The Artists Everyone Talked about during Frieze
Patrick Staff, Weed Killer , 2017. Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angeles.
Fair weeks are about more than five days of sales in a brightly lit tent or convention center. At their best, they bring together an international consortium of art enthusiasts to see a dizzying array of art presented at not just fairs, but also in galleries, museums, and public spaces. Below, we list a mix of artists, at varying stages in their careers, who earned praise and recognition from collectors and curators in London during Frieze Week.
Hellen Ascoli (in collaboration with Karl Williamson), Where Movement Begins and Ends II, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City.
Hellen Ascoli’s work rewards curious, sustained looking. At Frieze London, it was easy to pass Proyectos Ultravioleta’s booth and simply see tapestries on the wall and a set of drawers in the corner. However, the jurors for the Frieze Focus Stand Prize—Fatoş Üstek (director, Liverpool Biennial), Anna Katherine Brodbeck (senior curator of contemporary art, Dallas Museum of Art), and Tanya Barson (chief curator, MACBA Barcelona)—saw beyond the Guatemala City gallery’s subtle presentation and awarded it accordingly. In the booth, gallery representative Sophie Ruigrok opened the dresser drawers one by one, revealing the treasures inside. “This a self-portrait,” she explained. The artwork, Our Point of Reference (2019), is as tall as the artist. At each level, Ascoli has hidden objects that refer to her own life and Guatemalan heritage. Volcanic ash connects to her home country’s active Volcán de Fuego. Decorated gloves suggest delicate, outmoded femininity.
Hellen Ascoli, Those that are always far, 2019. Courtesy of the Artist and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City.
Ascoli’s woven works are also autobiographical. “Weaving really grounds her. It’s a way for her to connect with herself,” Ruigrok explained. Ascoli learned from Mayan weavers; she uses a “backstrap” to create her artworks, tying the device around her, and thus turning her body into a tool itself. One of her resulting pieces, Those That Are Always Far (2019), resembles a dress with gloved hands protruding from the collar. Another, Where Movement Begins and Ends II (2019), flaps against a gallery wall like a row of skirts in the breeze, thanks to a hidden motor. Over the next year, Memphis University and Virginia Commonwealth University will feature Ascoli’s work in group shows at their campus art spaces.
Installation view of Patrick Staff, the Prince of Homburg, 2019, at Dundee Contemporary Art. Photo by Ruth Clark. Courtesy of the artist and Commonwealth and Council, Los Angel.
After seeing Patrick Staff’s work at Los Angeles gallery Commonwealth and Council’s Frieze London booth, the Tate acquired the fifth and final saleable edition of Staff’s 2017 film Weed Killer (MoMA owns one, as well). Originally commissioned by MOCA Los Angeles, the work reflects upon how two very different biomedical uses of chemicals—in chemotherapy and hormone therapy—affect the body. Taking Catherine Lord’s cancer memoir The Summer of Her Baldness (2004) as their starting point, Staff integrates high-definition thermal imagery (which registers different levels body heat as alternate hues) with footage of performer Jamie Crewe lip-syncing in a gay bar.
Much of Staff’s work, according to gallery partner Kibum Kim, “thinks about bodies,” how we develop norms for what’s the “right” or “wrong” body, and “how gender is this construct” used to classify people, perpetuate control and violence, and marginalize certain people and their bodies. The Prince of Homburg (2019), a film now on view at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, likens sleepwalking to political resistance. While Staff created prints and sculpture for the Commonwealth and Council booth, their films were the true stars. Next month, Staff will open a solo presentation, titled “On Venus,” at the Serpentine.
Installation view of works by Tonico Lemos Auad at Stephen Friedman Gallery's booth at Frieze London, 2019. Courtesy of Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
Tonico Lemos Auad has shown sparingly in the United States, at the Aspen Art Museum and the now-defunct CRG Gallery. At Frieze London, Stephen Friedman Gallery curated his work into an elegant presentation that juxtaposed his pared-down sculptures and tapestries with the quiet, haunting paintings of Swedish artist Mamma Andersson. “There is a conversation between them,” said Dora Fisher, an associate at Stephen Friedman Gallery, “in terms of aesthetics and particularly in reference to landscape.”
Auad’s pillars, with their subtle distinguishing features—attached black rings or frayed tops, for example—and their recycled wood from historic buildings across London, respond to esteemed British director Derek Jarman’s famous garden near Dungeness. Friedman won the fair’s Stand Prize, bringing new eyes to Auad’s lovely, poetic work.
Mark Bradford, Gatekeeper, 2019. Photo by Joshua White. © Mark Bradford. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
“Mark Bradford’s exhibition at Hauser & Wirth was truly epic,” said Faena Art chief curator Zoe Lukov. The presentation, titled “Cerberus” (on view through December 21st), features nine new canvases and one film. The mixed-media paintings—which all feature Bradford’s trademark sheen, complexity, and torn paper—suggest intricately mapped cities with underlying grids, orange hotspots, and hilly topography.
Among the masterful paintings, Bradford also includes a new video work, Dancing in the Street (2019). To create the film, he projected footage of Martha and the Vandellas performing their iconic 1964 hit across buildings near his south Los Angeles studio. Despite the joyful tune, eeriness pervades the frame as the viewer sees a desolate landscape, devoid of its own dancing bodies.
Installation view of Kara Walker, Fons Americanus , 2019, at the Tate Modern. © Ben Fisher.
Last week, Kara Walker presented her more-than-40-foot-tall fountain, Fons Americanus (2019), to the public. Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and chief curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy, called the work “profoundly wrenching and breathtaking.” In white cork, Walker created sharks and a noose, a new black Venus, a crying boy, and other riffs on historical and mythological characters.Situated in perhaps the city’s most cavernous and imposing art space—the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall—the piece radiated ambition and offered a full-scale spectacle. Still, said Rapaport, “there isn’t space enough to contain this work that summons pasts of brutality, identity, and race in the U.S., Europe, and Africa. Artists are at the epicenter of condemning and reconsidering historic monuments—and public projects in London and New York are at the forefront of these efforts. Can we bring Fons Americanus here?”
Over at Sprüth Magers, New Yorker critic Hilton Als curated the first-ever retrospective of Walker’s film work. The artist draws from fantasy, archival material, and her own life to create narratives of sex and slavery, cruelty and desire. Silhouette figures beat and rape each other, their atrocities softened by Walker’s folksy forms. One particularly moving video, 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of African-America, a Moving Picture (2005), features the voice of the artist’s daughter, exposing brutal fears and truths about living as African American women in the United States. In an essay published on the occasion of the show, called “As It Happens,” Als writes that in Walker’s films, “the black figure becomes more American and subject to his own fantasies of domination and revenge and longing. No one is safe in these moving landscapes.”
Koo Jeong A, density (2019), from the series Prerequisites 7, augmented reality. Courtesy of the artist and Acute Art
Asked whose work he’d really enjoyed viewing throughout the run of Frieze, Serpentine Galleries curator Hans Ulrich Obrist first mentioned Koo Jeong A. For the fair’s public sculpture program—just beyond the white tents in Regent’s Park—Jeong A mounted density (2019). The artwork required viewers to download an app, then view the piece through their phones. The first augmented-reality work that Frieze has ever mounted, according to The Guardian, the sculpture resembles a giant, floating block of ice when seen through a screen.
Jadé Fadojutimi, My Pathetic Fallacy, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Gisela Capitain.
Anna Katherine Brodbeck, senior curator of contemporary art at the Dallas Museum of Art, recommends keeping an eye on 26-year-old British painter Jadé Fadojutimi. Brodbeck described her canvases as “humming abstractions with layered washes of color that show influences as diverse as Japanese anime and subtle self-portraiture.” At Frieze, Galerie Gisela Capitain showed My Pathetic Fallacy (2019), a large-scale oil painting on canvas with buzzing red lines, brown bow shapes, and a central figure that resembles a scaly body.
According to gallery representative Leonie Runte, Capitain sold the painting to a private collection and “raised a lot of interest in Jadé Fadojutimi’s work, as well as new collectors.” As an artist on Capitain’s roster, Fadojutimi keeps good company with some of today’s most exciting and celebrated painters, including Charline von Heyl, Albert Oehlen, Laura Owens, Wade Guyton, and Christopher Wool.
At 1-54, the Contemporary African Art Fair, at the Somerset House, it was a treat to see an old, Neoclassical building taken over by emerging and established artists working from Cape Town to Iowa City. “I almost couldn’t stop myself from walking off with one of Donté Hayes’s otherworldly, seemingly ancient, ceramic fetish objects at Mindy Solomon Gallery,” said Lukov, about the young artist who’s finishing his MFA at the University of Iowa. Hayes makes black, bulbous ceramics, shaggily textured like fur. With titles such as Headdress (2019) and Withstand (2019), they conjure ritual and resistance.
Correction: A previous version of this article misgendered the artist Patrick Staff. The article has been updated with the correct pronoun.