FRIEZE LONDON 2021 ROUND UP with Sarah Belden

Sarah Belden, Artscapy’s Head Fine Art Advisor, joined us on our walkthrough of London Frieze 2021, last week. She has written up a summary of her visit and her highlights from the show and we are delighted to share it with you below! 

Hot off the heels of our first foray back into the International art fair circuit, (Post-Covid-19), SBFA touched down in the British capital last week for Frieze, London and four days of back to back gallery openings; 1-54 – the much-loved Contemporary African Art Fair; Fall auctions at the top “brick and mortar” auction houses and of course, the main event- Frieze Art Fair, in Regent’s Park. Despite the slight inconveniences one had to endure for travel to the UK (Post-Covid-19), Frieze opened its doors as planned on October 13th at 11:00 am to happy throngs of collectors and VIPs bustling to get in and see what the 276 galleries from 39 countries had on offer. While new Post-Brexit regulations created a bit of logistical chaos for the galleries, the highly anticipated fair went off without a hitch and strong sales were reported with some booths sold out within hours of the VIP opening. 

Safety procedures similar to Art Basel were put in place, with a tent set up outside to acquire your mandatory “Frieze C-19 Cleared” wristband needed in order to get in, and while masks were “required” this seemed optional as opposed to Basel where you had to wear one. Despite timed entry slots, VIPs clamoring to get their “art fix” stamped the entry gates, which created a bit of a “bottleneck” situation for eager collectors on the first day at the fair. 

Things were a little more laid back at Frieze Sculpture in Regent’s Park, where we were greeted by a colorful and joyous parcours of large sculptural works on display including a fabulous, massive pineapple by 87 year old, market darling Rose Wylie (that sold for 250K); young Canadian artist Divya Mehra’s giant inflatable emoji’s presented by Night Gallery, LA; Annie Morris’s, precariously stacked pile of colored rocks in foam core and plaster; and Gisela Colón’s futuristic, pearlescent Quantum Shift, presented by Gavlak Gallery. In retrospect, shuffling through my photos, notes, and crinkled pile of press releases, it has become clear that the artists who grabbed my attention were overwhelmingly female and BIPOC...and damned were these girls kicking some ass. If there was one main take away from this year’s edition of Frieze and Frieze Week in general, it was that women and artists of colour were at the forefront and galleries were finally giving these artists center stage.

Entering the fair, the first booth I encountered was David Zwirner, who of course always occupies prime real estate with top notch works on view, but it was Carol Bove’s prominently displayed folded, “soft” steel pink sculptures that captivated and pulled me in. All four apparently sold for 300-450K to collectors in the US, UK, Asia, and Europe within the first couple of days. Another artist who has become ubiquitous at fairs with her meteoric rise to fame is Donna Huanca. Her signature blue, abstract paintings were on view at Peres Projects, Berlin as one massive and impressive triptych, and another group of singular paintings were on view at Simon Lee Gallery. The interdisciplinary practice of Donna Huanca (b. 1980, Chicago, IL) evolves across painting, sculpture, performance, choreography, video and sound and SBFA was very pleased to acquire one of these incredible paintings at Basel for an important collection in London. 

Athens-born sensation Gina Beavers held court at Marianne Boesky, selling out all of her lip-smackingly good, sculpturally-rendered painted lips in various hues at 20-60K a pop. Mega gallery Hauser & Wirth presented an important work by legendary artist Louise Bourgeois, a poignant fabric sculpture of a couple embracing, which sold for 2.4 Million. Of course Japanese blue-chip market dominatrix, Yayoi Kusama was ever-present with a smaller early sculpture from the 60’s selling for close to half a million. Then there was Loie Hollowell, the young, NY-based Californian painter, who is known for her paintings and drawings that explore the bodily landscape and “exist in the liminal space between abstraction and figuration, the otherworldly and corporeal.” Her recent work on view at PACE was sold for 175K to an important institution. A suite of large-scale abstract, optically-charged paintings by L.A.-based Lucy Bull were on view at David Kordansky that also made waves. Originally from New York, the artist studied at RISD, but ended up transferring to the Art Institute of Chicago, where she found her singular style, which she acknowledges is somewhat “psychedelic.” Bull’s visceral works appeal directly to the senses. 

Another stand out solo presentation at Frieze that was a must-see was that of NY-based Erin O’Keefe, at London-based Seventeen Gallery, run by David Hoyland who has always had a very keen eye. Formerly an architecture professor, Erin O’Keefe uses photography as her final medium, but her process consists of first painting simple geometric shapes in rich colors, accentuated by precise lighting and shadows and textured brush marks. “The compositions initially resist and tease the viewer – the scale of the objects is uncertain and flatness and depth appear unreliable. The pleasure of color and shadow are used against the viewer, in a series of perceptual games played with brush and camera. The image enclosed in the frame is an arranged tableau of painted wooden shapes, photographed to form perceptually impossible objects, the monocular vision of the camera collapsing space.” The booth was decked out with pink, orange and blue chairs and the effect was spectacular. This is one artist to watch. 

At Stephen Friedman Gallery, Deborah Robert’s digitally collaged portraits of black children made of found photos, textile patterns, digital ephemera, and other materials were poignant yet unsettling. Her hybrid figures show how playfulness and innocence intersect with darker themes of violence, corruption, and otherness. Stephen Friedman Gallery sold all the works in the solo presentation to museums and private foundations at $125,000-$150,000. Over at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, I was there to check out the young London-based, overnight sensation Jadé Fadojutimi, whose painterly abstractions explore a complex emotional landscape and offer insight into the artist's quest for identity and self-knowledge. Of course, the work Pippy had on offer was sold out (likely before the fair even opened), and her work is now impossible to get your hands on, even though she just recently graduated from the Royal College of Art, London. 

The art market is increasingly closing in on artists fresh out of college and this is creating somewhat of a frenzy with collectors. This is not necessarily good for the artist’s burgeoning practice, especially when their works go straight to auction within months of their first major solo show. This became glaring apparent when I stopped over at Phillip’s Auction preview in Mayfair and saw Jadé Fadojutimi’s work with an estimate of £80,000 - 120,000 sell for £1,172,000. I also saw Issy Wood’s work on view. Issy (Born 1993), had painted this piece just a few years ago in 2019, it was on offer with an estimate of £100,000 - 150,000 and it has since sold for £327,600. Emily Mae Smith’s work also on view with an estimate of £40,000 - 60,000 has now sold for way over its estimate for £930,000. Is this market for young artists sustainable? Or are these collectors turned speculators who are flipping the works for financial gain compromising the markets and careers of these young artists? Is this bubble going to burst and will this market cool down? I guess we will have to wait and see. 

While at Pippy's booth I was very pleased to rediscover the work of Jacqueline de Jong, ((b. 1939, The Netherlands), who is widely known for her contributions and involvement with the radical artists and thinkers of the 1960s, most notably with the Situationist International (SI). De Jong founded The Situationist Times, which has been hailed as one of the most important and experimental journals of its time. While there I also fell in love with the work of Wangari Mathenge (Born in Nairobi, Kenya, 1973) and later had the pleasure of joining the artist at Pippy’s Mayfair Gallery for a champagne brunch in honor of her first solo show at the gallery, entitled You Are Here, where she had several paintings on view and a life-sized family living-room from the 70s filled with retro furniture, books, and records. The installation draws on her early life in Hampstead Garden, a suburb of London, where she moved as a child. The living room contained an old T.V. set screening a stop-motion animation based upon Mawuna Remarque Koutonin’s essay, “Why are white people always ex-pats and the rest of us are immigrants?”

After spending two full days at Frieze I was exhausted, but thankfully got my second wind and managed to show up for the tail-end of the Mayfair Gallery Hop Thursday evening, where I was stopped dead in my tracks (and by free and much needed champagne) at Carl Kostyal’s gallery, who was showing Canadian artist Al Freeman (born 1981 Toronto, Canada). This ebullient solo show at Carl’s Saville Row Gallery featured large-scale loosely-stuffed pleather replicas of banal, everyday objects (in this case a level, tape a measure, a paint tube, a pizza box), à la Claus Oldenburg. New York Times critic Roberta Smith, wrote of her work, “Ms. Freeman creates a kind of Russian nesting doll of satire. One that takes in, beyond masculinity, the empty cutesiness of a nascently post-literate culture, the simulated coziness of runaway consumerism and the fun-house democracy of language itself. Here objects of incommensurate scale and importance are reduced to an artificial formal equality." There were a few fellow Canadians at the opening, including a burgeoning collector from Toronto who was trying to wrangle a work, but alas Freeman’s show had already been sold out that night. 

A hop skip and a jump over to Cork Street, was the South African Goodman Gallery’s London outpost, featuring a solo show of Naama Tsabar, Transitions #5, the New-York based artist’s first solo exhibition in the UK and with the gallery. The exhibition was three bodies of work – Transition, Barricade, and Works On Felt – a continuation of the artist’s critically acclaimed Kunsthaus Baselland exhibition in 2018, which included a live performance by the artist the previous evening. I could not leave Mayfair without stopping over at Levy Gorvy’s Old Bond Street flagship location, where I saw Mickalene ThomasBeyond the Pleasure Principle, the second chapter of a multipart exhibition that will unfold across four international cities during fall 2021 to present her interconnected bodies of new work. Thomas uses a distinctive vocabulary of Black erotica, Black female sexuality, and Black queer aesthetic and thought within her multidisciplinary practice. This lush, vibrant and powerful show is yet another must-see. 

Last but certainly not least, I must include one of my favorite presentations at 1-54 the African Art Fair by Claire Oliver Gallery hailing from Harlem, New York by Gio Swaby. While there was a lot of great work on view at this year's edition of 1-54 at Somerset House, the work of this young Toronto-based artist stood out for me. Her work, like so many other female artists at this edition of Frieze London, was an ode to the power of female creativity, ingenuity, intellect and pure joy. Might we perhaps consider that women have finally been given their due? Well...this is only an art fair after all.


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