ORGAN: FRIEZE WEEK Part 6 – Kembra? Marton? Sterling? William J O’Brien? The obligatory ten best things at Frieze list we all have to do once the dust has settled…


Frieze London, 2019 – Joyce Pensato, Lisson Gallery

And so the dust or whatever it was has settled, the vast vast (vast) white tent is probably down by now, the whole damn global art fair circus has already moved on, “oh darling, Frieze is so last week now”, the money has been counted or laundered or whatever it was all really about, the prices kept as high as they need to be for fear of a collapse in the value the art they’ve already bought and have safely locked in the bank losing value, I mean does anyone really seriously own a Hirst for purely artistic reasons? Surely not? And so the circus has left town, the well dressed sales people are off to the next one and all those magazines that people hand out have been thrown in the corner with the ones that are still there from last year (and the year before), the one about the top 200 art influencers was particularly offensive, There’s a full review of Frieze London 2019 a couple of pages back – hopefully you’ll find something a little more than a couple of photos and a half-arsed sentence that says little more than a Bob Hoskins ‘ot dog could if know wot I mean – shit? Shinola? The other Sean has a damn good point. So Frieze happened and once again, for all the millions of things that are wrong with it all, it can’t be ignored and in amongst it all, in all the miles of art and crisp white booth after crisp white booth (did anyone work how how many miles if you followed the map?), and there were miles of art, and there was exciting art to be found, maybe not quite as much exciting art as there has been in previous years, it was even more conservative this year, it was relatively restrained, but there was exciting rewarding art and here are a ten of our highlights from Frieze 2019, the obligatory list as it were….


Frieze London, 2019,, Kembra Ppfahler, Emalin (London)

1: KEMBRA PFAHLER  You know, now that the dust has actually settled, those big black pointy nails on Kembra Pfahler’s purple hands probably were the some of the very best things, yes the Emalin booth did disappoint, they kind of missed an open goal and you probably did have to know about New York performance artist Kembra Pfahler already to get what thy had in their rather conservative booth and you probably did have to have an idea about who Karen Black is already and yes Kembra and her East London gallery Emalin could have done so so much more at the fair rather than just politely putting things in frames and politely placing glossy magazine articles on the coffee table and politely placing her bum prints on the wall and taming them in polite frames, do go explore strangely compulsive world of Kembra Pfahler, those nails give you a hint of…


Frieze London, 2019 – Katherine Bernhardt

2: KATHERINE BERNHARDT – “Well very weirdly, I ended up picking out about 90% of the art i liked was all by women… didn’t know that, it was just my responses to the work… I really liked Joyce Pensato’s giant pieces, and Katherine Bernhardt’s giant pink panther paintings and…” And painter and Rot Grrrl Emma Harvey is right, without really deliberately searching it out, it seemed like most of the art that was making an impact, that did have a bit of energy or attitude was made by female artists this year – Betty Tompkins, Rebecca Ackroyd, Kembra, Mrinalini Mukherjee…   Those big  Katherine Bernhardt pieces that the Carl Freedmann Gallery were showing were rather alive, the American artist excited us with her Pink Panther and other things, her colour, her line, her energy. Katherine Bernhardt and her Pink Panther, Joyce Pensato and her giant Mickey…


Frieze London, 2019 – Joyce Pensato, Lisson Gallery

3: JOYCE PENSATO – We came upon Mickey about an hour in, we were flagging, nothing much was really igniting us until Sterling Ruby, “before Sterling Ruby there had been Joyce Pensato‘s big charcoal Mickey, a giant drawing, one of several big pieces that Lisson Gallery are showing in tribute to the artist who recently passed away. That big Mickey did grab us, as did the other big pieces that Mickey ushered us in to see, as did the the Stanley Whitney pieces that share the wall and space as they often did in life, “Whitney, a Brooklyn-based painter and close friend of Pensato”. The Lisson Gallery space was rather respectfully beautiful actually but the energy of the Charcoal Mickey was the thing that grabbed us and pulled us in, sometimes you see something and it instantly hits, it instantly demands a big positive yes.   .


Frieze London, 2019, William J O’Brien (Taka Ishii, Gallery, Tokyo)

4: WILLIAM J O’BRIEN – William J O’Brien‘s  “Untitled (Broken Flag)”, another piece that demands a slice of attention, a relatively larger canvas hung-textile piece, a hanging,, a collection of pieces painted on in ink, in oil and acrylic, small pieces of canvas or cloth or fabric held together by hundreds of safety pins in a rather tactile way. There are a lot of textile-based pieces in Frieze this year, fabric pieces hanging in that way only a piece of fabric does, paint or dye within the body of the piece rather than lying on the surface, there’s a lot fabric in here, there’s conversations to be had with gallery people about rust resist and weaving and the nature of a fold – indeed there’s a whole section collectively called “Woven” that offers up quite a few pieces worth a little more time…


Frieze London, 2019, William J O’Brien (Taka Ishii, Gallery, Tokyo)

5: MARKUS AMM – There is a wonderfully understated little painting (I do hate it when a piece is referred to as a “little painting”, it sounds patronizing, like it isn’t being taken seriously enough to just be a painting, but this is a wonderful painting, a smaller piece that really isn’t “little”, a painting that once again could get lost in all the noise of the bigger paintings and busier booths, a painting by Markus Amm, an untitled painting, oil on board, almost radiant, peacock blue and green, 30 x 35cm, so easy to miss after several hours, almost hidden around a corner in Hanburg’s Galerie Karin Guenther booth


Frieze London, 2019, Markus Amm

6: KATE McMILLAN – Artist and self declared academic Kate McMillan was outside protesting or questioning, I kind of expected more of that to be happening outside but then how disconnected from the real world is the big-arse travelling art fair world and the people who have the money to keep this whole thing rolling around the globe without question. We didn’t actually see Kate on any of the days we were there but then the security was very heavy and I don’t expect she got away with making her very valid points for very long, she apparently managed to do it a good few hours of questioning on more than one day and apparently and it did have a healthy impact with passing people and on social media (which is where we first saw her protests)  “Here I am again making people feel awkward 😬 I’ll be spending today protesting at Frieze again about the art market’s carbon footprint and complicity in climate change. It is interesting to largely be ignored by the 1%, and those people trying to gain favour with them – with the exception of a few friends and colleagues engaging (thank you Helen!) Most of the people who engage are regular commuters through Hyde Park who wonder who all these wealthy, beautifully dressed people are (I seem more approachable to them I think). I know we are all implicated, but Frieze really is next level. They have tried to get me to leave but decided it would be worse” – www.katemcmillan


7. MARTON NEMES wasn’t at Frieze, but his show that open at Annka Kultys Gallery on the borders of Hackney and Bethnal Green that just opened (and stays open until the end of the month) was one of the highest highlight of the Frieze week – There’s something very precise about these pieces, more precise that last time? Tighter? Just More? It feels like more this time around, everything turned up just a little bit more, if feels like a year has been well spent, this looks so good. You take a little gasp of breath as you reach the top of the gallery stairs – we’re upstairs above an uneventful red shop on the Hackney Road, a very very white walled gallery kind of hiding in plain sight up a flight of stairs – a little “yes” shouted internally as you get to the top of the stairs and turn for that first view of the room. These are very painterly pieces, bold pieces, exciting pieces, striking, an instant sugar rush of very very modern bright art. Tight construction rather than deconstruction, something very pinpoint about the way the parts of the “canvas” fit together, the feel of something carefully put together rather than pulled apart? Something architectural, exquisitely crafted, not a blemish on any of them, which is what the pieces really require, these pieces feel very much under control, and they look uncannily like they’ve been colour adjusted in Photoshop, saturated on Instagram, this is real life though, these are naturally over-saturated colours, brilliantly done, they really are this intense. . Do they have a look of 80’s graphics? Zolo, Memphis furniture, Memphis Milano? iD magazine, but they don’t feel like design, they are very painterly- more here


Marton Nemes at Annka Kultys Gallery, East London, October 2019

9: LISA OPPENHEIM – Lisa Oppenheim‘s line where sea meets sky is quietly understated and I suspect rather easily missed in all the everything else of the fair, I was going to say all the noise but it really isn’t a noisy event this year, there aren’t any big f**k off punk rock pieces, there’s nothing that grand in terms of scape actually  –  there’s three delicious Lisa Oppenheim pieces on the wall of the booth occupied by East London’s Approach gallery, three beautiful black and white pieces that play with light and your point of view in such a rewarding way.


Frieze London, 2019, Lisa Oppenheim, (The Approach, London)

9.5: MRINALINI MUKHERJEE – There’s a gorgeous Mrinalini Mukherjee bronze made ten years later that a dramatically heavy woven rope piece made by the same artist that stands in front of the bronze, the conversation between the two pieces really does affect in the most positive of ways the way you feel about the bronze leaves and the need to touch them, to crumple them like fabric,  there’s a whole booth of Mrinalini Mukherjee pieces, actually New Delhi’s Nature Morte booth is one of the highlights of this year’s Frieze..


Mrinalini Mukherjee

10: STERLING RUBY  This list is in no particular order but is it was then Steling Ruby was the easy winner, he lifted what on the whole was a conservative and soewhat disapointing Frieze 2019 – On Thursday we’ve come in through an entrance that means we don’t get to the Gagosian space and the bright yellow rush of Sterling Ruby‘s bright bright pieces that really do rescue the whole morning until we’re a couple of hours in, we don’t get to the Gagosian space until we’re something like two hours spent looking at art and it really is the massive relief, the André Butzer piece was good but nothing had really threatened to take our breath until we turned that corner some two hours in. Turning that corner is such a rush (as well as a relief), such a buzz to walk in to the big open space alive with all those big bold golds and yellows, the big textures, the edges where colours meet, the pieces of fabric (there’s a lot of fabric in Frieze this year, more on that in a moment), a big square of a gallery space  that seems to be bigger that everyone else’s you almost want to punch the air with relief, with delight, at last some excitement, some colour, some art, some life!  And such a good hang, no clutter, no man in a suit (and slightly rebellious tie just to show he’s in touch with art), no slick man on a slick phone sitting at a slick table with his slick books and his well groomed hair,, no well-dressed female sitting at her laptop trying to avoid conversation with anyone she doesn’t already know, the Gagosian space feels a lot more like an actual gallery rather than that expensive car sales room feel that’s found in most of the booths that are housing most of the art “stuff” on sale in here. Sterling Ruby‘s big bold art really is a breath of much needed fresh air on what so far has been a long Thursday morning. Actually The whole dynamic of the fair is changed on the Friday as we’re funnelled in via an entry that takes us straight to the Gagosian space first before anything else – on Thursday it was all about turning that corner and having Sterling Ruby take your breath, turning that corner on Thursday was brilliant, Thirty or so refreshing minutes are spent with all those big bright yellow paintings, and they are very painterly, they’re full of golden energy, alive with texture, beautifully coloured, golden yellows, lemon yellows, whites, greens, lines that meet, edges, love those edges, so uplifting, like stopping for a reboot or something that refreshes everything, boy did we need to turn that corner and see all those big yellow paintings and feel that rush and that yes and that punch of the air, it really is a little difficult to leave the Gagosian cube and carry on exploring, shall we just leave now instead? Leave with Sterling Ruby fresh in our minds?


Frieze London, 2019, Sterling Ruby, (Gagosian)

And yes there were one off pieces that galleries were presenting from names like the always brilliant Cindy Sherman or Chris Ofili or Tracey Emin but they weren’t major features and they weren’t really what we we looking for, it is really about the spaces like the Sterling Ruby Space or seeing what the more edgy galleries from other places were doing, for all that’s wrong, we can’t not go explore and see, and it really is the only fair that appears to be worth bothering with during the week, do go read the full Organ review over there for an overall flavour rather than just a list of highlights, these were the highlights, this is the best of what we saw, but it was about a lot more than just a list, it is always a conflicted thing.. (sw/evh)

FURTHER READING –  ORGAN: FRIEZE WEEK Part 5 – The fair itself, why was it so damn conservative? Did Sterling Ruby and the Gagosian save it all with the help of Joyce Pensato’s giant Mickey?

You rally can’t get any kind of real idea about Sterling Ruby’s pieces and the energy and colour in the space with just a couple of photos, actually they were impossible to photograph anyway, the photos are dull, it was far brighter, far more of a zing. Do click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show…


4 thoughts on “ORGAN: FRIEZE WEEK Part 6 – Kembra? Marton? Sterling? William J O’Brien? The obligatory ten best things at Frieze list we all have to do once the dust has settled…

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  4. Pingback: ORGAN: Frieze London is two weeks away, we just zoomed in and caught the press conference launch ahead of the return of the giantest of all giant art fairs… | THE ORGAN

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