~ Posted by Hazel Sheffield, May 9th 2012
Where in New York would you put a very big tent? As Frieze’s co-founder Amanda Sharp said, “The true story is that I opened Google Maps and looked for big green spaces.” The one she found was on an island that nestles under the hulking Robert Kennedy Bridge between Manhattan and Queens. Once home to a mental asylum and public burial ground, Randall’s Island is now best known for its parkland, tennis academy and athletics track.
For a tent, the New York-based architects SO-IL created a snaking marquee whose curves follow the contours of the island. Tumbleweed rolled around in the grass outside the tent (installed by Latifa Echakhch) to heighten our sense of the wild. The festive tone was struck by artist Joel Kyack, who had worked in booths at state country fairs as a child. He manned a game truck, inviting people to roll a ball into the lips of a yawning mouth.
This will be the 10th year of Frieze in London, and demand from New York's gallery owners for something similar persuaded Frieze's founders to try their first one here: of the 180 galleries participating from 30 nations, 60 are American. But the location also provides a powerful new context for the art. In the "Frame" section, reserved for galleries less than six years old, Night Gallery from Los Angeles showcased a nightmarish bedroom installation concocted of black tape, video and mirrors by Samara Golden called "Bad Brains", a reminder that Randall’s Island still houses a psychiatric ward.
Going round, there were plenty of fun moments too: a huge plaster nose protruded into the aisle; a blue plastic Disney dwarf grinned at us from one of the nooks; up close, a wall of chicken wire by the Romanian cartoonist Dan Perjovschi turned into a mesh of tiny drawings of people.
Every taste was catered for: we dipped crisps into a French horn filled with guacamole and, in the bends of the marquee, where hip Manhattan restaurants and cafés like The Fat Radish and Intelligentsia Coffee opened out onto the grass, we picked at red beet and quinoa salads and took in the Manhattan skyline. We were a few short miles from the air-conditioned galleries of Madison Avenue, but it felt, triumphantly, like a day at the fair.
Hazel Sheffield lives in New York, where she is the Fulbright Alistair Cooke Scholar at Columbia University. Her posts on the Editors' Blog include Obama breaks into song and Art and Kraftwerk in New York