It’s been a few weeks since the Frieze Art Fair ended. The white tents on Randall’s Island have been taken down, and Paul McCarthy’s “Balloon Dog” has been (I assume) deflated. During the few days the fair was up and running, hundreds of people fell in love and wrote big checks and sent iPhone pictures of newly acquired artworks to their friends, and thousands of pairs of feet ached as they paraded up and down in their stylish shoes, and tens of thousands of air kisses were exchanged. Roberta Smith wrote in The New York Times, “Some people hate art fairs all of the time, and most people hate them some of the time. It’s fashionable to be snarky and condescending about them, but that’s too easy…” I already knew I shouldn’t use this forum to recount the funny and ridiculous things I heard people say at Frieze (though I did write them down), but reading those words strengthened my resolve. If that’s the blog post you want, you can click on by.
I spent much of my Frieze afternoon trailing two of ICA’s curators, Ingrid and Alex, around the fair, seeing new things and learning new names and being introduced to new people.
Discovering the new is certainly one of the pleasures of the fair, but sometimes it’s even nicer to stumble across the familiar. Many booths featured works by artists ICA has shown, or is about to show, or hopes to show one day. Karla Black, whose gorgeous sculpture Practically In Shadow is currently on view at ICA, was represented by a beautiful, much smaller scale paper and chalk work in Galerie Gisela Capitain which was also exhibiting a lovely older painting by Charline von Heyl, who had a survey at ICA in 2011.
We stopped to admire a piece by Zoe Leonard, whose work currently appears in White Petals Surround Your Yellow Heart. It consisted of a table holding hundreds of vintage postcards of Niagara Falls, organized in stacks of different heights representing different views—a mapping of the Falls and a meditation on the way it has been beheld over time. Mateo Tannatt, whose work was part of last year’s ICA show First Among Equals, was represented by a series of benches painted in bright colors with mini-dialogues posted above them. Apparently Mateo agreed with me that there weren’t enough places in that humming warren to rest.
Later in the afternoon we found ourselves in the Galerie Kadel Willborn booth, where Moritz Willborn showed us some spectacular Cibachromes by Barbara Kasten, whose major ICA retrospective—organized by Alex—is scheduled for fall 2014. Kasten is a complex and wide-ranging artist mostly known for her photography, but whose work embraces sculpture, architecture, painting, theater, textile, and installation as well. I have looked at a lot of her work on computer screens this year, but this was the first time I had seen it in person. The Cibachromes are part of a series she made with large format cameras beginning in the late 1980s, portraying huge, postmodern architectural spaces with dizzying perspectives and lush colors. We stood oohing and aahing over her images of LACMA, and then Moritz took out his iPad and showed us some amazing photos of Kasten actually making the work. A quick glance at the Cibachromes might make you think they were digitally manipulated, but Kasten used crews of people, giant mirrors, colored lights, and huge fabrications to make these pictures.
At four o’clock the curators were scheduled to give tours to members of ICA’s newly created Curator’s Circle and a few Board members—though tour perhaps isn’t quite the right word. They were unique opportunities, rather, for a donor and a curator to look at art together. At three, in the VIP lounge where weary fair-goers sipped peach-colored drinks at the white bar, the curators sat around a big wooden table for a few moments of exchange. They compared notes, circled booth numbers on their maps, shared things they’d liked (“I can’t believe I missed the watermelon with the pipe!” someone said), and discussed what not to miss as they walked around with the ICA supporters—like the Tino Sehgal work in which an uncanny young girl performer, inhabiting a Manga avatar, tells her story and asks questions of the audience.
What I had felt earlier on my own, unofficial tour was that the pleasure of seeing the art was superseded by the pleasure of watching Ingrid and Alex taking everything in: absorbing, appreciating, assessing. At one point Ingrid stopped in front of a silver gelatin print of what looked like an old fashioned checked picnic tablecloth with a hole in the middle. When I asked her what compelled her about this gigantic image, which must have been as big as the tablecloth it was representing, she said, “It’s how the print on the piece of paper and the cloth are somehow the same thing—both picture and object—making that one powerful hole.”
Ingrid and Alex looked with such avidity that, even when I got tired, I wanted to keep up. To broaden my own vision by trying to match it to theirs. To stop reading labels and open myself to what looking at something might do to me.
For more information about Curator’s Circle and other ICA donor clubs, email Christianna Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org
To stay up to date with everything ICA’s curators are looking at, email email@example.com.