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Frieze Week 2023 – the essential highlights from London’s premier art fair

When Amanda Sharp and Matthew Slotover hatched the idea of London art fair Frieze in 2003, it was, by their own admission, an experiment. These young guns – co-publishers of contemporary art magazine Frieze – were well-connected in the gallery world, though not among collectors. Yet they were emboldened by the success of Tate Modern that had opened in 2000 and the irreverent mood on London’s art scene sparked by the Young British Artists in the 1990s, which was still in the air.

Housed in a tent designed by up-and-coming architect David Adjaye, the first fair declared its cutting-edge credentials from day one. Inside, dominating the space, was artist Paola Pivi’s whimsical piece Untitled (Slope) – an artificial grassy hill down which actors resembling punters gleefully tumbled. The fair’s setting in Regent’s Park – an oasis in the city – adds to its appeal.

Frieze Masters, also in the park, which showcases antiquities, Old Master paintings and 20th-century works, was launched in 2012. Frieze is now a global enterprise, having taken root too in New York, Los Angeles and Seoul. This week, over 160 galleries are participating in Frieze London, and more than 130 galleries at nearby Frieze Masters.

Some say Frieze has lost its edgy, original character, pointing out its preponderance of painting – more commercial and collectible than conceptual art or video. Yet highly respected galleries that have taken part in Frieze since its inception still participate. One of these, London-based Sadie Coles HQ, occupies one of the first booths you encounter at the fair.

“Frieze 2003 primarily focused on emerging artists,” says owner Sadie Coles, whose booth this year highlights the fair’s 20th anniversary. The gallery presented work at the inaugural fair and the stand is divided into two halves, one displaying art presented in 2003, for example by Andy Warhol and Sarah Lucas, the other recent works by such artists as Yu Ji and Victoria Morton.

Sadie Coles HQ at Frieze London 2023 in Effect Magazine
Sadie Coles HQ at Frieze London 2023 (Photo courtesy of the artist/s and Sadie Coles HQ)

“Frieze has since expanded and showcases established artists, too,” continues Coles. “Huge numbers of international visitors are now drawn to London’s must-see museum shows, such as the current Sarah Lucas show at Tate Britain and the Hayward Gallery’s Hiroshi Sugimoto show – and by extension to Frieze. These factors coalesce to make London a major art centre and Frieze London’s main art fair.”

Frieze, which runs this year until October 15, also includes Frieze Sculpture – sculptures dotted over a section of Regent’s Park a few minutes’ walk away. Coinciding with Frieze is the city-wide Frieze Week, which sees galleries all over the capital holding exhibitions and other events directly relating to the fair. Here are five standout highlights from this year’s edition:

Frieze London

Sprüth Magers showcases a large, boldly graphic piece by American artist Barbara Kruger at Frieze London 2023 - Effect Magazine
Sprüth Magers showcases a large, boldly graphic piece by American artist Barbara Kruger at Frieze London 2023

The pristine, all-white interior of Frieze London, a sequence of interlinked tents, feels at first like being inside a vast spaceship. Its apparently endless aisles seem to warrant a systematic tour of each one, but with colourful artworks grabbing your attention from all angles, an organic exploration is more realistic and enjoyable. For London-based art fans, booths of recognisable galleries, such as Sadie Coles HQ, Sprüth Magers and Cristea Roberts Gallery, provide reassuringly familiar landmarks.

The more eagle-eyed will spot art trends here, one of these being a renewed interest in conceptual artists of the late 1970s and early 1980s who looked to advertising and the media for inspiration. Evidence of this can be found at Sprüth Magers that showcases a large, boldly graphic piece by American artist Barbara Kruger. It presages a major show of her photo and text compositions at The Serpentine Gallery, opening in February.

And there’s a strong presence at the fair of the unmistakeable, colourful, patterned sculptures and prints of Nigerian-born, London-based artist Yinka Shonibare. His work examines race, class and colonialism and comments on the interrelationship between Africa and Europe. Cristea Roberts Gallery showcases his new series of woodblock prints, Modern Spiritual, which evoke the influence of African artefacts on Western modernism – for example, on Pablo Picasso and the development of Cubism. 

Frieze Masters

Frieze Masters offers a warmer, more inviting environment than Frieze London with its dazzling white cube gallery-inspired interiors. At Frieze Masters, art and artefacts are displayed against walls in moody hues or clad in materials such as wood.

Astoundingly, here you could be standing centimetres away from paintings by Pieter Breughel the Younger and Hieronymus Bosch. Or you can behold juxtapositions of work by Lucian Freud and Joshua Reynolds on the same stand. Hauser + Wirth’s booth is showing Canadian artist Philip Guston’s absurdist, figurative paintings; Guston is currently the focus of a major retrospective at Tate Modern.

Simon C. Dickinson, Frieze Masters 2023 (Photo: Michael Adair. Courtesy of Frieze and Michael Adair)

An interesting sideshow here, Modern Women, is dedicated to women artists working between 1880 and 1980. Many of them are relatively little-known, not surprisingly given the male-dominated nature of the art world in the 19th and 20th centuries. One of these is Ethel Walker whose subjects range from portraits of bohemian women luminaries of the early 20th century to ethereal evocations of allegorical female figures. Other artists featured include Emilie Charmy, Maria Lai and Faith Ringgold.

Frieze Sculpture

'Sleepwalker, 2014' by Tony Matelli, presented by Maruani Mercier at Frieze Sculpture 2023 in Effect Magazine - Effetto
Sleepwalker, 2014‘ by Tony Matelli, presented by Maruani Mercier at Frieze Sculpture 2023 (Photo: Linda Nylind)

In this refreshingly open-air exhibition, sculpture escapes the confines of the gallery. The sculptures are widely spaced apart, and as such can be more easily seen as autonomous pieces. Even the text panels stating their names and galleries (which recall ‘Please keep off the grass’ signs) are impaled in the ground at a respectful distance from the sculptures. Yet they are also a curated selection, chosen this year by curator and writer Fatoş Üstek.

And there’s a dark undercurrent to it. Tony Matelli’s sculpture Sleepwalker, 2014 portrays a balding male somnambulist which, says its creator, represents “a man in crisis”. Josh Smith’s disturbing bronze sculpture Friend, 2023 is a faceless Grim Reaper figure whose hollowness contradicts the image of sculpture as solid and 3D. Louise Nevelson’s Model for Celebration II, 1976 feels similarly paradoxical. Nevelson was known for her monochrome sculptures and the complex assemblage of forms in this piece looks flattened because it’s painted black.

Richard Prince: Early Photographs, 1977–1987 at Gagosian

Richard Prince is of the same generation as fellow American Kruger. Here is further proof that their shared sensibility and sophisticated dissection of clichés pervading the media and advertising in the 1970s and 1980s seem to be enjoying a revival. Both artists worked in magazine publishing and drew from experiences and skills acquired in the field to decode and expose its subliminal messages. Gagosian’s Grosvenor Hill gallery has granted Prince an extensive show called Early Photographs, 1977–1987, where visitors can enjoy wandering from room to room displaying his witty observations of poses and facial expressions commonly found in fashion photography and advertising. On show, too, are his mock-heroic images of all-American cowboys in rugged landscapes, created by rephotographing Marlboro cigarette ads and cropping out the text.

Avery Singer at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row

Installation view, ‘Avery Singer. Free Fall’ at Hauser & Wirth London, until 22 December 2023 (Photo: Alex Delfanne/courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth)

Visitors to young American artist Avery Singer’s first solo show in the UK, Free Fall at Hauser & Wirth in London, may momentarily ask themselves if they have stumbled into a corporate, 1980s interior rather than a sleek blue-chip art gallery. Dated, battleship-grey carpet tiles line the floor; straight ahead stands a row of lifts. The latter are, in fact, carefully simulated, trompe l’oeil versions of the elevators in the World Trade Center in New York City.

The lifts in ‘Avery Singer. Free Fall’ are trompe l’oeil versions of the pre-9/11 elevators in the World Trade Center in New York. (Photo: Alex Delfanne/courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Her mother once worked in the building and Singer regularly visited her there as a child. On September 11, 2001, aged 14, Singer looked out of her parents’ apartment windows to witness the 9/11 terror attack, seeing flames pouring out of one of its towers and bodies falling to their death. “In confronting this topic, I wanted to use art… to create an emotional landscape of this history for the audience to enter into and define their own experience,” she says. Punctuating the show are portraits of faces with frozen expressions – apparently dumbstruck by the horror unfolding around them, while looking groomed and perfectly manicured. The installation appears to have wider implications than the tragedy of 9/11, suggesting a broader, sobering meditation on mortality.

Frieze London and Frieze Masters are in Regent’s Park until Sunday October 15. Frieze Sculpture is in the park until Sunday October 29.

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