Space, Community and the Gay Playground of the Piers: “Focus” at Frieze New York 2024

Frieze / Mar 16, 2024 / Go to Original

Focus returns to Frieze New York at The Shed, May 1–5, 2024. Curated for the first time this year by Lumi Tan (curator, writer and Curatorial Director at Luna Luna, Los Angeles), Focus comprises 11 galleries presenting emerging or under-appreciated artists in solo shows. This year’s edition features galleries from across Brazil, China, Portugal, the United States and Canada, including four new participants: Central Galeria, Kapp Kapp, Madragoa and Patron. Tan said: “This year’s Focus section promotes an expanded definition of discovery that extends beyond age or exposure. In this truly intergenerational group of artists, audiences will recognize innovators who have long represented stories and perspectives overlooked by dominant culture. It’s a thrilling opportunity to bring those who have been steadfast in their position for decades together with younger artists who share throughlines in their artistic and societal concerns.”

Hayley Tompkins, Speaker, 2022. Acrylic on panel, 120 × 80 cm © Hayley Tompkins. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Brown; photo by Paul Salveso

Frieze New York 2024 marks Hayley Tompkins’s first solo exhibition at an art fair, presented by Matthew Brown. Tompkins shows a new series of panel works, including her largest painting to date, and an installation of acrylic-drenched everyday objects, such as shirts and school chairs. Oscillating between angular, repetitive marks and sensuous brushwork, Tompkins’s paintings are richly layered spaces that contract the distance between the physical and the pictorial.

Sara Chang Yan, Alinhamentos #32, 2023. Acrylic plaster, acrylic paint, cut-out-removal-incision on constructed wooden plane. 1.6 × 1.7 m. Courtesy the artist and Madragoa

Seeking to “draw the character-force-energy-state that precedes form,” Sara Chang Yan disrupts the surface of her work with cuts, reliefs and translucent layers. Presented by Madragoa, Chang Yan’s series “Alinhamentos” develops her interest in space and visibility, which she also explores across her video, sound and installation work. The drawings evade a fixed vantage point, their irregular contours offering multiple dynamic orientations. 

Carmézia Emiliano, wazaká – tree of life, 2022. Oil on canvas, 70 × 60 cm. Courtesy the artist and Central Galeria; photo by rodrigo guedes da silva 

Spotlighted by Central Galeria, Carmézia Emiliano’s practice is rooted in the land and life of the Macuxi peoples, and in particular the Maloca do Japó community, which lies in the Amazonian tri-border area of Brazil, Venezuela and Guyana, where the artist was born. Emiliano paints the landscapes, mythology, celebrations and objects of Macuxi culture. She foregrounds the role of women in the communities and their connection to their natural surroundings, presenting the Amazon as an active subject in this relationship. Pointing to the ongoing obliteration of indigenous culture, Emiliano positions memorialization at the core of her approach. She writes: “I paint indigenous culture so as not to leave myself behind.”

Stanley Stellar, Robert Pedantic, 1983. Archival pigment print, 51 × 41 cm. Courtesy the artist and Kapp Kapp

Historically, New York photographer Stanley Stellar has only shown black-and-white photographs, but at Kapp Kapp’s booth, the artist presents “The Piers in Color”—ten previously unseen color images of New York City’s gay piers of the 1970s–80s. The Shed’s position, just steps from the old pier structures, adds poignancy to the presentation, connecting directly to the queer history of the city. The photographs will be hung against a large-scale black-and-white image of an emptied pier, presenting the scenes Stellar photographed as a fleeting moment of queer utopia before the devastation of HIV/AIDS.

Hasani Sahelhe, Brown Skin, 2023. Acrylic gel on raw canvas, 1.5 × 1.2 m. Courtesy the artist and Tif Sigfrids

Hasani Sahlehe pours acrylic gel over raw canvas, guiding it into starkly contrasting color blocks with his hands. Tif Sigfrids presents five new paintings, which mark a new direction in Sahlehe’s practice towards a more performative and sculptural approach. The edges of his gestures are tremulous, sparking a rhythm both within and between his canvases. 

Reverend Joyce McDonald, Beauty in the Midst (Victorious), 2024. Glazed ceramic, oil paint, epoxy and found object, 17 × 11 × 3 cm. Courtesy of Gordon Robichaux; photo by Ryan Page

Self-taught artist, activist and minister, Reverend Joyce McDonald incorporates her experience of addiction and HIV diagnosis into tender figurative sculptures, which are presented at Frieze New York by Gordon Robichaux. Describing her role across ministry, advocacy and art as that of a “spiritual nurse,” McDonald uses sculptures, painting, poetry and song to help find healing. In small-scale works such as Beauty in the Midst (Victorious) (2024), she embeds her own life stories within a wider reflection on family, love, loss and illness. 

Charisse Pearlina Weston, “Through: The Fold, The Shatter,” installation view, 2021. Courtesy the artist and PATRON

For New York-based conceptual artist Charisse Pearlina Weston, the sense of precarity and collapse that underpins the materials of glass, photography and language make them a key means of exploring the social construction of Black interiority. In her new work, shown by Patron, Weston develops her “Black tactics of refusal,” presenting Black interior life and intimacy as sites of resistance. Weston articulates how Blackness disperses, shapeshifts and re-emerges despite the social and infrastructural politics of space and the culture of surveillance that threaten its presence.

davi de jesus do nascimento, wild fire water guarded, from the series “exorcism of pain,” 2023. Scorpion attached to a Polaroid. Courtesy of the artist and Mitre Gallery

Mitre Galeria’s presentation immerses audiences in the rich visual world of davi de jesus do nascimento. Working across painting, drawing, objects and photoperformance, nascimento draws from experiences and memories connected to his territory, community and family of fishermen, washerwomen and carranqueiros, on the banks of Brazil’s São Francisco River. 

Maureen Gruben, Nakataq IV, 2022. Hand etchings on photo prints, 76 × 127 cm. Courtesy the artist and Cooper Cole

Maureen Gruben’s solo show with Cooper Cole honors the life work of her late father Eddie Gruben, who, like her mother, was a traditional Inuvialuk knowledge-keeper. Gruben’s “Fresh Artifacts” suspends three resin casts of a wooden fox stretcher used by Eddie, a renowned trapper. These structures reappear in Gruben’s series “Nakataq,” for which she hand-etches patterns based on Eddie’s stretchers and traps into a set of found photographic aerial survey prints that show the ice coverage in relation to oil wells in the Arctic Ocean. Reworking her father’s tools, Gruben transforms their locked state as items of historic value into complex, living forms. 

Tao Siqi, Lie with Me, 2023. Oil on canvas, 50 × 40 cm © the artist. Courtesy of the artist and Capsule Shanghai; photo by Ling Weizheng

Tao Siqi takes Charles Baudelaire’s poetry collection Les fleurs du mal (The Flowers of Evil) as the departure point for “Possession,” her latest series of paintings, presented by Capsule Shanghai. Tao mirrors Baudelaire’s search for beauty and innocence amid the grotesqueness and immorality. Rendered in fluorescent, saturated hues and soft brushwork, Tao’s paintings prise open moments of pain, dependence, lust, longing and destruction—intimate vignettes that lure the viewer into a realm of fluid physical and psychological sensations. In Company Gallery’s booth, Leyla Faye creates an immersive installation of a Victorian-style dollhouse, with individual paintings to depict each room. Oversized automaton-like renditions of the artist inhabit this space, engaging in acrobatic rituals involving household objects as props. Faye uses these characters to navigate performance and belonging, and explore an allegorical collision of Black and white experiences.