At a Reduced Frieze Week, a Focus on Black Art

Emilee Geist

LONDON — In the same way that Voltaire described the Holy Roman Empire as “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,” this year’s Frieze Week here didn’t really live up to its title. For starters, Frieze London, Britain’s most important contemporary art fair, and its sister event, Frieze Masters, were […]

LONDON — In the same way that Voltaire described the Holy Roman Empire as “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire,” this year’s Frieze Week here didn’t really live up to its title.

For starters, Frieze London, Britain’s most important contemporary art fair, and its sister event, Frieze Masters, were canceled because of the pandemic and converted into mainly online offerings.

Then, what did take place wasn’t the usual event-packed week. There were no gala evening auctions, no groundbreaking exhibition at Tate Modern, no must-be-seen-at parties or dinners.

Coronavirus restrictions make it impracticable to hold large-scale destination art events, particularly after reports in the German news media of infections at last month’s Gallery Weekend Berlin. The event’s director, Maike Cruse, said on Wednesday that there had been “fewer than five confirmed cases” and that they had stemmed from dinners outside the event’s official framework. All of which helped ensure that there were few international visitors at what was left of Frieze Week.

Pilar Corrias, a gallery with a reputation for representing of-the-moment female artists, is showing nine large canvases painted during a pandemic lockdown by the Los Angeles-based artist Christina Quarles, who identifies as a queer woman. Born to a Black father and a white mother, Ms. Quarles makes multilayered, deeply ambiguous paintings that are equally admired by museum curators and market speculators. In July, one of her 2017 paintings sold at auction for $400,000, quadrupling the pre-sale estimate.

Ms. Corrias, the gallery’s director, could sell all of these new paintings several times over, but said in an interview that she was negotiating to place half of them in public museums and half in private collections that she is confident will not sell them on to turn a profit. Ms. Quarles’s latest paintings were priced from $90,000 to $200,000, the gallerist said.

There was no shortage of takers for the sumptuously colorful abstracts painted by Jadé Fadojutimi, a young Black British artist of Nigerian descent who is scheduled to be the subject of a solo show next year at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami.

“We’re in the middle of rewriting the art historical canon,” said Ms. Gnyp, the art adviser. “Everyone expected it to happen, but no one expected it to happen so quickly.”

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