The first is the presence of an art with some kind of political dimension, be it environmental awareness, feminism, or a problematic American presidency…
The second is that galleries are having trouble selling work from younger artists (see my report from June at Art Basel).
The two fairs taking place in Regent’s Park in London until 7 October, Frieze (160 contemporary galleries) and Frieze Masters (130 galleries ranging from antiquity to the 20th century), reflect these trends perfectly.
In terms of politics, without doubt the most accomplished booth at Frieze this year belongs to the Hong Kong and London-based Simon Lee Gallery.
Their entire space is dedicated to the Californian artist Jim Shaw (born in 1952), one of the leading voices in the criticism of American society’s excesses, who comments on them using “made in the USA” iconography.
This time his subject is Donald Trump, and more broadly the circus of power of the American presidents, displayed with surrealist flair.
Half of the paintings from this new production were sold for between 40,000 and 80,000 dollars before the fair even opened.
Shaw is one of the few big American names who hasn’t succumbed to the lure of success and price increases.
He even admits: “I do everything in my power not to be a successful artist: I change my style a lot, I use garish colours, I talk about current topics that’ll be forgotten tomorrow”. It still remains that he’s an excellent artist.
He describes his vision of Trump in office:
Speaking of politics, this year the fair boasts a sizeable programme of women artists.
The director, Victoria May Siddall, discusses the highlights of this year’s fair:
Coincidentally, the installation that is without doubt the most striking of the fair was made by a Franco-Italian female artist, Tatiana Trouvé (born in 1968).
She’s just joined the roster of the Parisian Kamel Mennour gallery and has filled their entire booth at Frieze with a big bronze fountain taking the form of an uprooted tree, where water gushes from the branches. Various symbolic marble objects are arranged around it. The monumental work, entitled “The Shaman”, is on sale for 650,000 euros. It seems to be a clear reference to the current environmental threat.
Marie-Sophie Eiché, director of the Kamel Mennour gallery, comments on the work:
The most intrinsically political artists, in the etymological sense at least, are definitely the “street artists”.
But in view of the mediocrity of the general offerings in this area, and despite their proven popular appeal, they rarely find a place at the serious contemporary art fairs.
There’s, at least, one notable exception to this phenomenon: the Brazilian artists Os Gemeos (born in 1987).
These São Paulo-born twins have travelled around the world, populating it with their strange and remarkable creatures painted in bright colours against psychedelic backgrounds, like in 2017 in New York on 7th Avenue where they painted, on their own initiative, a mural homage to hip hop culture.
In parallel, they also have a gallery presence and Lehmann Maupin from New York, Hong Kong and Seoul is displaying four of their large paintings at Frieze, which were immediately sold for 200,000 dollars each. The Asian market seems particularly keen on their cartoonish characters, but over the past five years their prices have only risen 20%, according to David Maupin.
As demand has moved perceptibly away from younger and overly expensive artists, the gallery supply is naturally orienting towards more “classic” creators, who have largely already proved their success in the past.
This rediscovery effort is particularly noticeable at Frieze Masters. For example, the gallery of British founder James Brett, “The Museum of Everything”, which has highly valued contemporary art brut, is exhibiting the work of Haitian painters from the 1940s and ’50s, who were noticed in 1945 by the theorist of surrealism André Breton during his journey fleeing the Nazis, on sale for 20,000 to 300,000 euros. For Hector Hyppolite and Wilson Bigaud,his pupil, Brett discusses the first “black Surrealists”.
Haiti’s art history is hardly well known, and the same is true for Brazil.
One of the geniuses of Brazilian abstraction is the painter Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988) who used motifs from everyday life (curtains, housing facades etc) to create an extraordinary repertoire of colourful forms (1). His works are presented at the booths of Brazilian galleries Almeida e Dal and Marilia Razuk from 80,000 to 1.5 million dollars.
Lastly, you won’t want to miss the highly erotic yet fascinating drawings from the 1930s and ’40s -quite similar to early ones by Jean Cocteau- by Sergei Eisenstein creator of, among others, the famous “Battleship Potemkin”. The New York gallery Alexander Gray is presenting these sensuous sketches starting at 20,000 dollars (2).
(1) The Nouveau musée national de Monaco was exhibiting his work from February to May 2018 and he features in the exhibition dedicated to Latin American art, “Southern Geometries”, at the Cartier foundation in Paris from 14 October.
(2) Some of these little-known drawings will also be displayed as part of the “Violon d’Ingres” exhibition at the Villa Medici in Rome from 2 November.
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