Running Laps in New York City: Sharif Farrag’s Frieze Photo Diary

“Watching Isabelle Brourman on MSNBC in Times Square.” Photo by Sharif Farrag

Last week, while many of us were running around New York City taking part in the ‘rat race’ that is an art fair week, Sharif Farrag enacted his own, more-literal version. Aptly held at the iconic Rockefeller Center, one of the world’s most well-known epicentres of business, Farrag’s Gotham Grinders: Hamster Wheel injected humour into an area more known for towering office buildings and suit-wearing commuters than adults (and kids!) playing with R/C cars in the likeness of hamsters. The project, which first debuted at Frieze Los Angeles in February, invites participants to take a moment away from the hustle and routine of everyday life and partake in the type of play that becomes infrequent with age. Ripe with commentary, Farrag’s Gotham Grinders poke fun at hustle culture as well as the austerity of the art world in one fell swoop. 

Here, Farrag shares a photo diary of his week in New York and explains the significance of his public art project, which was presented in collaboration with the Art Production Fund.

“Jennifer Rochlin exhibition at Hauser & Wirth. Love this depiction of a stone statue.” Photo by Sharif Farrag

How did the idea for Rat Race come about? What was exciting about bringing it to New York from its original debut in LA?

Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, its stereotypical but I really do associate so many memories being in the car. I commuted to school and work and was a food delivery driver from 2011-2014. Initially in Los Angeles, I wanted to make a work that can make fun of the “rat race” hustle, and the competitive nature of an art fair. In New York City, the piece was more geared towards the constant 9-5 “hamster wheel.”  

“Setting up for a race on Saturday.” Photo by Sharif Farrag.

How does the idea behind the piece fit within your broader practice?

For the last couple years, I have been making a series of ceramic sculptures based off of vehicles like motorcycles and cars. As I made these works the thought was always there, how could these vehicles actually drive? That was the start to inventing the modified R/C cars. 

Not many artists get to witness active audience participation with their work – can you describe what it’s been like to view others engaging with the project?

It has been great seeing people enjoy the races, drive the racers, and has been the coolest seeing both kids and adults interacting with the piece. 

“My friend Jason Roussos using the bathroom at Hugh Hayden’s exhibition at Lisson Gallery. The gallery attendant said he was the first to use the urinal.” Photo by Sharif Farrag

What did the lead-up to the activation look like?

I’m so honoured to be invited to work in such an iconic location with such goofy artwork. It was really great working with Art Production Fund and Rockefeller Center. As we were setting up in front of a large audience, it was interesting how tourists reacted as if I was a TikToker. 

For those of us who don’t know, who is Isabelle Brourman, and why were you tuning into her MSNBC segment? 

Isabelle Brourman is working on an ongoing project sketching different high-profile trials in the courtroom. What she does is so high stakes, dealing with politicians, courts.. but what I respect most is it is all done with impeccable unique style. She is not only an incredible artist, but also a great friend. 

“Diedrick Brackens at Jack Shainman Gallery.” Photo by Sharif Farrag

When deciding what other exhibitions you wanted to catch while in NY, what specifically drew you to Jennifer, Diedrick, and Ibrahim’s shows? What tends to draw you into another artist’s practice?

Attention to craft and things that are made by the artist. I get inspired to see other people working in materials like weaving or ceramics. I love the complexity of stories and form intermixing with history and craft. Jennifer, Diedrick, and Ibrahim all had works that not only propelled me into their personal universe, but also had me close-up geeking on the details about how they were made. 

What were the most memorable experiences you had this week?

After the first day of races, I celebrated with my wife and some of my closest friends at Olive Garden in Times Square. It was a blast with endless salad and breadsticks. 

Written by Maria Vogel