FRIEZE 2022: Joanna Wós and Micheal Ho

REBECCA LALLY attends Frieze and finds the fun is to be had in the smart, seductive offerings of the ‘focus’ section– from the annals. 


Frieze 2022 was all painting, and mostly dull, leaving me underwhelmed and wishing I’d spent more time at Frieze Masters, a short walk across Regent’s park and with much better pickings. This said, I loved pretty much all of the focus section– smaller, solo booths in the back of the main marquee, hosting young and independent galleries. I was particularly taken by the work of Joanna Wós, with Warsaw gallery Wschód, stood across from Micheal Ho, with Shanghai-based Vacancy

In Joanna Wós’ paintings (above) a girl dances between gauzy layers of a courtly feast. The girl is naked, clad variously in leather jacket, cowboy boots, or (what looks like Prada) sneakers. The girl is an echo of the artist, and Salomé: the painting references, I am told by the press release, the fresco “Feast of Herod” by renaissance painter Fillipo Lippi (the same ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’ of that one rather brilliant Browning poem). The paintings are a ‘restaging’: different moments in the St. Stephen cycle overlaid in translucent layers which evoke underpainting – the artist visually reference classical painting techniques – but also dream-like states, notions of the subconscious, or memory. These paintings are markedly less debauched than others I’ve seen from the artist: through the figure of Salomé, any darker, sexual tones are only implied; as the cycle progresses, the compositions become more pared back, and less decipherable. 

Micheal Ho’s paintings are technique-driven in similar ways, with their slippery, layering narratives and use of the blank of the canvas. Paint is pushed through the back of the canvas for gorgeously textured surfaces onto which images – an ornamental silver sheath, or a suited man with legs crossed – are superimposed on the recto. These symbols remain partially obscured, presenting as dislocated material objects or fragmenting, theatrical snapshots. Canvases vary in shape and size and I am drawn to a long, narrow painting of a braid leaning against the far wall.  Ho’s work evokes notions of ‘mystification in perception’ as it engages Diasporic thinking and ideas of cultural dissonance. There is something singularly tender and opulent in these paintings. 

In the sea of banality that was Frieze’s painting offerings this year, there were gems to be found in the focus section. Painting may very well be ‘in vogue’ this year, but is a medium with a particularly ancient tradition, which the ‘good’ and ‘new’ painting must face up to. This is something Johanna Wós and Michael Ho do well, with smart, sophisticated work which retains a curiously seductive bent.