PHOTOS: Colorful artwork from the Frieze Art Fair 2013 – from balloon dogs and neon signs to a giant Koosh ball

Neither torrential rain, nor thunder, nor lightning will keep a self-respecting New Yorker from attending the city’s trendiest art event. This weekend I joined throngs of art lovers heading to Randall’s Island in a storm for the second Frieze Art Fair.

I enjoyed last year’s inaugural Frieze Art Fair (a London import) and the sequel did not disappoint. Accompanied by Ground Floor Gallery curator Krista Saunders, I depleted my memory card and wore down my rain boots treading through the massive Frieze tent.

From inflatable dogs to hog-tied mannequins, the artwork at Frieze was colorful and thought-provoking. While the admission fee was steep this year– $42 per person plus transportation– Frieze is a must-visit for contemporary art fans.

>> Scroll down for the photo highlights of the 2013 Frieze Art Fair.

Balloon Dog

Visitors stepping off the ferry were greeted by an 80-foot tall, bright red balloon sculpture flanking the main tent. While it closely resembled the iconic “Balloon Dog” sculptures by Jeff Koons, this inflatable hound was created by another American, Paul McCarthy. We spotted at least three other “Balloon Dogs” by  McCarthy on display at Frieze– including one tied to a man’s genitals in a photograph that captured the attention of many attendees.

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"Balloon Dog" - giant sculpture by Paul McCarthy

Mi Reflejo

Many works at Frieze dealt with issues of reflection. The following pieces differ in size and form, but each captured the reflected image of the viewer and made it an integral part of the piece.

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What is art? It’s an age-old question posed in artist Doug Aitken’s “ART (white).”

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Many pieces at Frieze offered visitors a chance to check out the artwork and, ahem, themselves.

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Pae White’s hanging sculpture consisted of hundreds of hexagons made of mirrors and paper cut-outs.

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I caught my reflection in Pae White’s piece.

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This familiar scene by artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset is straight out of a romantic comedy. A spurned lover has scrawled “I will never see you again” on a mirror, next to an untouched bouquet of flowers.

Spiky Balls

It seemed like every time I turned a corner at this year’s fair, I was confronted by a giant ball covered in spikes. I started to see balls in every piece; although this wasn’t entirely unjustified. (A lot of work contained testicles). There’s something vaguely Sci-Fi about these orbs, which look like (respectively) Earth under attack from meteors, an unused prop from Tron, and a cuddly-but-deadly alien from the original Star Trek.

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That’s me in the center of “Frozen Structure” by Josiah McElheny, which turns the viewer’s reflection into the target of razor-sharp needles.

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This futuristic orb by Spencer Finch is helpfully titled, “Sun (Over the Sahara Desert).”

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Frieze is not immune to the 1990s nostalgia gripping New York City; this yellow ball from Tim Friedman reminded me of a giant Koosh toy.

Neon Dreams

Several artists appear to have found inspiration in the glitz of 42nd Street . From gender inequality to devilish behavior, a variety of themes are explored in these neon masterpieces. Also on display was a neon sign by Tracey Emin, who showed her work in Times Square earlier this year.

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Hank Willis Thomas conveyed a clear message with his piece which flashed “Successful Woman” followed by “Angry Men.”

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Eddie Peake created a devilish figure in bright blue neon; the work was so bright that it was reflected in a photograph on the opposing wall.

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British artist Peter Liversidge used another Time Square medium to convey his message in “Before/After”: old school, Broadway-style light bulbs.

People Watching

If you want to see the most fashionable New Yorkers, head straight to an art fair. Frieze is the ultimate place to people-watch; art lovers are so engrossed in the paintings and sculpture they don’t even notice you snapping their portrait (or perhaps they don’t care). The following photos show the most interesting artwork and civilians I came across at Frieze this year.

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Katy Grannan’s portraits of down-and-out Californians was impressive. I’d seen low-res versions of her photos online, but the actual prints were unbelievably detailed. This is also the booth where we noted the “dress like an elderly person” trend, seen throughout Frieze, in which 20-somethings dyed their hair gray and wore ‘mom jeans.’ With older people dressing young, and younger people dressing old, it’s getting impossible to determine anyone’s age!

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A steady stream of art lovers was mesmerized by Kim Beom’s “Untitled (Intimate Suffering #11). 

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Chelsea Clinton even made an appearance. Perhaps she was shopping for her new $10 million apartment in the Flatiron?

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Bjarne Melgaard’s rug-covered installation was a hit with kids, who eagerly shed their shoes to play under the colorful carpets.

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Jack Early turned three Frieze cubicles into colorful installations. This bright blue room with a cross, titled “WWJD,” was accompanied by a soundtrack called “Hey Jesus.”

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South Korean artist Do-Ho Suh created this green fabric house, modeled and named after his residence in Berlin, “Wielandstr. 18, 12159.” Barricades prevented spectators from entering, although it drew crowds throughout the day on Saturday.

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A young girl examines “India” by Ryan McGinley.

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I was impressed by Krzysztof Wodiczko’s “Homeless Cart,” which is a clear upgrade to the shopping carts seen all over New York City.

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Attending a massive fair like Frieze is an exhausting experience. When we entered the tent on Saturday afternoon, we came across a row of tired patrons resting their eyes or checking their cell phones.

Street Art Influence

Over the past few years, New York City art fairs have embraced street artists and have found various ways to monetize what is essentially public art. The 2013 Frieze fair took this to a new level, with an artist actually bringing a graffiti-covered wall into the exhibition tent.

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Michael St John’s “No Floor” looks like a typical construction site in the East Village. The blue wooden boards may say “post no bills” but within days they are covered in tags and drawings.

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St John also created a series of stenciled paintings, “Negros with Guns,” which feature portraits of Civil Rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Malcom X, among others.

Race Relations

African-American artist Kara Walker is no stranger to controversy, as her work deals with slavery, race and sexual domination. She is best known for her cut-out silhouettes on black paper, but showed six paintings at this year’s Frieze Art Fair. I was captivated by the provocative images, which played on stereotypes of slave women and the imbalanced relationship between slave and master. A tongue-in-cheek slogan was written on each piece, making them seem like twisted public service announcements from the Civil War era. In one frame, a white man about to perform oral sex on a slave says “I’ll declare your independence afterward, OK?”

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Lady Mannequins

Women in distress popped up throughout the Frieze fair in the form of life-like mannequins that were either faceless, decaying, or bound tightly with rope. In the age of overbearing Tiger Moms, a time when business women would rather drop out than Lean In and 20-something Girls have their personal humiliations broadcast on the Internet, the art world is portraying women as out of control.

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A well-dressed woman seeks refuge in her cardigan in Daniel Firman’s “Linda”

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The Sex and the City ladies have lost their Manolos in this work, entitled “No Sex, No City.” Each mannequin is made of rotting fabric and decaying metal and bears the name of one of the SATC characters, from Carrie to Samantha. While I admire the witty title of this work, it makes it impossible to find the artist’s information online. (My scribbled notes appear to read “Stewart Rou”). 

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A tribal woman is bound tightly in rope in Chinese artist Xu Zhen’s “Play – 2012117.”

What do you think of the artwork at Frieze?

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About Leslie Koch

I'm a New Yorker with a passion for travel and art. I founded after returning from a year-long backpacking trip around the world. Find me on Twitter at @leslietravel.