“Have you had some?” Daniel Wichelhaus of Société Berlin gallery, full of bierhaus bonhomie, was pressing matte-white plastic bottles of lab-made liquid nourishment into the hands of the visitors packing his Frieze New York booth. Sporting a futuristic gray corporate uniform, he leaned against a bank of refrigerated cases filled with the vaguely creepy looking product as staffers listed its virtues. Think A Clockwork Orange meets a Coca-Cola ad.
Or make that Soylent Green. Based on the number of people seen toting it around, the souvenir of this year’s iteration of Frieze may well end up being that prototype bottle of Soylent, the real-life meal-replacement beverage—popular among Silicon Valley coders racing to finish a product sprint—that longtime Société artist Sean Raspet made the center of his striking installation. At a fair in which technological and environmentally flavored art was relatively absent, the Raspet work stood out sharply.
Soylent has undeniable tech-industry cachet these days—born from a $3 million crowdfunding campaign on Tilt, the product now has a $20 million series-A investment from Andreessen Horowitz, the famed backer of Facebook and Uber. But, in an era when gallery's are aiming to reach a flush tech audience, “I don’t care what’s cool,” Wichelhaus says. “I just asked the artist to come up with an idea for the art fair, and he works as a flavor designer for Soylent as a day job." He added that he hoped they didn’t run out of Soylent before the fair ended.
Such an unconventional, boundary-pushing artwork is the bread artwork is the bread and butter of Société, which Wichelhaus founded in 2010 alongside the dealer Hans Bülow to showcase a young and inventive crew of artists (many of whom are based in the U.S.) who are often adept at creating environments exploring the vanguard of new media. In 2013, for instance, the gallery also published Raspet's A Novel, a saga about computer coding and online sales.
Raspet has been with the gallery since its inaugural year, at Genthiner Strausse 36 in Berlin, together with Michael Bell-Smith, Timur Si-Qin (whose sleek sculptures and photographs also invoke retail imagery), Josh Kolbo, and Ned Vena, among others. Shows by Bunny Smith—including her acclaimed “Columbine Library”—and Trisha Baga, who opens at the New Museum this month, came along later.
As for what exactly the "Société" stands for, Wichelhaus explains the gallery got its name when he and Bülow were sitting around brainstorming and “we wanted something that said 'brand,' but that almost meant nothing.” It's the perfect conceptual setting for the ghostly white bottles of Soylent at the fair, which he said collectors from around the world had dubbed "amazing." That was, to be fair, not necessarily true of the taste of the beverage.