Frieze is the annual art world gathering on Randall's Island, a venue quite remarkably suited to New York art scene. Brightly lit tents give sunlight to white walls full of Zombie Formalism, Mirrors, Found Objects and Geometric Abstraction. An odd enumeration? Well I must admit it is, but it merely represents a list of trends noticeable amongst the works presented by artists, who, regardless of origin, seem to mimic each other more than anything.
This season, Spring/Summer 2015, or SS’15 for the shortcut, I give away my takeaway list of current trends of the art world.
Probably the biggest trend, set forward by mega-booth Lisson Gallery at Frieze 2015: Mirrors. I present a work by Indian artist Anish Kapoor: a mirror that is polished in a way in which viewers get a supersized reflection of themselves when they get close enough to the shiny object. A metaphor for perhaps using mirrors to supersize one’s ego. Other notable works that fall in the category include the ‘art fair selfie’ works (see below), seen in Frieze but also at the 2015 Armory Show. These mirrors are encrusted with neon sign lights boasting messages as cliché yet feel-good as “Be who you are, not who you were”. The perfect Instagram friendly art, with a series of hashtags linked to the art fair name. Also seen are mirrors cut and positioned in an intricate geometric pattern.
I am interested in how simple mirrors re-adjusted or as the French would say 'révinventé' could be called art, and even more surprisingly, could top off the Trend List in 2015. I believe it all boils down to the fact we live in a self-obsessed, individualistic, yet deeply connected society. Comparing ourselves to just about anyone has gotten easier since the horizons of human species has just gotten a lot larger. Think about it, you couldn’t know about how a self-made businessman lived his day to day life, nor could you know what a model thinks or does when she gets her hair done, what kind of books did architects read, or what kind of activity did a teenage girl do. And now you can, thanks to the one and only Instagram. Facebooking statuses of your life to your friends, instagramming a selfie: all common practices nowadays, undertaken from various figures ranging from Brett Gorvy, head of Postwar at Christie’s New York to Kim Kardashian, business woman in Los Angeles. Many different paths of life have become readily accessible to whoever is interested. Quite literally, lives have become visible thanks to social media. Didn’t it also become easier for people to compare their lives to the ones they are made aware of every day? Comparing yourself to others has many consequences, but a particular one is introspection and self-doubt. Here is where the theme of the mirror gets materialized. The mirror is the best friend of introspection. Self-doubt leads men and women alike to spend perhaps more time looking at mirrors to think about how to change an appearance or use this image to promote their insecure ego.
The idea of transparency and glass is already anchored in postmodern architecture is worth thinking about as well. The next step would be for buildings to stop looking outward with glass windows, but instead to look inward with mirrors floor to ceiling. Much like the reversible phone camera.
Mirrors represent a very successful trend, therefore, which might develop for at least a couple of years.
2) Zombie Formalism
Post-Pollock, post-Kline, post-Newman.. artists, when will you stop making abstract interpretations of paint and color? Not anytime soon, as Frieze sported a great number of large size abstract canvases. In my humble opinion, although of very decorative value, these canvases could often be characterized as home décor. It is not the case that painting is dead; with technological advances of printing, color substitution and more, there is room for an infinity of new movements in painting history. But promoting and exhibiting post-Abstract Expressionist works is redundant. The movement was powerful because it was the first time in Western history a random brushstroke of black paint on white canvas could be considered a finished, fine painting. What does Zombie Formalism, term explained brilliantly by art critic Jerry Saltz here, bring to the table in 2015? Eyes have been shocked, comments have been made, books have been written and I think it should be time we close the chapter. Who's with me?
As a child of 70s and 80s Minimalism, of Frank Stella and Sol Lewitt, geometrical works have gained quite their place in the contemporary art market. At Frieze, there were a number of Eastern and Western artists using grids, stars, and other geometrical patterns in their practices. The result is quite eloquent, sophisticated but perhaps déjà vu.
5) Found Objects
Duchamp’s vestige is still very much felt at Frieze 2015. Examples include a Vertex miniature duvet hung on a wall, a wood stick with its accompanying plastic bag carrying a hardcover book.
I think there’s still a future with found objects or readymades. Conceptual Art is still a relatively new canon of art history, it really is merely a century old. Found objects isn’t a trend in itself, but seeing so many examples suggests I should expand on the topic. Readymades consist of arranging daily, consumerist or found objects that you could see in the streets. In other words, arranging objects that are already made before the artist touches them. In the above photograph, artist Armando Tudela is juxtaposing a tree branch, a plastic bag, and a book: millions of comments can derive from this sight. The conclusion is that the art is created in the juxtaposition: sometimes humorous, often politically charged, the juxtaposition of the object and its surroundings creates a narrative. Now, some artists have gotten to comment on the trend backward: they are now creating, out of nothing, objects that look as if they were just 'found'. An example is the cast bronze by artist Gavin Kenyon.
Put in these terms, it is quite safe to say that Found Objects have a long future ahead of them. Narrative-telling will never stop; juxtapositions are endless, and there is such a multitude of daily life objects to be copied. I think besides the famous urinal, bicycles, cooking pots, there is a lot of potential and new interesting narratives to still be created. The value of these works may vary, as art dealers like to call them ‘museum pieces’. They are indeed on the market for serious collectors or institutions mostly. The most successful ones, in my opinion, are always the ones that raise pertinent sociological questions (as did the Mirrors), and play with a sense of locality.
6) Richard Prince Instagrams
This one work by one artist cannot be called a ‘trend’ in itself but is so forward-thinking and innovative, thought-provoking and absolutely controversial that it deserves a whole mention in my list. I’m of course talking about Richard Prince’s Instagram series "New Portraits", shown at Frieze at the Gagosian booth – one of the giant 4 galleries that monopolized the access to the first cafeteria and outdoor seating area, alongside with Lisson, White Cube and David Zwirner (Hauser & Wirth was nowhere to be found surprisingly).
Richard Prince managed something quite extraordinary here. As an appropriation artist, he is boasting his copy-cat practices in front of the viewer’s eyes without any shame and a lot of pride. This is a series of several Instagram picture screenshots: it is clear that Prince did nothing but comment on the selected pictures, screenshot them and then printed them unto white canvases. How could Turner in 1840 imagine that one day, an artist accepted and acclaimed to the ranks of the Academy in his days, could present an artwork that is essentially a screenshot of a picture he didn’t take, with a composition he didn’t invent?
The only 'artist touch' lies in the comment, given by his username "richardprince1234": "I don't need to paint anymore. Ur doin it all for me." I am sure Turner would have been furious. Even the font used is not Prince’s! How did this happen? Prince seems quite the postmodern ‘liquid’ man, under Bauman's terms. He embraces the era of social media, interconnectivity, transparence, content creation and content sharing to the point that he makes it the focal point of his artistic practice. In essence, he is adapting to his current Generation Y environment – and fueling it with new content. By screenshotting other people’s Instagram pictures, he is celebrating the facility we have to share and upload content. Beuys said, “Everyone is an artist!” – perhaps on Instagram, this is quite true. But the technique of using paintbrushes and composing a harmonious picture is thrown under the bus when you walk into the most established white cube gallery and it is full of ready-made Instagram photographs. Art has its limits; Prince brilliantly breached them here.
7) Aluminum & Metal
Slavs & Tartars, the duo Berlin-based collaborative, were spotted with their sarcastic and intelligent road signs, written in sporadically in Slavic, Caucasian and Arabic alphabets. The collaborative motto deals with everything ‘East of the Berlin Wall and West of the Chinese Wall’ - perhaps the biggest underrepresented and underrated region in the world right now. In addition to the global art appeal (art which enables discovering through ‘locals’ what their locality mean in a global world), Slaves & Tartars’ signs were notable because of their medium. Copying metal, metal, metal Seems like Richard Serra and Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup left quite the impression on artists of today. The ‘aluminum beautified found objects’ as I like to call it was present at Frieze, materialized as a pile of hundreds of crushed beer cans organized in an impressive geometric circle.
8) African American Culture
African American and African contemporary artists have been getting a lot of attention lately. London’s Victoria Miro Gallery had one of the best booth at Frieze in my opinion: a carefully curated selection of established contemporary artists as well as emerging, discovered a few days earlier at the Venice Biennale. Amongst them, placed in the middle of the booth were by two works by famous African American artists: Kara Walker and Chris Ofili. One is a cut-out black and white intricate collage, the other a watercolor. Both are very poignant works looking directly at subjects of slavery and racism in America.
African American art has been propelled lately to media coverage and art world attention with artists such as Kara Walker, Chris Ofili, Glenn Ligon and to a certain extent the 90s enfant terrible Jean-Michel Basquiat. Sotheby’s New York organized its Spring 2015 S2 exhibition under the title "I Like It Like This" and was curated by no other than Drake. It presented a selection of African American artists spanning from Basquiat to Kehinde Wiley, accompanied by a playlist mixed by Drake playing on Beats shiny headphones.
9) Postmodern Old Masters
Golden framed, Old Masters style portraits, gone conceptual: this can describe this new trend I’ve been seeing around lately.
A new move to bring back figurative detailed paintings to museums and art galleries. The contrast between allusions to dusty art history and contemporary social issues is often a good mix. Other examples of this sort of portrait painting include the above-mentioned Wiley.