Drawing Center Director Laura Hoptman on 7 Overlooked Artists Worthy of Discovery at Frieze New York

Hoptman chose the artists from the fair’s Spotlight section.

Leonor Fini, Armoire anthropomorphe (1939). Courtesy of Leila Heller.

Hoping to discover a new artist to love at Frieze New York? Look no further than the art fair’s special Spotlight section, curated by Laura Hoptman, director of New York’s Drawing Center. Since 2015, Frieze has dedicated Spotlight to artists of the 20th century, with this year’s edition specifically focusing on overlooked figures and the lesser-known aspects major artists’ careers.

Hoptman selected 31 solo presentations from among 70 applications. The final choices range from the massive preparatory cartoons used by Alex Katz (priced between $53,000 and $85,000 with five already sold at galería javier lópez & fer francés) and a life-size sculpture of a New York City bus by Red Grooms (available for $550,000 from Marlborough Gallery), but there are also many names likely to be new to most fairgoers.

We talked with Hoptman about seven artists she thinks are particularly worthy of discovery in Spotlight this year.


Bijan Saffari (1933–2019)
Dastan’s Basement, Tehran


Just days before the fair’s opening, Bijan Saffari died, after having suffered a fall earlier this year. Nonetheless, Dastan’s Basement moved forward with a triumphant presentation of 50 portraits by the artist, who led many important cultural initiatives in his native Iran before being forced to flee the country with the fall of the shah in 1979.

“The only way I can justify it is as a tribute to the artist,” said gallery director Hormoz Hematian. Many of the works were borrowed from friends of Saffari’s for the exhibition, but for those available for sale, prices range from $3,000 to $20,000.

“These are drawings of the gay cultural world of Tehran right before the advent of the revolution. These are his friends and cohorts, the actors, the film directions, the artists, in the community that made him who he was, at the minute before the apocalypse,” said Hoptman. “He captured this moment that disappeared forever, in a way. It’s very touching.”


Tim Head (born 1946)
Parafin, London


Tim Head hasn’t appeared in a show in New York since the group exhibition “British Art Now” at the Guggenheim in 1980. So when Hoptman reviewed Parafin’s application “it was completely new—a revelation. I’ve never seen the work before and I’d never heard of Tim Head,” she said.

Parafin is showing a selection of Head’s otherworldly, hand-tinted photographic collages, created by flipping and inverting the negative so that each image appears four times, in a kaleidoscopic grid. Each unique work costs between $14,000 and $16,000.

The technique “creates these strange flying saucer-like objects,” said Hoptman. But the really impressive part is that Head was making the “Transient Space” series in the early ’80s, long before the advent of Photoshop. “These are handmade works that looks digital,” she added. “You see it, and think ‘how is this possible?'”


Katsumi Nakai (1927–1913)
Ronchini Gallery, London

A booth of work by Katsumi Nakai from Ronchini Gallery at Frieze New York 2019. Photo courtesy of Ronchini Gallery.

A booth of work by Katsumi Nakai from Ronchini Gallery at Frieze New York 2019. Photo courtesy of Ronchini Gallery.

When we first passed Ronchini Gallery’s booth, an employee wearing white gloves was carefully unfolding one of the hinged panels in Katsumi Nakai’s multidimensional constructions, painted in bold, flat colors.

“It’s living, breathing abstraction,” said Hoptman.

This Neo-Concretism work grew out of Nakai’s studies under Lucio Fontana, and was closely tied to the movement in South America, Paris, Milan, and the US. “There was a really deep international thing happening,” Hoptman added. “In Neo-Concretism, there’s no illusion, just the concrete thing itself.”

The booth was selling briskly on opening day, with five confirmed sales—including one to a MoMA trustee and another to a museum—and two works on hold, out of eight pieces total.


Leonor Fini (1907–1996)
Leila Heller, New York and Dubai

Leonor Fini, Portrait of Mrs. H I (1942). Courtesy of Leila Heller.

Leonor Fini, Portrait of Mrs. H I (1942). Courtesy of Leila Heller.

Argentine-Italian Surrealist painter Leonor Fini’s work is unrepentantly erotic, with androgynous figures that reflect her own refusal to adhere to gender norms.

“In a contemporary context she makes perfect sense,” said Hoptman of Fini, noting that her inclusion here is a sign of a wider resurgence in Surrealist art that will continue at the upcoming Frieze Masters.

Leila Heller is showing Fini’s large, sculptural painted armoire, created for Leo Castelli’s first-ever gallery show, back in July 1939. Recently on view in the artist’s hit retrospective at New York’s Museum of Sex, the armoire is the priciest work on view in all of Spotlight, at $1 million. Fini’s moody paintings start at $50,000 for a work on paper, going up to $335,000 for the most expensive canvases.


Elvira Bach (born 1951)
Galerie Kornfeld, Berlin


In Germany, artist Elvira Bach is quite well known. She showed in Documenta VII back in 1982, just three years after graduating from the Berlin University in the Arts. But despite her comparatively low profile here in the US, Bach could be on the brink of much greater recognition for her bold canvases of female figures.

“This is the most popular booth in Spotlight—it sold out this morning!” said Hoptman. Galerie Kornfeld had offered pieces ranging from a $16,000 work on paper up to a $95,000 canvas. Among the buyers were a museum in China dedicated to women artists and the president of the Rauschenberg Foundation.

“I think it’s really amazing. She’s a really strong feminist painter,” Hoptman added.


Roland Dorcély (1930–2017)
Loevenbruck, Paris

Work by Roland Dorcély shown in Frieze Spotlight in Loevenbruck, Paris. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

Work by Roland Dorcély shown in Frieze Spotlight a time the booth of Loevenbruck, Paris. Photo by Sarah Cascone.

“This is an out-of-nowhere artist,” said Hoptman of Roland Dorcély, a Haitian Modernist who worked in Paris, quitting a promising career in his early 30s despite already having placed a work in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

“He’s a master and he’s a ghost. Nobody saw him for 50 years,” the gallery’s Stephane Corréard told artnet News, noting that in Haiti, Dorcély is in all the art history books. They’ve brought a selection of historical documents relating to the artist’s career to Frieze to provide context for this largely unseen work. (Loevenbruck’s Dorcély show this past March was only the artist’s second in Paris, taking place on the same block as the first, back in 1969.)

In the first New York presentation of his work, Dorcély was already attracting interest from collectors. Halfway through opening day, the gallery had four confirmed sales to both private and public collections. Works are priced between $12,000 and $30,000.


Anna Zemánková (1908–1986)
Weiss Berlin


“I think that some of the greatest works on paper are by self-taught artists,” said Hoptman. “Anna Zemánková has an amazing story. Nobody knew she was an artist. Her kids found her work on the walls of the attic and realized she wanted to be an artist and gave her materials to start working.”

Zemánková created her drawings, featuring fantastical plants and flowers, in the early hours of the morning, before tending to her daily household tasks. A relatively well-known figure in the outside art world, she lived in Prague, where her granddaughter still manages Zemánková’s estate.

At Frieze, drawings were on offer at $1,500 to $24,000, with a number of sales on opening day.

Frieze New York is on view at Randall’s Island Park, New York, May 1–5, 2019.

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