The Frieze Art Fair in New York—the city’s answer to the famed London fair—kicked off Thursday morning in a torrential downpour. But intrepid fair-goers trekked to Randall’s Island by East River Water Taxi, where they were greeted by artist Paul McCarthy's giant red inflatable dog, which towered over the fair itself. Unsurprisingly, the more than 180 booths inside offered everything imaginable. There is a slick Doug Aitken wall-mounted sculpture with the words “ART” written in cracked mirror (to remind us of our own narcissism? Of a discipline that’s falling apart? Or maybe just to serve as a mirror in case we have something in our teeth?) There's a video by Chinese artist Qiu Anxiong, The Temptation of the Land (2009), which served as an animated commentary on the destruction caused by the construction of an Olympic stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, on the natives of Beijing. There was an empty, haunting self-portrait by the Serbian performance artist Marina Abramovic, her mouth ringed with plated gold. By midday, the fair was chock full of people: designer Valentino Garavani, in a perfectly tailored brown suit, went from booth to booth—as did the actor Andrew Garfield, who appeared to be led around by an adviser. And deals were happening here: quickly but quietly, art appeared to be selling, under the nose of tourists and kids taking Instagrams. Below, our list of art not to miss at the fair. (Frieze New York, on Randall's Island, runs May 10-13.)
1. Francesco Vezzoli, Unique Forms of Continuity in High Heels, Bronze, 2012 (Yvonne Lambert Gallery)
When you’re wandering through the wide alleys between booths, this loping golden sculpture by Francesco Vezzoli will stop you in your tracks. It’s simultaneously a riff on and commemoration of Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, a touchstone of Futurism. But the original was also a symbol of masculinity: a bullish, mulscular soldier, rumbling forward through space and time. Now, Vezzoli recreates the statue in high heels—which, hopefully, will cause some gender-studies student somewhere to write a dissertation on what all this means for gender identity. Here we all are, collectively rumbling forward, in five-inch stilettos.
2. Katy Grannan, Anonymous, Bakersfield, CA, 2011, 2011 (Salon 94)
Haunting portraits by Katy Grannan ring the booth at Salon 94, faces that—even when you move past it to other booths—stay with you. Grannan, a young photographer who lives in Berkeley, Calif., has become well-known for choosing total strangers as subjects. She lets their cues dictate the photographs; these people aren’t posed, styled, or arranged. For the series shown here, Grannan traveled along California’s Highway 99—from the Mexican border to the top of the state—photographing people as she went along. The faces tell a million stories: of heat and hunger, poverty, and hard work.
3. Thomas Ruff, Various Portraits, 1980-1984 (David Zwirner)
No collection of faces could be more different from each other than Grannan and Ruff’s. Thomas Ruff’s portraits, 12 in total, are stern and passport-like relative to the emotional, large-scale portraits at Salon 94. But here, the objective approach, which Ruff picked up at the Dusseldorf Art Academy in the 1970s, makes this grid of blank faces about as neutral as wallpaper.
4. Marianne Vitale, Cockpit, 2013, P5
The fair is proudly touting “Frieze Projects”: a series of commissioned projects curated by Cecilia Alemani. Among them is FOOD, a recreation of the 1971 artist’s restaurant opened by Gordon Matta-Clark and Carol Goodden, which—in its new form—will serve food from a different chef each day of the fair. Another highlight: a monumental installation by Marianne Vitale, which towers at the center of the fair. Vitale, whose works consist of pieces of burnt bridges and outhouses, presents an enormous fragment of a burnt barn wall.
5. Alex Hartley, The Future Is Certain, 2011, Victoria Miro Gallery
When you walk by it, this mixed-media print appears to be a feat of nature: it’s a glossy photograph of a craggy South American rock face that includes architectural and sculptural elements. The two-dimensional photograph becomes 3-D where the artist has constructed a little ledge with rocks. Similarly, small windows into 3-D homes are carved into the image of the rock face, bringing Hartley’s landscape to life.
6. Dan Colen, To Be Titled, 2013, Gagosian Gallery
Dan Colen is known for his smashed basketball backboards, but here’s one unlike any we've seen before. The artist smashed backboards, set them in resin, and welded them together in an aluminum circle. It's the centerpiece of Gagosian’s booth this year—and makes you sort of wish you were a hamster in a Dan Colen wheel.
7. Zoe Leonard, Niagra Falls Postcards, 2009-2012, Galleria Raffaella Cortese
There was something nostalgic and sweet about Zoe Leonard’s table of neatly assembled postcards from Niagara Falls from the 1920s—arranged in a way that the horizon lines in each image were perfectly aligned, and stacked in a way to resemble the waterfall itself.
8. Rodney Graham, Sunday Sun, 1937, Lisson Gallery
Two eerily beautiful pieces at the fair this year are the transparent photographic lightboxes by the Canadian artist Rodney Graham. Drywaller’s Boombox (2013), at 303 Gallery, depicts a construction site with a dirty boombox, and Sunday Sun, 1937, lights up a wall at the Lisson Gallery. They’re painstakingly detailed (and highly nostalgic) tableaux reconstructed from the artist's memory.
9. Pae White, Mobile, 2011, Andrew Kreps Gallery
American artist Pae White is fascinated with the idea of turning something transient and impermanent into something real. “It’s about monumentalizing something very temporal,” she has said. In the past, she's made mobiles out of sculptural pieces of popcorn, and stage curtains for the Oslo Opera House, which David Coleman of Architectural Digest called similar to “crumpled tinfoil.” At Frieze, White presents a 2011 mobile of tiny pieces of fractured mirror, with the undersides painted with concentric rainbow circles. The kaleidoscopic mobile changes no matter how you look at it—or where you stand.
10. Bjarne Melgaard, Theresa starting to show she will die, and other works, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, 2013
Some booths are inviting—and then others are really inviting. The space at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise is painted entirely purple this year, and lined with a thicket of brightly colored blankets, each based on sketches by Norwegian phenom Bjarne Melgaard. Melgaard has produced a series of abstract paintings that directly complement the blankets, but it’s impossible to see those paintings unless you’re willing to climb over the sea of quilts to get there (some guests just chose to lie down on top of them). The blankets, by the way—which, by the end of the weekend, will surely be covered in sludge from everyone’s muddy boots—are going for $12,000 each.
11. Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2013
After a mechanized robot angrily moves its windshield-wiper arms at you, and making it through a room set up with steps toward a lit-up Jesus, there is nothing more simple and powerful than a gold Anish Kapoor bowl, glowing against an empty wall.
11. Daniel Firman, Linda, 2013 (Perrotin Gallery Paris)
After walking from booth to booth for hours, it’s easy to get Art Overload: that feeling when your blood sugar dips, your stomach growls, and everything starts to look the same. It’s enough to make you want to pull your sweater up over your eyes, and, well, bang your head against a wall. That’s what French artist Daniel Firman has brought to life in Linda, a resin and plaster life-size portrait of a woman. She’s frustrated, she’s tired, and she is pressing forcefully against the outside wall of the Perrotin gallery. Part of the fun of looking at this piece, of course, is watching passersby react to it: they inevitably think she’s real, begin whispering to each other—Look at that eccentric art person!—until they realize she’s just a piece of plaster.
12. Gabriel Orozco, Roiseau 8, 2012, Galerie Chantal Carousel
One of the most mesmerizing pieces in the lot is a giant, circular bamboo reed affixed with hundreds of tiny feathers, by Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco. It's punctuated by two photographic diptyches and illustrates the artist's fascination with animals and the changing "equilibriums of the universe."
13. Do Ho Suh, Wielandstr. 18, 12159 Berlin, Lehmann Maupin (C11)
“Unbelievable,” one woman said to her husband, while stepping into Lehmann Maupin’s booth. “Un-fucking-believable.” She was describing Do Ho Suh’s Weilandstr. 18, a life-size replica of the artist’s former apartment in Germany—rendered in polyester. Do's structure is a feat of architecture and engineering—and shows a great mastery of material. The translucent green polyester has been stretched into door handles, moldings, and even a telephone.
14. Tino Sehgal, Annlee, 2013, Marion Goodman Gallery
This is perhaps the most alarming—and downright creepy—piece at Frieze. You walk into a large room at the Marion Goodman booth, which is completely empty save for a few fluorescent lights overhead. In the center of the room, a little girl in jeans and a blue shirt is talking—talking robotically, theatrically, but speaking to no one. She moves her arms as if they’re being remote-controlled, and for a minute you think: "Wait a minute, is this kid a robot?" But she’s not, she’s just an actor in a weird and thrilling performance piece by British-German artist Tino Sehgal. “I’ve wondered, what’s worse; to feel too busy, or not busy enough?” the girl asks into the ether. Then she turns to you, locking eyes: “Can I ask you, would you rather feel too busy or not busy enough?” “Uhh,” we say. But she continues: “What is the relation between a sign and melancholia?” Outside, a representative for the gallery explains that the piece is a commentary on Annlee, a Japanese Manga character whose identity was purchased by two artists.