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Features / May 15, 2014

Report: CanCon Highlights at New York’s Frieze Week

A view of the Frieze Art Fair tent on Randall's Island in New York. Photo: Marco Scozzaro/Frieze. A view of the Frieze Art Fair tent on Randall's Island in New York. Photo: Marco Scozzaro/Frieze.

In the past three years, Frieze New York has given the Armory Show a run for its money while adding yet another “must see” week for collectors and curators to the international roster.

As with any major fairs week, there is too much for any one person to take in. But here are some observations related to Canadian art and artists that emerged out of a busy four days.

“Canadian Mafia” Makes Waves

Is it a “Canadian moment” or a “Canadian mafia” that’s rising in the New York art scene right now?

According to Mike Ursuta, owner of Lower East Side gallery Ramiken Crucible, the terms might be interchangeable.

This week, Urusta and his gallery were doing brisk business at Frieze New York, where they were featuring a solo booth of works by Elaine Cameron-Weir—a 29-year-old, NYU-trained artist originally from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, whom Ursuta calls “the queen of the Canadian mafia” in New York.

Some other members of this tongue-in-cheek cabal, Ursuta said, include Cameron-Weir’s partner Ben Schumacher (who has a show coming up in Lyon and who has curated an exhibition currently on at Bortolami Gallery’s project space in Chelsea) and Hugh Scott-Douglas, whose work was featured at Frieze New York by Berlin gallery Croy Nielsen.

Other young New York–based Canucks on the rise include Robin Cameron, a recent Columbia U. MFA grad who received her early training at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and Newmarket-born artist Ryan Foerster, who won the Artadia Prize at NADA Miami in December.

“They look at the New York art scene in a less hierarchical way,” Ursuta said, noting the young artists’ fun, low-attitude presence at many local art events. “Because they are not from New York, they don’t perceive the art scene as a [closed-off] place.”

Sensationalistic monikers aside, it’s not hard to see the appeal of Cameron-Weir’s work.

Ramiken’s booth featured 50 of her cast-aluminum slabs that glistened in ways both technological and organic. According to Ursuta, the works were recently created in Western Canada, where they were melted down from scrap aluminum Cameron-Weir had acquired. By the end of Frieze New York’s preview on Thursday afternoon, 46 of the 50 pieces had been sold.

“Eventually all these people will have a lot of success,” Ursuta predicted.

Though Hugh Scott-Douglas first broke through to international attention with gridded cyanotypes on linen that suggested an interest in abstraction and materiality, the works on view this week—both at the Bortolami show curated by Ben Schumacher and at Croy Nielsen’s Frieze booth—address matters of money. His Transaction Records works layer fragments of financial transaction records into prints on linen. And additional multiples at Bortolami—free newsprint booklets sized to the same dimensions as the New York Post—compile images of banknotes, lottery tickets and stock certificates from around the world.

“I feel like people want to move here from Canada to build a network,” Ben Schumacher said when asked about the “Canadian mafia” notion. Yet, he also said lack of studio space is a persistent issue, admitting, “you dream about having a barn in the middle of nowhere.”

On the network-building front, another member of the rising young Canuck contingent in New York is Tara Downs, who started Tomorrow Gallery a few years ago in Toronto with Scott-Douglas and Aleksander Hardashnakov. Downs moved recently to Berlin, and is now in New York looking to create a Tomorrow space in the Lower East Side this fall.

“A lot of what we did in Canada with our programming was bring international artists to Toronto—these kind of young, very prevalent artists, that we consider contemporaries.,” Downs said at Tomorrow Gallery’s NADA New York Projects booth. “The one big change with coming to New York is that a lot of them have representation [here], so it becomes a lot more of a delicate dance of who you can work with and why.”

A preview of Downs’ vision for her new NYC space was on view during Frieze at “Santal 26/33,” a two-day exhibition in a converted artists’ studio above a Chinatown storefront.

There, Downs had curated a group show that included some of the artists already on her roster—like Americans Dena Yago and Carlos Reyes, also showing in her NADA mini-booth—as well as Aleksander Hardashnakov. In his recent paintings, rendered in a sensitive, earthy palette, Hardashnakov seemed to appeal aspects of the psyche. One showed mothers with children; another offered a pencil drawing of a man’s back alongside an idealized, flattened human form. A third painting shows a body lying on the earth or underground.

As Downs noted, “there is also the opportunity to do the inverse, to bring people from Toronto or Canada [or Berlin] to New York to have this crossflow, which is valuable.”

Erin Shirreff & Others Attract Attention in the Big Tent

More established Canadian artists and dealers also won attention in the big, sinuous tent that is the calling card of Frieze New York, where 192 galleries from 28 different territories participated.

Making the biggest splash, perhaps, was a provocative pairing of works by Canadian artist Erin Shirreff and American artist Kara Walker at the booth of New York’s Sikkema Jenkins & Co.

While both Shirreff’s and Walker’s work have things in common formally—namely, a monochromatic palette, a use of paper as sculpture, and a tendency to refer to specific historical moments—their subject matter is dramatically different, especially in emotional impact.

Walker’s work is well known for taking on American racism and master-and-slave narratives, while also playing off of controversial cliches about African Americans. (A recent New Yorker article about Walker’s massive, new sugar sphinx in Williamsburg noted that African-American artist Bettye Saar once protested Walker’s work as “a form of betrayal.”)

In contrast, Shirreff’s work tends to address the (significantly less charged) history of minimal Modernist sculptors like Tony Smith and Anthony Caro through subtle, at times almost imperceptible, shifts in lighting and context.

“I was interested in focusing on Erin Shirreff and Kara Walker because Kara is a veteran of our program and Erin is the most recent member of our program,” Brent Sikkema said in a Frieze release. “Both women focus on very different issues but are similar in the muscular nature of their work and the rigorous intelligence they bring to their practice. The response was tremendous for both with numerous sales to museums as well as private collections in Latin America, Europe and the U.S.”

Other significant Canadian works at the fair included Rodney Graham’s lightbox Pipe Cleaner Artist, Amalfi, ’61, which was recently included at the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh. At Frieze, it was offered in the booth of New York’s 303 Gallery. As the New York Times noted in its Frieze picks, “With a sweetly comical spirit, it spoofs a kitschy romance of bohemian avant-gardism.” (Lisson Gallery’s booth also featured a recent upside-down tree print by Graham.)

Rirkrit Tiravanija—who originally studied art at Ottawa’s Carleton University and Toronto’s Ontario College of Art—also won the acclaim of the New York Times for his piece Freedom cannot be simulated at the booth of New York’s Gavin Brown. For it, Tiravanija filled the booth with closely space plywood dividers, upon which hung chalk drawings on black canvases. To view each drawing in full was impossible, given how little of it one could see at any given time—and the fact anyone of average girth attempting to walk through the dividers would likely smudge the image.

Elsewhere, other Canadian works at the fair included furniture pieces by Paul P. at the booth of Broadway 1602. Though known earlier in his career on for his figurative and landscape paintings, P. is using mahogany desks and stools, as well as woven wool carpets, as a “new agent” in his practice to point to “literature and aestheticism and in that process alluding to certain lives lived,” a gallery text indicated. One of his rugs at Frieze was based on a paper collage, for instance.

Los Angeles–based Canadian artist Ryan Sluggett was featured at Richard Telles Fine Art’s booth with a new series of monochrome canvases that also included a shiny vinyl component, while a large headbanger-based print by Vancouver’s Steven Shearer was at the Stuart Shave booth.

And New York–based artist David Altmejd—a perennial fair favourite—was represented by a couple of mirrored sculptures from his 2013 Untitled (Guides) series at the booth of Andrea Rosen Gallery, which also showed an earlier, crystal-head work of his.

Vancouver & Toronto Galleries Represent at Frieze

At Vancouver gallerist Catriona Jeffries’s Frieze booth—a large corner space near the north entrance of the tent and adjacent to the Frieze Talks entrance—two new works by Geoffrey Farmer merited a visit by Tate curators during the preview. One of these works, titled Journals, was a vitrine with 8 collages resembling open books, while the other, Norman Bates (Fountain), used two found wooden pieces as support for a framed collage relating to the titular Hitchcock character.

Other artworks featured in Jeffries’s booth included feed-bag sculptures by Brian Jungen; a large blanket piece by Liz Magor; sculptures by Gareth Moore; a print by Janice Kerbel; and a painting by Rebecca Brewer.

“I’ve done [Frieze New York] since they started this fair… It’s the US fair that I do,” Jeffries explains. “I love the architecture, I love the natural light. I love the way the spaces flow… so, you know, I’m here for all kinds of reasons.”

(More works by Geoffrey Farmer—in this case, paper sculptures resembling a kind of 3-D collage, similar to those of his seen at Art Basel Miami 2013—were on view at the booth of Casey Kaplan, which was also featuring a sports-shirt weaving by Brian Jungen.)

The only other Canadian gallery at Frieze New York was Jessica Bradley Gallery of Toronto. It was the gallery’s first time at the fair.

“We’ve done Frieze London, which was wonderful,” Bradley explains. “I’d never really thought of doing a New York fair, but I loved the experience in London,” she says, which clinched her participation.

In her booth, Bradley featured a mix of four artists: two (Zin Taylor and Sara MacKillop) already known internationally, two others (Derek Sullivan and Sasha Pierce) better known, at the moment, in Canada. During the preview, passersby seemed particularly intrigued by Pierce’s works, which resemble textiles but are in fact quite dense abstract paintings.

Julia Kennedy’s Hot House a Fun Fair Alternative

A daytime respite—and a nighttime escape—from fair fatigue could be found at Hot House, a new Frieze Week project driven largely by US-based Canadian curator Julia Kennedy.

Working in collaboration with LA-based Canadian gallerist and artist Davida Nemeroff (co-director of LA’s Night Gallery, which was also showing at Frieze Art Fair), as well as with Brooklyn-based artists and curators Jacques Vidal, Brian Faucette and Miles Huston, Kennedy took over an empty Spanish Harlem townhouse, filling it with art and performances from May 8 to 11.

Among the Hot House highlights was a flower-chain installation by Sojourner Truth Parsons, a BC-raised artist currently based in Santa Fe; a series of intimate new paintings on paper by Toronto-born artist Brad Phillips; and lo-fi photographs of horses by Nemeroff.

Each of the townhouse’s four floors had a different feel. The third floor had a low-key, nurturing vibe including free fruit, juice, tea and pastries. The second floor had a rawer, darker, angrier mood. Performances took place on the first floor, a massive, echoey space given over, on Friday afternoon, to the serenity of a cellist playing Bach. And the darkened basement featured two psychedelic sculptures.

It’s in part about “the house as levels of the psyche,” Kennedy says.

Turning to the third floor’s effect, she says, “I feel like this is almost a large-scale version of what Sojourner and I used to do in Halifax.” That was in the mid 2000s, when both were studying at NSCAD and would host Wednesday night dinners in their Agricola Street apartment that were open to the public. “It was a place for people to come and hang out… kind of a shifting sanctuary.”

Having since lived in New York and Los Angeles—cities she still shuttles between regularly—Kennedy also wanted her first major project to bridge the sensibilities of both cities.

“I wanted to do this in a way that makes sense in this city,” Kennedy says. “Because New York is not so much about domesticity.” To her, “getting close and intimate” was a priority on the third floor: “I wanted it to feel like a very giving space.”

Hot House is the first project falling under Kennedy’s new curatorial endeavour Blackrock/Whiterock. The “Blackrock” portion refers to New York, while “Whiterock” points to Los Angeles.

“New York and LA are very different, but there is something to be said for each, and [for] bring[ing] a bit of each to the others’ space,” Kennedy says.

Kennedy also credits Nemeroff for inspiring the project—not only in the specifics that involved connecting her with the Brooklyn-based team, but in general given the success of Night Gallery, which started in 2010 as a small art space only open at night and has since expanded to a 6,000-square-foot art space that shows at major fairs.

“It’s almost like, if you build it, they will come,” Kennedy says. “I think she couldn’t find her spot, so she made her spot.”

Other Canadian artists involved in Hot House included Elise Rasmussen, who exhibited a large photograph; Victoria Cheong, who showed a video installation and also performed; Jay Isaac, who was represented with several paintings; and the bands Tasseomancy and Curt Kobain, which performed on the Saturday night of the fair.

“They’re all such brilliant artists,” Kennedy says. “The fact that we have so much space is a gift; it’s nice to let the work have its space and not cram it all into a Lower East Side gallery.”

Canuck Dealers Hit Key Satellite Fairs

As the Art Newspaper noted early on during Frieze Week, 16 subsidiary fairs with more than 400 participating galleries were taking place at the same time as Frieze New York this year. It reported that “five of these—Pulse, Salon Zurcher, the Outsider Art Fair, Pool and Verge—have moved from different times of year,” like Armory week in March.

Canadian artists and dealers were part of this growth of satellite activity as well.

At NADA, held at a basketball complex on the Lower East Side, Vancouver’s the Apartment attracted attention with a booth that featured custom-made furniture by Mondo Cane and ROLU alongside ceramics by Wayne Ngan and paintings and installations by Matthew Higgs.

“Because we are the Apartment, we always try to decorate a little bit, and make it feel homey for people,” said gallery co-director Lee Plested. (His gallery actually began in 2006 in the apartment of he and co-director Erik von Muller, though it now has its own dedicated space in Vancouver’s Chinatown.) “So [Mondo Cane and RoLU] was the perfect kind of joining of forces. And I showed Matthew [Higgs] the work and he really responded to it.”

Besides vessels by master ceramicist Ngan, the shelves at the booth also contained catalogues of Garry Neill Kennedy, another artist the gallery represents. Higgs’s pieces included monochrome canvases in unusual shapes to which books had been attached with pieces of wire.

“This is our second NADA; we did NADA Miami” as well, Plested says. “We feel strongly that the artists that we work with really benefit from the context of international fairs.”

Toronto’s Daniel Faria Gallery, for its part, was featuring new drawings by Derek Liddington and sculptures by Jennifer Rose Sciarrino. Both bodies of work seemed to link 3-D realities with the formal language of abstraction.

“The impetus for a lot of [these drawings] came from me taking a steel pipe and smashing it in my studio, and really enjoying this curved line that wasn’t made up [or imaginary] in any way—it was made through force,” Liddington explains. “So I used those lines to make the lines dividing spaces in the drawing.”

Liddington’s drawings had titles like With revolution on my mind and the sun in my eyes I listen for the sound of a lover’s embrace, and also sought to address “geometric language as a language to talk about specific narratives, like romantic and violent narratives… in past works, I’ve thought about narratives between couples; these ones think more about narratives in situations, and how multiple narratives can [co]exist.”

Meanwhile, Sciarrino’s work manifested angles and hues of the sun in abstract-seeming ways.

“They’re two new artists to the audience here; we’ve had some curators come by already and collectors,” Faria said during the preview. His gallery also did NADA NY last year with a solo booth of Shannon Bool. “I thought the fair last year was great, we met amazing people. And it is good to keep up those relationships and continue to introduce our program to New York and the US,” Faria added.

The third Canadian dealer at NADA was Toronto’s Cooper Cole, who was featuring a solo booth of New York–based Canadian artist Sara Cwynar. Cwynar recently released a book, Kitsch Encyclopedia (which was available at the fair’s Printed Matter booth) and wrapped up a New York Times-reviewed show at Foxy Production in Chelsea, so her photographic interventions are increasingly well known in the city.

“Sara and I have worked together for three years; I gave her her first show and we have a great working relationship,” owner Simon Cole says. “So I thought NADA would be a perfect platform to present this work.”

To produce the works in her Darkroom Manual series, Cwynar takes images from vintage photography textbooks and manuals lays the image flat on a scanner bed while manipulating it—“kind of like scratching it like a DJ would,” Cole says. The digital static creates a CMYK effect on the original black and white image. “I like them a lot because they have a very retro yet contemporary feel,” Cole said.

This was Cole’s second year in New York, and he recently also did a fair in Mexico City, as well as one in Miami.

“It’s nice to be in New York; I think there’s a large audience here and I think as a Canadian art gallery, the Canadian art scene is great and supportive—and it’s also small. [So] this also allows another opportunity to present a Canadian artist on a larger scale,” Cole said. He added, “I think the fairs are really necessary for the gallery and for the artist; I want to be in an international art dialogue and I think this is a great way to do that.”

At the smaller fair Pulse near Chelsea—some 50 exhibitors to NADA’s 70-plus—Canadian galleries Division and Art Mûr were showing amid some engaging performance, installation and nonprofit booths curated by fair director Helen Toomer. (Many hope Toomer’s arrival signals the revitalization of the fair.)

“It’s tough finding the right spot,” said Gareth Brown-Jowett of Division Gallery on the final day of the fair. “I feel like our booth doesn’t fit into any of the fairs [at the moment].”

Nonetheless, many passerby were enjoying works by Michel de Broin, Patrick Coutu, Wanda Koop, Nicolas Baier and Isabelle Hayeur that were featured at the Division booth. (Division brought these same five artists to Untitled Miami in December.)

Of particular interest to visitors was Michel de Broin’s bronze sculpture of a stylized, upside-down Statue of Liberty, and a related blueprint-style edition.

Art Mûr, for its part, did a solo booth of emerging Montreal artist Laurent Lamarche. Lamarche creates sculptures, prints and projections that suggest a laboratory where plastic forms of life are created and incubated. (The solo booth was a candidate for the Pulse Prize, which went to London- and Morocco-based artist Hassan Hajjaj.)

“Miami is better for sales,” Mike Patten of Art Mur observed. “New York is kind of slower. But it’s good exposure.”

Art Mûr previously showed at Pulse New York in 2011 as well as 2013.

Even tinier as a fair offering was Salon Zurcher, a seven-gallery show presented salon-style in a single room on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village.

There, Montreal’s Laroche/Joncas was showing paintings by Sean Montgomery—some of which were based on the tartans of Canadian provinces and companies—was well as abstract painting and sculpture by New York–based artist Benjamin King and collages and sculpture by Robb Jamieson.

The Jamieson sculpture was notable—a life-sized replica of a racecar driver lying on a yoga mat, with new-agey alterations made to his outfit.

“The quality of [the fair] is great,” said André Laroche. “It’s not about the volume.”

Drawings by Balint Zsako were also on view at Salon Zurcher in the presentation by New York’s Proposition Gallery.

The company behind the original Art Miami fair also made its first foray into Frieze Week this year with a Canadian dealer in tow.

The Downtown Fair, located in an armory near Gramercy Park at Lexington and 25th Street, lacked the big white tent of its Miami parent, instead featuring heavy brick walls and surroundings that included permanent vitrines related to Iraqi-insurgent dress and weaponry.

But inside the fair, to a visitor, much seems as it was in Miami in terms of tone, including the presence of Toronto dealer Nicholas Metivier, a frequent Art Miami exhibitor.

Photographs by Edward Burtynsky, Robert Polidori and Gordon Parks, paintings by Charles Bierk and Shelley Adler, and prints by Stephen Appleby-Barr were among Metivier’s offerings.

The Appleby-Barr prints (which were accompanied by a painting) seemed to be of particular interest to collectors—Rita Stuart of the gallery indicated that the painting C. at Council (2014) went to a Zurich collector.

“It’s a different energy for sure,” Stuart said of the Downtown Fair, “Miami is a much better fair, but it’s good to reconnect with New York collectors.”

Of course, as with any major fair week, Canadian dealers who were not exhibiting were also in town visiting with contacts, checking out the fairs, and looking for new artists to represent. Among those on the scene were Megan Bradley of Parisian Laundry and Antoine Ertaskiran, among others.

North-of-the-49th Gallery Shows include Kent Monkman’s NYC Solo Debut

Some notable Canadian artists also launched or exhibited significant projects at New York galleries during Frieze Week.

Most striking, perhaps, was “The Urban Res,” Kent Monkman‘s first New York solo show, which took place at Sargent’s Daughters, a Lower East Side gallery.

In four large new canvases, Monkman continued his recent trends of using urban Winnipeg settings to house a range of characters and figures—from Henry Moore–style sidewalk loiterers to tattooed members of the Indian Posse to renaissance-style angels to his signature gender-bending alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

Other repeating motifs in the paintings included the use of petroglyph symbols as graffiti scrawled on fences and walls; the placement of cubist figures in realistically painted settings; and themes of violence and death. (One pieta-like painting shows a smoky spirit leaving a body.) Also weaving through it all, as usual, is Monkman’s sense of wit and play.

At the rear of the gallery is a new installation by Monkman. Cannily named Bête Noire, the natural-history-style diorama and backdrop—in style, not unlike those seen in the 1980s and before at Winnipeg’s Museum of Man and Nature—shows Miss Chief Eagle Testickle seated on a black motorcycle, wearing a dreamcatcher brassiere and with a quiver of hot-pink arrows at the ready. In the foreground, felled by some of those arrows, is a flat sculpture of a cubist-style buffalo. Also scattered about—both painted in the backdrop and sculpted in the diorama—are replicas of Picasso’s famous “head of a bull” sculpture, fashioned out of a bicycle seat and bicycle handlebars.

Also notable is “I Could See Everything,” an exhibition by Toronto-based painter Margaux Williamson at Mulherin & Pollard, a gallery co-owned by Toronto’s Katharine Mulherin. The exhibition opened May 8 in conjunction with the launch of a related book of the same title—which apparently was printed at Toronto’s Coach House Press on May 7 and rushed to New York for the launch the next day.

Described as “a remount of an exhibition that first took place in a non-existent venue called The Road at the Top of the World Museum” curated by Frith Street Gallery director Ann Marie Peña, the paintings in the show and book are accordingly dreamy and imaginative. In fact, they seem to alternate between depicting scenes from dreams—as in the unfinished figures in “We Died Young”—and depicting scenes drawn from life, such as a banana on a kitchen table.

In an essay in Williamson’s book by Canadian Art’s David Balzer, it is revealed that Williamson put a hold on exhibiting her painting for a number of years. Given that Williamson’s canvases have sensitive, searching approach that comes across as pleasantly and unconventionally diaristic, it is good as a viewer to see her paintings again.

Yet another exhibition of note in town was Sanaz Mazinani’s show at Taymour Grahne Gallery in Tribeca. This new gallery, just opened in September 2013, is the brainchild of Taymour Grahne—a collector of Middle Eastern and North African art as well as creator of the popular “Art of the Middle East” blog. The gallery project elucidates Grahne’s interests in a more public sphere, and the work of Iranian-born, Canada- and California-based artist Mazinani seems like a good fit.

As some Canadian viewers may already know, Maziniani has distinguished herself for photo-based images in which motifs are repeated and reflected to create works that, at a distance, resemble a mosaic or textile pattern, but close up, speak to war, politics, and cultural disparities.

For example, Mazinani’s 2011 work Together We Are, on view at the gallery, pairs a photo of a scantily clad Paris Hilton with one of a woman in a hijab and repeats that form to create repetitive (some might say yonic) shapes across a shaped support.

And yet the show offers a chance to see new directions in which Mazinani is taking her practice.

The 2014 work Royal Stealth is more spare in its motifs, with its manipulations of a Stealth bomber image against the sky resembling a deep pool rather a dense textile. Royal Stealth, like another new work nearby, is also completely flat, rather than shaped in a concave or convex manner like some earlier works.

Other changes include the integration of actual mirrors into the pieces, a tendency which reaches its apex in the almost-all-mirror work Reflected (2013).

Also new are works in which Mazinani’s complex patterns are blind-embossed onto white archival paper, making them more like snowflakes, and much more difficult to read.

These shifts, plus the move to put the 2013 print Shah Cheraq onto wallpaper, suggest more emphatically than the artist’s prior works how war and cultural bias blend into our surroundings, and also how much we may be implicated in them. It’s the same themes addressed with more subtlety.

Overall, a trip to New York for the fairs is an overwhelming proposition—particularly if one does not possess the position (or disposition) to collect. Visiting a museum show like the recently opened Camille Henrot effort at the New Museum becomes a focused treat of engagement following the continual stimulus of the fair environments.

But also, and perhaps more positively, the trip suggested new ways in which Canadian art talent is blooming at home and abroad.

This article was corrected on May 15, 2014. The original article suggested Tara Downs curated an exhibition called “Grand Opening” during Frieze Week. The exhibition was actually called “Santal 26/33,” and the venue was called Grand Ceremony.

Leah Sandals

Leah Sandals is a writer and editor based in Toronto. Her arts journalism has appeared in the Toronto Star, National Post and Globe and Mail, among other publications, and her creative work has been published in Prism, Room and Freefall. She can be reached via