While Miamians are used to an art flurry that surrounds Art Basel Miami Beach in the beginning of winter, most of the rest of the world has come to recognize that spring is the peak art season. Numerous major art fairs and events takes place from May through June, starting with the Christie’s and Sotheby’s auctions in early May and running through Art Basel in Switzerland and the Venice Biennale.
And this year, the Frieze Fair based in London made its second May appearance in New York to great aplomb. New York’s Armory Show, featuring galleries from across the globe held out on the piers of the Hudson River in March, has long been the anchor in New York for contemporary art fairs; at times a chilly outing.
But Frieze has changed the equation. For most visitors, the journey to this fair involves a ferry ride along the East River, to a tent set up on Randall’s Island. It’s a great way to arrive. The hyper intensity of many art fairs is dissolved in the boat ride, with a mellow atmosphere already instilled upon debarking.
This year, a huge balloon sculpture on the grounds was the initial invite, visible from the ferry a long way off. It could have been a clichéd work from Jeff Koons, but instead was a clever piece from the always provocative Paul McCarthy – prick that balloon, and the whole thing might just disappear. Poof, like many think of the seriousness of contemporary art.
Inside, the artworks were exhibited in a refreshingly open venue.
One of the Miamians who attended Frieze New York was the Miami Art Museum curator Rene Morales, who took the ferry to the fair. “It’s almost as if one is crossing over into the space of art as one crosses the river,” he said. “As if one is shedding the hustle-bustle of the street and the work-a-day world.”
Morales thinks Frieze is a fair worth visiting. “In comparison to most fairs, in which artworks are usually presented under cramped and otherwise non-ideal conditions, this one offers a relatively generous amount of space, which allows the works to breathe better.”
One of the stand-outs: the “Ann Lee” performance produced by Tino Sehgal, at the Marian Goodman booth. A young girl mimicking a Japanese manga cartoon answers questions about art and about the French duo who brought her to life in an earlier artwork, a video which was shown at the de la Cruz home back in the early 2000s, now donated to the Tate Modern in London.
So maybe not surprisingly, across the Atlantic at the most prestigious contemporary art event, the Venice Biennale, which opened June 1, Sehgal won best artist. His latest performance piece, according to curator Tami Katz-Freiman, who works in Miami and Israel and was at the Venice opening, is a “don’t miss.”
Unlike market-based fairs, the Venice Biennale is a place simply for exhibition, where countries, rather than galleries, show their best and brightest, in solo shows at pavilions. Says Katz-Freiman, along with Sarah Sze at the American Pavilion, Kimsooja at the Korean Pavilion and Joana Vasconcelos at the Portuguese Pavilion among others, “the Greek pavilion is excellent. Very moving modest video installation in three chapters — one must look at it from the beginning to the end. Very rewarding.”
The best thing about this solid Biennale this year is that you can still see it – it will be open in Venice through November 24.
While the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong closed on May 18 (where the powerhouse New York gallery Lehmann Maupin featured Miami-raised Teresita Fernandez), the grand-daddy of fairs, Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, opens on June 13 and runs through June 16. Over 300 galleries will be represented in the booths (none from Miami), with film screenings from the likes of the cutting-edge German video artist Carsten Nicolai and the punk impresario Malcolm McLaren, to art talks and ancillary shows that run longer than the fair, such as those about max Ernst, Maurizio Cattelan and Ed Ruscha.