in Frieze New York | 08 APR 24

Rivers, Ruins and Ritual: Land Politics at Frieze New York 2024

From models of Southern shacks to burning branches in darkest Poland, Frieze New York has a wealth of work devoted to disputed territories, cultural abandonment and economic despair  

in Frieze New York | 08 APR 24

In a world riven by wars, disputed territories, ecological catastrophes and the continued marginalization of indigenous peoples, it’s perhaps not surprising that land politics appear across Frieze New York in many different guises this year. 

While the specific concerns of each artist differ, there are common themes: the significance of certain organic materials; a sense of archival responsibility; the distinction between the rural and the urban; and the capitalist exploitation of culture and landscape that results in obliteration or occlusion.  

Beverly Buchanan (1940 - 2015) Wooden Shack, 2001. Wood and glue 12 x 15.5 x 9.5 inches
Beverly Buchanan, Wooden Shack, 2001. Wood and glue, 30 × 39.4 × 24.3 cm. Courtesy Andrew Edlin

One artist who embodies several of these strands is Beverly Buchanan at Andrew Edlin Gallery. A native Southerner, Buchanan (1940–2015) drew on memories from her childhood and the landscape of Georgia, plus the “yard art” of local self-taught artists. She created sculptures called “shacks” in tribute to the improvised, self-built homes of poor rural Black Southern communities. These are on show at Frieze along with works on paper, 1970s abstract expressionist paintings and cast concrete works for which Buchanan made her own “tabby” cement from crushed oyster shells. The gallery notes: “These sculptures are imbued with the unmistakable touch of the artist: her lines of red, blue and black paint remain after decades of weathering. Vertical indentations in the last stone piece are reminiscent of her Wall Columns sculpture from 1981, part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection.”

Karol Palczak, Portret w dymie, 2024. Oil on aluminium fixed on plywood, 16 × 19 × 2 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Emalin, London. Photo by Błażej Pindor
Karol Palczak, Portret w dymie, 2024. Oil on aluminium fixed on plywood, 16 × 19 × 2 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Emalin, London. Photo by Błażej Pindor

Another artist rooted in a disappearing landscape is Karol Palczak, on a joint stand from Emalin and LC Queisser. Living in rural Poland, Palczak bears witness to the economic strain and depopulation of his part of the country. His new paintings are of the burning of branches, an archaic folk ritual pursued by the futureless men left behind in his village.

Abel Rodruguez, El arbol de la vida y la abundancia, 2023. Ink on paper. Courtesy Instiuto de Vision
Abel Rodríguez, El arbol de la vida y la abundancia, 2023. Ink on paper. Courtesy the artist and Instituto de Visión

Instituto de Visión has a group presentation that also reflects the perception of—and engagement with—the natural world. Across works by five renowned Latin American artists, Tania Candiani, Carolina Caycedo, Claudia Fontes, Nohemí Pérez and Abel Rodríguez, the exhibition investigates the connection between the words “forest” and “foreign.” In the medieval world, the forest was where the unknown dwelt, so its inhabitants were perceived as foreign. The works discuss how contemporary Latin American art understands natural objects as animated entities, as opposed to the Western approach that so often appropriates, colonizes and exploits. The theme also echoes this year’s Venice Biennale, which is entitled “Foreigners Everywhere.”

Ríos de gente (Rivers of People) 2021. Four-channel video installation. Courtesy of Proyectos Ultravioleta
Regina José Galindo, Ríos de gente (Rivers of People), 2021. Four-channel video installation. Courtesy of Proyectos Ultravioleta

In another group exhibition, Proyectos Ultravioleta looks at different ways to understand, and relate to, nature. Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s engraved surfaces suggest tangled jungly plants underwritten with dark stories of colonization. Akira Ikezoe teases out connections in our surroundings. Regina José Galindo acknowledges the indigenous communities fighting for water rights in Guatemala. Vivian Suter’s garden links the manmade and the natural. Johanna Unzueta's meditative drawings subtly change over time, becoming, in the words of the artist “plants themselves.” And Edgar Calel abandons the viewer in a forest at night. 

Seung taek Lee Tied Knife 1 9 62/1970s Knife, rope 2.3 × 32.2 × 18.8 inches / 6 × 82 × 48 cm Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Hyundai
Seung-taek Lee, Tied Knife, 1962/1970s. Knife, rope, 6 x 82 x 48 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Gallery Hyundai

With a practice spanning seven decades, Seung-taek Lee has been witness to more change than most. This pioneer of the Korean avant-garde, showing at Gallery Hyundai, has always placed ecological concerns within his work, often using humble handmade tools and pots bound with rope as expressions perhaps of frustrated agency and alteration, alongside his famous “non-material” works using wind and other intangible natural elements.

Finding a path is also at the heart of the presentation from LA’s Commonwealth and Council. Suki Seokyeong Kang, Beatriz Cortez and Clarissa Tossin interweave craft traditions with modern technologies, from Tossin’s spliced-together NASA space images and woven Amazon boxes, to Kang’s use of Korean art traditions, dance and music, to Cortez’s ceaseless circulation and transmutation of matter through volcanic eruptions and exploding meteors.

Nohemí Pérez, Panorama Catatumbo (I) 2012–16. Charcoal on canvas, 180 × 500 cm
Nohemí Pérez, Panorama Catatumbo (I) 2012–16. Charcoal on canvas, 180 × 500 cm. Courtesy mor charpentier

Finally, Nohemí Pérez’s Panorama Catatumbo (I), on display at mor charpentier, is a work with a dark narrative of colonial exploitation and an equally dark history. It was once shipped back to her after a show only for Pérez to discover that customs agents had slashed the work, probably looking for narcotics. She repaired the cuts with embroidery, a technique that has since become a staple of her practice. 

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Frieze New York is supported by global lead partner Deutsche Bank, continuing over two decades of a shared commitment to artistic excellence.

Main image: Regina José Galindo, Ríos de gente (Rivers of People), 2021. Photograph on cotton paper, 100 x 177.7 cm. Courtesy of Proyectos Ultravioleta.