Frieze Brings Glitter and Gloss to New York But Takes Few Risks

Here's what to see and what to skip at the latest edition of the spring fair staple.

Art fair goers look at a duo of large abstract paintings
Paintings from Sterling Ruby’s TURBINE series presented by Gagosian. Casey Kelbaugh

Frieze New York has arrived with all its “I’m the art fair” glory. Expect long, awkward lineups snaking around poorly placed escalators and a general three-story mall vibe. I hate to say it, but it’s much easier to peruse art in a venue like the Javits Center because there’s just so much more space. Here, too many galleries are packed across three floors, and even getting through the double doors can be a squeeze.

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But this May art fair does offer up a much-needed splash of color for spring—mainly in the form of sparkles galore, iridescent Plexiglas and gradients that seem perfectly aligned with our screen-based lives (even the offline feels online). Led by director Christine Messineo, this Frieze edition features displays from more than sixty galleries, along with solo booths featuring Alex Katz (paintings of trunks and branches), Sterling Ruby (splatters of muddy, manpower colors) and childlike paintings by Hiroshi Sugito, among others.

Art fair goers look at an assemblage of abstract paintings resembling tree trunks
A series of new paintings by Alex Katz. Casey Kelbaugh

My favorites are those colorful and unpretentious works that speak to the fact that spring has finally sprung in the city. That includes untitled paintings from 2024 by Chris Martin (not the singer of Coldplay, but the New York-based artist) with Anton Kern Gallery, filled with sequins and glitter. More of the artist’s glitter-infused paintings are on view at David Kordansky Gallery’s booth, where Martin shows some of his latest pieces like Morpheus and Magenta Burst. Honestly, this is the only part of Frieze that feels like a party. The rest is comfortably numb, and even corporate, but Martin brings a breath of fresh air, and I’m grateful for that.

Another highlight is the glossy abstract paintings by Hasani Sahlehe, which are on view at both the Canada Gallery booth and at Tif Sigfrids, a gallery from Athens. Clearly a rising star, broad swaths of color are brought together in a poetic way that doesn’t feel like it’s imitating anything else with its own brushstroke.

Art fair goers look at a trio of colorblock paintings
Glossy abstracts by Hasani Sahlehe. Casey Kelbaugh

Sleek, glossy abstraction continues in the Matthew Marks Gallery booth, which has a painting called The Dreaming (2023) by Gary Hume. It’s enamel paint on aluminum, and technically has a few animal figures in the piece, but still represents a type of abstraction we’re seeing more of. It’s also very anti-1990s, as we’re in a time of FaceTune, glossing over details with the swipe of a finger.

Everything is clean and flawless, not only our selfies, but in art, too. That cleaned-up vibe can be found in the illustrative pieces by Matthew Brannon at Milan’s Gio Marconi booth. His silkscreen Reassuringly Expensive creates a montage for modern luxury, something that has become a mirage for the money-hungry on Instagram. It’s done elegantly, though, through the window of an airplane seat, surrounded by luxury objects.

Art fair goers look at a colorful hanging sculpture of shimmering multicolor plexiglass
‘Foam SB 103/17p’ by Tomas Saraceno. Casey Kelbaugh

Iridescent hues are a lasting trend, especially in sculpture. Tanya Bonakdar Gallery has Foam SB 103/17p, a hanging geometric sculpture by Tomas Saraceno made of steel and iridescent Plexiglas. Apparently, it ties into climate change, but it also just looks cool. Speaking of optical illusions, the gallery also has Olafur Eliasson’s The Dewdrop Agora, a 2024 sculpture of glass spheres and 24-karat gold leaf, which is part of the artist’s “exploration of optical devices, mirrors and lenses.”

Art fair goers look at a yellow sculpture made of many glass balls of different sizes
Olafur Eliasson’s ‘The Dewdrop Agora.’ Casey Kelbaugh

Carpets are in. Tina Kim Gallery has Seoul artist Suki Seokyeong Kang’s carpet-made wall piece Day #24-75, made of dyed wool and thread on a wooden frame. It’s so rare for an artist to be able to pull off such a domestic material, but Kang has given an old medium new meaning. Meanwhile, a set of gradient paintings by Rob PruittA Month Of Sunsets (February 2024)—is on view at Massimodecarlo gallery, tapping into our need for the fresh, and almost, the empty.

But the third floor is worth avoiding altogether. The “Partner Activations” likely funded the fair but feel like too much of an exercise in logos and branding. And sadly, that’s the direction things are going overall. I expected more from the Focus presentations, too, which felt predictable and not very cutting edge.

Choosing the safe route—i.e., what will sell—instead of what is fresh feels very 2024. This year’s edition of Frieze New York proves we are indeed in a recession, and that the arts aren’t exempt from snipped budgets and a real thirst for sales. Overall, it’s risk-averse, though there were those gallerists who took a risk on what truly stands out and cuts through the noise. Hopefully things will change soon, but until they do, consider this yet another example of what it takes to keep art alive in hazy, uncertain times.

Frieze New York 2024 runs through May 5 at The Shed.

Frieze Brings Glitter and Gloss to New York But Takes Few Risks