Some speculative collectors are in search of money, in terms of the tidy profit of a well-timed resale, while other collectors speculate on glory—the reflected glow they gain from having a savvy eye, sharp taste, and the means to wrangle an acquisition. With market reports suggesting that the first group has been getting a drubbing this season, it's the second category that will find plenty to salivate over at this year's edition of London's Frieze Art Fair, which is notably stronger in quality than the last two editions. Here are some works to look out for in the aisles.
Spring and Fall, And Lilacs and Cotton Wood (2016)
Kamel Mennour – Paris
A French-Moroccan artist who gained renown in 2013 when she received the Marcel Duchamp Prize, Latifa Echakhch makes art that perennially examines the phenomenon of human memory, how time inflects its content and how easily important things can be forgotten. At the fair, she had a suite of paintings from her new series “Spring and Fall” that she made through a particularly evocative process. First covering the canvases with a grid of small multicolored squares that she executed in bright oil stick, she then coated the surface with a later of black ink; after the ink dried, the artist took a knife and carefully drew it down the surface of the painting, paring away the ink to reveal lines of the cheerful underlying color. The theme of the work? The difficulty, as one ages, to remember the unblemished joys and naïveté of childhood.
Lightbulb Man (1997-ongoing)
Contemporary Art Berlin
In 1997, the artist Bjarne Melgaard—who is both famous as the most renowned Norwegian artist since Munch, and infamous for his hungry embrace of drugs, transgressive fashion, and dangerous sex—made a bronze spiritual self-portrait that he called Lightbulb Man, presenting a hollow figure riddled with holes, or perhaps orifices. After displaying it in an important early show at the Stedelijk Museum, Melgaard sold it to a businessman who, over the following years, exploited his ownership to the hilt, mass-producing replicas of the piece and turning it into a LOVE-like pop-culture curio.
The artist was furious, and recently, after an 11-year-long court case that hinged on Melgaard’s contention that he was not mentally fit in ’97, he won back the rights to the sculpture. Since then, Melgaard has himself taken advantage of his Golem’s commercial strengths, whoring it out for everything from replica sculptures to hole-decorated fashion pieces to a painting commissioned from Jerry Lafaro, the artist behind Joe the Camel. For those who know the backstory, the version on offer at the fair—looking perhaps a bit spent, forlorn, long-suffering—yields several readings, one being that perhaps it has become even more accurate a self-portrait over time.
CHRISTOPH SCHLINGENSIEF & AINO LABERENZ
Opera Village Africa, 2010 - ongoing
In 2010, shortly before his death, the legendary German conceptualist and theatrical impresario Christoph Schlingensief had a chance encounter with a farmer from Burkina Faso that led to a conversation about the art scene in that West African country. Considering himself a globally minded cosmopolitan, the artist was chagrined that he didn’t know anything about the region’s art, and then realized that practically no one in the Western art world knew about it either (although Burkina Faso is renowned for its robust theater and film communities).
With typical gusto, Schlingensief decided on the spot to do something about it—so he set about establishing an art school, residency, and hospital in Burkina Faso under the name Opera Village Africa, with the idea of bringing foreign artists in to work with the locals while simultaneously broadcasting their work outside Africa.
Now, Schlingensief’s widow, the Finnish artist Aino Laberenz, is continuing his work, and as part of Frieze Projects she brought several video and music works by local artists to the fair, along with a replica of public sculpture in Ouagadougou that the artist Andy Hope has equipped with a video screen to allow for live Skype conversations with artists from the school during the run of the fair. Nothing in the booth is for sale—Opera Village Africa is entirely run through patronage and small donations—and so everything serves as a tribute to the curiosity, exuberance, and fellow-feeling that characterized Schlingensief’s artistic life.
Various sculptures (2016)
Lia Rumma – Milan, Naples
€50,000 for objects, €70,000 for the heads
William Kentridge has built his extraordinary career on the principle that his rough, soulful drawings are not just graphite scratches on paper but are rather immensely potent creations that can do absolutely anything he wants them to. Again and again, he has proven this to be correct—they have become animations (powerfully challenging the systems of apartheid), wall reliefs, paintings, collages, art performances, operas, and ballets. Now, he has for the first time also turned them into sculptures, taking the paper props from his 2015 film Triumphs and Laments and remaking them in black-painted steel, each in an edition of four. Against a white wall they look sensational, and the 61-year-old artist could be seen walking warily around the fair’s vernissage, similarly clad in black, with a distinguished fedora, looking every inch a man at the peak of his powers.
An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist (1992)
Galerie Martin Janda – Wien
Mladen Stilinović, who passed away this summer at age 69, was one of the leading lights of conceptual art in Croatia, becoming known in the 1960s and ‘70s as a gadfly under the Communist regime. Cleverly, he cloaked his political critique under the mantle of artistic vanity. Using cheap materials he would make banners and signs repeating stock ideological phrases from political speeches, only detourning them to be about his art—so, “An attack on revolution is an attack on socialism and progress” became” “An attack on my art is an attack on socialism an progress.” In this piece from the time of the Soviet Union’s disintegration, Stilinović seized upon a phrase that evoked the difficulty Croatian artists had in breaking into the Western art market, but which could also conceivably come from a nativist speech in Britain or the United States today.
The Pictures Generation artist Louise Lawler built her career from taking photographs of artworks displayed in their settings, foregrounding art’s dirty secret of being decór and exposing the systems of taste and money that encircle art wherever it is placed. For the past few years, she has taken her meta gamesmanship to the super-dooper-meta level by printing out her old photographs on vinyl to create site-specific wallpaper that stretch the original image to fit the given space, and at Frieze it was a photograph of wares arrayed in a Christie’s auction preview that received this distorting treatment. This is catnip, of course, for museums. The Pompidou bought one a little while ago, and rest assured that when MoMA stages her first major New York retrospective next year, these vinyls will be hugging the walls as surely as Cindy Sherman’s twist on the wallpaper technique filled her show there to dazzling effect.
Timothy Taylor – London
If you’re a young male painter whose work looks a lot like a more famous and expensive earlier artist (like Basquiat), or if you make your paintings through some cool gimmicky process, and if you sold a ton of your art to finance guys who liked it mainly for its asset appeal, now is probably not a time for celebration. A reckoning, it seems, is at hand. Eddie Martinez, who became a hot commodity for his Basquiat-cum-Guston-cub-Ab-Ex-cum-outsider-art paintings, may have been smart enough to see it coming, because a few years back he made the lateral leap into sculpture. At the fair, a booth of his tabletop bronzes gave off a familiar scent of cachet-granting art-historical references (Cy Twombly’s cast studio detritus, Calder stabiles, perhaps a bit of COBRA) but looked fresh and vivid nonetheless. Accompanied by two large sculptures ($120,000 apiece), the group found several eager buyers, including a “very good” London corporate collection.
Can you believe that John Baldessari and Jasper Johns were only born a year apart? They seem to come from different universes, but really they just come from different coasts, with Baldessari looking West, to Hollywood (and Pasedena-era Duchamp), and Johns looking East, to Europe (and Paris-era Duchamp). Both, of course, are adepts of linguistic theory. Now Baldessari, at 85, is also looking to digital technology for his new work, and in this new series he has made image collages on his computer, printed them on canvas, and hand-colored the results; this painting, meanwhile, melds references to classic Tinseltown, the avant-garde films of Jack Goldstein, and semiotics. The overall visual package, clean and crisp, is satisfyingly strong, and undeniably cool.
Buchholz & Buchholz Installation (1993)
Galerie Buchholz – Berlin
Do you remember the ‘90s? When totalitarian regimes were falling, far-right sentiment was being pushed to the margins, the Internet was wild and new, and identity politics gave a voice to gays, women, and previously oppressed minorities of all stripes? Wasn’t that fun? From this darkening contemporary moment of rightward tilt and mob rule, it’s almost depressing to tour though Friezes’s splendid “The Nineties” focus section (brilliantly conceived and curated by Nicolas Trembley) and smell all that hopeful teen spirit. Luckily, the centerpiece of the section, a to-scale recreation of Wolfgang Tillmans’s first gallery show in 1993, is so good it makes you forget all that, at least for a moment.
Walking into the cramped white room, you’ll see the walls lined with photographs that the photographer took of his friends from art school (Adam, with the torn blue jeans and fastidiously rolled cuffs, for instance, or the shaved naked dream team of Alexandra and Lutz) together with the editorial spreads he designed for I-D and other indie mags. Famous now for both his art and his activism, particularly his doomed anti-Brexit campaign, Tillmans is currently at work at a new body of work opposing right-wing movements around the globe. His first show, meanwhile, has become a piece of history: all 60 works constituting the display were acquired by a German museum.
A few years ago, the artist Rita Ackerman spilled some painting materials in her studio and, finding no rags at hand, tore a Hungarian safety poster off the wall and tried to clean it up. Afterwards, she noticed that the mess had left an evocative, body-like smear on the paper, and that the oils had caused the poster’s colors to bleed and the paper to become semi-transparent—a moment of pure abstraction. Since then, she has again and again attempted to replicate this accidental triumph, using all manner of materials on all manner of surfaces in search of the same effect, but always with the same ghostly body shape, which she thinks of as a nude.
At the fair, two drawings from this series were hung above the door to Hauser & Wirth’s Collyer-brothers-like booth of dozens of artworks arranged as if in a studio environment, and the pair is a tiny prequel for her much bigger upcoming show at the gallery: on November 10, when Hauser & Wirth takes over three floors of the former DIA building in New York’s Chelsea (as a temporary space while a new gallery is built next-door), Ackerman, a ‘90s wunderkind painter made good, will get her own floor.