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A Summer in the City: New York, 2023

Nicola L
Lip lamp, 1969 - 2001
Functional lighting made of plastic and steel
R & Company, TEFAF
Courtesy of R & Company

Memorial Day weekend in the US marks the official start of summer, the last weekend in May. But New York City marks an additional occasion as such, namely the art fair season, highlighted by some extraordinary presentations of art works from all over the world, including a one of a kind museum show.

The middle of May we had The European Fine Art Fair (#TEFAF), a high-end art fair for the fine arts, antiques, design and jewelry. The fair originated in Maastricht, where it has long been regarded as the world’s premier fair, and its New York edition is top caliber as well.

From May 12th thru May 16th, in the grandiose atrium of the Park Avenue Armory, ninety-one European, American, Asian, and Latin American galleries showed their top artists, from contemporary to old masters.

Verena Loewensberg,
Mayor Gallery at TEFAF
Courtesy Mayor Gallery

A notable discovery — also shown at Frieze New York — was Austrian artist, Martha Jungwirth, in a solo show at Thaddaeus Ropac (Salzburg, Paris, London, Seoul). The soft colors in her abstract paintings, interspersed with violent bursts of bloodred/ intense magenta / fiery yellow, recalls a more visceral Cy Twombly. Jungwirth plays with physical interaction with her work, deliberately leaving finger marks, shoe prints and scratches. She has come to international recognition only recently, and at 83 years young, Jungwirth now enjoys well-deserved fame.

Another artist discovered late in life, Nicola L, was shown by R & Company. A pioneer in art and design, her “functional art,” the iconic Lip Lamp, stood out. The gallery specializes in collectible design, both from a commercial as well as a scholarly perspective, and its White Street space in New York offers a library and archive of more than 4000 books, journals, and other artist reference material. Jeff Zimmermann, a New York based artist, also exhibited at R & Company, showing glass pieces that become illuminated vessels, both a sculpture and a source of light. These glass sculptures actively engage with the experience of light, color, and the natural environment.

Peter Saul, We Are Salad, 2022
Acrylic, coloured pencil on paper, 58 x 77
Michael Werner Gallery, @Frieze
Photo Elga Wimmer

Roméo Mivekannin
Odalisque, after Jean-Joseph-Benjamin Constant, 2023
Acrylic and elixir bath on free canvas
149 x 230 cm
Cecile Fakhoury, Dakar
Photo Elga Wimmer

Martha Jungwirth
Untitled, 2022
Oil on cardboard (119 x 81 cm)
Photograph: Ulrich Ghezzi
Courtesy of Thaddaeus Ropac Gallery

Galerie Templon, having recently expanded its Paris space to include a New York location, showed Omar Ba, an artist living and working between Dakar, Geneva, and New York. As a young man covering the walls in the streets of Dakar — the artist created a large wall drawing at Alliance Francaise, New York, last fall — Omar Ba has kept the sense of rawness and multiple layers of palimpsest in his paintings. Often in his work one can see the influence of ancient African civilizations. Ancestors, divinities and monsters emerge from the black background like characters in tales told by storytellers from the artist’s native Senegal.

Verena Loewensberg’s kaleidoscopic, geometric abstract paintings, shown at Mayor Gallery, of London, reveals a mastery of color and composition in this, her recent foray into the international art scene. The Swiss artist started out as a graphic designer and was a member of the Concrete Art Movement — associated with Max Bill — in the mid to late 1930’s. Circular shapes, irregular pentagons, sharp and obtuse angles are the key components of Loewensberg’s distinctive style.

Korean artist Minjung Kim showed with Gallery Hyundai. Her minimal works, made on traditional handmade Korean hanji paper, uses candlelight flame and burning incense to etch outlines, repetitive forms such as circles, that evoke a sense of emotional healing and meditation.

Verena Loewensberg,
Galerie Mayor at TEFAF
Courtesy of the Galerie Major

Jack Whitten, Black Hands, 2015, Hauser & Wirth

The British based I-54 Contemporary African Art Fair, held since 2013 in London, with editions in New York City and Marrakech, as well as a popup in Paris, derives its name from the 54 countries that comprise the African continent, expressed as a ratio, “one continent: 54 countries”. This year’s New York edition, May 18th thru May 21st, was held in a giant industrial building in West Harlem. Twenty-six galleries from Africa, Europe and the US presented works by 80 artists from Africa and its diaspora. One of the oldest galleries of Dakar, Galerie Atiss, showed Ousmane Bå, whose works depicts figures, painted in Japanese pigment and collages on washi (Japanese paper) dancing across a large wooden panel. Unusual for an art fair, the artists were present, and in this case dressed in traditional ethnic clothing.

Another notable artist, Sana Musasama, at Eric Firestone Gallery, New York, studied ceramic craft in Japan, South America and West Africa. Her ceramic sculptures, presented here alongside furniture and design from her studio in Queens, New York, have a whimsical quality, fusing influences from her travels with nature themes and totemic related objects.

Roméo Mivekannin, showing at Cecile Fakhoury, Dakar, presented large paintings that play with gender, and self-portraiture, inserting himself as guardian to the reclining nude motif. In a painting titled Woman in Turkish Dress, Fakhoury superimposes his black features on the body of a white woman in Harem attire, recalling Matisse’s paintings in Morocco.

Frieze New York, which in recent years moved from Randall’s Island to the newly built exposition venue, The Shed (located in the Hudson Yards), stood as the center of the universe for contemporary art. Departing from the sprawling horizontal layout of a typical art fair, the unusual architecture of The Shed presents a vertical orientation, much like an upscale department store — a kind of Bergdorf Goodman of the arts, if you will.

Not for the budget minded, this is where the high rollers of the art world come to place their bets. One of the few nominally priced exceptions, however, CLEARING (New York, Los Angeles, Brussels), a gallery started 2011 in Brooklyn, New York, by French-born Olivier Babin presented emerging, alongside established artists.

A notable standout at their booth here, the life size patinated bronze sculpture, Flamingo 3,

2022, by French artist Jean-Marie Appriou. The delicate sculpture with fine legs and opulent feathering seems to have walked straight out of a medieval tapestry.

Peter Saul’s lurid caricatures of American life in popish colors — a treat for the eyes and the mind — were available at Michael Werner. Tracey Emin’s neon sign Loving You More at White Cube still makes the viewer think of the wild times in London, when the artist caused scandals by mixing her private and intimate life with her art.

The paintings by Patricia Iglesias Peco (Argentina) at Francois Ghebaly were an unexpected discovery, abstract/ figurative with a new approach of swirling energy and bright colors of blue and magenta, seen earlier also in the paintings of Martha Jungwirth.

Jack Whitten’s show at Hauser & Wirth served as a tribute to this artist discovered late in life, a marvelous installation of paintings and sculptures. In the early 1990’s during a studio visit, Jack Whitten showed me the street in front of his studio, threw a canvas, covered with paint face down, on top of the pebbles, and explained that this was the imprint of the street on his work. He has certainly made an imprint on today’s art world.

Monica Giron, showing at Barrio Gallery (Argentina), knitted wool forms of endangered birds of Patagonia. Delicate and strong at the same time, the work offers a metaphor for the fragility of environmental causes, even in the enormous, far away lands of Patagonia.

Susan Frecon, showing at David Zwirner, seems at first glance a female Ellsworth Kelly. Pristine

oil paintings in subtle forms and colors have a welcome, minimal effect, evoking an oasis of sorts, amidst the hustle and bustle of the fair on opening day.

The Independent Art Fair (May 11th thru May 14th) was held downtown at Spring Studios, on Varick Street, in the historic Battery Maritime Building. This fair’s niche is to champion artists and international avant-garde movements from 1900 to 2000, catering to well-informed collectors and museum directors.

Fridman Gallery, New York, presented videos and drawings by the young Ukrainian artist, Dana Kavelina, born 1995 in Melitopol, a city now occupied by Russian troops. Kavelina, who today resides mostly in Germany, addresses military violence, historical and individual trauma, in a touching and poetic way, distancing herself from newsreel images. She will also be participating in the 2024 edition of the Venice Biennial.

At Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery, New York, Tamara Gonzales showed her colorful paintings, with figuration derived from cave paintings and tribal art. The artist has lived with the indigenous Shipibo people of Peru, and experienced ritualistic meditation. Gonzales, now living in New York, identifies with the Indigenous people from Mexico, the roots of her family. Her imagery is close to outsider art, utilizing symbols from Indigenous cultures.

Fazakas Gallery, from Canada, specializing in contemporary Indigenous art, dedicated a solo presentation to the Kwakwaka’wakw multimedia artist, Rande Cook. Based in Victoria, British Columbia, and a hereditary chief of the Ma’amtagila people, Cook preserves ancestral stories and teachings through new material contexts. The artist tells the story of the trees, as seen through the eyes of the tribal people in his paintings on red cedar, as well as sculptures from the same media. His practice enfolds culture, science, and a collective response to the land his forebears have lived on and stewarded for thousands of years. Cook’s work invokes a sense of urgency about rising resource extraction on the Pacific Northwest Coast, lamenting the loss of old-growth forests through industrial logging.

One of this summer’s wonderful, unexpected treats is certainly the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art presentation of Karl Lagerfeld: A Line of Beauty. (May 5th thru July 16th). This retrospective of the German-born fashion designer (1933 – 2019) spans his career from the 1950’s up to the final collection in 2019. On display are 150 creations from Lagerfeld’s own personal collection, as well as Balmain, Patou, Chloe, Fendi and Chanel.

A clever curatorial innovation begins the exhibition with a very detailed, authentic recreation of Karl Lagerfeld’s work desk. It is as if the great man had merely stepped away, dropped his pencils, left unfinished sketches, notes, and even a half empty wine glass. The desk is covered in a mountain of books and magazines about travel, art and architecture; newspapers and note pads of all shapes and sizes; an open box of NEOCOLOR II AQUARELLE pastes sticks, more papers, sketches and notes. For Lagerfeld, who combined detailed technical drawing with expressive fashion illustration, creating a sketch was an end in and of itself.

A Line of Beauty depicts the evolution of Lagerfeld’s two-dimensional drawings, into three-dimensional creations. The show is divided broadly into the “serpentine” line, signifying his historic, romantic, and decorative impulses, and the “straight’ line, representing his modernist, classicist, and minimalist tendencies.

We see design sketches for the fabulous Fendi coats, which upon their debut represented a revolution in fashion, treating the design as if it were fabric and using fake fur, textiles printed with a fur pattern and upcycled remnants of previous fur designs. A coat of layered, shredded organza simulated the denseness of actual fur. Fendi to this day is continuing the non-fur fashion, with alternatives such as plant-based fur. As per one of Lagerfeld many eternal bons mots, ”You cannot fake chic, but you can be chic and fake fur.”

In 1952 young Karl Lagerfeld submitted sketches to the International Woolmark Prize and won first prize in the coat category. The winning designs were produced by leading couturiers. Pierre Balmain executed Lagerfeld’s coat, recreated here by the atelier at Balmain.

Lagerfeld’s influences derived from numerous sources, from military style to the romantic era, and the late 1700’s to the 1850’s. Empress Sissy of Austria was a big favorite, so was the Empress Eugenie of France, royal style icons of the Second Empire.

As already evident in the museum’s Costume Institute exhibition, China Through The Looking Glass, Lagerfeld embraced Orientalism, from the 18th Century decorative Chinoiserie to traditional forms of Indian dress.

Ancient Greece’s flowing dresses was also a big inspiration, demonstrated here by models in off the shoulder Grecian designs, exhibited atop pillars like Greek goddesses.

The 2009 Paris-Shanghai show, presented on an 85-meter-long barge on the Huang River, featured classical European style with a Mandarin style collar and Chinese inspired jadeite jewelry.

Lagerfeld perfectly captured the Zeitgeist in his designs, explored fashion history, borrowed from the past to make a design for the future, as in his futuristic line from the 1960’s, which mirrored the heady days of burgeoning space exploration.

The influences come from everywhere: art from Odilon Redon’s flowers; Surrealist art as trompe l’oeil; Man Ray’s violin body; Andy Warhol’s black and white uniform. Karl Lagerfeld used it all. “I am a living label. My name is Labelfeld, not Lagerfeld.“

Nicola L, incl. Lip lamp, 1969 - 2001
Functional lighting made of plastic and steel
R & Company, TEFAF booth
Courtesy of R & Company

by Elga Wimmer


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