Frieze New York 2021: Human Faces

Five styles of artistic facial representation at the in-person art fair

60 galleries presented work at the Frieze New York art fair, in-person at The Shed. The first group event of its kind within the boundaries of NYC, Frieze (which continues digitally until 14 May) provided attendees with an opportunity to bask in the brilliance of as-yet-unseen artwork, to reconnect with the cultural dialogue around the power and purpose of art, and to appraise the industry as a whole—well over a year since the beginning of a global pandemic. Attendance was limited, by the day and hour. Proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test were requirements, as were masks. This, combined with an impressive array of artwork, meant that Frieze carried more value than before.

As a herald of an art world reawakening, powerful themes ran through the fair. None, however, seemed more alluring to its masked visitors than art that portrayed the human face. The selected work from the five artists we showcase below asked for our gaze, and met it with eyes unlike any seen elsewhere. At Frieze, we found humanity represented on the walls and, for the first time in more than 14 months, we were able to observe it while in the company of others.

Lorraine O’Grady’s “Dream” and “Gaze”

Within the four parts of both “Dream” (1991/2019) and “Gaze” (1991/2019), conceptual artist Lorraine O’Grady layered intimate portraits of the same person, taken nearly 20 years apart. These archival pigment prints bind the past and present, allowing viewers to travel with the subject and observe the passage of time. Alexander Gray Associates presented the works, which are also on view in their online viewing room.

Karon Davis’ “Anoma”

A highlight for our entire editorial teamKaron Davis‘ “Anoma” (2021) was one of several works by the artist at the Wilding Cran Gallery‘s presentation in Frieze’s FRAME division (where galleries dedicate their booth to the work of one artist). Davis’ installation of sculptural portraits employed plaster strips, glass eyes, steel, shells and wood to contrast classical and contemporary elements.

Sarah Ball’s “Anthony”

With oil on linen, British artist Sarah Ball produces intimate portraiture that probes the identity of her subjects. “Anthony” (2020) embodies this craft and Ball’s quest for the person inspiring the painting. It was shown by Stephen Friedman Gallery, at the first major presentation of Ball’s work since the London-based gallery began to represent her.

Ewa Juszkiewicz’s “Untitled (after Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun)”

Warsaw-based painter Ewa Juszkiewicz‘s Renaissance-inspired oil paintings subvert expectation, masking the faces of her subject matter while drenching them in Rococo splendor. “Untitled (after Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun)” (2021) finds the woman within wrapped in her dress though her position remains undisturbed. Presenting by Gagosian, the surrealist canvas works pair expert stylistic imitation with unprecedented imagination.

Leyla Faye’s “One Eye Open”

Presented by the East Village’s Half Gallery, Leyla Faye‘s “One Eye Open” (2021)—an acrylic and mixed media on canvas work—does more than illuminate one face. The artist positions her character within a scene of mysterious nighttime intensity. Form and color allow each viewer to imagine the scene coming to life.

Images by David Graver, hero image of Blessing Ngobeni’s “Decorated Racism (money is like shit)”