With its Fortress of Solitude-like super-tent perched on its remote island, Frieze New York has a great deal in common with some of the classic superhero (and super-villain) lairs of comic book lore. And in the three years since the British fair made its US debut, it has been joined by a veritable Justice League of satellite fairs, with more joining every year—and each with its own distinct strengths, weaknesses, and special powers. As the art world gears up for another superheroic feat of endurance amid this year’s jam-packed Frieze Week schedule, artnet News has decided to focus all its powers of analogy to create a guide to the week’s art fairs likening each to its corresponding ice- or cold climate-themed comic book character.
Frieze New York: Mr. Freeze
The week’s marquee fair is big and strong as ever, with some 190 galleries taking up residence in its undulating tent on the banks of the East River. As usual, the lineup public art and special programming is stacked with playful projects like Eduardo Basualdo‘s glass-shielded soccer goals and Marie Lorenz‘s rowboat tours engaging with the unique character of Randall’s Island, while the schedule of talks and panels is exceptionally robust, from a conversation between 2015 Venice Biennale curator Okwui Enwezor and jazz pianist Jason Moran to a panel on the history of the Internet’s influence on art chaired by writer Orit Gat—and, of course, Pussy Riot. But for all its strengths, much like the Batman supervillain Dr. Victor Fries aka Mr. Freeze, who developed various deadly freezing devices in his efforts to save his terminally ill and cryogenically frozen wife Nora, Frieze has some weaknesses, too.
Superpower: The Frieze Tent, which enables this massive fair to feel light, airy, spacious, and not completely draining to explore.
Weakness: Randall’s Island, which, in addition to being a strength for giving visitors a sense of leaving the city on an adventure, is also a potentially prohibitive trek.
NADA New York: Captain Cold
Much like the classic Flash villain Captain Cold, leader of the super-criminal alliance known as the Rogues, NADA is the leader of Frieze Week’s satellite fairs with an impressive 87 galleries signed on for its third outing in New York City. As last year, the New Art Dealers Alliance will set up shop in Basketball City, the vast sports complex conveniently located near where many of the exhibitors are based on the Lower East Side—such as American Contemporary, Nicelle Beauchene, Sargent’s Daughters, Invisible Exports, and Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery. And just as Captain Cold kept rigorous membership requirements for the Rogues, so does NADA’s rigorous selection process and curation tend to make it one of Frieze Week’s most powerful fairs.
Superpower: Its alternative and non-profit art space contingent, which this year boasts an alliance of super spaces including SculptureCenter, P!, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Regina Rex, the Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art at the California College of the Arts, and the Abrons Arts Center. Its special program focusing on the art communities in Puerto Rico and Detroit will benefit from the involvement of on-the-scene non-profits Beta-Local and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
Weakness: This is tricky because, like Captain Cold, NADA New York is all-around very strong and sound, from its venue to its curation to its special programs. However, its only major weakness is its penchant toward homogeneity, with the focus on emerging artists and young dealers resulting, some years, in an abundance of messy abstract paintings and scruffy sculptural assemblages at the expense of other types of work.
PULSE New York: Iceman
Though it is not the biggest fair of the week, PULSE is technically the longest-running New York fair happening during Frieze Week, making it not unlike the powerful Iceman, a founding member of the X-Men. With a lineup of 51 galleries ranging from local favorites like Freight+Volume and non-profit Aperture to far-flung participants like Dresden’s M2A and Kressling Gallery all the way from Bratislava, Slovakia, PULSE New York 2014 is as diverse as the mutant student body at Iceman’s alma mater, Professor Xavier’s “school for gifted youngsters.”
Superpower: Helen Toomer, the fair’s incoming director, has injected it with no small dose of cool, most notably in her move to curate a special section dubbed POINTS, highlighting alternative art spaces and non-profits.
Weakness: The Metropolitan Pavilion, which in past years already felt cramped, may seem even more so this year as PULSE is confined to a single floor rather than the two levels of editions past. (It should be noted, though, that in an effort to curtail overcrowding, the fair has cut down on exhibitors—there were 62 in 2013.)
Outsider Art Fair: Penguin
Much like the diminutive and deformed Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin, the Outsider Art Fair is, well, something of an outlier amid Frieze Week’s parade of fairs and galleries showing works by armies of MFA-equipped professional artists. Chelsea-based dealer Andrew Edlin, who bought the Outsider Art Fair in 2012, continues to make power moves, from expanding the fair to Paris last year to moving its New York edition to Frieze Week for the first time this year, and enlisting 48 galleries to take over Chelsea’s Center 548.
Superpower: Just as the Penguin has proven time and again his formidable combination of engineering know-how, technical expertise, and aesthetic astuteness—in one of his first-ever appearances in a Batman comic he stole a painting from a museum by rolling up the canvas and hiding it in his trademark umbrella, later expounding on its pictorial perfection to a band of transfixed criminals—so the offerings at the Outsider Art Fair reflect a level of eclecticism, formal precision, and unpredictability that no other fair can match.
Weakness: This will count as a strength to some, but the Outsider Art Fair’s focus on outsider artists means that visitors looking for familiar dealers and marquee names may be frustrated and need to do some reading to familiarize themselves with the field’s foremost practitioners. Like the Penguin, whose status as a loner is both isolating and allows him to operate outside the law (until Batman swoops in), so outsider art’s status vis-a-vis the rest of the art world can be seen as both a strength and a weakness.
Cutlog NY: Blizzard/Jack Frost
The French fair returns to New York for a second outing that boasts an impressive roster of 45 exhibitors and an appropriately strong international contingent. The Hungarian scientist Gregor Shapanka also moved to the US to research cryonics in hopes of achieving immortality, but that didn’t pan out and he initially became know as Jack Frost when he went up against Iron Man—upon returning after what seemed to be a fatal defeat, Frost took the name Blizzard. Though it kept its name, Cutlog NY’s return has all the markers of cool that made its first edition such a success. What will be most interesting will be to see how the organizers have learned from the difficulties and successes of its inaugural iteration.
Superpower: In a word, eclecticism, whether in its very multinational lineup of exhibitors—though you’ll note the conspicuous absence of any galleries from Blizzard’s homeland of Hungary; its broad range of programs, which includes site-specific installations by Monika Zarzeczna, Joan Backes, and Robert Montgomery, among others; or its performance and film lineup featuring Anthony Haden-Guest, Fanni Futterknecht, the duo of Deantoni Parks and Bruno Levy, and more.
Weakness: While we love the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center, its rooms and halls are not always ideal spaces for hanging art. Some galleries’ presentations suffer from being stuffed into awkward nooks and alcoves.
Collective Design Fair: Icemaiden
Not unlike that other major New York City art fair, the Armory Show, Collective has a “Focus” section, and this year its focus will be on Scandinavia, highlighting a selection of objects from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland curated by Museum of Arts and Design director Glenn Adamson, no less. DC Comics superhero Icemaiden (née Sigrid Nansen) would surely approve, as she is not only from Norway, but her blue sink is in fact the result of a failed design experiment of sorts by the Norwegian government. Don’t expect to see many bungled experiments or garish blues at Collective, which will be filling the Skylight space at Moynihan Station with exquisite objects from 37 international exhibitors.
Superpower: Visual appeal, which some might find lacking at the week’s more muted and conceptual art-driven fairs, will be the unequivocal focus of the works on view at Collective.
Weakness: Just as Icemaiden’s incredible command of ice comes at a price (her blue skin), to the flipside of Collective’s unparalleled gathering of aesthetically pleasing objects may leave the fair lacking in other sectors—namely intellectual stimulation.
SEVEN: Emma Frost
Just as Emma Frost went from being an enemy of the X-Men to one of the mutant collective’s leaders, so SEVEN initially positioned itself as an anti-fair exhibition and has slowly become an integral and cherished part of New York and Miami’s big fair weeks. This year’s edition, once again taking place at The Boiler in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, will be devoted to video art. Of the seven participating art spaces lined up this year six are New York locals, with Miami’s David Castillo trekking north to fill out the lineup. This year’s presentation will include a video tribute to the recently deceased artist and dealer Hudson, who founded the Lower East Side gallery (and past SEVEN participant) Feature Inc.
Superpower: The space—a beautiful and spacious former industrial boiler—and the seven-gallery format make this the only manageable art event of Frieze Week, and one whose tight curation typically makes it a wonderful and welcome antidote to all the major fairs. It’s as if SEVEN’s organizers were endowed with the same telepathic powers as Emma Frost and knew exactly what we wanted.
Weakness: The location, despite being along the East River—Frieze Week’s central axis, as opposed to the Hudson-adjacent Armory Week fairs—is on the wrong side of that body of water, which may be enough to dissuade many of the folks in town for the week’s fairs from paying a visit. (Luckily, SEVEN opens May 2, affording locals and early-bird visitors a chance to check it out before all the other fairs open.)
SELECT Fair: Polar Boy
SELECT, like the superhero with which we’ve paired it, is both very young and very ambitious. When Brek Bannin, aka Polar Boy—who grew up on the extremely hot planet of Tharr, hence his prodigious cooling powers—tried out for the Legion of Super-Heroes, he was the youngest-ever candidate to have done so. When he was turned away, rather than become an anti-legion super-villain, he simply started his own group—the Legion of Substitute Heroes, a veritable Salon des Refusés for superheroes. SELECT, similarly, has positioned itself as a venue for emerging and pre-emerging artists just outside the constellation of long-running satellite fairs, literally. Its first New York edition, after two outings in Miami, will bring 41 exhibitors to a space directly next-door to PULSE.
Superpower: Beyond the sheer novelty and excitement of having a new fair on the itinerary, we’re very optimistic about the SELECT Projects section—in which each dealer will present a single artwork—which is a format that calls to mind fond memories of NADA Hudson’s experiments with the one-work-per-gallery rule.
Weakness: As with any first-time fair—or young and rash superhero—it may take a couple of outings to achieve consistency, and we wouldn’t be surprised if this inaugural SELECT Fair in New York were a little uneven. That said, between the fairly solid gallery lineup and the Sixpoint-sponsored beer hall, this has all the makings of a Frieze Week mainstay.
Downtown Fair: Icicle
Art Miami’s long-planned foray into New York City seems poised to have an impact similar to that made by European physicist Dr. Joar Mahkent when he disembarked from his trans-Atlantic voyage in Gotham, ice ray-gun in hand. Just as Armory Week has its secondary market fairs—the ADAA Art Show and the Armory Show’s Modern section on Pier 92—so the new Downtown Fair hopes to carve a niche with its mix of modern and contemporary offerings. For its first edition it will pack the Downtown Armory on Lexington Avenue with 51 galleries from all over the US and including a smattering of international outfits.
Superpower: The focus on secondary market works and move to create a space for Modern art during Frieze Week should help set the Downtown Fair apart.
Weakness: Conversely, the fair’s contingent of Modern offerings—especially following on the heels of the big Imp/mod sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s—might appear stale and staid to visitors more interested in emerging art.
Contemporary Art Fair NYC: Killer Frost
Yet another Frieze Week first-timer, the Contemporary Art Fair NYC (CAFNYC) will bring 71 booths to the Tunnel in West Chelsea, some manned by galleries, others by individual artists and designers showcasing their own wares. It remains to be seen whether or not the new fair, like Crystal Frost (aka Killer Frost), will be able to absorb energy from those around it and generate its own blast of cool.
Superpower: By allowing artists to participate on their own terms by buying solo booths for themselves, CAFNYC provides a space for those who otherwise would have no venue to exhibit their works to the thousands of collectors and curators flooding into New York for Frieze Week. (On the other hand, the absence of a gallery’s curatorial eye may act as a deterrent to some would-be visitors.)
Weakness: The location in far, far West Chelsea will present a serious challenge for CAFNYC amid the East side-centric festivities of Frieze Week.
The first of Frieze Week 2014’s fairs begins on May 2, when SEVEN opens to the public, and the festivities end on May 12 when Frieze New York closes.Follow artnet News on Facebook.