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A hard Frieze: Frieze Art Fair New York 2014 tough to crack

Esther Schipper gallery at Frieze Art Fair New York
photo courtesy the author (Audra Lambert)

All's fair in love and the art market.

This year's Frieze Art Fair New York, the third edition since its inaugural 2012 presence in New York, has seen its share of innovation. Changes have been made to expand booth space to accommodate more gallery exhibitors while the perennially popular Frieze Projects have continued to provide artist-driven panels and site specific works. Frieze Art Fair began in London in 2003 and has since developed its retinue to cater to both the seasoned art collector and ingenue visitor alike, both in the UK and the US. The brainchild of frieze magazine, art on view is comprised of works by living artists represented throughout the exhibition space and representing gallery locations worldwide. This year's offerings were diverse, encompassing artists working in mixed media and representing a variety of geographical backgrounds, but the Fair overall still scarcely amazed. Though the star power was shown on the booth walls and mega-installations such as Danh Vo's curious hanging American flag tributes at Marian Goodman gallery drew crowds, there was a decided lack of surprise. The staid and conventional triumphed at this year's Frieze, making the overall effect flat and deflated: ultimately, the viewer was left in the cold.

So what was missing? The galleries at Frieze know that the Fair is their chance to gain exposure. Selling is always an admirable goal at art fairs, but the art market needs a little coaxing now from a new audience. This is where the recent focus of art fairs comes to settle on grassroots marketing. Contemporary art on view is placed within reach of the viewer, literally and figuratively. Many of the galleries were quick to showcase artists with blockbuster shows this year, particularly at New York institutions. This was apparent in a smattering of shows: Lygia Clark, currently showing at MoMA, featured at the Alison Jacques (London) gallery booth, Hauser & Wirth highlighting Isa Genzken after her hit MoMA exhibition, and New York art world darling Kara Walker prominently displayed at Sikkema Jenkins. There came a point of realization when, glancing about the fair, it became apparent that fewer galleries were willing to take risks than apt to show blockbuster names that would bring selfie-taking museum goers into their booth spaces. Exhibitions ranged from the safe to the purely innocuous, with Yayoi Kusama at David Zwirner bringing yawns to fair-goers, many of whom had recently seen these same works on view during a solo show just months prior. Even Marianne Boesky, a gallery unafraid to feature lesser known yet influential artists, boldly placed their Frank Stella sculpture on their booth exterior, a sculpture clearly related to one currently in the collection and exhibited on the ground floor at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan.

Contemporary art did take the stage, and it is true that many galleries incorporated underrated and rising star artists in their booth exhibits. Mixed media and installation works dominated as the main trend with more than half of the galleries exhibiting boldly allowing major works to dominate their limited space. There was the memorable, slightly claustrophobic Rirkrit Tiravanija work at Gavin Brown's Enterprise, squeezing works of chalk on board in a sequence of tightly spaced paths for curious viewers. Equally memorable was the idiosyncratic 'Al's Grand Hotel', a perfunctory tribute to an ephemeral work by conceptual artist Allen Ruppersberg who transformed a space on Sunset Boulevard into a makeshift artists' hostel for six weeks in 1971.

The range on display this year's fair was admirable. The works on view were entertaining. The lack of risk-taking and innovation, however, leave this incarnation of the fair at risk for seeming frozen in time.

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