Frieze New York Begins with an Undependable GPS, Quick Sales and Inflatable Rats

A Ben Schumacher piece. (Courtesy Bortolami Gallery)

A BMW came at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday to take me to Randall’s Island for the preview day for Frieze New York, the London art fair’s first foray in the city. It had “FRIEZE NEW YORK” printed on the door. An automated voice that sounded like a GPS system giving directions was coming out of the car’s speakers.

“You assume total responsibility for becoming confused or disoriented,” the voice said. “Where to? Home. Please rule out home in all places because home is rocky on all margins. Home is where the highest number of betrayals have been documented. Rule out home. Work. Ideally you would work only at the pursuit of your fancy.”

This turned out to be the UGPS–the Undependable Global Positioning System–a sound installation by the writer Rick Moody that was sponsored by the fair.

“Whenever I have someone in the car,” the driver sighed, “I have to play this until they tell me to turn it off. There’s probably a subliminal message in it. I keep thinking it’s the GPS talking.”

The driver added cheerfully that “this is the best car I’ve ever driven,” just as we were turning onto the FDR. There were two inflatable rats positioned by the entrance of the fair as we got off the bridge at Randall’s Island, for two separate union disputes. One was for the district council of carpenters, who according to a council spokesperson, were not given work during the installation, and the other was for the drivers’ union, who were not given work to drive the BMW that I was sitting in, according to my driver. Admittedly, there was no small amount of advantages from being in the BMW, which was reserved for the VIPs at the top of the fair hierarchy (I was tagging along with someone who was given early entry.) We cut the line of traffic trying to pull up to the entrance, cut through the orange cones and the police officers, who were talking to the union protesters with red air horns standing by the big rats.

“Truth is I’m not always like this,” the UGPS said. “I didn’t want to come on the trip anyway.”

The line to get in stretched outside but moved quickly. An older woman in a bright red pants suit asked the obligatory question, “Is it like this in London?” and then cut past me. Right away I saw Marty Eisenberg, Jack Tilton, the Horts, Knight Landesman, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Thelma Golden, Laura Hoptman, Mera Rubell, Steven Henry, Simone de Pury and Paul Morris, the director of the Armory Show, New York’s other big art fair that obviously now has some new competition. He was by the entrance and giving people directions on how to get to a booth, strangely enough. I heard someone say to his companion, “Did you see the rats?”


“No not real ones. They’re inflatable.”

At 11 a.m. on Thursday, the paint wasn’t even fully dry on the floor. Everyone’s shoes were sticking. It wasn’t the kind of frenzied scene you usually see in the first hour of an art fair. People were mostly taking their time and moving through slowly, and the tent looked sparsely populated. That’s either because it’s so big that it is impossible to make it look crowded, or because Frieze was conservative with who they let in at 11 a.m.

“It’s kind of exciting to come out to this weird island,” said Gabrielle Giattino, the director of Bureau (she was showing work by Justin Matherly). “It’s funny to hear people say the last time they’ve been here was for Lollapalooza.” Ms. Giattino had just exhibited at the Independent Art Fair back in March as part of Armory Week, but she decided to participate in Frieze because “it’s going to be around for a while.”

There was actual natural light coming in through the fair’s giant tent structure (the Armory Show is where natural light goes to die), that was built on the edge of the water on the island. By 11:30 a.m., Andrew Kreps had already sold a work by Darren Bader–a French horn with a healthy scoop of guacamole resting in its sound hole. Liz Mulholland, a gallery director told me they had hired someone to periodically refill it with fresh guac and there were two bags of tortilla chips resting next to the podium that the piece rested on.

“You can eat,” Mr. Kreps said. They might have, as the gallery director called it, “a clusterfuck shitshow” on their hands with the presence of free food.

Over at the booth of Gagosian, a last-minute edition to the fair, a bird that had sneaked in through an open door somewhere was fluttering past the seven canvases by Rudolf Stingel. Larry Gagosian, however, was nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, the dealer James Fuentes was explaining to a collector one of the works in his booth by Joshua Abelow, whose colorful paintings and ink drawings were hanging salon style, covering every square inch of the walls.

“That’s him and a penis as one and as part of a devil,” he said, which is probably as concise a description as any of the abstract work. “I didn’t do what you usually do at a fair,” he told me, “which is to be more spare. It just didn’t seem appropriate with this artist.”

Peter Schjeldahl, The New Yorker‘s art critic, got turned away from the Deutsche Bank VIP Lounge, where a number of men in suits were standing beneath a crystal chandelier sipping espresso.

At Bortolami Gallery, Stefania Bortolami had already sold out of Ben Schumachers before lunchtime (there were three for sale at $7,000). She said that since Mr. Schumacher is relatively unknown, the rest of the fair will be spent introducing his work to collectors and curators (and “talking to people like you,” she said and pointed at me). The one problem was that her booth was positioned awkwardly by an emergency exit and the far wall of the adjacent gallery’s booth, Sfeir Semler, looked like it was a part of Ms. Bortolami’s. She’d been getting questions about how much for the Wael Shaky photographs of ventriloquist puppets all day so far.

Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld walked past and winked at me.

David Kordansky was by the far entrance where the ferry drops you off and where people were going to sneak in a quick smoke. He’d sold out his booth of Jon Pestoni paintings before he even got there (the work was priced at $14,000 to $22,000). This gave him and his employees a lot of time to talk excitedly about the work.

“There is this trend in non-representational painting that we see a lot of right now,” Mr. Kordansky said. “Jon’s work is less about the mechanics of painting.”

Stuart Krimko, his director, cut in: “The aesthetic judgment that Neil Young makes to decide Tonight’s the Night is a finished album in all its fucked up-ness, that’s what Jon’s doing.”

Surprisingly, the conversation with Mr. Kordansky was the only time the mental hospital, the Manhattan Psychiatric Center that sits about 500 feet away from the Frieze tent, came up. I informed him that the facility was fully operational, which he hadn’t realized. “Maybe I’ll check in!” he said with a laugh.

On the other side of the tent, the dealer Gavin Brown was talking with one of his artists, Urs Fischer, in front of his booth. He had exhibited at Independent back in March. I asked him if he was excited about Frieze so far.

“Well,” he said with a slow shrug of his shoulders. “It’s another art fair.”