Whitehot Magazine

Frieze Fun! all over Chelsea!

Leyla Faye. Strange Worlds, 2024, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 72 x 72 in, 182.9 x 182.9 cm, Image courtesy of the artist and Company Gallery, New York, At Frieze.


Frieze, more than ever, is bringing the world to Chelsea. This Tsunami of art and global out-of-towners spilled over from the sixty select at The Shed to NADA, the Future Art Fair, I-54 Contemporary African art fair, and three Chelsea galleries that let me peek inside their papered-over, pre-opening spaces. On May 1, the Frieze openings, collectively, were the place to be.

Hugh Hayden, Harlem, 2024, 24karat gold plated cast iron, copper pots and brass instruments, stainless steel, © Hugh Hayden, Courtesy Lisson Gallery

Altogether, I learned about new ways to be human, new uses of old materials, and new ways to mash up abstraction and figuration. At Templon on Tenth Avenue, Germany-based Norbert Bisky was finishing installing exquisite oils and mixed media work, including Insomnia and Truther. In masterful compositions that balance abstraction and figuration, the question of play in human societies is fraught with danger, and men face risks as they explore their identities, whether in sports or in more intimate settings. These paintings moved me viscerally.

Leyla Fay, In The Balance, 2024, Acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 60 x 96 in. 152.4 x 243.8 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Company Gallery, New York, At Frieze.

At the Lisson Gallery on 24th Street, Hugh Hayden’s Humans show offers intimate masked and unmasked tableaus. Harlem is a subway car in which the strap hangers are gold-plated, mask-wearing cooking pots and musical instruments. Is Hayden saying, we are our instruments? Not even pots or bones are created equal. Hayden’s Nocecchio is a wood and fabric long-nosed, hazel-skinned doll that raises new questions about truth-telling and long noses. Hayden’s art, installed in toilet-like stalls, includes a functional double urinal, sink, and soap. The works by Hayden and Bisky focus on universal men’s issues and viewpoints.

NORBERT BISKY, Insomnia, Oil on canvas, 220 x 175 cm, Photo: Bernd Berchardt: © Courtesy the artist and TEMPLON, Paris - Brussels - New York

Curiously, there were many works by women focusing on universal women’s issues. In addition, work was selling out. On preview Day One at Frieze, Leyla Faye’s large mixed media doppelgangers or double identities of herself at Company Gallery were sold out. Each work shows one or two women in rooms in a doll house. The identities are not fixed and suggest her white and black heritage. The compositions are mixed media and feature odd poses in small spaces. In Strange Worlds, the figure seems puzzled about what she sees. In The Balance is a large female whose two heads and two big feet are three-dimensional. The figure is being pulled apart and her anatomical and sexual parts are exposed and doll-like. Another painting is a closeup of a girl on her hands and knees on the floor. Each composition is strikingly personal yet enigmatic and symbolic. The poses and the literal hair and clothing merge seamlessly with the painting. The figures are surreal and in-your-face; the art somehow dialogs among many genres and eras as each doll figure’s distinctive, curious identity emerges. When I photographed the booths at The Shed, the exhibition spaces seemed like doll houses, too.

Esther Mahlangu, Untitled, 2023, 100x150cm, Acrylic on Canvas, © The Melrose Gallery, Johannesburg.

Among many memorable meetings was an art dealer from Miami who gave me his VIP ticket to I-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair. The Melrose Gallery, the first art booth, featured Esther Mahlangu. Her dealer, Craig Mark, confirmed that he had sold a huge number of the artist’s monumental works to Swizz Beatz. I had seen Mahlangu’s giant-sized paintings in a huge gallery at the Brooklyn Museum’s Dean Collection exhibition –the art of Alicia Keyes and Swizz Beatz. Here, these vibrantly colored abstract works were closer to room-sized. Untitled shows a peaceful convergence. The bright hues and abstract designs have deep meanings.

I coveted the two painted Mahlangu bike helmets. A film showed how the work is made—her amazing geometries and abstract lines are hand-painted without the aid of mechanical tools. A timeline traced Mahlangu’s early and continuing successes, art awards, and honorary doctorates, including being the first woman and first African chosen early on to paint a BMW car.

NORBERT BISKY, Truther, 2024, Oil on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, Photo: Bernd Berchardt © Courtesy the artist and TEMPLON, Paris – Brussels - New York

Among works by deceased artists, Ed Clark and Beverly Buchanan stood out for their hues and compositional dynamic. Clark’s Ying and Yang, 1989, is a play on yin and yang, the feminine/masculine concepts in zen. At $800,000, it had sold along with all of White Cube’s other art offerings at Frieze. Beverly Buchanan’s Dataw Island, SC, 1993, at the Andrew Edlin Frieze booth, was huts in the grass—a reminder that home and earth are among our most primitive needs. And, to drive that home, Jerry The Marble Faun, an artist, created Vic, in limestone; this piece seemed chill at NADA and is an interesting example of the range of genders, genres, and media at all of the fairs.

Marija Knezevic, Sena’s Eyelashes, photograph. www.marija-knezevic.com. Marija Knezevic, Slon I, 2024, Polymer clay, 75 x 40 cm.

Marija Knezevic’s photograph Sena’ Eyelashes touched me as much as the big box works I liked. I met Marija, who came to New York from Serbia a year ago, as we sat in a corner of the Future Fair. She is one of several people whom I met from California, Kuwait, Miami, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Johannesburg, and more. She later sent me an elephant composition image Slon I made from polymer clay. For now, she has a website, www.marija-knezevic.com, not a gallery. For me, the international flavor of the fair and the surprising range of people whom I met was a Frieze highlight. This we are the world friendliness made Frieze special.

Finally, I took a photo of a little girl simultaneously listening to a soundtrack, watching a movie, and looking around. Yes, Frieze was good people-watching fun for all ages. Many babies, too, carried in papoose slings against mothers’ breasts, were already looking around. WM

Jan Garden Castro

Jan Garden Castro (www.jancastro.com) is author/editor of six books, including The Art & Life of Georgia O’Keeffe, Contributing Editor for Sculpture Magazine, and contributor for American Book Review. She has a major essay in a new edition of The Handmaid’s Tale (www.suntup.press/Atwood).

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