The art fairs Frieze London and Frieze Masters have returned to Regent’s Park this week after a year’s hiatus. In that time, Londoners had ample space to reflect on what matters most to the city’s rich cultural landscape.
While many surely missed the social energy and market momentum of the art fairs during lockdown, it was also a time to rediscover London’s stellar art institutions and how they contribute to fabric of our lives in ways that are very different from the two pop-up tents in one of London’s royal parks.
To that end, here’s a round up of what not to miss in museums this week.
Through October 17
In “curtain call, variations on a folly,” Montréal-based artist Abbas Akhavan continues to explore the potential of chroma key green screen technology, which he has paired with his fascination with an ancient building material made of subsoil, water, and straw called cob. For the Chisenhale commission, he filled the gallery with a green screen infinity wall, on top of which he placed cob sculptures replicating the forms of a colonnade that once led to the Arch of Palmyra in Syria, much of which was tragically destroyed by ISIS in 2015.
By mixing the infinite possibilities afforded by the green screen, and the dark history of the heritage site’s destruction, the installation is somewhat of a portal through time and space, and leaves the viewer feeling transported with it.
South London Gallery
Through November 21
Unbelievably, this is Alvaro Barrington’s first solo show in a U.K. institution. The market star—whose is represented by a full galleries internationally—is a prolific producer, and his bespoke installation at the South London Gallery responds to the architecture of the space in a way I’ve not seen before. Titled “Spider The Pig, Pig The Spider,” the show presents several new bodies of work that, in line with Barrington’s practice, play with historical and contemporary cultural references—including a new series of Hermès blankets smeared with concrete and hung up like cloud paintings, and mixed media paintings that smoosh the children’s TV character Peppa Pig with the pigs from Orwell’s animal farm.
Mixing It Up
Through December 12
If you want an overview of the landscape of contemporary painting today, “Mixing It Up” is a necessary port of call. The show brings together the work of 31 contemporary painters, from emerging Iraqi artist Mohammed Sami, whose poetic paintings dredge up traumatic memories of military conflict and refugee life to striking recent works by Lisa Brice, which conjure up dreamlike worlds of women painters at work, who shrug off the the male gaze of art history that has so often cast them as muses and models.
Camden Art Center
Through December 23
London-based artist Phoebe Collings-James is having her first institutional solo show in the U.K. Titled “A Scratch! A Scratch!”—after Mercutio’s reaction to being slain by Tybalt in Shakespeare’s the wide-ranging exhibition presents a sensory environment of sound and sculpture that—invoking the traditions of mythology, folklore, and Black queer sound—explores themes of grief, heartbreak, and desire.
New bodies of work on view include a group of torso casings resembling Roman armor plates, multi-panel clay paintings inscribed with images, words, and phrases, and an audio patchwork of sounds captured from daily journeys through the streets of London echoing out of water-filled vessels. It also includes new recordings of poetry generated in tarot circles, led by artist and poet Daniella Valz Gen over the past year.
Through January 2
Anyone can enter their work for consideration for the Royal Academy’s annual summer exhibition, meaning it offers a true bird’s eye view of the landscape of contemporary art and architecture. Delayed until fall this year due to the pandemic, it includes work by leading artists including Njideka Akunyili Crosby and Rose Wylie, as well as slews of emerging talent. Hung across the RA’s main galleries, it is always a delight and full of discovery, and if you are in a buying mood, most of the work is also for sale.
Through January 9
Both his practice as a potter working with clay and his deep religious belief are central to the work of Theaster Gates, who says both teach you how to “shape the world.” Fittingly then, the Chicago-based artist’s latest outing at the Whitechapel Gallery is titled “A Clay Sermon,” and includes work spanning two decades of production, from early hand-thrown pots to his large-scale Afro-Mingei sculptures. The artist has also selected historic ceramics from public and private collections to show alongside his own, and is debuting a new, musically rich film that takes the form of a sermon on clay.
The exhibition also seeps across London to an intervention in the ceramics galleries at the V&A, and a concurrent show at White Cube Mason’s Yard. The project will culminate next summer when the artist takes on the annual Serpentine pavilion commission.
This one is a bit of a cheat as, of this writing, we don’t yet know what the Korean American conceptual artist has in store for her installation in Tate Modern’s cavernous Turbine Hall. The institution is notoriously quiet about the commission until it is officially unveiled, which will be later today, but we’re confident enough to add it to this list. The artist, known for working with microbial matter and other unconventional materials, has cryptically hinted that the new work will be an “aquarium of machines,” and the institution said it will build on themes the artist has focused on throughout her career, exploring the links between art and science, and working to activate different senses. We are titillated.