A Jaunt through the Funhouse of Frieze Projects
“Entertainment” is still something of a dirty word in the art world, which tends to take itself quite seriously. This, despite the fact that entering the younger, hipper art fairs like Frieze often feel a bit like embarking on a funhouse roller-coaster ride, replete with participatory crowd-pleasers.
At this year’s Frieze New York, Jonathan Horowitz’s collective dot-painting project at Gavin Brown and Martha Araújo’s skateboard ramp and velcro onesies vie for the title in this category. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Why not give the punters what they want, after all? Creating room for play can give welcome reprieve from other parts of the art world engaged in more serious undertakings. The latest edition of the fair embraces this principle wholeheartedly with its Frieze Projects series.
Leading the charge are two ambitious undertakings that turn individual booths into mazes in which participants must make a series of decisions or traverse hurdles to navigate their way out: one, titled Tribute to Flux-Labyrinth (1976/2015), pays homage to a collaborative Fluxus piece from nearly 40 years ago; the other is a new work by up-and-comer Aki Sasamoto. Before entering the first door of Flux-Labyrinth, participants must sign a waiver. Some of the portals that follow, each leading to its own environmental obstacle course, come with their own internal puzzles. One door can only be opened by inserting your hand through a letterbox and feeling around for a bolt on the other side.
In Amalia Pica’s surrealist contribution to the Fluxus maze, an actor playing an officious bureaucrat gazes down from a high platform and requests that you complete an absurdist census form of sorts, before inserting said form into a shredder that feeds into a corridor overflowing with the thin strands of paper. The maze culminates in John Bock’s Sweat Production No 9a, a narrow corridor hot-boxed by six rotund, half-naked men dressed in gold lamé Y-fronts and hooked up to various cables and tubes—which, it seems, are collecting their sweat. Visitors must make a cramped (and pungent) exit through their bodies. Flux-Labyrinth successfully invokes the then-avant-garde strategies of play and participation that characterized the work of Fluxus artists like Nam June Paik and George Maciunas, as well as manifesting a pleasingly lo-fi feel. (One plywood fixing on a door fell off as I entered, a room full of chickpeas intended for wading through spilled into another room, and one of the sweating, gold-lamé-wearing fellows walked off the job—perhaps he was overheating?—as I entered the final room.)
Closely aligned with this work is Sasamoto’s project, in which participants are faced with an array of aesthetic and taste-related choices that guide their paths through a series of small chambers. Tea or coffee? Red or blue? A red pepper costing $2.49 or a zucchini costing $1.25? Pick the red pepper and you go through one door, the zucchini and you go through another. The art-fair version of a teen-magazine personality quiz. “It’s about people coming in and making choices,” says the artist, who bounds up as you exit the maze to give you a badge denoting your personality classification. “Whoever makes the art, shows it or collects it—it’s all about their taste, so I wanted to make a joke about what kind of art they’re into, whether young art, gay art, huge sculpture, or whatever. It’s kind of promoting the judgemental nature of people.”
Elsewhere in the Projects series, Pia Camil also riffs on a historical postmodern work—this time Hélio Oiticica’s famous wearable “Parangolés” textiles (1964–68)—with a series of ponchos that she is distributing throughout the course of the fair. Visiting her booth, I found a line of some 70 people or so eagerly awaiting the next distribution of garments, which the artist had crafted out of waste-fabric remnants by Mexican artisans. “Oiticica used to describe his project [in terms of] the dynamics of wearing and watching,” says Camil, supervising a clothes rail in a white poncho with fluorescent notes. “It was a very different time and a very different crowd, and I wanted to see what it meant to appropriate those same dynamics in a new context. I like using strategies that are part of the consumer world, so I displayed them in a store-like way, so people behave in that fashion. There’s this desire aspect to it that I think is interesting.”
When his time came, a chipper-looking gentleman in a two-piece suit, who’d been waiting in line for 25 minutes with his wife, promptly slipped a beige-colored poncho over his formal attire. “This will be a memento that we’ll be able to remember this Frieze by. I assume that wearing the poncho in the fair will create a bit of a stir,” he told me, with a broad smile and a cheeky glint in his eye. “So I think I’ll get to meet some new people and have some interesting conversations.” His wife was no less chuffed. “It’s part of the experience! It’s very fashionable and chic. It’s fun to participate in an art project.”