At Frieze New York, Young Galleries Reveal Untold Narratives and Spotlight Overlooked Talents

The most coveted commodity at an art fair, beside the wares themselves, is attention. At a blue-chip bazaar like Frieze New York, where the crowd churns ceaselessly, and every wall aspires to be a show-stopper, a curator can’t leave discovery to chance.

You might fear that Focus, the section of Frieze dedicated to enterprises 12 years and younger and to emerging talent, would be swallowed by the din. You’d be wrong. 

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The section, curated by Lumi Tan, is an intergenerational showcase of artists hailing from New York and beyond. The works, spanning sculpture, painting, and photography, are variably raucous and reserved, explicit and suggestive, stimulating the eye and spirit. There are perspectives worth hearing here, from queer exuberance to Indigenous endurance.

“It’s extremely important that these are solo presentations, that we get a deeper look into an artistic practice that may not have been studied before,” Tan told ARTnews. “And together, there’s an unexpected cadence of material, texture, and color, giving it a slightly more sensorial, immersive experience.”

Tan is familiar with the sweet spot between spectacle and simplicity. She is currently the curatorial director of Luna Luna, the avant-garde art amusement park briefly opened in Hamburg, Germany, in 1987 (with works by Basquiat, Dalí, and Haring), and only recently revitalized. As the former senior curator at the Kitchen, an alternative exhibition space in New York, she dealt often with performance and video art—pieces that unfold over time.

The art in Focus isn’t time-based, but it does benefit slow viewing. Going through the section at a relaxed place allows viewers to discover previously untold stories, like those behind the intimate figurative sculptures of activist, minister, and self-taught artist Reverend Joyce McDonald, whose work is at the fair courtesy of New York’s Gordon Robichaux gallery. Speaking to Frieze, McDonald described her purpose as “spiritual nurse,” who channels her past with drug addiction into tender projects that intermingle poetry, song, and visual art. The point, she says, is to help heal the creator and viewer, testifying to a sort of sensitivity uncommon to such bombastic events.

The galleries in this section lack a lot of the resources had by the blue-chip enterprises who show at Frieze regularly. That’s one reason Tan is so enthusiastic about the section. “Especially in this moment, when there’s so many incredible galleries in New York closing or announcing their closing, it feels meaningful to be able to support galleries, this scale of galleries in this way,” Tan said.

São Paulo’s Central Galeria has dedicated its booth to Carmézia Emiliano, a Macuxi artist whose practice focuses on her community in Maloca do Japó, in a swath of the Amazon spread across Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana. Her vibrant paintings relate and remix Macuxi mythologies, landscapes, and everyday life imperiled by exploitative economies.  

There are some 30,000 Macuxi people, and many of them contend daily with illegal mining and other extractive practices. In Emiliano’s painting wazaká – tree of life (2022), on view at Frieze, a great tree rises from green plains, its branches blooming with an impossible bouquet of bananas, watermelons, and lemons that are gripped by watchful birds. Below, Indigenous people hack at the trunk; animals savor the fallen fruits. It’s not violence, but a life cycle. 

Nearby, Canadian artist Maureen Gruben’s solo show with Cooper Cole honors the legacy of her parents, both traditional Inuvialuk knowledge-keepers, with a multimedia spread drawn from natural and manmade materials significant to their profession. Nakataq IV (2022) and Fresh Artifacts (2017), for example, both feature a wooden fox-skin stretcher used by her father Eddie, a respected trapper. In Nakataq IV, Gruben has hand-etched patterns based on the stretchers and animal traps into aerial survey prints of ice coverage in relation to oil wells in the Arctic Ocean. Here, something cold and literally extractive is overlaid with signs of Indigenous culture that is being preserved. 

Gruben and Emiliano are both mid-career artists, but some Focus galleries have brought with them even older figures. One of them is Stanley Stellar, a photographer of LGBQT New York history, from the 1969 Stonewall riots to the subsequent liberation movement to the AIDS crisis. Kapp Kapp has 10 of Stella’s photographs of New York’s historic gay piers, where men cruised during the 1970s and ’80s, not too far from where Frieze is now held. In one image, a naked man is caught mid-cartwheel, his limbs a blur of motion in contrast to the graffiti backdrop. It’s the sort of fleeting joy that’s memorialized better on film than memory.

“The idea is to complicate the idea of discovery within Focus, which has historically been a platform for what you would consider “emerging artists”, in terms of age—those you’ve recently gotten their MFA or had one or two solo shows. It’s important that this is intergenerational, that there are so many narratives unfolding,” Tan said.


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