Britain can be quite a depressing place, especially in 2017: between facepalm-worthy political shenanigans, Brexit, and the constant humidity, one would think that “The Black Dog” (as Winston Churchill used to describe his depression) has caught all of the island’s population in its numbing fans. But Brits wouldn't be Brits if they hadn't found countermeasures to such bleakness: these include good tea, the Duchess of Cambridge and the ability to produce, exhibit and celebrate outstanding art.
This week, in particular, London celebrates it with the 15th edition of Frieze, the capital’s prime art fair and a must-go station on the art world’s calendar. As it so often is the case with an event of such magnitude, the wave it triggers makes many others want to ride it; consequently, a myriad of great shows, openings and satellite fairs are set to take place concurrently.
What Frieze lacks in location-related charm – a tent in a park will always just be a tent in a park – it makes up with a stellar line-up of galleries, bringing together blue-chip mastodons with edgy upcoming spaces. This year, the fair has also had the excellent idea to inaugurate a section baptized Sex Work, which showcases radical feminist positions – sometimes known to a large public, but more often overlooked and ignored by mainstream audiences.
So what's in store this year? In the Focus section, reserved to emerging talents, Shanghai’s Antenna Space will be exhibiting the exquisite paintings of Xinyi Cheng, which examine notions of gaze and conflicted identity in muted, fascinating canvases. Cologne’s Jan Kaps will let Swiss artist Tobias Spichtig take over his booth. The artist, who defies categorization thanks to his visual eclecticism, will address the very current (especially in the UK) topic of negotiation and group therapy in an installation composed of both sculptures and paintings. Oslo’s VI, VII is most probably looking forward to good sales thanks to works by Than Hussein Clark, which often skillfully intertwine fine and applied arts. This time, Clark will take inspiration from fashion – haute couture in particular – for a series of sculptures we expect to be very pleasing to both the eye and the mind.
The previously mentioned Sex Works section, curated by Alison M. Gingeras, sports some of today’s and yesterday’s most provocative and powerful feminist practices. Two Austrian artists especially stand out: the elusive Birgit Jürgensen, presented by Galerie Hubert Winter, and Renate Bertlmann, on view at Richard Saltoun’s booth. Both artists are trailblazers, often misunderstood or even rejected by their contemporaries; while Jürgensen’s practice has been acknowledged as a defining contribution to its genre for quite some time, Bertlmann has only recently been rediscovered, probably thanks to the equally recent trend of exhibiting great, older female artists previously overlooked. Among the nine artists exhibited in the section are also three of America’s most eminent representatives of feminist art: Betty Tompkins, Marilyn Minter, and Judith Bernstein. Tomkins is known for her matter-of-fact depictions of genitalia, often executed in hues of grey and with an impressive eye for details and angles. Minter’s moist and sticky photographs have had garnered quite some attention this year, thanks to the artist’s retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum; and Bernstein’s visual tirades against patriarchal, right-wing politics and general phallocracy have made her one of the prime opponents of Trump in the artistic community.
Frieze is evidently not the only thing happening this week in London. Sunday Art Fair brings together 22 galleries from three continents and a massive amount of coolness. It’s being held in some semi-industrial, subterranean, cavernous space that looks like it was conceived especially for i-D magazine to shoot their fashion stories in. The participating galleries are either already known for their edgy image and program, or they will be next year after their participation at this very event (a couple of additional trendy boutique-style satellite fairs wouldn’t hurt to consolidate such a reputation though). Poland is well represented with Kasia Michalski and Piktogram, both based in Warsaw; so is NYC, from which three galleries hail. But one of Sunday’s nice touches is the inclusion of spaces relatively far off the usual grid. This year, Good Weather from Little Rock, Arkansas, Mieke van Schaijk from 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, and PM8 from Vigo in the North-West of Spain are amongst the lucky few chosen to show visitors that good art can also be bought elsewhere than in the large capitals of the Western world.
For those who might feel bored by endless amounts of booths, London obviously offers plenty of options when it comes to institutional shows and good galleries. British sculpture being a terrain particularly dense with talent, it only makes sense one of the medium’s most outstanding representatives is being honored with a solo show at Tate Britain: it’s Rachel Whiteread, the artist transforming absence of matter into sculptures. If you’re in London this week, missing her retrospective would be as shameful as publicly claiming you dislike Earl Grey.
Quite different in its approach to producing images yet almost as relevant to his own medium than Whiteread to hers, Norwegian photographer Torbjørn Rødland is also being honored with a solo show at an illustrious institution. For “The Touch That Made You,” the artist’s disturbing oeuvre is being exhibited at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery. The show exemplifies how Rødland has continuously (and successfully) been producing images that look weirdly formal at first glance, but ultimately convey syntheticity and anxiety in a perverse and clever way.
Perhaps more conceptually challenging yet equally interesting is Hannah Black’s exhibition “Some Context” at the Chisenhale Gallery, in which the British artist and writer of incendiary letters (among other things) explores the always tricky balance between collective subjectivity and objectivity. Some of the show consists of books filled with transcripts from conversations the artist had with friends; they’ll be shredded at the end of the show, confirming Black’s detachment from her work’s materiality and perhaps, to a certain extend, her commitment to an almost nihilistic intellectual radicality.
If we started mentioning all the excellent gallery exhibitions on view in the city this week, this newsletter would never finish; after giving so much attention to the emerging artists and spaces earlier, we’ll limit ourselves to three rather confirmed positions. Gary Hume’s solo show at Sprüth Magers isn’t only a good occasion to go check out the newly renovated premises of this art world powerhouse; Hume’s work, which masterfully captures the misty territories that separate the abstract from the representational, would look great in any type of location, and not only a fancy London townhouse. Opening tonight is “Pie Town,” Sherrie Levine’s second solo show with David Zwirner, the first at his London location. As usual with the American artist, prepare yourselves to feel equally frustrated and fascinated by Levine’s play with appropriation and distortion. Finally, let’s not forget that the enfant terrible of blue-chip galleries, Johann König, is opening a sort-of-space in London this week, which is supposed to function differently than a gallery but will probably end up working just as one, plus some ironic clothes courtesy the boss’s twisted imagination.
Obviously, comprehensive lists of shows, openings, and maps can be found on our app; there’s plenty (oh plenty!) to discover, so we can’t stress enough how helpful Exhibitionary might be to prioritize and decide what you really wanna see.
– Karim Crippa