When Frieze, the massive contemporary art fair hosting hundreds of galleries from around the world, posts up on New York’s Randall’s Island, things can get carnal. With only a limited-run ferry, harrowing bus ride, or surge-induced Uber to get there, the instincts of our ancestors start to kick in: We hoard snacks and guzzle whatever free liquids might be in our path, preparing for starvation. We make allies with unexpected characters, hoping they might have a secret limo waiting outside. We even, in the heat of the tent, with that lurking notion that an art world remake of Gilligan’s Island could come to pass, begin to feel those cave-born desires bubbling, telling us to find a fertile partner before it’s too late. This Frieze New York, sex was in the air, and it wasn’t just the mix of booze and fear of being stranded. This year, the art was actually arousing.
Being turned on by art is nothing new—it has acted as a window into our greatest desires and fetishes throughout history. But the most alluring and erotic art at Frieze this year was not the most pornographic, per sé. In fact, it was often the abstract sculptures that gave off the most heat.
There was nothing overtly explicit at Foxy Production’s booth, yet, standing next to Petra Cortright’s resin sculpture, with Sascha Braunig’s bulbous but delicate abstract paintings working off the same juicy color palette, it was hard to see a giant berry and not a yonic oraphase. Similarly, Yayoi Kusama’s tentacles or Los Carpinteros’s oversized copper rusted nails didn’t scream "phallus!" but their slightly elongated forms and surprisingly delicate curves gave both installations an erotic whisper.
Jeppe Hein at 303 Gallery
Perhaps it’s the element of surprise in either size, shape, or material that made many of the fair’s sculptures worth a "How You Doin’" glance. In Jeppe Hein’s Horizontal Cut sculpture, the thin slice in the mirror foil canvas made the delicate material quiver as you pass, giving a tantalizing shock. Faig Ahmed’s melting rug, too, toyed with unexpected thrills, physicalizing solid becoming liquid.
Blair Thurman at Galerie Frankelbaz
That juxtaposition between hard and soft was a recurring theme across booths. Sometimes the two unlikely materials performed together, like in Blair Thurman’s piece at Galerie Frankelbaz or Joe Zorrilla’s sculpture of a flesh colored plush creature, wiggled in deep to a hard metal pole. Other sculptures titillated in their ability to resemble the warm and fleshy without going soft, like Erwin Wurm’s Fat Bus, or his series of sweaters pulled tight over canvas.
Erwin Wurm, Fat Bus at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac
Erwin Wurm at Lehmann Maupin
Even the more figurative sculptures deployed a level of sexuality with a surrealist lens, illuminating the fetish beyond just the fantasy. Carlos Motta’s series of small 3D-printed hermaphrodites, inspired by ancient Greek and Roman art, were not only alluring but inviting, letting us watch them in their small boxes like giant, lurking voyeurs. Gina Beavers’ large-scale sculptural paintings protruded from the the walls and adorned boxes around the space, showing every-day images that have been texturized and stimulated, making lips, luscious, abs, ripped, and meat, raw.
Carlos Motta at Mor Charpentier
Gina Beavers at Clifton Benevento
It seems that no matter which way you turn, there is a sculpture begging to be touched or teased, forcing viewers to act or interact in its path at Frieze. We’re used to a city where sex is everywhere, but here, on this island with no escape, sex is everything. It makes us uncomfortable, it makes us open, it makes open up. And as soon as we make it home, we’re taking a cold shower.
Frieze New York is open to the public through Sunday, May 8, 2016.