The week just gone is affectionately known by the art world as Frieze week – it is when Frieze (and this year Frieze Masters) takes over Regent’s Park and art lovers flock to London from across the world. Frieze is accompanied by a host of other fairs (my favourite, and the most stylish, being PAD) as well as gallery openings that compete with each other on every night of the week.
Monday night saw the opening of PAD – the most chic and classy fair by far. As I don’t ever write about fairs all I will say is that, although we were there for a considerable amount of time, I felt I needed to go back. I also fell in love with numerous pieces including a Gerrit Rietveld Billet Chair from 1927.
Gerrit Rietveld, Billet Chair, 1927. Image via www.pad-fairs.com.
From PAD, we strolled out the square planning to go to Gagosian. But the opening was at Britannia Street not Davies Street. Oops! Peering through the window we could see the Penone exhibition but not get near the works. One black cross for me. Next we tried Ordovas which my Frieze companion assured me was open. One black cross for him.
Post PAD… Own photograph.
So, with very tired feet (well mine were already and it was only Monday) we went to Stephen Friedman who are exhibiting works by Tom Friedman (no relation). Friedman’s work explores everyday objects, elevating the mundane beyond its original purpose to extraordinary new forms. He deconstructs ideas and materials, rebuilding them into sculptural or artistic forms with a new level of genius. What we think we see and what we actually see are very different things.
Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com.
The main gallery space holds the biggest and the best work in this exhibition – a mass of tangled wires that take over the entire room. As we move around the installation, we can see the hidden silhouettes of human figures and faces trapped within the forms, interlocked within the wires, emerging and evaporating depending on our position. Friedman is obsessive and, for every piece, he distils each material back to its essence and rebuilds it, presenting a new structure that crosses between the mundane and the magical.
Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com.
Everyone is opening a blockbuster this week (which makes this time of year both amazing and horrendous) and the National Gallery has gone for Richard Hamilton who was still planning this exhibition days before his death last year. The painted white walls present a very modern space in the middle of this traditional gallery. Previewing on Tuesday, the same day as Frieze, the exhibition is a powerful statement of intent – this is Hamilton challenging the art world. It traces several themes of Hamilton’s career from the 1980s until his death, showing how he was moving towards a more traditional iconography at the end of his life.
The exhibition allows us to study his engagement with Marcel Duchamp, particularly in his works looking at the nude descending the staircase (addressed here in two works). The works are perfectly executed but have a sense of disquiet; they are quite hard to read, it is often very ambiguous as to what we are looking at.
Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.
Hamilton was one of the great experimenters with the computer, creating images that were entirely new, clean and crisp. This exhibition of his work shows areas of interest that had obsessed him for so long. One series of works remained unfinished at the time of Hamilton’s death – a trio of inket prints that visualise a moment from Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, telling the story of a painter who loses his mind trying to achieve the perfect nude. Hamilton knew he would not live to finish the work and made the decision that the exhibition would culminate in the initial presentation of these three large-scale variations. We will never really know what Hamilton intended and this makes us sombre and reflective. Each work features Courbet, Poussin and Titian contemplating a reclining female nude. For me, these works would still be mysterious even if they were finished but, in this state, they just leave us to wonder.
Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.
These later paintings aren’t my favourite Hamiltons – they are quite clinical in parts – but there is no denying that this is a beautiful, and surprisingly moving, exhibition. Seemingly simple, there is so much going on; the paintings lead into one another, as the ideas progress from work to work.
Next, I headed down the road to Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly who are showing Fire by Days – paintings by the New York-based Rita Ackermann. The idea for these resulted from an accident, a paint spillage on the floor of her studio that she was hastily forced to clean. It was through these splurges of paint that she began to see suggestions of forms, abstracted but also figurative. The works are very striking in this space, their strong and vibrant colours complementing the style of the room. The pages from Ackermann’s sketchbooks, upstairs on the wood panelling of the American Room, look as if they have always been there. There is nothing wrong with this exhibition but it failed to move me or make enough of an impact (rather like several things recently).
Rita Ackermann at Hauser & Wirth. Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk.
Continuing down Piccadilly to White Cube Mason’s Yard, I popped in to see Magnus Plessen – another artist who oscillates between abstraction and figuration. Figurative elements cry out to us but they are juxtaposed with abstract passages that seek to disorientate the viewer. Plessen’s techniques are the most interesting aspect of his work – he often physically turns the canvas to reposition and confound the arrangement of the piece. It appears that he has scraped away the paint in parts using gestural washes of colour over heavier oils to muddle the picture planes. With psychedelic acid yellows and hot pinks, there is often too much going to fully understand his intentions. The show is well-curated and the works are afforded a lot of space – they need a white cube to shine which is exactly what has been allowed to happen here.
Magnus Plessen upstairs at White Cube. Own photograph.
My list was looking daunting as the day hurried by and I headed up to Pace, the newly opened New York gallery which is now housed in the west wing of the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens’ space. They have juxtaposed the paintings of Mark Rothko with the seascape photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto. The eight Rothkos included here make use of a limited palette of predominantly black and grey while the Sugimoto’s use a similar grey-scale colour scheme. The artists form an aesthetic and quite superficial dialogue that, at times, becomes more of a battle. It is a stunning exhibition that prompts interesting comparisons – another simple show that achieves its aims stylishly without any fuss. Pace claim not to have opened in London sooner as they hadn’t found the right person to run the gallery or the right space – well they certainly seem to have hit the nail on the head here and I’m sure they will prove themselves during their four-year tenure.
Pace London. Image via www.manoelabowles.com.
After visiting a few shops on Regent Street (to give my brain a well-needed art break), I headed to Savile Row where Thomas Houseago has taken over both of Hauser & Wirth’s gallery spaces there.
Heading to Hauser. Own photograph.
He has chosen not just to split the works between the two galleries but also to give the two spaces different titles: I‘ll be Your Sister (in the North Gallery) comes from a very raw Motorhead song while Special Brew is a strong beer that Houseago used to drink every day before school, getting drunk and avoiding normal school-time activities. It allowed him to step outside the box. The North Gallery presents his monumental sculptures, intentionally big and messy, these works have the wow-factor. His works are brutally straightforward but still manage to appear mysterious and unworldly. Houseago spends a lot of time drawing and planning the process of his work and this is evident in the highly-textured surfaces that resemble sketching. The scale in the North Gallery is far more impactful than that in the South and the works are actually causing passers-by to stop and gape.
Thomas Houseago’s I’ll be Your Sister. Own photograph.
By nature of the sheer overload that is Frieze week, I’m having to be brief in my descriptions. Most of these exhibitions deserve more time and attention but this overview of my mad run around London should give you a taster.
Just over the road, Ordovas are presenting Painting from Life: Carracci Freud, a tiny exhibition that brings together a group of head studies by Annibale Carracci and Lucian Freud. This is a beautiful juxtaposition – intimate, simple and stunning. Ordovas knows how to get their shows right and this rare collaboration between them and a public art collection (Dulwich Picture Gallery has loaned a work) shows the esteem in which this gallery is held. The connections between Freud and Carracci have never before been explored but comparisons reveal intriguing affinities in technique, style, viewpoint and subject. This isn’t the gallery’s first show of this type as they previously juxtaposed Bacon and Rembrandt and attracted over 10,000 visitors in their first month alone!
Ordovas. Image via www.ordovasart.com.
The second of three New York galleries to open in London is David Zwirner (I’ve still not managed to pop into Michael Werner but hope to do so next week). The gallery has certainly chosen a statement show of Luc Tuymans’ work with which to open their 18th century Grafton Street townhouse. What a way to inaugurate this space. Again, the gallery knows how to keep it simple, allowing the paintings space to breathe and space to be viewed. Tuymans has lacked a proper presence in London since his 2004 Tate Modern retrospective but things are changing. Allo! is inspired by The Moon and Sixpence, a film loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin. But Tuymans’ interest in this topic has to do with a general negation of modernism and Hollywood’s long-standing idealisation of the artist as a romantic savage. This gallery adds a frisson of excitement to the already vibrant area – Dover Street and Grafton Street only continue to improve.
Luc Tuymans’ exhibition at David Zwirner’s new gallery. Image via www.davidzwirner.com.
After a very late lunch, I headed to Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street to see the Giuseppe Penone exhibition I’d planned to see on Monday night. I seem to have seen a lot of Penone recently. Here, he has engaged with the long narrow space of the Davies Street gallery, filling it with Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato, a large-scale standing sculpture comprised of delicately arranged tree branches and leaves defined in bronze. Positioned to conceal a human face, two long branches jut outwards in place of the eyes in a projective act of looking, recalling Penone’s long-held fascination with the process of seeing. It’s only a small show but, if you like Penone, then it’s worth popping in.
Gisueppe Penone, detail of Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato. Image via www.arttribune.com.
Further along the road at Gimpel Fils is Shana Moulton’s Preventation, a series of news videos in the on-going saga of Cynthia, her alter-ego. The films are accompanied by a number of the artworks that feature in her films.
I was nearly all art-ed out for the day but had a final stop for the opening of Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable at The Piper Gallery. This exhibition is definitely worth a visit partly to see how paintings need to be appreciated first-hand for the full experience. Jaray has always maintained a fascination with geometry, pattern, colour and repetition culminating in her distinctive, subtle yet penetrating works. As with many of the works I saw on Tuesday, Jaray plays with a carefully wrought tension between opposites: serenity and intensity, silence and sound, stasis and motion and two and three dimensions. The exhibition includes over twenty identically-sized works from Jaray’s recent series, After Malevich; inspired by Malevich’s Red Square, they have an energy and intensity that grabs you as soon as you enter. Despite the vast number of openings on Tuesday night, the gallery was packed!
Peaking into Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable. Image via www.thepipergallery.com.
Wednesday was my fairs day and, as well as a return trip to PAD, I spent time at Frieze and Frieze Masters which took up most of the day and evening. But, I did make a small window to pop to The Courtauld for a private tour of their Peter Lely exhibition. Lely is an important artist in British history but I don’t actually think very many people are familiar with, or excited by, his work so this is a brave choice of exhibition from The Courtauld. Lely was appointed Principal Painter to Charles II in 1661 and his paintings define the glamour and debauchery of the period. The works in this exhibition, however, concentrate on the period in the 1640s and 1650s when he was working in England, painting pastoral landscapes and large-scale narratives. The exhibition is organised around The Courtauld’s own unfinished The Concert – originally thought to depict Lely and his family, it seems to be a highly personal and allegorical interpretation of Music in the service of Beauty. This particular piece hasn’t been on display for a while and it’s nice to have the opportunity to view it in the context of other similar works.
Peter Lely, detail of The Concert. Own photograph.
The Courtauld is making the most of this exhibition with a Lely-fest; two other Lely’s are on show downstairs and room 12 boasts a display of drawings from Lely’s own celebrated and rare collection.
What this week has proved is how effective simple exhibitions can be. Exhibited on putty-coloured walls with beautifully focused lighting, this exhibition gets it right. Lely is a confusing artist with a mixture of styles that often betray his Flemish origins. The paintings on show here are far more powerful than his Court portraiture of later years and this is another winner from The Courtauld.
Lely exhibition at The Courtauld. Own photograph.
Thursday was my final day of rushing round fairs and exhibitions and the evening saw two conveniently close openings on Riding House Street. You may remember that I wrote about visiting Nick Goss’s studio a while ago. I popped back a couple of weeks ago to see his new works and, as a result, was ridiculously excited by the prospect this exhibition. The works here concentrate on portrayals of two different kinds of space – rehearsal spaces and the artist’s studio – where Goss seeks to investigate the detritus associated with the spaces used when playing in a band. Cheap and simple, the limitations of these rooms allow creativity to flourish which promulgates the development of musical ideas. Yet, devoid of players and instruments, the spaces have an uncharacteristic, melancholic atmosphere. Goss has developed the theme of the shabby rehearsal space in a study of fakery and idealisation, filled with a sense of nostalgia and an elusive sensibility. His are beautiful works, subtle paintings that pull you into his unique world.
Nick Goss’s new works at Josh Lilley. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com.
Over the road at TJ Boulting is an exhibition by Juliana Leite; her new work stems from consistent investigations into the physical action of her own body in space. The centrepiece is a large sculpture, of two separate latex forms joined in the centre; describing the artist’s movement up and down a staircase, the piece strikes a resonance with Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase (a common theme this week). The two parts were cast from a large mould composed of a set of stairs covered with a wooden tunnel, slowly lined with clay. The work is immense and we are drawn to walk around it, exploring its textures and crevices several times before we feel we have understood its form.
Juliana Leite’s impressive new sculpture. Image via www.tjboulting.com.
Even thinking about the week just gone slightly exhausts me. I have seen such a wealth of incredible art (some not so incredible too) and I have the sorest feet to show for it. I still have 12 exhibitions to cover that I didn’t manage to have the time for, I’d have loved to get to the other art fairs and I would have relished more time at the fairs I did explore. But, there are only a set number of hours in the week and I think I didn’t do badly!
Tom Friedman is at Stephen Friedman Gallery until 10th November 2012, www.stephenfriedman.com. Richard Hamilton: The Late Works is at the National Gallery until 13th January 2013, www.nationalgallery,org.uk. Rita Ackermann: Fire by Days is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 3rd November 2012, www.hauserwirth.com. Magnus Plessen: Riding the Image is at White Cube Mason’s Yard until 10th November 2012, www.whitecube.com. Rothko/Suginoto: Dark Paintings and Secrets is at Pace London until 17th November 2012, www.pacegallery.com. Thomas Houseago: I’ll be Your Sister and Special Brew are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 27th October 2012, www.hauserwirth.com. Painting from Life: Carracci Freud is at Odovas until 15th December 2012, www.ordovasart.com. Luc Tuymans: Allo! Is at David Zwirner until 17th November, www.davidzwirner.com. Giuseppe Penone: Intersecting Gaze / Sguardo Incrociato is at Gagosian Davies Street until 24th November 2012, www.gagosian.com. Shana Moulton: Prevention is at Gimpel Fils until 17th November 2012, www.gimpelfils.com. Tess Jaray – Mapping the Unseeable is at The Piper Gallery until Friday 9th November 2012, www.thepipergallery.com. Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision is at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January 2012, www.courtauld.ac.uk. Nick Goss – Tin Drum is at Josh Lilley Gallery until Friday 23rd November 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.com. Juliana Cerqueira Leite: Portmanteau is at TJ Boulting until 10th November 2012, www.tjboulting.com.