The 13-year-old Art Frankfurt, which was on view Apr. 28-May 1, 2001, has established itself as an important market for contemporary art as well as for mainstream works from the 1950s. This year the fair featured more than 185 galleries from 10 countries. Most exhibitors were German, with galleries coming from nearly all regions of the country.
One focal point of this year's art fair was the special exhibition "New Attitudes," a showcase for new galleries and experimental artwork that is now in its fourth year and that included considerable participation from galleries in New York, San Francisco and particularly Los Angeles.
Despite its emphasis on "young" work, however, Art Frankfurt does do serious business. One highpoint came on the fair's first day, when Karel Appel's Personnage et Oiseau sold for 420,000 German marks (DM) -- about $200,000 (1 DM = 45 U.S. cents). But for the most part, for collectors of contemporary art at more modest prices, Frankfurt was the place to be.
Much photography was on view, though perhaps the strongest photos of the fair were at the booth of MAERZ galerie of Leipzig. Potent color photographs by German collaborators Andrea Seppi and Steffen Junghans from their "Protokoll" series (1995-1998) offer an architectural survey of the prison system throughout Germany. Crisp views portray a comparatively high quality of life within the German penitentiary system and reveal starkly different standards as defined by the former East and West geographic regions. Large (100 by 130 cm) prints from the series are available for 3,000 DM apiece; smaller unframed prints are available for 580 DM, a total steal. A book of the work, also entitled Protokoll, is forthcoming from the Hochschule fur Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig.
The German landscape
The Düsseldorf gallery Cosar showcased both works on paper and paintings by Stefan Kürten, a Düsseldorf-born, San Francisco and New York-based artist. A pair of decorative canvases, beautifully and purposefully executed, use careful daubs of mostly gold and bronze pigments to construct dreamy scenes of well-manicured domestic outdoor settings. The works, which measure 145 by 190 cm (one is horizontal, the other vertical, are priced at 16,500 DM. Smaller-scale gold-lathered drawings cost 900-1,800 DM.
Also at Cosar were three reductive mountain landscapes by Stefan Sehler painted with oil and varnish on paper, each 80 by 90 cm and available for 1,700 DM. In the best part of these works, by-chance formulations of oil and water interact to depict the abstract nooks and crannies of rugged mountain terrain.
A fantastic range of takes on the landscape could be found at Sies and Höke, also of Düsseldorf. The prize here was a plush work by British artist Rowena Dring made of multi-colored swatches of stitched cotton fabric stretched like canvas. Entitled Revisited, this hyper-graphic mountain vista was on offer for 18,000 DM.
Another highlight at Sies and Höke was Düsseldorf-based Michael van Ofen's oil on canvas modernist seascape, made with thick, brushy blocks of deep tinted hues (13,200 DM). Finally, an interesting work of carved wood by another London artist, D.J. Simpson, was one of the few works on view utilizing ideas close to the traditional German woodcut. The untitled painting features a confusing yet balanced composition of swirling, overlapping abstract forms made by drilling and routing the surface of an extra-thickly painted red panel (7,000 DM).
At Isart Galerie from Munich, peculiar wall pieces by one young German stood out from the fray. Herbert Heindl, an artist born in the '60s and based in Munich, focuses on themes regarding logos and corporate identities. Heindl's work adulterates plastic shopping bags by reshaping, manipulating and hiding logos to produce oddly built-up schematic monochromes on the bags or on entire gallery walls. The works range in price from 750 to 2,300 DM.
The work of Jim Lambie, the young but seasoned artist from Glasgow, often turns to both pop and corporate everyday phenomena in his pleasantly unconventional art objects. For Lambie, a frequent point of reference has been music culture, specifically regarding the electronic and rock and roll genres. San Francisco's Jack Hanley gallery featured a pair of collage/constructions made by the former DJ/rocker: Lambie has taken cheesy 12-inch record sleeves from the '70s and '80s, cut out the silhouette of the performer, and mirrored the empty silhouette in a continuous form across the wall (3,000 DM).
Another Scot's work was on hand at Hanley -- unique drawings by Euan MacDonald relating to the artist's video work (1,200 to 1,800 DM) and the videos themselves, available in editions for around 3,000 DM. In the 1997 video Interval, MacDonald depicts the shadows of a pair of palm trees swaying across a traffic-clogged boulevard in a two and a half minute loop.
Los Angeles represents
Booths by Los Angeles galleries Suzanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects and Sandroni Rey were among the highlights for the predominantly German audience. At Vielmetter, Jason Rogenes uses the packing materials of electronic devices such as computers, stereo components and televisions to create sculptural forms that provide an odd fusion of high-tech imagery and do-it-yourself robustness. Rogenes, who was on hand to see his work pass on to German collections for the first time, has shown recently at the UCLA Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the New Museum in New York (among others). Lit from inside and suspended from above, Rogenes' Styrofoam sculpture, entitled Chimera, suggested an oversized ray gun or a miniature spaceship. The sculpture was priced at 8,000 DM, while related drawings sold for 5,000 DM.
Also to be found at Vielmetter was work by the much-talked-about UCLA-schooled Robert Olsen, whose miniature paintings on panel coolly depict utilitarian public objects, such as bus shelters or banking and vending machines. Olsen's careful, laborious pictures strip away any traces of corporate markings, reducing the objects to monument-like structures (4,000 DM).
A snowy photographic triptych by Eva Leitolf from her "Naturstüecke" series (1997-2000) was available for 9,000 DM. And photographs by Stefanie Schneider -- large-scale pictures scanned from defective consumer-Polaroid film -- maintain the distinctive Polaroid framing and depict narrative scenes by the artist. A set of three was available for 12,500 DM.
At Sandroni Rey, a super-sized C-print from the ambitious Brooklyn-based artist Sue de Beer cost only 4,500 DM. The detailed, color-drenched image from her show which opened in Los Angeles on May 12, was indicative of her bizarre and absorbing photographic narratives. Also noteworthy was an assortment of works on paper and larger works on panel made from odds and ends of multi-colored vinyl strips by L.A.-based artist Monique van Genderen, starting at 1,200 DM for paper works and 3,500 DM for the smallest panels.
Perhaps a bit out of place within the "young" context of the hall, Sandroni Rey was offering a couple of vintage gems including Ed Ruscha's Hollywood printed with caviar and Pepto Bismol. The extraordinarily vibrant number one from an edition of 50 was priced at $17,000 dollars (not DM). The other vintage piece on offer was an interesting miniature Sol LeWittSeven Variations of a Cube, made of painted steel (somewhat unique since most of this kind are made of wood) from 1968-70, priced at $55,000.
Miller Durazo, a small gallery in Los Angeles focusing on emerging artists, featured a neat grid of "Girl Drawings" by L.A.-based Ruby Osorio. Her watercolors on paper are reminiscent of the trendy Canadian best seller Marcel Dzama, except Orsorio's works feature intricate, stitched lines of thread that add a bit of punch to the playful cartoons. The letter-sized, unframed works run only 200 DM a pop. L.A.'s Low Gallery was also on hand, featuring the sexually evocative photographic works of Los Angeles artist Dean Sameshima at from 2,400 to 8,400 DM each, as well as the sexually explicit pictures of Tokyo-based sleaze-master Nobuyoshi Araki.
Another highlight of the fair was a new project entitled "Curator's Choice," in which a curator from outside of the region is invited to present the work of typically new or unknown artists. This inaugural show was organized by Los Angeles-based critic David Pagel, whose exhibition, called "The Dreams Stuff Is Made Of," focused primarily on 20th-century Southern California abstraction.
Pagel's twist on things featured not only the most recent crop of primarily abstraction-oriented Southern California artists -- Phillip Argent, Tim Bavington, Bart Exposito, Monique Prieto, Stephanie Pryor, Pae White and Yek -- but also their earlier counterparts. The biggest names included Ruscha, Lari Pittman and John Wesley, as well as a number of artists working as early as the '40s and '50s: Karl Benjamin, Frederick Hammersley and Lee Mullican, whose works have recently begun to resurface.
Most of the art shared esthetic values, bright pigmentation and a definite pop quality, but these aren't the only links. Pagel's selection of works probes the legacy of experimentation in Southern California art: synthetic and offbeat materials, saturated colors, non-representational forms (not as a denial of history or expression of fear but an embrace of imagination), and the experiential as opposed to the narrative.
Pagel chooses the "long view," in which old work can be viewed not only as historically pertinent but also as interesting and relevant now. He hung young next to old in order to see how each generation stacks up against the others. And it worked nicely.
Not surprisingly, a host of galleries from Berlin offered many of the fair's most spirited works. The work of Juliane Duda, found at Loop gallery of Berlin, is refreshing addition to the often invariable German photography scene. Duda takes video stills of charged architectural settings, and uses computer manipulation to give them a warped perspective removed from reality. For instance, Ich trage ein Fahre, (2000) or I am keeping the flag, a 125 by 130 inch Lambda digital print (4,500 DM), depicts the skewed façade of an unfinished library structure in Latvia, on which is emblazoned the symbolic red flag of communism. Duda super-charges her image by using the computer to copy and superimpose the texture of the red flag into the foreground of the photograph. The result is disorienting at first glance, but it prompts the viewer to slow down and consider the image.
One of the most promising young galleries at the fair was Koch und Kesslau, specializing in artists living and working in Berlin. Highlights included a large-scale wood sculpture by Rene Lück, AC/DC (4,300 DM), an over-sized facsimile of the over-the-hill-but-still-touring Australian rock band's logo (thunderbolt and all). Lück's materials are crude yet beautiful: low grade wood that is glazed with a thin, green wash of construction-grade waterproofing.
Another major find at Koch und Kesslau was Joachim Reck's formidable series of paintings and ink wash drawings depicting head-on vantages of simple domestic living spaces. Reck, a young Berliner originally from Poland, studied with Georg Baselitz at the HdK Berlin. Reck's works pay full attention to each building's architectural details, quirks, contrasts and comparisons. Giant acrylic canvases (230cm by 160 cm) are a real deal at 12,000 DM, as are the smaller works on paper (60 by 40 cm) at 1,100 DM.
The Berlin gallery Kuckei + Kuckei had an awesome display of excellent paintings and photo works. The best of the bunch were two colossal Mt. St. Michel (Wohnmobile) paintings of Ingmar Alge, which depict caravans of camping RV's roaming along Northern France. Each painting measures 182 by 272 cm and is neatly divided by the horizon line into varying sections of detail and monochromatic color fields (18,000 DM.)
Kuckei + Kuckei also featured the visually confusing, funny and complicated photo works of Louis Renner. Although the Austrian artist utilizes the photographic process to render his tableau pieces, his studies with Gerhard Richter clearly inform this work. Renner thinks of himself more along the lines of a studio painter who constructs his own pictures rather than documenting the real world. For nearly a decade, he has created a number of bizarre, hard-to-read reconstructions of his first artist's studio.
Often, the game for the viewer is to figure out what is real in the picture and what is not, as the objects within the image -- both oversized and miniature models -- are often difficult to decipher. A close look at the works often reveals the visual inconsistencies, such as a plastic lighter which looms gigantic compared to the collection of mini artist's tools in the constructed studio. Two works by Renner were on view: Neonlicht (1999) and Schwindelfrei (1997) both measuring a massive 180 by 225 cm and priced at 22,000 DM. Neonlicht was purchased by the Art Frankfurt offices.
Another interesting aspect of the fair was two groupings of interconnected young artists' groups, Netzwerk of Offenbach (a suburb of Franfkurt, which some have likened to New York's Williamsburg neighborhood) and Saas Fee of Frankfurt. Both groups provided comfortable environments in which passers-by could participate with interactive, electronic media projects. For instance, at Netzwerk, one could position oneself in front of retro green and black monitor, plug into the earphones and control sound features such as the "reverb" or "loop position" on custom electronic dance tracks.
Netzwerk and Saas Fee function not only as groups of artists working experimentally with computers and computer installations, but also as design firms who cater to the greater corporate structure. This might seem odd, as computer artists often position themselves as rebels rather than beneficiaries of corporate hierarchy. Both Netzwerk and Saas Fee displayed a number of enticing light boxes, evoking ubiquitous outdoor advertising displays (3,200-10,000 DM). The lightboxes featured
imaginary depictions of the world as rendered by architectural modeling programs.
Saas Fee, a group of five artists from Frankfurt who specialize in electronic media, was responsible for the most engaging aspect of the installation. A cozy lounge fitted with about a dozen stations enabled passers-by to strap on a pair of headphones and miniature LED video goggles and toggle through the group's archive of video and sound works. One can check out the works on www.saasfee.de.
STEPHEN HILGER is a writer and artist currently living in Los Angeles.