Treasure Island

Linda Yablonsky at Frieze New York

Left: Dealer Gavin Brown with artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and Mark Ruffalo. (Except where noted, all photos: Linda Yablonsky) Right: Outside the Frieze Art Fair. (Photo: Billy Farrell Agency)

THEY TOLD US it would be big but it wasn’t. It was huge—a mile-long tent that snaked along the East River on Randall’s Island, home to a kids’ soccer stadium and a hospital for the criminally insane. What better place for the first Frieze New York?

Ever since Frieze cofounders Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp chose the site for the London fair’s New York sibling, people have been calling them mad. Who would go to this remote and seemingly sinister place? How many people had even heard of it? No one knew how to get there. And if people did go, how long would they want to stay? Wasn’t Armory Arts Week over just yesterday?

All question of the fair’s viability was put to rest on Thursday, May 3, when ten thousand visitors streamed its way by car, train, bus, ferry, and, in the case of Maurizio Cattelan, bicycle from Chelsea. VIP cardholders could opt for a chauffeur-driven BMW 7, featuring three sound works—by Martin Creed, Frances Stark, and writer Rick Moody—commissioned by Frieze Projects curator Cecilia Alemani.

Union rats protesting the fair’s use of nonunion labor greeted us at the south entrance to the fair, but in this context it was easy to mistake them for a failed Bruce High Quality Foundation project. The undulating worm of a tent, designed by Brooklyn-based SO – IL (Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu), was far more welcoming. It had superhigh ceilings free of ductwork, let in plenty of daylight, and accommodated three long, curving aisles and a dispersion of good local eateries all around the sides.

Left: Dealer Daniel Buchholz. Right: Architect Florian Idenburg and New Museum curator Masimilliano Gioni.

I saw Armory Show chief Paul Morris wearing a concerned expression, and Art Basel codirectors Marc Spiegler and Annette Schönholzer in whispered huddles throughout the day. Everyone else—dealers, shoppers, browsers—took it all in with obvious pleasure. Has ever an art fair been more humanizing and congenial? “It’s great,” said collector Raymond Learsy. “The best I’ve ever seen.”

Because of its amenities and broad open spaces, including the sculpture-appointed park outside (where there was also a beer garden, a Roberta’s pizza joint, and several mobile kitchens), the fair also felt more like a mall than a convention. It certainly induced nonstop shopping. “People really came to buy,” said the Modern Institute’s Andrew Hamilton, from a stand that opened onto one of several capacious lounge areas. “We’re doing great!” (I guess it helps when your gallery has a Turner Prize finalist on its roster for four years in a row.)

The day went by smoothly, with only one contretemps—a showdown between critic Jerry Saltz and collector Adam Lindemann, pronounced enemies who found themselves in the 303 Gallery booth at the same time and drew a crowd of camera phone–wielding videographers. Otherwise the loudest sound was the whoosh of air kisses.

Dealers, said Andrew Renton, the English curator turned Marlborough London dealer, took the fair seriously enough to bring the work that attracted cash-dispensing clients from Europe and South America as well as the UK and New York. He was also impressed by the effort New York galleries made to time spring shows by attention-getters like Dana Schutz, Liam Gillick, Hanna Liden, and Ryan McGinley with the fair and the auctions. “It feels like New York has finally joined up,” he said, as if this gallery-rich city had been slow to cotton on to the global art feast.

Left: Dealers Toby Webster and Andrew Hamilton. Right: Artist Roe Ethridge.

“I sold that piece to New York, that one to an English collector, that to Brazil, and another to Australia,” said a perspiring Alex Logsdail, indicating the cadmium yellow Anish Kapoor, a Ryan Gander, and two sound-and-light works by Haroon Mirza on the Lisson Gallery stand. Likewise, Sadie Coles couldn’t seem to write up sales fast enough. Gisela Capitain had no trouble unloading a Kippenberger painting. Many other works were small to medium-size, with a concentration of cash-and-carry painting and sculpture and several examples of the sort of showmanship that is endemic to fairs.

Michele Maccarone made one of the more amenable showcases, with a suspended log by Oscar Tuazon and Elias Hansen in front of a wall of beautiful Ann Craven paintings. Greene Naftali chose to display a cutesy-pie monster of rags, plastic buckets, lampshade, and other colorful detritus mounted by gelitin on a vehicle that couldn’t drive a straight line. Salon 94 featured Liz Cohen’s clever Trabantimino—an amalgam of a Trabant and an El Camino—with the artist on hand to demonstrate the cream-colored car’s ability to expand and contract, raise and lower, for ease of parking and stowing.

Tracey Emin also made a personal appearance, stopping at the White Cube booth with ICA London director Gregor Muir to check on the installation of a recent neon. “So how’s your love life?” she asked Muir. “I see you have your cat,” he deflected, noting the maquette of a new series of sculptures clutched in her hand. She had just come from the foundry in Brooklyn, she said, where they are being cast for her upcoming retrospective at the Turner Contemporary. “I met the queen,” she said, of that museum’s opening. “She shook my hand, which was only proper.” It wasn’t a boast. The once-beleaguered girl from Margate was clearly proud to have buried old demons.

Dealer Jocelyn Wolff was more circumspect about having won the $10,000 prize for best booth, for his Hans Schabus entry in the fair’s multigallery “Focus” on single artists. Opening the jeroboam of Pommery champagne that came with the award, he said, “Such a cliché to give the champagne to the French gallerist.”

Left: Collector Andy Stillpass with artist Joel Otterson. Right: Dealer David Kordansky.

But many dealers went all out with their presentations, Andrea Rosen, Eva Presenhuber, Regen Projects, Victoria Miro, Kurimanzutto, and Elizabeth Dee among them. A prize for austerity should have gone to Reena Spaulings’s show of single works by Jutta Koether and Klara Liden. Lest anyone forget that art began before yesterday, John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres revived the ghost of Fashion Moda, the scrappy 1970s collective, with painted plaster casts from their “South Bronx Hall of Fame,” the only work in Frieze Projects inside the tent. Ahearn was also casting portraits of anyone at the fair willing to fork over $3,000. “Do you know how long it’s been since any art person came knocking on my door?” he said, satisfied with the response his project was getting.

That was nice, but when I left, the one booth that stuck in my mind was Gavin Brown’s. The dealer was serving spicy wursts, gratis Rirkrit Tiravanija, with his separated-at-birth look-alike, actor Mark Ruffalo, also his neighbor upstate where the drinking water is endangered by fracking. The performance was to call attention to the problem, and to raise funds for Water Defense, an organization fighting the practice. “I’m doing this because I don’t want my children to grow up drinking poisoned water,” Ruffalo said. (Tiravanija’s limited edition of single boxed silver sausages, stuffed with shredded copies of the federal Water Pollution Control Act, chewed up the sales column.)

On the way out, I passed dealer Lisa Spellman. “If I have to hear one more person say how much they love this fair, I’ll start hallucinating,” she said. No wonder. By that time, Randall’s Island looked less like a park than a mirage in a landscape of greenbacks, and Frieze just another art fair on the run to Hong Kong and Basel and . . . and . . .

Left: ICA London director Gregor Muir and artist Tracey Emin. Right: Whitney Museum curators Scott Rothkopf and Donna De Salvo with Whitney trustee Fern Tessler.

Tate Modern curator Jessica Morgan with dealer Curt Marcus and collector Pauline Karpidas. Right: Alexander Adler with dealers Frances Beatty and Marc Selwyn.

Left: Frieze Art Fair communications director Belinda Bowring with Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover. Right: Dealer Maggie Kayne, curator Ali Subotnick, and artist Maurizio Cattelan.

Left: Artist Keltie Ferris. Right: Artists and dealer John Kelsey and Emily Sundblad.

Left: Artists Sarah Morris and Liam Gillick. Right: Artist Dana Schutz.

Left: Dealers Lisa Panting and Malin Stahl. Right: Collector Joseph Pacce Nogari.

Left: Dealer Gio Marconi. Right: Dealer Andrew Renton.

Left: Dealer Nicky Verber. Right: Dealer Lisa Spellman.

Left: Artist Mungo Thompson. Right: MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci.

Left: Artist Marco Brambilla and dealer Jay Jopling. Right: Dealer Jose Freire.

Left: MoMA curator Laura Hoptman with collector A. C. Hudgins and dealer Victoria Miro. Right: Collectors Don and Mera Rubell.

Left: Dealer Glen Scott Wright with collector Toby Devan Lewis. Right: Dealer Alex Logsdail.

Left: Artist Jim Lambie. Right: Dealer Jocelyn Wolff.

Left: Dealers Daniele Balice and David Lewis. Right: Dealer Andrzei Przywara.