Here’s What’s Worth Seeing at Frieze New York

With its May 1 preview, this year’s iteration of Frieze New York arrived like an early period — only instead of a week’s worth of tampons, I unceremoniously tore through 68 galleries’ worth of art separated by Bloomingdale’s-coded escalators between the floors of The Shed. And much like an early period, I grumbled and stewed throughout the whole walkthrough but was later relieved that it was out of the way after the fact.

Open to visitors through this Sunday, May 5, Frieze feels like a pop-up market in a dead mall, but there are easter eggs scattered throughout for those who are determined enough to find them.

Predictably, the first floor, as in Level 2, was where exhibitors put out all of their bells and whistles — or in this case, kinetic sculptures and installation work. At the Massimodecarlo Gallery booth, Elmgreen & Dragsett’s “Social Media (White Poodle)” (2023), consisting of a lifelike model of a toy poodle sitting on an automatically revolving merry-go-round, happened to closely resemble the experience of scrolling through my own Instagram explore page, though it didn’t quite provide the same oxytocin release.

Across the aisle at the Esther Schipper booth, the twirling, colorful 35mm film rolls in Rosa Barba’s “Color Rhymes” (2023) complemented the revolving poodle but certainly offered more visual excitement, especially to the infant beside me who tried to trace the film rolls with her tiny little index finger before turning and snatching her dad’s nose instead. Then I came across Marepe’s clay pots displayed on the floor at Anton Kern Gallery booth, which I would like to think could be me and my friends if we were cunty ceramics.

Kukje Gallery’s museum-style exhibition focused on sacred papercutting traditions across East Asian cultures through a solo presentation of Haegue Yang’s Mesmerizing Mesh (2021–). Holly Hendry’s half-surgical, half-OfficeMax wall hangings at the Stephen Friedman booth caught my eye, though I can’t shake the latter’s resemblance to Matthew Ronay’s sweeping sculpture showcased at the Casey Kaplan booth last year.

I found the rest of Level 2 pretty uninspiring, and confirmed that through the devastating birds-eye view of it from the floor above. It was like the opposite of how a Monet painting is described in Clueless — decent up close but a total mess from afar.

Level 4 was the most redeeming section of the fair, and the Central and South American galleries carried. In the Focus section, Mitre Galeria of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, showcased a grounded and immersive presentation of 27-year-old multidisciplinary artist davi de jesus do nascimiento. For its second time at Frieze, the gallery displayed nascimiento’s earth-toned photo collages, drawings, paintings, and sculptures on chocolate brown walls, transporting us from the gaudy Hudson Yards to the artist’s São Francisco riverbank home city of Pirapora.

Nascimiento’s practice is profoundly family-oriented. Coming from a line of woodworkers, the artist anchored the booth with a carved boat he completed with his father and included a wooden carranca, a Brazilian carved figurehead with bared teeth meant to protect rivermen from nefarious spirits, that he unearthed from his family property. The physical carranca was accompanied by nascimiento’s brown-pencil drawings of carrancas overpowering each other and swallowing each other up, which he told me was the way they reproduce.

Perhaps it’s my naïveté, or maybe it’s the tender hug I shared with nascimiento, but his display at Mitre Galeria felt pure and honest, operating on a plane of love and connectivity far above Frieze’s transactional mechanics. And I don’t think I’m the only one to feel this way, as I saw how so many were delighted by the booth and took their time to get up close to each work.

Rodrigo Mitro, the gallery’s founder, “brings Brazil with him to the fairs,” remarked Anita Goes, a New York-based Brazilian photographer and writer who was assisting with the booth. “Not only through the artists, but the heritage and history as well.”

From Guatemala City, Proyectos Ultravioleta reiterated the notion of presenting an exhibition rather than a fair booth at Frieze with a group show that explored how seven artists collaborate with and connect to nature. Director Stefan Benchoam said this was the eighth time Proyectos Ultravioleta participated in Frieze, as “there’s not really an art market in Guatemala,” and noted that the contemporary arts space gravitates toward showcasing timely and politically charged works that reflect artists’ personal histories and experiences.

“We’re not afraid of getting into those spaces, because we understand art as a way to get into them, break them down, and create consensus,” Benchoam continued.

I was uplifted by what I saw on Level 4, but was knocked back down to earth when I reached the last swath of booths on Level 6 and came across gimmick-y neon text signs, astonishingly boring paintings, and … well, a bunch of other stuff that never made it to my long-term memory repository. The saving grace was the group display at the Instituto de Visión booth, which gave me the sense to leave on a good note by avoiding the top-floor lounge entirely.

I’m not in the business of telling people what to do, but I will leave you with the fact that general admission tickets are $100 (okay fine, $98) this year, so make of that what you will! 🙃

Vivian Suters display at Proyectos Ultravioleta
Vivian Suter’s display at Proyectos Ultravioleta
Tania Perez Cordova 22Monstera22
Tania Pérez Cordova, “Monstera” (2022), artificial leaf, 14k gilded silver chain, and steel, 45 x 29 1/2 x 24 inches, at Tina Kim Gallery
James Lee Byars 22The Star Book22
James Lee Byars, “The Star Book” (1990), Kavala marble, 5 1/2 x 10 3/4 x 10 3/4 inches, at Michael Werner Gallery

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