TO MARK ITS 25TH ANNIVERSARY, the September issue of Frieze magazine features three different covers and a review of the 25 most significant works of art produced over the past quarter century—one for each year since 1991. Chris Ofili was commissioned to create one of the covers for the special issue and was the only cover artist whose work was also selected among the most important and relevant during the London-based publication’s tenure.
Since 2003, Frieze has staged an art fair, too, first in London and, since 2012, in New York. The media and events company began with the magazine, though. Published eight times a year, the first issue of Frieze debuted in 1991. For the anniversary issue, artists Rosemarie Trockel, Sara Cwynar, and Ofili were chosen to create covers.
A British-born painter, Ofili won the Turner Prize in 1998, represented the UK at the Venice Biennale in 2003, had a retrospective at the Tate Britain in 2010, and more recently, “Night and Day,” his first major museum exhibition in the United States was organized by the New Museum in 2014.
For Frieze, Ofili’s cover image depicts a male figure playing a banjo atop a supernatural or dream-like, aquatic space in which a woman is gazing at her reflection in a hand mirror. Punctuated by green tones reflecting the tropical palette of Trinidad where the artist lives, the work echoes a series of mythologcal paintings presented in “Night and Day,” that he made in response to “Metamorphoses” by the Roman poet Ovid. The epic poem includes the tale of Actaeon, a young hunter who happens upon Diana a chaste goddess who is refreshing herself in a shady grotto.
IN CHOOSING THE LIST OF 25 significant artworks spanning 1991-2015, Frieze editors state in the magazine that they “agreed on a group of artworks from around the world that reflect something important about the time in which they were made, whose influence has grown over the years and which still feel urgent, fresh and relevant today.” For each selection, they note, there were many other viable options that extend beyond their usual focus of the United Kingdom, mainland Europe, and the United States.
The editors “agreed on a group of artworks from around the world that reflect something important about the time in which they were made, whose influence has grown over the years and which still feel urgent, fresh and relevant today.”
The year 1996 was defined by Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” according to the magazine’s list. The mixed-media painting of a black madonna with an exposed breast composed of elephant dung gained notoriety when it appeared in “Sensation,” a 1997 exhibition at the Royal Academy in London. The show of contemporary art from the collection of Charles Saatchi featured a number of Young British Artists and when it traveled to the Brooklyn Museum in 1999 it caused an even greater stir when then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dismayed by the image, threatened to cut funding to the museum.
A few years into the list, the first African American artist appears. Kara Walker‘s “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred b’tween the Dusty Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart,” a cut-paper silhouette, represents 1994. Most striking, the list includes a four-year period, from 1994-1997, in which the chosen works are by black artists—Walker (1994), El Anatsui (“Fan,” 1995), Ofili (1996), and Steve McQueen (“Deadpan,” 1997).
KARA WALKER explains the concept behind “Gone: An Historical Romance of a Civil War as it Occurred b’tween the Dusty Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.” | Video by MoMA
This time span was a significant period for each of the artists. Walker’s “Gone,” an enormous wall installation, appeared at the Drawing Center in 1994, shortly after she graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. It was her New York debut and the provocative, large-scale exploration of race, sex and power issues in the antebellum South was met with critical attention. Three years later she won a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. In 1995, the Ghana-born, Nigerian-based Anatsui had his first solo exhibition in the UK at October Gallery in London. Known for his Oscar-winning feature film, “12 Years a Slave” (2013), McQueen first distinguished himself in 1997 by re-enacting what appears to be a death-defying scene in “Steamboat Billie Jr.,” a Buster Keaton film from 1928. “Deadpan,” a five-minute short, runs on a continuous loop, showing the British artist standing stoically awaiting his fate.
Later in the list, works by South African photographer Zanele Muholi (“Faces and Phases” series, 2006) and Los Angeles-based Martine Syms (“Notes on a Gesture,” 2015), who describes herself as a “conceptual entrepreneur, are recognized as the most significant in the years they were created.
A running sidebar appears along with the 25 selections, a timeline of other outstanding artworks produced over the 25 years. This much more extensive list of about 150 features five to seven works per year but includes just a handful of additional black artists—Glenn Ligon, David Hammons, Kerry James Marshall, Julie Mehretu, William Pope.L, and Theaster Gates, among them. The editors also offer highlights of 2016.
IN ADDITION TO CONSIDERING artworks of note, Frieze is exploring notable exhibitions. Published online each week in five-year installments, the coverage begins with Best in Show: 1991-1995, and so far includes 1996-2000, followed by 2001-2005.
As is routine, reviews of recent shows are appear in the back of the magazine. As such, critical assessments of solo exhibitions presenting the work of Adam Pendleton at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans; Rodney McMillan at MoMA PS1 in New York, Studio Museum in Harlem, and ICA Philadelphia; Isaac Julien at Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco; and Nolan Oswald Dennis at Goodman Gallery in Cape Town, South Africa, are published in the anniversary edition.
HAMIDOU MAIGA, “Untitled,” 1962 (gelatin silver print). | Copyright the Artist, via Jack Bell Gallery, London
The new issue also features an essay by Duro Olowu in which he charts his various style influences. The clothing designer says he was never really taken with fashion: “My focus was always the seductive quality of clothes worn by people with confidence and grace, regardless of their social status. This has always been my definition of true style.”
“My focus was always the seductive quality of clothes worn by people with confidence and grace, regardless of their social status. This has always been my definition of true style.” — Duro Olowu, Frieze
Images in the form of photography, paintings, and film have had an overriding impact. Olowu cites the significance of Irving Penn, Horace Ove, and Hamidou Maiga, 84, a Malian photography whose work he discovered just six years ago. He says Maiga’s photographs “are a testimony to the kind of style that is both highly personal and culturally defined, yet still somehow manages to be international in its scope and free ints expressive ambition.” (A peer of Seydou Keïta and the late Malick Sidibé, Maiga’s photographs are appearing for the first time in Latin America. His solo exhibition “La ruta del Níger: de Mopti a Tombuctú,” is on view at Museo Mario Testino, the fashion photographer’s museum in Lima, Peru, through Oct. 2.)
Olowu also notes the influence of images documenting musicians recognized for their expressive style including David Bowie, Fela Kuti, Miriam Makeba, and Nina Simone, and the appeal of portraits by painters Alice Neel and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye.
A Nigerian-born Brit, Olowu curated the group exhibition “Making & Unmaking,” on view at the Camden Arts Centre in London through Sept. 18. Works by Yiadom-Boakye and Ofili are presented in the exhibition.
A show of new paintings by Yiadom-Boakye will open Sept. 8 at Corvi Mora in London. Also in London, Ofili’s “Weaving Magic,” a solo exhibition will be presented next year at the National Gallery (April 26-Aug. 28, 2017). CT
Published to coincide with the exhibition, the catalog “Chris Ofili: Night and Day” features full-color images of works from throughout Ofili’s career, along with scholarly writing. Fellow artists Glenn Ligon and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye are among the authors.