Frieze Pulls Out All the Stops

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It’s hard to miss the art being shown in the London fairs this fall. It’s in the park, online and even in a gallery in Mayfair.

The painter who goes by Koak in her San Francisco studio with several works that will be at the London fairs. From left, “Nestled,” “Away,” “Into” and “California.”
Credit...Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Ted Loos

Oct. 9, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

SAN FRANCISCO — At Frieze London and Frieze Masters, the twin art fairs taking place in the Regent’s Park from Thursday to Sunday, the booth-lined aisles will be filled with thousands of works of every imaginable variety.

Much of that art started in a studio like the one where the painter who goes by Koak was working for months on a tight deadline in the Dogpatch neighborhood here.

Koak’s work is being shown at Frieze London by Union Pacific, a British gallery, and she wanted to be sure they had enough strong material. Frieze has nearly 160 dealers at its fair, which focuses on contemporary art.

“Deadlines are important,” Koak said as she stood on a paint-splattered tarp in front of five large canvases that would be offered at Frieze. “They crystallize things.” She is also presenting two bronze sculptures of cats.

The Frieze fairs did not happen in person last year, save for a few select events, but were replaced by digital versions. Though the shows have now returned to the Regent’s Park, with Covid precautions in place in the two tent-like structures, they won’t snap back to their exact 2019 forms.

“We’re going in two directions,” said Eva Langret, the artistic director of Frieze London. “We’re expanding the digital footprint, but also thinking about physical shows.”

Frieze’s online viewing rooms, like those for other fairs, are expected to be regular features from now on. What’s more surprising is that Frieze has also opened a physical gallery in London, No. 9 Cork Street, named for its Mayfair address.

It will have three rotating shows put on by galleries from all over the world. The first shows, on view now, come from the dealers James Cohan, Commonwealth and Council and Proyectos Ultravioleta.

“We want to support galleries year-round,” Ms. Langret said. “It’s premium space in London, which isn’t affordable for most dealers.”

The fair itself has many participants from New York, including Matthew Marks Gallery, Venus Over Manhattan and Casey Kaplan. Among the local London galleries, Timothy Taylor will show several sports-themed paintings of Black figures by Honor Titus, including two tennis pictures.

In the Union Pacific booth, Koak’s paintings all have her signature style: Intensely colored, they suggest female figures, but don’t fill in all the details. As Koak, 39, described it, “figurative, but playing with abstraction.”

Her influences include Matisse — felt in the strongly delineated curves of the bodies in her pictures — as well as comic books. The paintings are the last step in a lengthy process that starts with a pencil sketch and involves scanning and reworking the compositions many times.

Koak said she thought of the fair as a “collapsed show,” meaning that works normally on view for months in a gallery were seen for only a few days, but by many more people. And she said she did not tailor her art to appeal to a fair audience — but that in the selection of work, she was conscious of the intense competition for attention.

For instance, at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2019, “I had a sense that there would be a lot of colorful works,” she said. “So I showed noncolorful drawings.”

She added, “You can think about the context a little.”

She has also decided to give away a few hundred limited edition prints of her work at the fair, with a few set aside for sale.

Union Pacific is part of the Focus section, for younger galleries, and Frieze also has new sections this year. One of those, Unworlding, is being curated by Cédric Fauq and will look at social change, featuring works by Nora Turato, Ndayé Kouagou and Natacha Donzé, among others.

Also new is the Editions section, for works like prints, which tend to be less expensive than unique artworks.

“We want to encourage young collectors, and we’re thinking about affordability,” Ms. Langret said.


Credit...Michael Craig-Martin and Cristea Roberts Gallery, London

One of the galleries in Editions, Cristea Roberts of London, will be showing works by Michael Craig-Martin, Yinka Shonibare and Paula Rego, among others.

The price range is roughly $1,500 to $25,000, “which for an art fair is cheap,” said the gallery’s founder, Alan Cristea.

Mr. Cristea, who does seven or eight fairs a year, said that the pandemic had been a little easier to survive for print dealers.

“It’s hard to imagine someone spending $20 million on a painting they haven’t seen in person, but with prints, as long as the client is familiar with the artist, they will spend money without seeing it in the flesh,” he said, noting that 2020 was a record year for the gallery “despite being closed half the time.”

Across the park, Frieze Masters has more than 130 galleries presenting older art. (Between the two fairs, dealers from 39 countries are represented.)

Mr. Cristea, who has shown at both fairs, said that art in Masters dated to the start of time — “from God onwards” — and noted that softer lighting and wider aisles meant that the experience was more leisurely.

“You can take time, and there’s less frenzy,” he added.

The New York photography dealer Bruce Silverstein will be exploring seriality in his booth. Among the artists featured with several images each are Alfred Stieglitz and Bill Cunningham; a photographic triptych circa 1980 by the German artists Bernd and Hilla Becher depicts the industrial landscapes they became known for.

Frieze Masters has a new feature, too: Stand Out, a section curated by Luke Syson, the director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England.


Credit...Gisèle Croës S.A. Studio Roger Asselberghs. Photo by Frédéric Dehaen

Nathan Clements-Gillespie, the artistic director of the fair, said the intent was to “show decorative art in a different light — taking the decorative out of the decorative arts,” focusing on sculptural skill and conceptual ingenuity.

Galleries in the section include London’s Prahlad Bubbar, Alessandra Di Castro of Rome and Gisèle Croës of Brussels.

Ms. Croës has been an art dealer since the 1970s, with a specialty in archaic Chinese bronzes. “It’s the first ages, the first dynasties, of Chinese art,” she said.

She will show around 60 pieces, most of them small, with the earliest dating to the sixth century B.C. They include a bronze belt plaque, a tinned-bronze goat plaque and a bronze dagger. Perhaps most appealing is a large earthenware polychrome camel and rider made during China’s Tang dynasty.

“I’ve always been interested in rituals, and these bronze works are part of rituals,” Ms. Croës said. She added that some of the objects, made by tribes on the steppes of what is now Mongolia, are “things that you can wear, since nomads didn’t have houses.”

The Frieze brand is probably more associated with work like Koak’s, given that it publishes a contemporary art magazine, with eight issues a year, and pursues projects like No. 9 Cork Street.

But Ms. Croës said that she relished having her ancient objects associated with cutting-edge works.

“The combination is what makes it interesting,” she said. “Modern art and ancient art, it shows that we have continuity.”

Ms. Croës added, “I believe the past is mixed with the future.”

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