Whatever part of the art industry you hail from, it’s common to acknowledge a preference for Frieze Masters over Frieze. While the square footage is dauntingly larger and the quality is inarguably lesser, the friendlier price points and peppering of non-blue-chip names are redeemable incitements. It goes without saying that highlights are subjective, so the relevant question is always who is in the position of defining said importance and what is their prerogative. I work in the secondary market, so I’ll come right out and admit that it is part of the lens in which I review fairs. Yet however controversial market bias is, we can’t ignore that the market is savvy, often rewarding quality. I mention this to justify—personal preference aside—why I don’t dedicate time to performance, video, and by and large photography here. Generally it flows outside of the market. With this said here are my standouts from this year’s edition:
John Zurier at Galerie Nordenhake (Berlin) is a quiet name to many on the international circuit but nevertheless one to watch. Based in Berkeley, the American artist is currently enjoying a museum show at Berkeley Art Museum. My favorite piece, the smallest of three examples, was made in 2011 and is an exemplary work of the artist’s unique and effective approach to the tradition of monochrome painting. Zurier’s trademark is to include minute, static, and contrasting brush marks from the otherwise singular color composition. These marks act as helpful mileposts to reading his monochromes, creating a point for the eye to rest and reflect. Moreover, Zurier uses a delicate feathering technique—think of dry-brush watercolor—allowing you to trace and visibly see the linen beneath his energetic application of oil. The effect creates a gesamtkunstwerk of monochrome painting, formally beautiful yet subtly emotive.
Stop, revel, and roll for a work by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (b.1947) presented by Marian Goodman. Known to many for his monumental bronze tree installed in the Karlsaue Park for dOCUMENTA (13), Germinazione (Germination), 2001 is a dramatically beautiful, all-white wall relief of a branch incased within resin and steel and suspended from wire. The piece bonds nature and art together for a poetic meditation on this sacrosanct relationship. Surprisingly, it is not a unique work and rather from an edition of two. Marian Goodman’s new London space is currently the talk of town with her inaugural showing of Gerhard Richter’s work, curated by the artist himself. Handling such a work by Penone confirms her renowned reputation for her discerning eye and was a special treat to encounter in person.
Galerie Sfeir Semler (Beirut/Hamburg) showed three works by Etel Adnan (b.1925), who was also represented at dOCUMENTA (13). Based in Sausalito and Paris, the artist creates charming geometric landscapes of her immediate environment. Trained at the Sorbonne, her style blends a cheery California palette with the sophistication of the Paris school of abstraction in an intimate scale. Currently working, Adnan’s price point is realistic making her market attractive to entry.
Another female artist gaining serious momentum is Fernanda Gomes, who was shown by Galeria Luisa Strina (São Paulo) and Alison Jacques Gallery (London). Gomes uses humble found materials to create elegant, well-formed sculptures. A large door-like plank painted in black and white hangs at Galeria Luisa Strina and five delicately scaled works made primarily of painted white wood are exhibited together at Alison Jacques Gallery.
A new artist to me was Edith Dekyndt whose mud paintings were shown by Galerie Greta Meert (Brussels) and Galerie Karin Guenther (Hamburg). Suspended by two small holes strung with thread and hooked on nails, these natural mud sheets hang freely from the wall and, not as you would think, are protected behind glass. The extreme and exposed craquelure of these works naturally draws the eye and while there is a simple understated beauty about them, I am not convinced the allure of their intriguing lines and materiality is enough to maintain interest over time. As they say, time will tell.
With Sigmar Polke (1941-2010) at Tate Modern, Anselm Kiefer (b.1945) at Royal Academy, and Gerhard Richter (b.1932) at Marian Goodman, German painting is certainly in vogue. The lesser-known Günther Förg (1952-2013) hasn’t quite risen to the ranks of this illustrious trifecta but is well on his way. Largely known for splitting the picture plane equilaterally in two distinct colors, a richly textured bronze from 1990 is an atypical yet successful example by the artist and an interesting selection from Massimo De Carlo (Milan, London). Two large-scale works on paper were also presented by Greene Naftali (New York), as well as a grid consisting of 28 of the artist’s bisected and bicolored works by Galerie Max Hetzler (Berlin, Paris). Meanwhile, worthy examples by Georg Baselitz and Gerhard Richter were also on view.
Also from Galerie Max Hetzler was a wonderful work by Edmund de Waal, OBE (b.1964). If Louise Nevelson and Georgio Morandi got together, de Waal would be the result. De Waal’s composite works hang as painted 3-D cabinets, where simple ceramic vessels rest quietly inside. Undergoing rigorous ceramic studies in Japan, the quality of the form and glazing shows, effectively realizing the Japanese value of wabi—a spiritual aesthetic that denotes simplicity, serene beauty, and balance. De Waal successfully blends craftsmanship with high art, a rare aesthetic at this edition of Frieze, where the preference for high-finish sculpture and large-scale painting dominated.