My last trip to an art fair was in early March of 2020. It was the Armory Show, here in New York, and I vividly remember feeling like I was taking an as-yet-entirely-undefined risk in attending. I wrapped my face with a scarf (this was before wearing a mask became commonplace), awkwardly avoided shaking hands, and tried to get in and out without lingering too long, not really knowing what the consequences of gathering with so many people might be. Less than a week later, the city went into full lockdown.
In the months that followed, the many art fairs that would have normally dotted my calendar were either cancelled, or re-invented as virtual viewings. So this Frieze New York art fair of 2021 was my first trip back to a fair in 14 months. Gone are the leisurely boat trip to Randall’s Island, the massive white tent, and the warren of nearly 200 booths to systematically process. In its place, something more measured, and some might say tentative, has been created. Frieze New York is no longer a destination, an excursion, or a day’s outing to be immersed in art, but something else in the midst of re-invention.
Housed in the confines of The Shed, a multi-use space in the recently re-developed Hudson Yards not far from the Chelsea galleries, the new Frieze New York feels like a more standard art fair, notwithstanding the towering ceiling heights of this sparkling new facility; given that we are starting from scratch and re-inventing this genre for a new post-pandemic age, the fair wasn’t particularly innovative, but valid caution might make a toe-in-the-water approach like this one entirely logical. Its exhibitors were a much tighter bunch than before, some 60+ galleries, mostly from nearby locales, making the mix less eclectic and unexpected than usual. And as one might expect, the crowds were significantly smaller (tickets were scarce), and the entry procedures for vaccination or recent test verification were appropriately stringent and unforgiving. But once inside, and up the switchbacking lines of escalators, it was indeed an art fair like ones we have visited before, which was altogether reassuring in its own way – it felt almost “normal”, if anyone knows what that word means now.
As usual, it takes some effort to uncover the photography in a contemporary art fair like this one, but the good news is that there was actually more photography on view than I expected, especially given the early press reports of an avalanche of painting. What follows below is a slideshow of some of the photographic highlights. In general, I have tried to avoid featuring works that have been shown in local gallery/museum shows, and have attempted to focus on “new” works made in the past year or two (plus a handful of vintage discoveries), so the obligatory Cindy Sherman prints (now at Hauser & Wirth) didn’t make the cut. Each work is supported by a link to the appropriate gallery, the artist’s name, the price, and a short discussion of the piece. The slideshow loosely follows my path through the fair, moving upward starting on the 2nd floor and continuing through to the 4th, 6th, and 8th floors.