The Year in Review: Frieze Editors on Art in 2023

From gallery expansions and closures to social media complicating relational aesthetics, three frieze editors discuss the year in art

BY Sean Burns, Marko Gluhaich AND Chloe Stead in Opinion | 11 DEC 23

Chloe Stead I feel as though this year has been marked more by the continuation of past trends rather than the emergence of new ones.

Sean Burns London is a good example. Many of the new spaces established around or after BREXIT – Ginny on Frederick, Rose Easton, Harlesden High Street, etc. – contribute to a distinctive scene in the city. There’s a real appetite for art here that I haven’t seen before – for example, Jenkin van Zyl’s show at Edel Assanti had a queue around the block! While younger spaces continue to develop and find their feet, institutions, such as Hayward Gallery, Tate and the Royal Academy, have delivered monumental exhibitions by well-established names, including Hiroshi Sugimoto, Isaac Julien and William Kentridge.

Marko Gluhaich This year, New York was pretty safe, pretty boring. It’s an anxious time for the art world: one consequence being that mid-sized galleries have been in crisis. Three recent closures – Cheim & Read, JTT and Queer Thoughts – forebode the challenges of operating in a tenuous and volatile market.

A recent career highlight was working on the oral history of Orchard Gallery for this year’s May issue of frieze. The members’ concerns about the art market’s power are totally realized now, 15 years later, especially regarding the pressure on artists to fill several thousand-square-feet gallery spaces and conversely dealers to rent outrageous spaces.

orchard gallery
Screening at Orchard of a new print of Michael Asher’s 1973, 2005. Courtesy: R.H. Quaytman

SB I'm not suggesting that the atmosphere in London is entirely free of anxiety, but it does appear that more people are finding available spaces, presumably at semi-reasonable cost. How’s it looking in Berlin?

CS I wouldn’t say I’ve noticed a flurry of new spaces, but perhaps that’s because I’ve aged out of knowing recent grads who typically establish them. On the other hand, Berlin Art Week was really buzzing. There were the usual dinners and openings but there were also big museum events too, most of which seemed to have some kind of performance or music component. Louisa Elderton wrote a great opinion piece about Berlin bringing DJs into its cultural institutions, which is really all about getting bodies back into museums. Compared to New York or London, this kind of thing is quite new in Germany, where I don’t think institutions face the same kind of pressure to sell tickets.

MG Speaking of drawing crowds, when I visited Rirkrit Tiravanija’s survey at MoMA PS1, they were presenting untitled (pad thai) [1990] as a performance, inviting the audience to receive the pad thai once the chefs finished cooking. However, when it was ready, the crowd became mob-like and swarmed the stage, phones out, recording themselves snatching the food. The show complicated the idea of ‘relational aesthetics’ existing today with the boundary between viewers and artworks additionally pronounced by phone screens.

Rirkrit, Pad Thai
Rirkrit Tiravanija, untitled 1990 (pad thai), 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and MoMA PS1; photograph: Marissa Alper

CS I’m reminded of Göksu Kunak’s performance, Venus [2023], at Neue Nationalgalerie during Berlin Art Week. They were topless, wearing just a pair of red tights, and making the most incredible shapes while standing on the roof of a BMW. But there were so many people that I couldn’t see the performance at all. I could only experience it in static images afterwards on Instagram and in the media.

SB It feels like the overarching trend we’re skirting around is ‘art as social media spectacle’.

CS Performance is a practice. It takes time to develop, but some museums seem to throw on a performance whenever there’s an opening, meaning the work just feels rushed.

SB I’ve been saying for several years that the body art movement of the 1990s is ripe for reappraisal. I’m ready for performance not to be bad dance.

The Rite of Spring
Pina Bausch, The Rite of Spring, 1975–2023, performance view. Courtesy: Pina Bausch Foundation; photograph: Maarten Vanden Abeele

CS At the beginning of the year I saw a performance of Pina Bausch's ‘The Rite of Spring’ by a newly formed company of dancers from across Africa. You could see that the dancers, who were at the absolute top of their game, had been training for hours a day. So, when you visit a gallery and see someone just rolling around on the floor, it’s difficult to be impressed.

MG For me, the strongest presentations this year weren’t readymade for documentation: for instance, the textile-based masterworks of Sonia Gomes, who exhibited in São Paulo at both the biennial and Pinacoteca and even showed up in Alvaro Barrington’s great show at Sadie Coles, London. Similarly, Pacita Abad brought her incredible painted quilts to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Even the concurrent exhibitions by Sarah Sze and Gego at the Guggenheim, where fragility and delicate craftsmanship were on display, could only be experienced in person. I also should mention Pope.L’s massive installation at 52 Walker, Vigilance a.k.a Dust Room [2023], whose size, sound and intricacy overwhelmed.

Sarah Sze – Timelapse
Sarah Sze, Things Caused to Happen (Oculus), 2023, installation view. Courtesy: © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York; photograph: David Heald

SB Following Marko’s observation, I have seen a lot of interesting sculpture – Jonathan Baldock, Jesse Darling, Rhea Dillon, Phoebe Collings-James, Jack O’Brien, to name a few. Conversely, there’s been a lot of murky painting I would characterize as having ‘forced eccentricity’ or somewhat ‘unconvincing eccentricity’. Not to name any names!

MG I haven’t seen too much painting that I liked this year. I appreciated two shows dealing with ephemera: one by stanley brouwn at coleção moraes-barbosa, another by Jac Leirner at the Swiss Institute and finally Dan Graham at Marian Goodman, all provided outlines of the artists’ lives and practices.

There was some exciting photography: Katherine Hubbard, who contributed to our October issue, had a great body of work at Company Gallery; the pieces she made in collaboration with her mother considering the difficulty of end-of-life care and memory loss were beautiful.

Katherine Hubbard, one fifty one (syzygy), 2022. Courtesy: the artist and Company Gallery, New York
Katherine Hubbard, one fifty one (syzygy), 2022. Courtesy: the artist and Company Gallery, New York

CS On the topic of care, I recently commissioned a review of a show by Ima-Abasi Okon at Kunstverein in Hamburg. She’s one of several artists I see working with contracts, another example being 2023 Turner Prize nominee Ghislaine Leung. I was struck by one work by Okon [^^^^ ..., 2018], in which the artist agreed to provide The Showroom in London with handmade dishwasher tablets. I’m simplifying quite a complex piece, but if she didn’t have time to go to the studio to produce these tablets due to her ‘waged labour’ and ‘recovery from waged labour’ the staff were obliged to wash the dishes by hand.

SB I sometimes have limited patience for this kind of work. I understand it but who’s it speaking to? I’m not saying art should be easy or populist, but there needs to be some invitation to the audience to engage. I want to feel it.

MG I’m tired of didactic, dystopian projects about how terrible the world is – a trend this year of simply reproducing rather than challenging the conditions of capitalism within exhibition spaces. This year’s São Paolo Biennial, however, served as a model for more nuanced and various curation.

Denilson Baniwa with Jerá Guarani, Kaá, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo​​
Denilson Baniwa with Jerá Guarani, Kaá, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo​​

CS To wrap up this conversation, I’ll end by also talking about my favourite show – Martin Wong’s ‘Malicious Mischief’ at KW Institute for Contemporary Art. Some of his paintings, particularly the ones with horny depictions of cops, correction officers and prison inmates didn’t feel very PC in a way that I found refreshing. It’s a travesty that this show wasn’t picked up by an institution in the US when he was such a quintessentially American artist. 

SB Matthew Arthur Williams, a young photographer, produces work with great sensitivity and care. He presented found objects from his family archive at Dundee Contemporary Arts in a way that I thought was beautiful. For similar reasons, I also really liked Mike Silva’s show at The Approach.

MG I loved ‘Essay towards the Museum of Origins’ across Itaú Cultural and Instituto Tomie Ohtake in São Paolo. The exhibition proposed different decolonial perspectives to the museum format, reframing what museological thinking could be by sharing demonstrative mini-programmes from museums across Brazil. That was one of the most surprising and informative shows that I saw this year.

Main image: 35th Bienal de São Paulo, Choreographies of the Impossible, 2023, exhibition view. Courtesy: © Levi Fanan / Fundação Bienal de São Paulo

Sean Burns is an artist, writer and assistant editor of frieze based in London, UK. His book Death (2023) is out now from Tate Publishing.

Marko Gluhaich is associate editor of frieze. He lives in New York, USA.

Chloe Stead is assistant editor of frieze. She lives in Berlin, Germany.