Female Artists Are Front and Center on Frieze London’s Opening Day
Julia Scher, Live, Frieze London 2018. Photo by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nyland/Frieze.
Of all the works at Wednesday’s VIP opening of the 16th edition of Frieze London, one stood out as being particularly well timed. Six days after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her while they were in high school, Andrew Kreps hung in his booth a work by Andrea Bowers that depicts a black woman with each of her hands placed on the shoulders of two men in suits, standing beside her. The men are holding a poster unspooled enough to display two words: “BELIEVE WOMEN.”
Priced at $85,000, it sold in Frieze’s opening hours, the gallery said. And while such a work, created this year, explicitly references the #MeToo movement, the fair as a whole features more booths this year where works by female artists are front and center. This may have been spurred, in part, by the theme of Frieze London’s special curated section called “Social Work,” which is devoted to female artists who have challenged the status quo. But Loring Randolph, Frieze’s artistic director for the Americas, reported that more galleries than usual had independently chosen to bring work by female artists.
Andrea Bowers, Believe Women, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.
Installation view of Salon 94’s booth at Frieze London, 2018. Courtesy of the gallery.
“There’s more of a female presence throughout the fair,” Randolph said of this year’s edition. (Frieze Art Fair leadership is also predominantly made up of women, with Victoria Siddall serving as director of all four fairs, Joanna Stella-Sawicka as artistic director for Frieze London, and Bettina Korek as the recently appointed executive director for Frieze Los Angeles; Nathan Clements-Gillespie is the artistic director of Frieze Masters.)
Spurred on by the political climate, and by the increased attention paid to the estates of women artists who were mostly ignored by the art market during their lifetimes, galleries and auction houses have become acutely aware of the demand among collectors for art by women, and have responded accordingly. This happened to some extent during Art Basel in Basel, Switzerland, when works by Joan Mitchell at several galleries were among the most expensive works sold on the opening day. But at Frieze, the presence of female artists in general appeared more pervasive.
The most prominent example was at the booth of David Zwirner, the entire front of which was stuffed with new work by female artists. Where there was a fairly macho “Gazing Ball” sculpture by Jeff Koons a year ago, this year sat an elegant, undulating red steel sculpture by Carol Bove, entitled Aphorism (2018). It sold in the fair’s first hours for $750,000; another went for $350,000. Lisa Yuskavage’s intimate portrait Couple in Bed (2017) sold for $900,000. A painting by the 83-year-old British artist Rose Wylie sold for £150,000, and a minimalist work by 87-year-old British painter Bridget Riley sold for £600,000.
James Green, a director at David Zwirner in London, said that his team hadn’t made a conscious effort to place only works by women at the front of the booth (and there are works by Oscar Murillo and Wolfgang Tillmans elsewhere). Rather, they wanted to focus exclusively on fresh-from-the-studio work at Frieze London to contrast with the older works created by male artists, such as Bruce Nauman and Franz West, that anchored the Zwirner booth at Frieze Masters.
“It just so happens that each of the works by the female artists are individually very powerful,” Green said.
A few booths over, Kamel Mennour was presenting the largest-ever work made by Tatiana Trouvé. Called The Shaman (2018), it’s a sculpture of a tree trunk with its roots upturned to face the fairgoer. The tree’s twisted branches extend outward, and the whole thing is partially dunked into a shallow pool of water dotted with pillows cast in marble. At nearly 28 feet long and 25 feet wide, Trouvé’s sculpture took over the entire booth. It quickly became the most-talked-about work at the fair, beating out the giddily berserk Urs Fischer one-two punch at Frieze London’s entrance. (Gagosian was showing a series of three triptychs by Fischer, made from a digital substrate that the artist silkscreened onto mirror-like aluminum panels; Sadie Coles HQ had one of his increasingly ubiquitous wax candle sculptures of art-world figures, which can be melted down and prefabricated by the buyer—this one of the curator Francesco Bonami, who is depicted staring at his iPhone.)
Installation view of Tatiana Trouvé, The Shaman, 2018, at kamel mennour’s booth at Frieze London, 2018. © ADAGP Tatiana Trouvé. Courtesy the artist and kamel mennour, Paris/London.
“We always want to do solo booths at Frieze London, and the last four years have been with women artists,” said Kamel Mennour’s Samy Ghiyati. Priced at €650,000, the gallery was still looking for a buyer for The Shaman—one with enough space to house the massive installation—as of Wednesday evening.
At Marian Goodman Gallery, director Rose Lord said that the gallery specifically decided to kick off its newly announced representation of the photographer Nan Goldin at Frieze, and chose several works that highlight Goldin’s feminist gaze and commitment to accurately portraying LGBT subjects—evidenced here by an indelible image of two boys lying atop of each other on Fire Island, with cracked cans of Budweiser strewn about.
“The future is female, as they say,” said Lord, who declined to give any sales figures, per gallery protocol, but did mention that there was a lot of interest.
“It’s a good time to be selling women artists, and Nan Goldin is very well-suited to this moment,” Lord said.
Lisson Gallery had a booth that featured artists who, as a press release put it, “practice, seek to explore, analyse and provoke the notion of identity.” This included Laure Prouvost, the baffling, wonderful, playful artist who will represent France at the 2019 Venice Biennale. At Frieze London, Prouvost is staging a performance called it’s a tragedy (2018) as part of the fair’s Live section. For this work, incognito opera singers linger by crowds or lunch tables, keeping to themselves before suddenly breaking into a full-throated aria, singing overheard phrases that had been said by the people around them. (I was one of the lunch-eaters, and it was quite a shock to get a sudden soprano belt in the ear.)
Prouvost also anchors Lisson’s booth with a 12-foot-long tapestry, though when commenting on the primo real estate, international director Alex Logsdail noted that “you couldn’t really have this anywhere else; it’s too big.” As of Wednesday afternoon, it was still unsold, but Lisson found buyers for two other Prouvost works, priced at €12,000 each; Haroon Mirza’s Counterfeiting the counter fitters (2018) at £45,000; a Ryan Gander sculpture and a screenprint for £90,000 and £15,000, respectively; and John Akomfrah’s two-channel video Transfigured Night (2013) for £75,000, among others.
Maureen Paley had a new rainbow-colored Rebecca Warren sculpture at the front of her booth, tall enough to see from all the way down the hall. And Salon 94, the New York outfit that has long championed female artists, featured vintage works by Laurie Simmons and new works by Marilyn Minter prominently, one of which was sold for $200,000 on Frieze London’s opening day. Conversation swirled around Wednesday’s reveal of the portrait Minter had shot of Lady Gaga for the cover of this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine—Gaga had asked for Minter specifically, said Salon 94 founder Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn.
One might have assumed that Andrew Kreps had specifically asked Andrea Bowers for a politically charged work in response to the allegations of sexual assault levied against Brett Kavanaugh, which have pushed the cry to “Believe Women” to fever pitch, but that was not the case. The gallery’s Alex Fitzgerald said that the decision to put it in the booth was made a month ago, as the work had to be shipped from Los Angeles, where Bowers lives and works. It wasn’t made with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford or any of the Supreme Court nominee’s other accusers in mind.
“It’s just something with Andrea’s work that this moment is mirroring,” Fitzgerald said. “But it is timely.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Brett Kavanaugh’s last name. It has been corrected.