Pandemic or not, there's a ton of art to see in the UK capital and we're here to help you navigate it all.
The burst of shows that open in London at this time each year are usually an accompaniment to what collectors would see as the main event: the Frieze fairs in Regent’s Park. But this year, due to Covid-19, exhibitions at museums and galleries are the only shows in town. And despite jitters about imminent lockdowns and tighter measures, there is much to feast on for intrepid art lovers, from major museum retrospectives to mega-gallery spectaculars and intriguing shows by emerging and veteran artists.
Because of social distancing guidelines, the Tate had to redesign the trailblazing, multi-medium US artist’s first London retrospective in 20 years. Will it be as immersive as was originally intended? If so, it promises, like many of Nauman’s shows, to be an assault on the senses and a brain-scrambler; a dizzying investigation of the body in space and a relentless play on the elusiveness of language. Eschewing chronology, the show will feature more than 40 works from across Nauman’s career, from early performance films such as Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (1967) through neon, sculpture, sound works and videos to complex multi-screen installations, including Mapping the Studio II (2001). Each generation discovers Nauman anew: this show could prompt another wave of influence.
As well as photographic works and concrete poems, this show presents a curious snapshot of Nancy Holt’s presence at the heart of the 1970s alternative New York scene. Holt’s video installation Points of View (1974), shown in the UK for the first time, was conceived for the legendary New York alternative space, the Clocktower Gallery. It features four videos, each showing a different view of Manhattan from the gallery’s windows, accompanied by audio dialogues between artists and writers among Holt’s friends. The female-male pairs—Lucy Lippard and Richard Serra, Liza Béar and Klaus Kertess, Carl Andre and Ruth Kligman and Bruce Boice and Tina Girouard—reflect on the view through the different windows, emphasising the subjectivity of vision and experience.
In his latest works, Johnson builds on multiple groups of works that began with the Anxious Men series in 2015: expressionist figures that were a response to a world careering out of control, seen through Johnson’s eyes just as he had given up drugs and alcohol. Here, Johnson develops his Broken Men works—mosaics of broken tiles with the “anxious” figures drawn in his trademark medium, black soap. He also premieres a new series: the Anxious Red Paintings, created using a new crimson paint he developed. The colour, he told our podcast A brush with… Rashid Johnson, is “incredibly descriptive for me of the time that we are living in”, from Covid-19, through the crisis in social justice exposed by the Black Lives Matter movement, to the imminent US election.
A thoroughly commendable idea: Solos features four individual shows given to emerging artists; the CCA describes it as “a commissioning structure with which to support the creation of new work during a time of severe precarity”. All four artists are either from the community around Goldsmiths in south east London or have previously worked with the gallery and their individual shows reflect how lockdown has shaped their work. The results are hugely diverse: Appau Jnr Boakye-Yiadom presents a conceptual performance installation; Emma Cousin shows powerful new paintings reflecting on destruction and rebirth; Lindsey Mendick’s sculptural installation is informed, among other things, by gothic horror movies watched during lockdown; and Hardeep Pandhal presents a new video work made during lockdown.
Matthew Krishanu’s paintings hum with atmosphere, reflecting memories of his childhood—Krishanu grew up in Bangladesh with a British father and Indian mother—and exploring colonial legacies. But they push and pull between this rich subject matter and the abstract qualities of the paint and stripped-back, unorthodox compositions. Faith is a key subject in this show: in Mission School (2017), what appear to be Asian schoolchildren are sat in front of a small reproduction of Leonardo’s Last Supper. We see clearly the reaction of just one child: a remote detachment, perhaps even reverie. As in so much of Krishanu’s work, the scene is pregnant with ambiguity: what is real and what imagined? Is this nostalgic recollection or subtle social commentary?
New paintings by the US artist continue to explore her subjective experience of her identity amid wider social conditions, in this case the coronavirus pandemic. Quarles told the Tate curator Mark Godfrey that she makes work “that is more about what it is like to live in a body looking out at the world, rather than the experience of looking onto a body”. Quarles reflects on what it is to be mixed race and queer through depictions of bodies that pull in and out of focus, veering between realism and fantasy. Her language fuses the liquid materiality of paint and the detached sheen of digital imagery. Now, she’s exploring how the pandemic—with its masks, visors, screens and distances—amplifies and distorts the intimacy of selfhood and our response to those beyond ourselves.
Much of the deserved, though belated, acclaim for John Stezaker’s uncanny collages has focused on his work of recent decades, but Luxembourg + Co’s show, realised with Stezaker’s usual gallery, The Approach, looks at a period of experimentation in his early years. Briefly associated with language of appropriation adopted by the Pictures Generation in the US, Stezaker soon developed a unique practice reflecting on the increasing anachronism of mechanically produced images, from publicity photos of would-be Hollywood starlets to old postcards and book illustrations, fusing images together in imaginative yet deceptively simple collages which made his source material infinitely stranger and often darker. He’s now revered as something of a master; this is the journey he took to find and hone his language.
Frieze Week in London has always been a whirl of openings, parties and special events for both Joe Public and the art world intelligentsia who flock to the mothership event at Regent’s Park. This year is different (obviously) as the fair itself has been cancelled due to Covid-19 but there is still fun to be had at the many galleries and cultural venues dotted across the capital. These “off-beat” events range from a revelatory show of works by a New Orleans nun to Billy Childish’s latest arty shenanigans. Please check all event details before attending (subject to change in light of coronavirus restrictions).
Who knew that a street preacher from New Orleans known as sister Gertrude Morgan would turn out to be an acclaimed 20th-century artist venerated by Andy Warhol? In the mid-1950s, God came to Morgan in a dream, told her to stop playing the guitar and instead illustrate the Bible, she said. Morgan took the message to heart, painting biblical-themed scenes onto scraps of card, window blinds and paper fans. Warhol was reportedly “enthralled” by her work, profiling her in the first issue of Interview magazine in 1973. The Gallery of Everything presents the first major solo exhibition in Europe dedicated to the late self-taught artist, showing key works such as My Marriage to Jesus (around 1970) and Lord I am Doing all the Good I Can (around 1967).
The French artist Laure Prouvost, the stand-out star of the 2019 Venice Biennale, has repurposed the gallery spaces at 67 Lisson Street, “offering willing visitors the opportunity to de-learn or un-learn what they have forgotten they already know, and to newly acquire, or re-learn, a language of her own devising”, says a project statement. Visitors’ mental capabilities will be tested in a “mock pedagogical, health-focused institutional setting” with linguistic training provided via a new video work entitled Re-dit-en-un-in-learning CENTER (to the Centre of un-in-re-dit-Learn) co-produced with the Van Abbemuseum. The aim, it seems, is to re-wire fixed meanings ascribed to objects and utterances, or as the artist says, “you will be invited to become something else, a piece of wood, a goat.”
The UK artist Billy Childish takes over Lehmann Maupin’s new gallery in the Cromwell Place complex, using the space as a studio where he will create a series of new paintings on site. A selection of photographs from Childish’s latest publication, Billy Childish photography 1974-2020 (L-13 Light Industrial Workshop/BC Studio Editions, 2020) will go on display, providing a backdrop for the artist as he daubs his canvases. The book includes black-and-white snapshots, photobooth images and intimate photographs dating from 1974 to today, featuring pictures of a young Tracey Emin, Childish’s former partner. “These photographs were taken over the last 48 years or so. They seem to be about my fascination with myself, and some of those I have met on my journey through life,” Childish writes in the guise of his alter ego, Danger Bill Henderson.
Could anything be more distracting and entertaining during a pandemic than a live opera featuring a rapper who tells of the struggle between two groups vying to take command of a giant golden ear of corn? The Los Angeles-based artist Trulee Hall takes over the Zabludowicz Collection with her piece Tongues Duel the Corn Whores, an Opera, a riotous mix of Madonna-whore figures, gospel, pop and ginormous phallic serpents. The work, which was initially staged in March prior to lockdown at the North London venue, has been remastered into a new film “all based around contrasting philosophies of female sexiness”, Hall says. Other videos, paintings and sculptures reflecting Hall’s ethos of the “erotic grotesque” will also go on show (look out for the glory holes).
The UK artist Sarah Maple is switched on, choosing an exhibition title that takes its name from the words with the highest “click through” appeal (the canny title brings to mind many other artists including Mr Damien Hirst whose pickled shark has gone down in contemporary art folklore). Maple is no-holds barred about her latest show at Jealous Gallery curated by Kate Bryan, which according to a statement, is “a satire on the artworld that she both rejoices in and despairs at” (she has previously taken aim at Brexit, Trump and toxic masculinity). A series of Maple’s new short films fuse art with sitcoms, resulting in so-called “art-coms” starring among others, the Doctor Who actor David Tennant, artist Sonia Boyce and BBC journalist Will Gompertz.
The Serpentine is offering up its usual eclectic mix of events during Frieze Week, including the premiere of new online sound pieces by the Bristol-born artist Rory Pilgrim called Radio Rafts. These intriguing works—made with members from the community arts organisation Green Shoes Arts in Barking & Dagenham and Project Well Being in Boise, Idaho—form part of Radio Ballads, a project led by the Serpentine in partnership with the social care teams at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham. Pilgrim’s project takes on extra resonance in the wake of coronavirus, with rafts providing a (metaphorical) means of navigation during the pandemic. “In moments of change and transition, what supports and keeps us afloat?” says a gallery statement. Pilgrim’s floating vessels will no doubt guide us through the tumult. RSVP essential via firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the outside world becomes ever more harsh, punitive and toxic, there is an increasing hunger for art that soothes, heals and offers spiritual solace. The themes of spirituality, healing and the channelling of therapeutic powers can be found in many of the events and activities taking place during this strangest of Frieze weeks. Here is our pick of what to see to find the spiritual in art during Frieze Week.
“There’s so much epidemical and environmental trauma going on, the only way to hold onto any semblance of hope in this climate of grief is to try and look much deeper and find time for self compassion,” says Alberta Whittle, winner of the 2020 Frieze Artist Award, whose newly commissioned film RESET is viewable both online and in timed screenings at South London’s Forma HQ.
Whittle describes RESET, which draws on the writings of queer theorist Eve Kosofsky, as “a space for quiet, a space for reflection” for audiences to grapple with what resetting actually is. “Does it mean reconsidering your own position in the world, your own complicity with certain ideals or simply your own exhaustion?” she asks, while also acknowledging the challenges of offering this contemplative environment to online audiences who “might be cooking food for their toddler or have just come off a long shift or their 100th Zoom call.”
The idea of tending to personal wellbeing also permeates the Frieze Live programme, which its curator Victor Wang has titled the Institute of Melodic Healing (IMH). It is based at 9 Cork Street, where events will unfold physically and be shown online. Wang says this “institute of sound and performance” aims to channel the long history of using sound as a therapeutic device as well as to rethink parameters of live art at a time when distance, the body and movement are now all curtailed by Covid-19. “Care has become incredibly important, as has the idea of community and of healing trauma, both for the body and for everyone who participates in the industry as a whole,” he says. Even the duration of the programme—111 hours—is a direct reference to the “divine frequency” of 111 Hz, which has been found to resonate from prehistoric sites and is purported to alleviate stress and enhance mental wellbeing.
The various ways in which the IMH aims to put a bodily sense of “listening and feeling, as much as seeing” at the centre of both physical and online audience experience include: Alvaro Barrington’s line up of live acts featuring musicians, comedians and performance artists broadcast from both London and New York; Anthea Hamilton’s conjuring up of “proxies for the body” by spraying two commercially-made black mannequins with perfume distilled from the bodily oils of two performers that she has worked with in the past; and Haroun Mirza’s light and sound installation Mind Flip, which explores the mythic frequency of 111 Hz using an electric drummer, a soprano opera singer and a QR code.
Frieze may have migrated online this year but its new section Possessions: Spirituality and the Art of Our Time, curated by Chisenhale Gallery director Zoé Whitley, still aims to put intense personal experience at its centre. For Whitley, the dual meaning of “possession” as both an item to be owned or acquired and as a state of being taken over by forces beyond one’s control is especially apposite to the context of an art fair. She took as her starting point a quote from Noah Davis, in which the late Californian artist stated, “like painting, spirituality makes many people very uncomfortable. … It's highly underrated in contemporary painting, and I feel it is the driving force behind the practice.”
Although Davis was only referring to painting, in her selection of nine global artists, Whitley has extended the definition to “a whole range of practices” declaring, “I didn’t want to create a show that was too illustrative or didactic in terms of one narrow sense of spirituality as a kind of religious dogma”. This broad spiritual church, comprised of artists able to trigger a rich range of psychological resonances, extends from the cosmological tantric paintings of Prafulla Mohanti to the light-infused architectural interventions of Lucia Koch; and from the performative work of Buhlebezwe Siwani, who is both artist and sangoma (traditional healer), to the sculpture of Veronica Ryan which, although Minimalist in appearance, Whitley sees as “rooted in the excavation of deeply held trauma.”
Whitley hopes that the virtual programme will introduce these artists to a wider audience. And while the theme and the artists for Possessions were all chosen before the world was gripped by a pandemic, she feels the theme of spirituality has “just stayed important” and has become even more relevant both this week and beyond. As she says, in these troubled times “maybe the connective thread is that we all need something more to believe in and to hang on to on an emotional level, not just something to own or to exhibit. Something that is more than just surface or for show.”
This is not the fair debut that Eva Langret expected when she joined Frieze London as artistic director a little over a year ago. With no IRL fair in a tent in Regent’s Park due to Covid-19, Langret has had to, in her words, “translate the spirit of the fair into an online format” for its virtual run this year from 9-16 October (with previews on 7 and 8 October).
Langret, who was formerly head of exhibitions at the London-based gallery Tiwani Contemporary, says, “the current climate has prompted an acceleration of innovation and openness to change. So in that regard it opened up possibilities around the fair, which are actually quite exciting.”
By that she means the online-offline hybrid model that we are fast becoming familiar with in the Covid era, as alongside the fair’s online viewing room, many of the galleries (in London and further afield) are holding exhibitions or presenting their Frieze “booths” in the flesh.
But, she will still miss that big white tent in Regent’s Park: “There is a magic about being together in the tent. We all know now the importance of seeing art in person, so I am looking forward to doing this, in person, when we are able to.”
Here are some of Eva Langret's Frieze London highlights:
“Kate MacGarry’s presentation includes new and recent works from Turner-Prize winner Helen Cammock’s first solo show with the gallery,” Langret says. “One highlight is They Call It Idlewild (2020), a film about idleness that has taken on a new significance in the wake of the pandemic. The work raises questions about who gets to do nothing and the political implications of that, subjects that are interesting to think about within the context of our current moment.”
“Veronica Ryan [a Montserrat-born sculptor, based in New York) is an artist I’m really excited about, she has her first major institutional show coming up at Spike Island in Bristol,” Langret says. Ryan’s work will be exhibited by Paula Cooper in Possessions, Frieze London’s new section of solo presentations focused on the theme of spirituality, curated by Zoé Whitley, the director of London’s Chisenhale Gallery.
A Gentil Carioca is going to transform the Encruzilhada Gentil (the bustling crossroads outside the gallery in downtown Rio de Janeiro) into its “Frieze” booth. Langret says: “A Gentil Carioca is a gallery that has shown a lot of creativity within the constraints of the current moment, their presentation highlights the ways they’ve invested into their immediate urban surroundings, it’s about collectivity and community, values that are more important than ever.”
“Abel Rodríguez creates beautiful paintings and drawings of the Columbian Amazon. Beyond representing the landscape, Rodríguez’s works are invested with Indigenous forms of knowledge and present an interesting and important way to think about the environment and our relationship with nature. Rodríguez currently has a solo show at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Newcastle and was included in the 2107 edition of Documenta.”
“Holly Hendry is a young British Sculptor, she’s definitely one to watch. Stephen Friedman Gallery is going to install her Frieze Viewing Room presentation in a specially designed space at 30 Old Burlington Street, so you’ll be able to view the works both online and in-person. Hendry also has an upcoming commission at De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, UK, in 2021.”
The white tents of Frieze London and Masters may not be coming to Regent’s Park this year, but, against the odds, the English Gardens have once again been transformed into an open-air museum thanks to Frieze Sculpture this week.
“It feels a little bit like a miracle this is happening,” says Clare Lilley, the curator of Frieze Sculpture (5-18 October) and director of programmes at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, who has pulled together the exhibition in less than six weeks. Of the 12 large-scale works on show this week, three were created or finished in the past month, a fortuitous position for Lilley, who had been expecting to present “all pre-existing works”.
Indeed, with foundries and forges closed during lockdown and some materials in short supply, the Covid-19 pandemic has presented myriad new challenges for sculptors—who are finding ever inventive and novel ways to overcome them.
When the Belgian artist Arne Quinze found himself unable to source aluminium when the pandemic hit, he sought inspiration from his “most valuable resource”—nature.
Quinze has spent the past 25 years growing a wildflower garden of 20,000 plants, surrounding his studio. “You could find me and the team constantly in the garden, which is our laboratory, where we examine the constant evolution found in nature,” he says. “For a little while, I focused on experimenting, sketching, painting and gardening.”
His new work for Frieze Sculpture, Lupine Tower (2020; available for €380,000 with Maruani Mercier gallery), was born of his research into the phenomenon known as “mono no aware”—the realisation that everything in existence is temporary. The sculpture, Quinze explains, represents the “peak of summer, when the energy of vigorous growth comes to a climax and then relapses itself towards transience”.
Since the peak of summer, Quinze and his team have been “working overtime” to catch up with the production. “We have had to move up a gear in general, but especially for the sculpture for Frieze, we have put all the necessary extra effort into it,” he says.
After being accepted by Frieze Sculpture in August, the British artist Patrick Goddard had just one month to create his installation—24 animal heads cast in lead, titled Humans-Animals-Monsters (2020; priced at £35,000, single heads also available at Seventeen Gallery).
Having built a lead melting foundry unit out of a gas canister last year, Goddard has been able to continue sculpting throughout lockdown—although plans to make a video using footage shot in zoos have been put on hold. “Working in lead was always a solution to not having much money for production, so in that sense I was already well equipped for lockdown independence,” he says.
Goddard’s sustainable approach is a growing trend among artists concerned with the climate crisis, many of whom are turning to natural materials including willow and thatch. Goddard’s preferred medium is lead, often reclaimed from demolished London housing. “Being both a ‘poisonous’ metal and recycled, the work materially relates back to the built environment and the politics of gentrification,” he says. “[My work] also mourns an extinction—that of the animals, but first and foremost that of humans’ habitual encounter with animals.”
Foraging for natural and found materials has proven fruitful for others including the German-born, British-based artist Almuth Tebbenhoff, whose larger works were put on hold when marble workshops in Italy and steel forges in the UK temporarily closed in the early stages of the pandemic. Instead, she has been working on a new series of drawings created using bits of steel salvaged from burned out tyres, which she uses as a kind of stencil. “Not everything is available, but that makes you more inventive. I wouldn’t usually touch filthy bits of steel like this, but it’s formed the base of a whole new body of work,” she says.
Her new pieces will go on show at Pangolin Gallery in mid-October alongside a new series of miniature clay sculptures shaped like the outline of bricks—“a reflection of isolation and the feeling of being enclosed in walls”, Tebbenhoff says. “When I’m restricted, I work on a small scale. My clay studio is part of my house, so I’ve been able to sneak in there and create without the pressure of the art market.”
Meanwhile, the market is ramping up for works by the British sculptor Andrew Kay, who makes hand-forged garden sculptures of animals from solid steel bar, but he says Covid-19, coupled with Brexit, is wreaking havoc on deliveries to the US and Europe.
Describing the infrastructure in the US as “totally shot due to fewer people working”, Kay says: “Road freight is very congested and we are finding that American shipping companies don’t want to handle the delivery of large, fragile items.” Europe isn’t as bad, he adds, but “there are certainly delays and hauliers are charging much more than normal”.
Others have welcomed the slowdown in travel. The US-born, British-based artist Helaine Blumenfeld spends considerable periods of time in Italy as her marble works are carved in the Mariani foundry in Pietrasanta, which was closed for a period during lockdown. But Blumenfeld has not been been able to return, even when the foundry reopened. “She’s got an American passport, so she can’t go to Italy, but she’s discovered what work could be like without interruption,” says her dealer, Abby Hignell. Instead, Blumenfeld has been creating clay maquettes.
Her sprawling outdoor exhibition, Looking Up, was unveiled in various locations in Canary Wharf on 16 March, the day public transport stopped running in London. It was a bittersweet moment; the show was the culmination of decades of work, but there was “no grand opening, no round of applause,” Hignell says.
While the office workers of Canary Wharf may have deserted the city, Hignell observes that lockdown has brought a different kind of audience to the area. “We’ve seen lots of families coming to the parks at Canary Wharf,” she says. “I hear people saying, let’s meet at so-and-so sculpture. The works become landmarks that we navigate London life through.”
Indeed, as the threat of further lockdowns loom over London, public sculpture has one clear advantage over works of art shown in galleries and museums: viewing can take place en plein air and in a socially distanced manner. For now, at least, the show goes on.