Gripping Gorgons and Rodin plasters in Frieze .’s new decorative arts department

Visitors to Frieze Masters next week can get caught up in the mesmerizing gaze of a cold-eyed Medusa, gazing from an inky shield. With her iridescent snake hair, Arnold Böcklin’s 1887 painted plaster is a showstopper of the Gorgon. “It’s so strong it almost gives you the shivers,” says Stuart Lochhead, the London dealer who’s taking it to the stock exchange (it costs £490,000). “The last time one of these came up, it went to the Musée d’Orsay.”

Lochhead is part of Stand Out, a new section of Frieze Masters with nine galleries brought together since 2019 by Luke Syson, director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Syson has moved between the US and UK over the years, popping up at the British Museum, the V&A, the National Gallery and the Met in New York. In 2015, he missed the top job at the National Gallery, where by 2011, he had brought together the largest number of Leonardo’s paintings in one place for an exhibition.

But despite his scholarly reputation in Renaissance painting, he is equally attached to the world of objects, which forms the basis for the Stand Out selection. “Projects like the British Galleries at the Met, which I’ve worked on since 2013, have shown that people are interested in things,” he says. “Incorporating it produces a larger, broader and more complex art history.”

Marble mosaic slab, Roman, 17th century © Alessandro di Castro/Andrea Jemolo

By ignoring the Western hierarchy that places painting firmly at the top of the economic and intellectual pyramid, Syson says, “we can more easily include makers and countries hitherto undervalued and even excluded by the Western canon. The value — and the values ​​— artifacts have never been a problem outside of Europe, and before the Renaissance it wasn’t here either.”

With a strong focus on materials, Syson brings some new names to the fair. The Roman merchant Alessandra di Castro, for example, dedicated to Italian art from 1600-1900, is a newcomer and presents works in stone, granite, porphyry and marble. Her 17th-century Baroque slab of skulls and leaves picked out in multicolored mosaic on a marble base is sure to be hard to miss.

Cream glazed pot from China, early Tang Dynasty (618-907) © Gisèle Croës

Han Dynasty Bronze Horse (206BCE-220ACE) from Sichuan Province © Gisèle Croës/Studio R Asselberghs-Frederic Dehaen Brussels

Specialist in Asian antiques, Belgian Gisèle Croës displays works from along the Silk Road – including a ninth-century Tang Dynasty white-glazed pot – demonstrating the shapes and technologies that flowed back and forth along the route. Raccanello Leprince brings functional, if fabulously decorated, majolica pots that once stood on the shelves of Renaissance Italy’s pharmacies, speaking of the healing powers of both medicine and art.

Syson says he’s been in talks with Frieze Masters and its first director, Victoria Siddall, since the exchange opened nine years ago. “Victoria and I discussed what role objects could play in a place like Frieze Masters,” he says. “At an institution like the Met, with a lot of acquisition capacity, you become more aware of the expertise and the role of specialized dealers.”

He learned from American collectors: “There is such an active collecting culture, and what you see in people’s homes is amazing. It makes you realize that the worlds of museums and personal collecting are not separate at all.”

A bronze head of a woman who looks curious

Head of the goddess Gauri or portrait of a queen, 17th century, from Karnataka © Prahlad Bubbar

Ultimately, Syson is on a mission to remove the somewhat disdainful word “decorative” from the decorative arts category. For example, the metal works floated by the London merchant Prahlad Bubbar feature a 17th-century head of the Karnataka goddess Gauri and are far from mere fantasy, Syson says. “Metal,” Syson says, “has a transporting quality; it’s cool, otherworldly.”

For Lochhead, an 1885 gypsum caryatid by Rodin provides access to a more personal work that the artist would likely have created as a gift. “People might go for Rodin’s bronzes,” he says, “but this plasterwork is so close to Rodin’s own hand. It was not made in a foundry, it was made by him.”

A white plaster sculpture of two entwined figures

‘Embracing Bacchantes’ (1894) by Auguste Rodin © Stuart Lochhead Sculpture

With their synthesis of influences from Asia, the Renaissance and nature, Oscar Graf’s British, Continental and American furniture from 1890 to 1930 can be seen as a summary of Stand Out. “For me,” says Graf, who lives in London and Paris, “it makes no sense not to show decorative art. They decorated the same houses as the paintings.”

After nearly a decade, Frieze Masters is ready for a radical expansion and can confidently make its choices. For Syson, Stand Out is about exploring meaning and complexity through ornamentation and the material. “It’s all about ideas,” he says. “I really hope I can do a little re-evaluation here.”

October 13-17, fries.com

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