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  1. Sunday, March 3, 2024

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Frieze New York 2018

See the Frieze art fair through the eyes of our Chief Curator

Have you ever wondered what happens during an art fair? Our Museum Director and Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites takes us along as she visits fairs, galleries and connects with friends during New York’s Frieze Week.


Frieze New York 2018 was the hottest in the history of the fair—it was about 98 degrees, so the cool breeze you felt on the ferry out to Randall’s Island was certainly welcome. The fair itself looked wonderful and featured hundreds of exhibitors from all over the world. Frieze seemed to have a number of new galleries from all over the world participating— I saw galleries from Dubai, Japan, Australia, and many more. We saw wonderful work from Youssef Nabil, whose work is in our exhibition Truth or Dare: A Reality Show. At Jack Shainman’s booth, I saw new work by Titus Kaphar and Nick Cave, both who have work highlighted in Dress Up, Speak Up: Costume and Confrontation and in Pop Stars! Popular Culture and Contemporary Art. I also saw work by Yoan Capote, who will be featured in the opening exhibition at 21c Kansas City. While I love seeing new work at art fairs, I also enjoy reconnecting with old friends and making new friends. I had the pleasure of running into 21c artists Kate Clark and Laetitia Soulier, who were walking into the fair together. When I took the ferry back to Manhattan, I ran into Andrew Erdos, whose site-specific work Ascendance is at 21c Durham. We chatted about his ambitious new projects and plans—I’m hoping to bring him to Durham soon to talk about his installation there.

Nick Cave

Thursday evening was a fantastic celebration of art, food, books, and collaborations at Aska, the Scandinavian restaurant in Williamsburg. Swedish Chef Fredrik Berselius is at the helm and has been lauded for his innovative cuisine. We were there celebrating the publication of his cookbook, Aska, by Phaidon Press. Phaidon and Artspace have been fantastic partners of 21c. Over the last year, they’ve published city guides for Louisville, Nashville, and Bentonville and lists of books that I have selected from their titles. We’ve loved partnering with them and were thrilled to have the opportunity to celebrate together.

We were going to kick off the night with cocktails in the flower-filled garden, but the weather is unpredictable and the skies opened up and rained just as we were leaving for dinner. Instead, we enjoyed our drinks in their lower level along with some hors d’oeuvres. Every seat was filled with friends, artists, and collaborators. We had a number of artists with us, including Matthew Geller, Jeremy Dean, Sebastian ErraZuriz, EV Day, James Clar and Brad Kahlhamer. We also gathered with Manuela Mozo, the director of Untitled Art Fair; Irene Kim, from Art Basel; Nicole Berry, the director of the Armory Show; Julia Kaganskiy from New Museum; Ed Winkelman and Murat Orozobekov from Moving Image; and Justine Ludwig, the new head of Creative Time, the public art organization we have been working with on the Pledges of Allegiance series. A number of friends from galleries—Wendy Olsoff and Penny Pilkington, from PPOW; Joeonna Bellorado-Samuels, from Jack Shainman; David Brodie, from Stevenson; and Nicole Kelani, from Transfer Gallery. Keith Fox, CEO of Phaidon, was there with a number of his colleagues. We also had Nate Storey from Surface join us, as well as Jeremiah Davis, the Director of Oklahoma City Contemporary. A truly fantastic group of people. It was wonderful to watch meaningful conversations and connections happening in celebration of art and food. I loved to see this group of people come together and to know that 21c is building a community that reaches across cities all over the country and beyond. It was a special night.


The next morning, I went to the Storefront for Art and Architecture. Their new installation is called Marching On: The Politics of Performance by Bryony Roberts and her collaborator Mabel O. Wilson. The installation is made from wallpaper and textiles, featuring beautiful camouflage-like patterns, with documentary footage and archival images about the history of African-American marching bands. Harking back to parades after WWI and WWII, the exhibition explores the civil rights struggle, patriotism, and a powerful, popular art in which parades, protest, and music merge. The exhibition is really immersive, with textiles hanging from the walls and the ceilings, and the connections it reveals are illuminating and inspiring— the history of activism and civil rights, with cultural and musical history of marching bands.

Bryony Roberts and Mabel O. Wilson 

After that, I headed out to Red Hook to the 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair. This takes place at a fairly new institution called Pioneer Works, founded by artist Dustin Yellin. It is an exhibition and incubator space and also hosts artist residencies, classes, and events. It’s a really rich and diverse program. In addition to New York, The 1-54 Fair also takes place in London and Morocco. Around twenty galleries were showing a wide-range of artists from all over the world. We saw work by artists that we were very familiar with like Yinka Shonibare MBE and Derrick Adams, but also saw work by new artists.

Yinka Shonibare MBE 

I was especially impressed with the special projects that 1-54 had commissioned for the fair. The most visible was Ralph Ziman’s Spoek 1, an enormous tank covered with brightly colored panels of glass beads, arrayed in traditional patterns made by artisans from Zimbabwe and the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. This powerful work was occupying the outdoor space, so you could have lunch and walk around this incredible work of art. Phoebe Boswell also did a special project, a mesmerizing video called, I Need to Believe the World is Still Beautiful. Another artist I was especially impressed with was Nate Lewis and his series of multimedia hand-sculpted figurative works titled Cloaked Tensions.

Ralph Ziman

I then made my way to Chelsea to see a few shows. Hank Willis Thomas had installations at both locations of Jack Shainman called What We Ask is Simple. What was most notable about this show was that the lights were off. This easily allowed people to experience Hank’s retroreflective work. Usually, you have to take a photo of the work using the flash of your cell phone to see the images come to life. At the gallery, they provided glasses that mimicked this effect. Hank really wants you to engage and see the history that he’s revealing and bringing back to life through his work.

Hank Willis Thomas

Marianne Boesky is showing a new film by Hans Op de Beeck called The Girl—it’s mesmerizing, lyrical, and haunting. The film is also evocative of both the environmental and refugee crises taking place around the globe. Op de Beeck cloaks these complex topics with beautiful imagery and a stunning score.

I was sorry not to see more gallery shows, but I ended my day with C24 where I saw new artist Tommy Hartung’s solo exhibition R.U.R. On screens large and small, some of which are interactive, he’s exploring the intersection of nature, technology, privacy, surveillance, and social media to thought-provoking effect.

I ended my Friday at The Dream Hotel to celebrate the unveiling of the largest work to date that Derrick Adams has created in his Floater series. The party was hosted by renowned musician and producer Swizz Beatz, who’s an inspiring supporter of contemporary artists. Many people know him as part of the hip-hop world, but he also has an executive MBA from Harvard Business School and is extremely passionate about collecting contemporary art. He and his wife Alicia Keys have started The Dean Collection, for which they are acquiring and commissioning works from artists like Adams, Kehinde Wiley, Deana Lawson, and Ebony Patterson. It was moving to hear him talk about Adams’s work and the importance of supporting living artists at this party. Right after Frieze, Swizz announced that he’s starting a program that will give $5,000 grants to twenty artists to start their own platforms, whether that be a gallery exhibition, a fair in their hometown, or any other way to bring their work in front of a broader public. That spirit is so much of what we embrace at 21c. It was an honor to meet him and hear him speak about art. It was the perfect ending to a whirlwind week in New York.

Derrick Adams