Artforum – Hiji Nam on Frieze Week in New York

LAST THURSDAY AFTERNOON, I waded through the throngs of tourists around the Vessel to meet my friend Anya Komar at the Shed for Frieze. Komar, formerly a long-time director and gallery partner of Miguel Abreu (she now runs Ulrik, in Chelsea), remembered how the fair at Randall’s Island always seemed on the brink of collapse—leaky ceilings, sweat, and broken ACs that transformed showrooms into saunas. No such discharge or human frailty at Hudson Yards; although the name of Frieze’s newish location suggests a messy outbuilding to store unused toys or dusty childhood trophies (OK, maybe not such a bad description for art), the $475 million Shed remains seamless and sealed off, designed to eradicate any trace of the unconscious. 

Following what some gallerists described as the “zoo” that had been the Wednesday preview, Thursday felt sedate. Gagosian and Pace had apparently sold out their booths by the second day, and a palpable fatigue had begun to set in. Miguel Abreu was showing Scott Lyall’s new series of polychrome wall pieces, “Talents,” made with compressed sheets of mirror and glass printed with a distinct wavelength of pixels and nanoparticles of gold. Reflective and muted, the surfaces made everything within their frames look like a hazy Gerhard Richter painting.

“Monochrome and the mirror,” declared Miguel. “The two foundations of contemporary art.”

Afterwards, we headed to the High Line for the unveiling of the urban park’s third “Plinth” commission, Pamela Rosenkratz’s Old Tree, 2023, a rather grisly, hot-pink sapling of a sculpture that was being fêted with whimsical pink parfaits and popsicles, fresh strawberry cocktails, and rose-flavored cotton candy on actual twigs. A DJ attempted to rouse the guests with dance music, but the cold wind that day kept people huddled together for warmth. I heard someone wondering aloud where the Artforum diary on Frieze was. Somebody else was saying, “Did you see the Whitney ISP show last night? The art was so anxious, anxious about art’s irrelevance and wanting it to do something. Someone had stuck some IRS tax documents on a wall. I love Frieze, I love fairs—the commerce, the money.

Meanwhile, in Chinatown, there was an event for No Agency (the “art-adjacent modeling agency that signs non-models found at local bars”), as well as an opening of Sven Loven’s internet-adjacent paintings at No Gallery. “Humiliation Ritual” features perverted portraits of Dean Kissick, Emily Sundblad, Siyuan Zhao (the woman who stabbed someone at Art Basel Miami in 2015), and a winged Peter Thiel (Peter Thiel Angel Twink)—imagine if Sound-Cloud rap was made out of canvas and crossed with the satanic uncanny of Twin Peaks season three. The press release, about the “complete infatuation with the sign” through the lens of ‘the pseudo-avant-garde’ of contemporary downtown culture,” all felt true enough, but the trolliness of the accompanying fan-fic exhibition text (on the demonic, schizophrenic “Spirit-That-Possessed-Valerie Solanas-and-Forced-Her-to-Shoot-Andy-Warhol” that in turn possessed Zhao) gave me the creeps.

On Friday, I dipped into Reena Spaulings for their Frieze-week group show with New Yorker editorial staffer Dennis Zhou. Fittingly, the theme of the magazine’s upcoming summer fiction issue is “Living It Up,” aka parties. He’d recently met with a Korean novelist to invite her to contribute; she’d needed clarification on the English idiom, and eventually demurred, explaining that she doesn’t go to parties. I, on the other hand, adore their somatic theater and their potential to rearrange the usual rhythmic ordering of my conscious-unconscious life—the lights, the music, the psychodrama. We had more of that in store upon arriving at Saint Peter’s Church in Midtown, where Lucia della Paolera had produced (and stars in) a Bach- and Handel-infused operatic production with music by Gobby on trumpet and Esther Sibiude on harp, among many others. Spirit and soul become confused / when they consider you, my God . . . and the people shout with joy / have made them deaf and dumb . . . Spirit and soul become confused. From there I headed back downtown for a Frieze party at collector Paul Leong’s apartment, where artists Julien Ceccaldi, art adviser Rob McKenzie, Matt Sova, and Anya were having a mellow drink before migrating to the Scratcher, where the Reena afterparty and Felix Bernstein birthday drinks went until late, while others moved on to party for indie-sleaze revivalist The Dare (“Sex,” “Girls”) at Public Hotels

On Saturday evening, I made my first visit to The Hole’s TriBeCa gallery, where Bladee (Benjamin Reichwald) and Varg 2M (Jonas Rönnberg)—members of the Swedish artist collective Drain Gang—were opening a collaborative show of paintings in an exhibition titled “Fucked for Life.” Soi-disant indie publicist Kaitlin Phillips had organized the dinner at Lucien and gathered an eclectic group of models, artists (Aurel Schmidt), writers (Natasha Stagg and The Guardian’s Edward Helmore), podcasters (Eileen Kelly, of “Going Mental”), and members and family members of Drain Gang (musician Ecco2k and Bladee’s younger brother). Well into my second Naked and Famous, I was surprised to learn that the gregarious, bighearted, and prolifically tattooed man I’d been speaking to for an hour was not, in fact, Bladee, but his painting and music collaborator, Varg; the real Bladee was seated to my left—an unassuming young man with a sweet, shy smile and gentle voice. 

“I have to admit I know very little about your music,” I told him. 

“Thank god,” he said, laughing. We agreed to share the vegetarian and chicken dish.

Jonas and Benjamin asked the New Yorkers at the table what the art world is like. 

“Boring,” offered Eileen.

“Anxious and self-conscious,” I answered. “Which I think is what can make it boring.”

“Whenever I talk to a journalist, they always ask, ‘Is your art political?’” said Jonas, who is Indigenous Swedish. “I answer, ‘Breathing is political. Every breath I take is political.’” And you know what, I absolutely agree with him

As the night wore on, we went to Pebble Bar for the afterparty for Caroline Polachek and Ethel Cain’s “Spiraling Tour” Radio City Music Hall concert at Rockefeller Center. When the door girl with the iPad asked my friend Damon Sfetsios who he was, he replied, “I’m Dean Kissick.” (Andy Warhol: “The only time I ever want to be something is outside a party so I can get in.”) Inside, Korakrit Arunanondchai and Diane Severin Nguyen were drinking; John Kelsey was in his baseball cap; the real Dean Kissick, Olivia Kan-Sperling, and Chloe Wise were dancing; and I was falling apart

Sunday morning, I remembered I’d agreed to sit for photographs for Kye Christensen-Knowles in preparation for an upcoming portrait show at Lomex. As I arrived, hungover, to his Gowanus studio, he took one look at me and smartly handed me a Smartwater. And there, as he snapped away, I thought about the refraction between subject to object in our current hypervisual economy, and the ubiquity of self-representation and the prosthetic body in these vexed new Roaring Twenties. The decadence continued into Tuesday evening at collector Valeria Napoleone’s house on Park Avenue, where Jordan Barse had organized a dinner (vegetarian and home-cooked, by Valeria herself) and drinks for Nancy Dwyer in an apartment amply decorated with work by Cosima von Bonin, Jutta Koether, Liz Craft, Wallace & Donohue, Nicole Eisenman, and Lily van der Stokker table and chairs. I was delighted to see old friends and writer-curators Saim Demircan and Laura McLean-Ferris, in town from Italy for a talk at the Swiss Institute. They joked, “Haven’t they named your column yet—or is it ‘Sex and the City’?

Lacan described psychoanalysis as the “hystericization of discourse,” and my teacher Jamieson Webster reminds me that this is the tautological foundation of psychoanalysis—a body comes to represent itself somewhere, and offers up her living archive of libidinal configurations for interpretation. At the end of the night, I dipped into a convenience store to buy a charger for my vape (Elf Bar, sunset flavor), which I’d been puffing on inside the fair, the restaurants, the apartments, the bars, and even, truthfully, at the church—not from anxiety so much as the need to take a breather from the constant scene changes of the week, and ahead of the hours in which I’d attempt to dredge their remnants for themes, frictions, and arcs against a world outside where meaning increasingly seems to collapse. In fact the boundary between what is inside and outside, online and off, feels more distorted and swirlier than ever, and as I inhaled, then exhaled, I wondered, where would this delirious outburst of libido—the profound amplification of a voluptuous, mutational drive—that has erupted and torn through the art world’s Trump- and Covid-era pieties take us next?

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