Given the pace at which the contemporary art world evolves, the field's global sweep, and the continual emergence of new talents, there is probably no better way to get a snapshot view of what's going on than an art fair—particularly if the dealers are kind enough to divulge the niceties of the works on offer to nonpaying interlopers. Because the London edition of Frieze is an unusually splendid affair, with museum-quality displays and a relaxed atmosphere conducive to looking, a large number of real finds revealed themselves this year. Here's a range of the most exciting works to be found at the fair.
Xu Zhen's Unification is a reductive process rather than a prices of gain, in which loyal believers never feel complete or secure (2010) at Long March Space
An art star in Shanghai since he was in his 20s, the 35-year-old artist Xu Zhen is little-known outside of China—a situation that is about to change when he becomes the commissioned artist for the 2014 Armory Show, focusing Western attention on his polymorphic, intellectually ambitious work. This piece, from a series called "True Image," neatly captures his circuitous approach to art: titled with a politically loaded quote from an unnamed Chinese statesman, the photographic collage contains digitally remixed images of previous sculptures and installations that the artist destroyed in order to intensify their conceptual essences. Informed by Confucian philosophy and intended to reflect our Internet-age ambivalence about what constitutes the true and the real, the work is being offered for ₤32,500.
Nick Relph's Perfumed Screw (2013) at Standard Oslo
A consistently exciting artist who has developed an inventive, diverse, and often surprising body of work since parting ways with his longtime collaborator Oliver Payne, Nick Relph isn't all that easy to peg. This mysterious little piece, nestled in a little corner of the booth, is a monochrome of woven silk and bamboo that seems to hum with a subtly gauzy light, investing it with a dreamlike quality. A brand-new entrant to a larger series that features much more colorful textile-driven monochromes, the piece is listed at $15,000.
Michael Krebber's MP-KREBM-00073 (2013) at Maureen Paley Gallery
A German art legend (at least where artists are concerned) who worked in Martin Kippenberger's studio and today leads eccentric, highly influential seminars at Frankfurt's Städel School, Michael Krebber makes work that is as much about the myth of the heroic artist as it is about formal expression itself. Composed of jolts of color, this painting is from a new series of works that he makes very quickly (as one might imagine from looking at them) as an exploration of inchoate gestures that he halts intentionally at the point when they're on the cusp of coming into view. The asking price is $40,000, with a larger one in the back room going for $60,000.
Cory Arcangel's Diddy/Lakes (2013) at Team Gallery
It might be that Cory Arcangel's work has just gotten better and weirder since his early-career Whitney survey, investigating his hyper-plugged-in and geeked-out obsessions with renewed verve. One of those obsessions, of late, has been the rap impresario once known as P. Diddy, whose rags-to-riches story ("He's richer than Jay-Z!" the artist once enthused) and multiplatform marketing savvy have captivated Arcangel. This piece—the first of a new series being created for a show at Denmark's Herning Museum of Contemporary Art—combines a found photo of a blinged-out Diddy getting onto a private plane with a shimmering animation of Jesus-y water lapping underfoot (powered by a Java applet that used to be popular in the '90s), and as such it's a quintessential portrait of a 21st-century tycoon. The price is $32,000.
Rob Pruitt's couch at Gavin Brown's Enterprise
Who can resist Rob Pruitt? The fun-loving artist has a rangy display of pilfered New York City traffic cones decked out with hats, smiles, and googly-eye glasses, but the real showstopper is a pair of couches casually laid out at the mouth of the booth that follow his gallery-mate Urs Fischer into avant-garde furniture art territory. Covered with a dense network of scrawled, irreverent, and often profane doodles, these pieces were created over a period of a month or two when Pruitt left them out in his studio, allowing his artist and civilian friends alike to add their anonymous embellishments to his own cartoony contributions. The works are hugely entertaining, and one had sold for $50,000 the day of the fair's opening.
Ida Ekblad's Pavement Repair (2013) at Herald St. Gallery
Sharing the gargantuan scale and jazzy rhythm of Jackson Pollock's early '50s drip paintings, this barn-burning canvas by Ida Ekblad uses size to wallop the viewer with all the subtlety of a two-by-four—and is just as effective. Displaying the artist's intensely physical approach to painting, with studio detritus stuck here and there across the surface (again recalling Pollock), this piece quickly sold for $70,000.
William Daniels's Untitled (2013) at Vilma Gold Gallery
For several years the British artist William Daniels devoted himself to making technically superb homages to Old Master paintings, making cardboard models of the originals and then painting those copies on small, exquisitely oiled canvases. Now he's moved onto new and no less challenging subject matter by making abstract architectural structures in his studio with tinfoil, shining lights on them equipped with colored gels, and then photo-realistically painting the spectacle that results. It takes a really, really long time to make one of these pieces, and this one costs ₤50,000.
Apichatpong Weerasethakul's Power Boy (Mekong) (2011) at Anthony Reynolds Gallery
Famous since winning the 2010 Palme d'Or at Cannes for the trippy Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, the Thai phenom Apichatpong Weerasethakul flows effortlessly between making films and artworks—from multichannel videos to photographs to drawings—that he sees as being part of a single creative project. This piece, shot on the Mekong river (the setting of Uncle Boonmee) is both an homage to Ray Bradbury's carnival-worker mentor Mr. Electrico and a reference to the hydropower plants fueling the area that cause the water level to rise and fall in sometimes unfortunate ways. It's ₤12,000, from an edition of five.
Marlo Pascual's photographs at Casey Kaplan Gallery
The brainy artist Marlo Pascual is widely admired for her sculptures and photographic work colored by a noir sensibility similar to what you'd find if October magazine were to produce a detective movie. More often than not, it looks great. This series of photos, from a new body of work that the artist presented at Philadelphia's Moore College of Design, certainly does, superimposing found photos of a mysterious anonymous woman with other evocative images to create a haunting psychological effect. The pieces are $15,000 each.
Piotr Uklanski's fabric piece at Massimo di Carlo Gallery
If you live in New York, you might know Piotr Uklanski as a high-octane creator of massive pieces, like the gaping woven tapestry sculpture he showed at the 2010 Whitney Biennial or the Communism-referencing spectacles he put up after making the jump to Gagosian. But what's probably most interesting about the artist is his ingenious ability with craft, which can best be appreciated in his smaller pieces like his paper cutouts and fabric paintings, like this one made with white threads woven into luxurious felt for a luminescent, galactic result. Hopefully we'll see more pieces like this one, priced at $80,000, in his show this December at the Bass Museum.
Mai-Thu Perret's Leviathan II (2013) at Francesca Pia and Barbara Weiss galleries
Early in her career, the Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret invented a community of women artists who live in South America, wrote an ethnographic history about them, and presented work that she said emerged from their utopian endeavors. Since then she has exchanged that charming fiction for a series of new ones, always making artworks based on ideas or forms that she finds in literature or art history—a brand of appropriation she views as giving shape to ideas that already exist. This cuddly whale, baring rows of pointy wooden teeth, unsurprisingly springs from Herman Melville's great nautical classic, and commands a price of €40,000.
Chris Ofili's new paintings at David Zwirner Gallery
The Turner Prize-winning artist Chris Ofili became an international celebrity early as a result of the "Sensation" exhibition, then morphed his style away from the collaged and encrusted canvases that brought him renown to create sensuous paintings of Afrocentric fantasias—works that are irresistible to collectors but occupying a lower public profile. These new canvases, stemming from a recent project Ofili did with Coven Garden, give ample reason why it's about time audiences at large start paying close attention to the artist again. This particular one costs $500,000.
Sterling Ruby's painting at Hauser & Wirth
For the past two years, Sterling Ruby—who likes to work big—has been spending much of his time in the studio creating a new body of work that attempts to uncover apocalyptic landscapes (the artist's signature motif) in the classically modern format of the monochrome. This fireman-yellow painting, which lends the Hauser & Wirth booth a tangy atmosphere of floating unease, sold to a major private European foundation for $550,000.
Rachel Harrison's A Young Sales Assistant in Graz (2013) at Galerie Meyer Kainer
One of the most acclaimed and potent sculptors working in America, Rachel Harrison has already secured a place in the history books with her witty assemblage totems that she paints in a way that fuses a whole slew of mediums and artistic approaches. Now she's developed something new that carries her work excitingly (and perhaps more livably) into two dimensions through a unique process: she begins by making drawings, then uploads them digitally and combines them with found images, then prints them out and paints over them. Multilayered in terms of mediums (and evincing the same color palette of her sculptures), these works also contain a loopy range of references stacked one on top of the other, from Amy Winehouse to Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein to the political face-off over the worlds oldest mummy. This one is €55,000
Jacqueline Humphries's Untitled (2013) at Greene Naftali Gallery
The artist Jacqueline Humphries makes her paintings by erasure. She starts by laying down a stratum of thick, tar-like paint on linen and then paints washes of color, wet-on-wet, on top to create a big visual mess; after this is accomplished, she takes clean paintbrushes and uses them to wipe away the paint, creating the gestures one sees in the finished product. This piece, part of a series of silver paintings that have been collected by MoMA and the Whitney, sold for $95,000 to a private American collector.