New York soaks up al fresco culture at Frieze Sculpture

New York soaks up al fresco culture at Frieze Sculpture

The fair’s public art initiative pitches up at Rockefeller Center for its inaugural New York edition

Frieze New York will launch its eighth edition inside Universal Design Studio-designed tents on Randall’s Island on 2 May, but it’s off-site project Frieze Sculpture that is whetting fairgoers’ appetites ahead of the main event with a sprawl of public art across Rockefeller Center. The ambitious checklist of 20 artworks by 14 artists includes sculptures by Nick Cave, Sarah Sze, Walter De Maria, Joan Miró and Paolo Nazareth populating the historic Midtown Manhattan building and its pedestrian-packed plaza.

Curated by Brett Littman, director of the Noguchi Museum in Queens and former executive director of the Drawing Center in Soho, the inaugural New York edition of Frieze Sculpture is making the most of the neighbourhood’s rapid foot traffic, enticing locals and tourists alike with a smorgasbord of visual encounters. The striking sculptures tap into the social dynamic of its busy surroundings, weaving compelling narratives with the city’s vernacular architecture.

‘I was thinking about scale, verticality and horizontality; for some works you have to look up and some works you have to look down, and these also become strategies of engagement,’ Littman told us, adding, ‘What I didn’t want to do with this installation is fight against the urban backdrop, the architecture, and the crowds too much – that would be a losing battle in space like Rockefeller Center.’

Kiki Smith’s bronze female sculpture, Rest Upon (2009), dozes with a lamb at the plaza’s flower-lined entrance on Fifth Avenue, creating an interesting juxtaposition between the figure’s demure posture and its position amid the dense crowds. Elsewhere, Nick Cave’s Untitled (2018) morphs from a tenacious Black Power fist into a larger-than-life gramophone.

Arguably the most striking intervention is Ibrahim Mahama’s jute flags, waving in lieu of the 192 UN flags that normally encircle the Rockefeller Center’s iconic ice skating ring. The specially commissioned installation of fifty flags, crafted by the artist in his native Ghana from used cocoa bean bags, delivers a strong political punch, touching on themes of slavery, economic disparity and oppression. §

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