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Frieze London 2016

The Nineties Now

Caroline Roux talks to section curator Nicolas Trembley and gallerists about the decade the art world changed

BY Nicolas Trembley AND Caroline Roux in Frieze Week Magazine | 29 AUG 16

Michael Landy, Market (detail), 1990

Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane, London
Karen Kilimnik, Fountain of Youth, installation view at The Brant Foundation, 2012

Courtesy The Brant Foundation, Greenwich, Connecticut. Photo: Laura Wilson
Steven Parrino, Kitten Navidad, 1991

Courtesy the artist and Galerie Andrea Caratsch, St. Moritz
Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, R.W.F. (Rainer Werner Fassbiner), 1993

Courtesy the artist and Esther Schipper, Berlin
Pierre Joseph, Character to be Reactivated (Policeman), 1993

Courtesy the artist and Air de Paris, Paris
Massimo De Carlo mopping his premises during Roman Signer's 'Flooding the Space', 1993

Courtesy Massimo De Carlo, Milan, London and Hong Kong
Wolfgang Tillmans, installation view at Buchholz & Buchholz, Cologne, 1993

Courtesy the artist and Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne
Richard Billingham, Untitled, from the series 'Ray's a Laugh', 1990-6

Courtesy the artist and Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London
Colin de Land and Lisa Spellman outside 303 Gallery in 1986

Courtesy 303 Gallery, New York

'Artists were in a very liberated position in the 1990s', says Nicolas Trembley, the curator who invited 14 galleries to participate in The Nineties, a special section at Frieze London dedicated to the seminal exhibitions of that decade. 'Ideas and politics were more important than objects - there was a kind of dematerialisation', Trembley continues, 'the artists were free to question to the context of art, and engage the social issues of the time - the breakdown of the Berlin wall, the AIDs crisis, and the emergence of the web.' 'You had artists working with design, like Jorge Pardo, and with literature, like Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno. Performance, video ... It’s clearer now how it all works together, and it seems like the right moment to take an objective look. But it’s certainly not about nostalgia.'

Trembley wanted to take a broad view and, in spite – or perhaps because – of the fair’s London location, to not over-privilege the young British artists (or ‘YBAs’) in the story of the Nineties. So while Michael Landy’s Market (1990) – an eerily minimal installation of Astroturf-covered stalls – is reprised at the fair in a new form by Thomas Dane and Karsten Schubert, the section also maps a wider terrain, stretching from Steven Parrino’s collaborations with the likes of Colin de Land in New York (presented by Andrea Carratsch), to Daniel Pflumm’s nightclub on Berlin’s Invalidenstrasse (paid tribute to by Galerie Neu), and populated by figures like Mark Dion, Andrea Fraser and Heimo Zobernig (all participants in Christian Nagel’s landmark 1992 ‘Wohzimmer/Büro’, restaged at Galerie Nagel Drexler), and Sylvie Fleury (subject of a joint presentation by Mehdi Chouakri, Sprüth Magers and Salon 94). ‘It was important to recreate some seminal shows’, says Trembley. ‘And in that sense, it is a sort of time capsule, with Wolfgang Tillmans’ first show for Buchholz and the room by Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster at Esther Schipper. That’s not the sort of thing you’d usually see at a fair, but it turns out the work is still available and the market’s finally ready for it now.’

Lisa Spellman, 303 Gallery, New York

'There were many divergent movements – in the feminist movement, ‘goddess art’ and ‘victim art’, for example – and then there were people like Karen Kilimnik and Jessica Stockholder, who established their practices right out of the gate as challenging all boundaries: between painting and installation, between romantic and popular culture. Their work showed that anything was possible. It gave you permission to do what you want.'

Esther Schipper, Esther Schipper, Berlin

'The digital age led many artists to move away from defining their work within the traditional categories of ‘painter’, ‘sculptor’ or ‘photographer’. They took up where conceptual art from the 1960s and ’70s left off and used the medium best suited to the expression of their ideas. The exhibition itself became the medium, and the viewer part of it.'

Florence Bonnefous, Air de Paris, Paris

'We suggested Pierre Joseph’s ‘Characters to be Reactivated’ – a series created between 1991 and 1995, where a ‘living sculpture’ would appear in the gallery on day one, and then be replaced by a photograph thereafter. The person buying the photograph was granted the right to ‘reactivate’ the character – they can bring them back to life in another setting or situation. We tried to get back some of the photographs from people who’d originally bought them (often for just a couple of hundred pounds), but no one wanted to sell them.'

Massimo de Carlo, Galeria Massimo de Carlo, Milan

'When I opened my gallery at the end of the 1980s, Milan was a city known for fashion and design. I was still working as a pharmacist in the evenings: that was how I supported myself, then in the day I could look after my artists.'

Daniel Buchholz, Galerie Buchholz, Cologne

'By 1993, I was doing shows in a very small space behind my father’s antiquarian book store (different from our current Cologne address) that we named Buchholz&Buchholz. I met Wolfgang in that year after I saw his photographs in i-D magazine. For Wolfgang’s first show with me, his first gallery exhibition, he made an all-over installation in which he hung unframed photographs with magic tape next to pages from the magazine, straight onto the wall. To me it felt like something new.'

Anthony Reynolds, Anthony Reynolds Gallery, London

'A crucial change was the international attention that was increasingly being paid to British artists. The shows ‘Freeze’ and ‘Gambler’ and the YBAs had seen to that. In 1997, ‘Sensation’ [an exhibition of works from Charles Saatchi’s collection] blew the lid off: I think there were over 30 Richard Billinghams in that show. The London art world had changed for ever.'

This article is taken from the latest issue of Frieze Week, the essential companion to the wealth of art and activity taking place in the city during Frieze London and Frieze Masters. To view more from Frieze Week, click here.

Nicolas Trembely is a critic, exhibition curator and Curator of the Syz Collection, based in Paris and Geneva.

Caroline Roux has written about contemporary art, architecture and design for 20 years and contributes regularly to the Financial Times and The Economist.