Frieze New York was more interactive than ever in 2019, featuring a live performance by Nigerian-born US-based artist ruby onyinyechi amanze.
When the May weather is just right (bright, warm and crisp but not too hot), the ferry ride up the East River to Randall’s Island is one of the great pleasures in life. Chugging along the river, the viewer has an unimpeded view of New York’s impressive skyline, before seeing, like a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel, the bright, white tent of the Frieze art fair twinkling in the sun from its home on Randall’s Island Park.
Now in its eighth year, the fair has become one of the highlights of the New York art calendar. In 2019, it hosted galleries from 26 countries, including many emerging and lesser-known names alongside heavy-hitting regulars. It spread to Manhattan with the launch of the new Frieze Sculpture Park at the Rockefeller Centre. It focused thematically on virtual reality and self-taught artists and included a section celebrating Latin American and Latinx art.
Arguably the most ‘instagrammable’ work at Frieze New York 2019 was The Bus by Red Grooms – a life-size depiction of a city bus and its colorful passengers, which viewers were permitted to enter. This was the first time the installation piece had been on view in over 20 years, courtesy of Marlborough Gallery. Other big draws included an impressive two-artist booth featuring Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden (comprising multiple polished silver balls) and Chris Ofili’s large-scale watercolor (in fact, his largest to date), to take and to give. Elsewhere, Lauren Halsey exhibited her large Prototype Columns - her proposal for the work won her the 2019 Frieze Artist Award and the budget to realize her artwork at this year’s fair – while artist Steve Keen made a splash by painting live at the booth of New York-based gallery PPOW.
How Deutsche Bank’s partnership with Frieze broke new ground in 2019
A record-breaking 1,500 people visited the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge at Frieze New York in 2019, as part of a program of activities organized by Deutsche Bank around the fair, including a panel on diversity and inclusion as well as a roundtable on impact investing for NextGen wealth clients. “Frieze New York was a wild success,” comments Patrick Campion, Head of Wealth Management Americas. “We're fortunate to have two Frieze fairs in our region – Frieze New York and Frieze Los Angeles – that we can leverage to help build our brand in these key markets.”
“For Deutsche Bank, supporting emerging artists is part of its own history, its own DNA,” adds Fabrizio Campelli, Global Head, Deutsche Bank Wealth Management. “The Art, Culture & Sports department has done this for over 40 years. Our collection was built precisely to support new artists and the communities in which we operate.”
One example of this rising talent is ruby onyinyechi amanze, the featured artist in the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounge at Frieze New York 2019. Her conceptually dense drawings explore the limits of identity, reality and the paper itself, as well as “the body and its potential in pushing against boundaries and feeling exuberance,” explains Liz Christensen, Senior Curator, Deutsche Bank. “Her images of hybridized beings are a metaphor for our modern world, where definitions for terms related to nationality, race and gender are all becoming increasingly fluid.”
amanze’s work is well-suited to the Deutsche Bank collection, which is predominantly made up of works on paper. “Drawing is quite a solitary act for me, so it's nice to take that work and the ideas I want to convey and have external input from people with different skills and ways of thinking,” she says of her experience working with Deutsche Bank. “I enjoy being able to solve a problem as part of a team, to be at a table with an architect and a designer, or a mathematician and a poet. We can arrive at something so beautiful together that I alone in the studio may never get to.”
How a live performance by ruby onyinyechi amanze captivated the Frieze New York crowds
Deutsche Bank also supported a live performance by amanze and fellow Nigerian-American artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji. Lasting three and a half hours, this took place outside the tent on the lawn, so that those without access to the Lounge were able to experience amanze’s work, furthering the element of collaboration and inclusion fostered at this year’s fair.
For twin: a performance + drawing (a new iteration of a live work created in 2013), amanze and Ogunji were tied together at the wrist of one hand, with the other free to draw on a large piece of Plexiglass. “Each reacted to the other’s movements, much like a dance, sometimes mirroring each other but always in coordination with and aware of each other,” says Christensen. Indeed, this sense of partnership is something that is at the heart of amanze’s live work: “The majority of performances I've been a part of have involved other people,” adds amanze. “I prefer it this way and enjoy in particular performing with Wura-Natasha Ogunji. We're both distance runners and rather enjoy the endurance possibilities in performative work: what it means to push the body beyond comfort, but at the same time to be so comfortable that you transcend the body. You enter a different zone entirely and the people, the environment, the time – they all just slip away.”
The performance embodied the themes explored in amanze’s drawings, for both amanze and Ogunji thought of it as “a way to draw in space,” she explains. “Twin is ultimately just a conversation between two artists. In many ways, our conversations are a behind-the-scenes part of the studio practice. So, to perform this togetherness, and to explore the medium that is central to both of our work alongside the drawings that were produced in the studio, feels to me as if it's all one story. In some ways, to perform Twin is like entering the drawing and personifying the two-dimensional form.”
Frieze New York ran from May 2–5 2019.
For a further interview with ruby onyinyechi amanze, click here. You can also see a video of the Frieze New York performance here. The live drawing created at Frieze New York will be shown this autumn at Fridman Gallery in New York (opening Sept 12) alongside a drawing produced for a previous ‘twin” performance by the artists at MoCADA in 2013. Additionally, two large drawings by amanze from the Deutsche Bank Collection will be on view at the Bank’s 60 Wall Street lobby beginning July 2019.
Anna Wallace-Thompson is an arts and culture writer based in London.