Photography Highlights from the 2018 Frieze New York Art Fair

For New York-based photography collectors, trying to get a comprehensive handle on what is happening in the medium is harder than it might seem. In theory, the burgeoning category of art fairs might provide an aggregation function that would help collectors to see works from a variety of galleries (and geographies) in one place at one time. And in practice, this is largely true, although vetting committees and unfavorable economics at the top fairs decidedly skew the exhibitor lists away from smaller and riskier galleries and programs.

For those chasing photography, even with all the fairs that cycle through town month after month, we still live in a bifurcated and incomplete world – there is no one venue where we can see most everything going on in the medium, in all its messy diversity (Paris Photo is the closest, but that requires a trip to Europe). The AIPAD Photography Show largely provides us a current window into the medium’s past, with a few sprinkles of the present to keep things lively. And places like Frieze New York (and the Armory Show) offer a slice of the contemporary present, with a few unearthed discoveries from the past (albeit largely conceptual and performance related, and typically no earlier than the 1970s). If we put them together (if not physically, at least in our heads), more of the entire circle of photography is completed, but there are still several important chunks missing, especially from lesser known, more diverse, and more far flung artists and venues.

I’d like to report that this year’s Frieze New York art fair was different from years past. And of course, I can tell you that it was very hot this year, and that there is a new booth layout under the tent on Randall’s Island, with a few more galleries stuffed into the map, and that there were plenty of well-heeled collectors running around, as usual. But none of that matters really, or will be remembered in years hence.

What does matter is whether there was durably superlative photography to be found in this warren of booths, to make the whole exercise worth the effort, for collectors and galleries alike. (While there is of course much joy to be had in searching for and engaging with exciting art and talking with smart and knowledgeable gallery owners, weariness is a more recurring theme at this kind of event, especially given this year’s heat.) And my answer is that, yes, there is some photography worth finding this year, but not enough to be a representative sample of the key contemporary trends in photography. Frieze certainly provides a piece of the puzzle, but it’s a decently small piece that both requires effort to uncover and leaves important details out of the larger narrative.

What follows below is a slideshow of photographic highlights from this year’s fair. In general, I have tried to avoid featuring works that have surfaced in local gallery/museum shows, or have made the rounds of the fairs to such an extent that their inclusion has become wholly predictable. As a result, the mix trends toward brand new work, with a smaller sample of rediscoveries providing a thoughtful counterweight to that relentless newness. As usual, each work is supported by a link to the appropriate gallery, the artist name, the price, and a short discussion of the piece. The slideshow loosely follows my path from the far left of the fair (as entering from the North gate) to the right.

Espaivisor (here): The first photographs of note that I ran into at this year’s fair were some old favorites that I haven’t seen displayed in a long time. These fake floral works by Joan Fontcuberta were made in the mid 1980s, and they take a conceptual/humorous poke at the strict natural rigor of artists like Karl Blossfeldt. Each blossom has been carefully constructed, in ways the look real from afar but fall apart when examined closely, with thorns famously reversed and strange combinations of mismatched plants made into Frankenstein-style concoctions. They are as fresh and smart some thirty years later as they were when they were made. Priced at $5700 each.

The Breeder (here): Maria Hassibi is likely best known for her performances, where the gestures of dance/choreography are placed in the context of various physical spaces. This composite image brings together several poses/moves made on a rich pink carpet, the mixed up scale of the bodies and the texture of the weave creating intriguing spatial dissonance. Priced at $20000.

Galerie Frank Elbaz (here): This new work by Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili extends her interest in printing photographs on sheer curtain-like surfaces. Here an abstract cut image has been printed on cotton, with a neon blue braid set behind, as though hung in a window. The juxtaposition is strange and ethereal, mixing transparency with technical details and film residues. Priced at €8000.

The Third Line (here): This film still image by the Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria deliberately dissolves into grainy pixelization. Drawn from her recent film about a native population in Colombia and its struggles with oil drilling and environmental damage, the female body becomes the stage for digital dispersion and twisting fragments of incomprehensible language. Priced at €12000.

Cheim & Read (here): While Adam Fuss has been making images of water for decades, this new work moves from the single droplet and expanding rings motif to a denser and more allover pattern of textural surface splashes. Executed in soft pink and white, from afar it almost reads like delicate toile wallpaper or fine grained spotted marble. Already sold.

Cheim & Read (here): Jack Pierson continues his interest in folded paper photographs with this eye-catching bright orange window study. The physical folds of the paper thoughtfully interact with the drapery of the curtains and the window frames, creating layers of geometric gridding. Up close, there is also a smart play of textures between the paper and the transparent orange fabric. Priced at $50000.

Salon 94 (here): This set of four large scale self-portraits by Lyle Ashton Harris belongs in a museum. From one of his earliest projects, the Constructs dig into complex layers of black male sexuality, where wigs and improvised tutus wrestle with poses of muscular confidence. Priced at $375000, for the set of 4 prints.

Galerie Lelong (here): This Australian jungle intervention by Rosemary Laing considers the nuanced issues of migration by disrupting a riverbed with a red swath of used clothing. Named after a local shipwreck, the image thinks about the balance between nature and human life, and the evolving interaction between them. Priced $33500.

Zeno X Gallery (here): Dirk Braeckman’s lushly dark images are almost always hard to see and difficult to reproduce, and these new works are no different. What has changed here is an even stronger emphasis on painterly darkroom process, where a single picture of delicate drapery is printed seven different times, with light leaks and chemical washes enhancing the shadowy textural folds in the source image. Priced at $65000 for the set.

303 Gallery (here): This pairing of sculpture and photograph by the Irish artist Eva Rothschild digs into nuanced ideas of spatial dimensionality and color palette. While we can walk around the sculpture, seeing the relationships of its forms change, the photograph provides a fixed (and flattened) perspective while also reducing the composition to near monochrome tones. Displayed together, we are forced to go back and forth, comparing alternate vantage points and perspectives of the same reality. Priced at £40000 for both.

303 Gallery (here): This image wasn’t included in Stephen Shore’s recent gallery show, but I actually find it more compositionally engaging than many of the works that were on view. The shadows across the angled lines of brickwork give the photograph its structural interest, and the pop of red from the bottle label animates the otherwise monochrome mood. Priced at $45000.

Miguel Abreu Gallery (here): This new work by Liz Deschenes is strong and confident. Six vertical strips make up the elegantly minimal composition, each one covered in subtle surface squiggles created by her chemical processing techniques. Like all her works, it is visually subtle, the almost imperceptible silvery markings like the lines of a seismograph. Priced at $50000, and already sold.

Sean Kelly Gallery (here): This set of 6 prints by Jose Dávila uses his signature photographic cutout technique to rethink the fluorescent light works of Dan Flavin. In each panel, the bulbs have been excised out, leaving behind both their elemental Albers-like geometric form and their disembodied glow. Priced at $45000 for the set.

David Kordansky Gallery (here): Leave it to Torbjørn Rødland to give an ordinary water faucet a sense of erotic fetishism. Between the grip of the extra long fingernails and the moody lighting, there’s something unsettlingly witchy about this scene. Priced at $14000.

David Nolan Gallery (here): This diorama-style construction by Wardell Milan is filled with provocations, mixing ethnographic African nudes with classical sculpture and female body builders with beauty queens. It’s an unsettling mix of bodies being looked at, lost in the flowered greenery of the staged garden. Priced at $14000.

Galeria Filomena Soares (here): Slater Bradley is known for his meticulous overpainting of photographic images. In this recent work, he goes a step further, using intricate lines of silver paint pen to obscure almost all of the underlying picture. What he’s left us is a hazy circle like a sun or an oculus, where something like a tiny body emerges from the enveloping whiteness, the textural overpainting undulating like waves. Priced at $55000.

The Box (here): This excellent Stan VanDerBeek collage from the late 1970s uses the dots of billboard paper as the backdrop for a shifting figure/ground study of evocative forms. Men seem to race across a heath chased and harried by giants, with darks and lights exchanging places. Priced at $22000.

David Zwirner (here): Using a chaotic car crash image from the recent Charleston protests as its central focus, this recent sculptural work from Jordan Wolfson juxtaposes that chaos with a cylinder of stock images of flowers and dense arrays of brackets, machined blocks, and other hardware, mixing violence with metastasizing construction. Priced at $350000.

White Cube (here): Shot out a car window, this recent work by Andreas Gursky feels indebted to Gerhard Richter’s blurred paintings. Up close, the passing ranch houses and rocky hills don’t behave like they normally should, with inexplicable lines appearing in the sky and the motion of the blur moving in opposing directions in different parts of the picture. While Gursky’s monumentality has too often become formulaic in recent years, this is the smartest, most complex, and most overtly painterly picture I have seen from him in a long time. Perhaps introducing motion is the aesthetic kick he needs to find new directions to explore. Priced at €800000.

Frith Street Gallery (here): This cabinet of imagery by Dayanita Singh was among my favorite photographic works at the fair. Each panel captures the knots and folds of files tied up in fading red cloth, with each bundle seemingly its own exercise in wrapping technique. While the images are top-down straightforward, the variations in the drapery and the muted colors are both lovely, and the hand crafted cabinet (with four sides of four images each, plus shelves inside with more pictures) allows the owner to easily reconfigure the display. Priced at $115000 for the cabinet of 36 framed prints.

Andrew Kreps Gallery (here): This polarized film study by the Italian graphic designer Bruno Munari was a discovery for me. While many contemporary photographers have recently experimented with polarized light and the prismatic colors that can be seen using a polarized lens, Munari made this abstract image in the 1950s, so he was clearly far ahead of the pack. Priced at $25000 and already sold.

Paul Kasmin Gallery (here): This wonderful portrait of Joan Didion made by Tina Barney for W magazine is a superlative example of how an unbalanced frame can work effectively. Tucked far to the left, Didon stands wrapped in a blanket, her finger placed near her mouth as though thinking or pausing between ideas. There is something masterful about the way all that open space in the apartment drives us back to Didion and her mind at work. It’s another photographic work from this fair that belongs in a museum. Priced at $70000.

Gallery Luisotti (here): The ugliness of mid-1970s suburban construction has often been photographed, but many of Catherine Wagner’s California Landscapes find geometric order in the mess of quick building. The leftover plywood cutouts on this unfinished roof are like a Malevich composition, with the transforming low-rise landscape off in the distance. Priced at $12000.

Sicardi Ayers Bacino (here): Technology and religion have never been comfortable bedfellows, but León Ferrari’s combative collages from the mid 1980s heighten the tension between the church and the modern world. In this incisive study, a saintly figure points to a mushroom cloud explosion, as though unleashing the power of hell with a flick of the fingers. Priced at $72000.

Arario Gallery (here): This set of images by Keiji Uematsu from the 1970s brims with photographic intelligence. Starting with a simple image of a nail in the dirt, the artist uses his hand to visualize the invisible. The middle two frames in the series have the same cast shadow, and yet, the hands themselves are in radically different places. The final frame further complicates the measurement of the space. It’s a tightly executed study of the conundrums of photographic reality. Priced at $20000 for the set of modern prints.

Gallery Yamaki Fine Art (here): This conceptual work by Kazuyo Kinoshita elegantly plays with the image/object dichotomy of photography. A drawing of a circle is distorted by the curvature of its paper (as photographed), while a hand drawn circle on the resulting print itself resets the circle to its normal proportions. An extremely simple visual proof, but still persuasive. Priced at $15000.

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Read more about: Adam Fuss, Andreas Gursky, Bruno Munari, Catherine Wagner, Dayanita Singh, Dirk Braeckman, Eva Rothschild, Jack Pierson, Joan Fontcuberta, Jordan Wolfson, Jose Dávila, Kazuyo Kinoshita, Keiji Uematsu, Ketuta Alexi-Meskhishvili, León Ferrari, Liz Deschenes, Lyle Ashton Harris, Maria Hassabi, Rosemary Laing, Slater Bradley, Sophia Al-Maria, Stan VanDerBeek, Tina Barney, Torbjørn Rødland, Wardell Milan, 303 Gallery, Andrew Kreps Gallery, Arario Gallery, Cheim & Read, David Kordansky Gallery, David Nolan Gallery, David Zwirner, Espaivisor, Frith Street Gallery, Galeria Filomena Soares, Galerie Frank Elbaz, Galerie Lelong, Gallery Luisotti, Gallery Yamaki Fine Art, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Paul Kasmin Gallery, Salon 94, Sean Kelly Gallery, Sicardi Ayers Bacino, The Box, The Breeder, The Third Line, White Cube, Zeno X Gallery, Frieze New York

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