Frieze Masters goes Pop

Published 12 October 2015

Looking for something unusual at the October art fairs? Head for Frieze Masters Spotlight section.

  • Where in London can you step from 1960s Japanese psychedelia to post-war American abstraction to apartheid-era South African photography in just a few paces? The ever-popular Spotlight section of Frieze Masters. Running concurrently with its contemporary art sister Frieze London, Frieze Masters offers a present-day lens on historical art and, in Spotlight, 15 galleries present solo exhibitions by a diverse range of 20th-century artists who have been overlooked and deserve reassessment.

    Pimentel’s take on Pop manifests as acrylic and oil paintings that from a distance could be mistaken for prints, with images of window frames and doors left ajar that are metaphors for imprisonment. The Brazilian is one of only three women being shown, alongside the Romanian Ana Lupas (at P420, Bologna) – whose work sits at the intersection of tapestry, sculpture and architecture – and the Japanese-Brazilian abstract sculptor and painter Tomie Ohtake (at Galeria Nara Roesler, São Paulo).

    In previous years, artists shown in Spotlight have gone on to enjoy significant reconsideration globally. Whether or not this will be the case for this year’s artists remains to be seen, but the Spotlight section nevertheless offers some eye-opening art in its own right, different from the familiar roll call of masters elsewhere in the fair.

    Spotlight’s new curator Clara M. Kim has been proactive in approaching galleries whose artists fit the bill. Two particular trends she has noted this year are global Pop art (coinciding with Tate Modern’s exhibition The World Goes Pop) and African American artists. Jo Stella-Sawicka, Frieze’s Artistic Director, describes this African American focus as something that is “going to be seen more and more in museums”. Two first-time Frieze Masters galleries, Stephen Friedman Gallery from London and Alexander Gray Associates from New York, present the sculptor Melvin Edwards and the abstract painter Jack Whitten respectively.

    Edwards’ powerful and polemical abstract steel sculptures – both freestanding and relief – often incorporate chains and overt political references. “[He] is one of the best American sculptors,” wrote Michael Brenson in the New York Times in 1988. “He is also one of the least known.” His reputation has been increasing since autumn 2011, however, when he was included in the group exhibition, Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980 at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles. Kim, who is a former senior curator at the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, now resides in Los Angeles and was previously Director of the gallery at the city’s REDCAT art centre, so Edwards’ inclusion is a sign of her new perspective on Spotlight.

    The two Pop artists on show are Keiichi Tanaami (at Tokyo gallery Nanzuka) and Wanda Pimentel (at Anita Schwartz Galeria de Arte, Rio de Janeiro), both of whom Stella-Sawicka describes as legends in their local context but little known globally. Tanaami’s psychedelic art (P.B. Grand Prix 02, 1968) ranges across painting, printmaking, drawing and animation. His images of rainbows, distorted cartoon characters and religious iconography draw on influences as diverse as his memories of the Great Tokyo Air Raid of 1945, Japanese Neo-Dadaism, Andy Warhol, his stint as the first art director of the Japanese edition of Playboy, and the hallucinations he suffered following a near fatal pulmonary oedema in 1981.

    Anna McNay, (@annamcnay) is Deputy Editor at State media and Arts Editor for DIVA Magazine.

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