Kenny Schachter Gets Hot and Bothered at the Ironically Titled Frieze New York
Our columnist traveled to Randall's Island in search of art—and was nearly scorched to a cinder in the process.
While I was checking into my hotel for Frieze New York, a fellow guest made a comment about how much she liked my writing—at the precise moment my credit card got declined for being blocked. Yes, writing doesn’t pay, but, thankfully, selling art does. The episode was very embarrassing, even though it was due to security; you need to file a travel itinerary with HSBC well in advance to avoid it.
New York is a city for getting things done, unless you want to navigate from one part to another. There are said to be as many as 60,000 Ubers (and the like) stuffing the streets here, which has done little for mobility. A driver related that the more cars, the less business. When will the law of diminishing returns begin to negatively impact art fairs? The time is now.
The only thing more ubiquitous than the black cars clogging city streets are the number of police (far more than when I left New York in 2004), and, conversely, the proliferation of the pungent smell of pot. A recent study in Colorado where weed is legal—New York will inevitably follow suit—stated that artists were the substance’s second-largest user group after the food-services industry—which means that if your meal tastes a little weird at one of Hauser & Wirth galleries’ cafes (in LA or Somerset), it’s because the staff is high. All of them. By the way, you can’t walk a block on Madison Avenue from about 50th to 80th Streets without tripping over an art dealer (or a rich artist). It should be renamed Art Street. I was tempted to walk up and down with a few phonefuls of JPEGs at the ready.
The mere frequency of my writing ensures my inbox is filled with buckets of unsolicited entreaties to attend and write about a hodgepodge of disparate events. If these flunkies had read a single word I’d written, they wouldn’t bother—though, admittedly, the “notable attendees” section of one so-called tip sheet (aka spam email) caught my eye recently, for there among Virgil Abloh, Cynthia Rowley, Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn, and Renee Rockefeller were the names of two of my kids, Adrian and Kai.
The show was for 29-year-old Zombie poster boy Lucien Smith’s new series of hand-painted paintings, entitled “Friends.” When Smith first met my kids a few years ago in Art Basel Miami Beach (where else?) he literally made a beeline for the exit when he found out who their father was, as a result of my previous writings on the subject… him.
Kai tried to dissuade me from attending for fear I’d revert to form, but I’m done pillorying (him). The paintings were competent renderings of Lucien’s social circle (though my kids were nowhere amongst the dozens of portraits) in the manner of Elizabeth Peyton, though without the deftness. But they were competent enough and seemed to stick with me a little.
The party sure was fun—befitting the age of the crowd, there were separate adult tables, at which I didn’t manage to last long (about 20 minutes—my attention span?) before hopping to the younger section and reverting in a fashion I’m not certain was all too attractive a proposition for Kai, Adrian, and their friends to witness. Sorry (insert emoji with upturned hands). From hot to not, to… still not—could success strike twice for Smith? I guess.
Oh, before I left, I was so enthused (on booze?) that I bought one. And, I’d be remiss not to mention the upcoming pop-up exhibit (132 Perry St., New York, May 10-20) that Adrian and Kai are in, among others, organized by Caio Twombly and Avant Arte, the world’s most successful contemporary art Instagram account run by veritable children! Ugh.
Frieze New York
At a dinner party not too long ago, I sat next to a partner from Endeavor, the parent company of IMG, which bought a controlling stake in Frieze in 2016. I asked the first (and only) question that popped into my mind: Why? Did they actually intend to make a profit? To which he replied, without hesitation, “No.” Attribute it to art as window dressing, fashion, and plaything.
Don’t get me wrong—off I dutifully went to Frieze NY version seven (it’s good to get away from home, I often do). Did you know Randall’s Island—as remote as it is unpleasant—is separated from Queens by a narrow tidal strait called Hell Gate? Bet you didn’t. Now I know where it got its name. The pall hanging over the tents with little or no air conditioning in 90-plus-degree temperature was like the 11th plague. Not only did a fairgoer faint (two people told me), I heard another may have spontaneously combusted, bursting into flames on the spot.
While I was waiting for the bathroom on one of the many lines that appeared to stretch back to the city, a security guard told me that the new format of five interconnected tents was cheaper than last year and that the AC absence was not due to a malfunction but rather a functional impossibility, as the vents were blocked by the very fabrication configuration. Oh, and there was no toilet paper or soap. Last year, floods closed down the fair, this year it was hotter than Hades—what could possibly be in store for next?
I refused to return with clients, though my spritely, art-loving 79-year-old friend (and occasional client) sweated through two consecutive days. Then he did TEFAF, and said he preferred the atmosphere at Frieze. (Funny, since I found it hard to breathe in the heat.) When I asked why, he replied the gallerists were solicitous—what choice had they?—as opposed to the snobbier airs (at least there was some air) at TEFAF.
Back to the Jerry thing, I have a friend I just met who recently came to collecting based on the access and nature of the experience he encountered through fairs, of a kind you rarely come across in a gallery, if ever. Go ahead and try and spot Larry G., David Z., Hauser, or Wirth at their respective galleries—and on the sales floors—on a given Wednesday afternoon. (Albeit they’re all gone from the fairs, too, shortly after the opening days. It’s a sport to clock who stays, who bails, and when….)
Another visitor said the inferno-induced communal suffering made it better, uniting the famously prickly art crowd. I understand the concept of different strokes… but not at the risk of having one. Trust me, that is not how I envision the end: crumpled in a heap outside Hauser, stepped over without so much as being mistaken for a Duane Hanson. Bikram yoga-worthy climates are bad for impulse art-buying, if ideal for shedding a few pounds while exerting as little effort as possible.
The gallery turnover from last year was 40 out of 190 (a telling sign?), and, after getting caught with their flaming pants down, there may be a whole new lineup next fair. Prediction: in the coming years Frieze will fix itself after losing (at least) 20 percent of its present roster of exasperated exhibitors next year to attrition, heart failure, or both. I did adore the Feature Inc. gallery feature—I remember it was one of the first galleries I visited in New York, and when I met Hudson (me foaming at the mouth for a Charles Ray photo at $5,000 I could never afford) he instantly took pity and offered it to me on lifelong layaway terms. He was like Pat Hearn and American Fine Art’s Colin de Land (take note for your next tribute section, Frieze people): all bold, beautiful dealer’s dealers, long lost now. They were in it for the art—not as an investment return, or a ticket to St. Barts.
Contrarian and great as ever, 303 Gallery proprietor Lisa Spellman spoke of her opening day at the fair as “crazy ballistic good”—(Jerry, you reading?)—where there were sumptuous Mary Heilmanns for a bargain at $150,000 to $275,000 apiece. I admired, even before Roberta Smith’s rave in the New York Times, the Heilmanns and even the Tracey Emins, which flew off the fake particleboard walls at £300,000 to £340,000 a pop at Xavier Hufkens (who I also adore, at the expense of sounding soft). I’d gather Hauser’s Nauman at $8 million and the $5.5 million Haring at Acquavella were stillborn in the swelter, but I could easily be wrong. (They might consider consulting a conservator after the proceedings.)
Lisson Gallery’s New York branch—even some mid-level galleries successfully have more than one—exhibited a unique Cory Arcangel Adidas computer-print-on-canvas work for $80,000 (as loyal readers might be aware, I sleep in them… my Adidas, that is). You could coin a movement, “The Epsonists,” led by Arcangel and Wade Guyton—who has a knockout upcoming show at Petzel Gallery—connoting artists who make art by pressing send. Add to the list Dan Colen’s debut at Lévy Gorvy, though his paintings of sweaters from mail-order catalogues that look like they’re computer-printed-on-canvas—but are actually oil-based enamel on linen—are so awful it’s unprintable.
Jeffrey Deitch was on hand at the fair, suited and booted, clad in pinstripes in the wretched heat. (He jogs that way, I swear.) He stated without hesitation that he had just purchased the most important historical work in the fair for a client, an Emma Amos “Attitude Painting” (my kind of art) from New York’s Ryan Lee Gallery—the asking price was $250,000. She was the only female member of a prescient African American collective that included Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff, Norman Lewis, and Charles Alston in the early 1960s. I begged the gallery for info and images, which, despite assurances, were never sent. (I admit to admiring such nonchalant unprofessionalism.)
Marilyn Minter was on hand, too, with her brilliant faux-historical pussy-grabbing plaque to raise money for democracy, featuring Trump’s most notorious slur that may yet prove his undoing. She asked me for a shout-out to the grassroots organization Downtown for Democracy to contribute to ending the hypocrisy, but Trump seems to be doing a pretty good job digging his own grave.
Next up, TEFAF New York. Less hot in every way? Stay tuned.
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