a few moments, they start to fade away and disappear entirely. It’s a haunting metaphor for how tenuous life can feel at times.
Kemang Wa Lehulere and Edgar Calel at Blank & Projectos Ultravioleta
This joint booth presents an expert pairing of South African artist Kemang Wa Lehulere and Guatemalan artist Edgar Calel. At the left is an installation by Wa Lehulere, showing several suitcases that are bisected by a crutch. The work reflects on Wa Lehulere’s personal history during his home country’s apartheid, during which his family was forcibly moved from one part of Cape Town to the city’s outskirts. In combining the suitcases and crutches, Wa Lehulere seems to ponder the precarity of movements that occur under traumatic circumstances. Next to this installation is Calel’s, which shares the same earthy palette as the suitcases on display here. That is by design. Calel created these canvases with his family, but the underlying images they made are at the moment obscured, covered with a layer of dirt. In time, however, those images will reappear as the dirt disintegrates.
Rose Salane at Chapter NY & Carlos/Ishikawa
At first glance, I wasn’t quite what to make of the six sleek photographs on view in this joint booth by Chapter NY and London’s Carlos/Ishikawa. Each image presents an object (or several), along with a letter, all set against a deep red background. These objects were at one point taken from Pompeii by visitors and then returned. They now reside in Pompeii’s Archive of Objects Stolen and Returned, where artist Rose Salane was in residence last year. Based on the messages written on the postage to Pompeii, it’s not entirely clear what motivates people to return the objects that they had taken as souvenirs. One simply says, “I’m sorry.” Meanwhile, a longer letter states that the writer “realized that this piece of mosaic does not belong to me.”
There are too many good booths here, and at the risk of running too long, I’ll briefly reel off a few extra recommendations. There’s a strong solo presentation of Mary Lovelace O’Neal at Jenkins Johnson Gallery, showing works that officially date to the 1990s but have been worked on an altered between the 1980s and 2021. In the Focus section, Toronto’s Daniel Faria Gallery has an intriguing presentation of new work by 82-year-old, Harlem-born, Toronto-based artist June Clark, and Seoul’s Whistle has cool abstractions by Seoul-based Min ha Park. Tina Kim Gallery has a few works on view by Pacita Abad to complement its solo show for the artist in Chelsea (as well as her traveling retrospective that recently opened at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis).