Frieze London, 11-15 October 2023
By Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton
London’s autumn murk is instantly dispelled by the light of the vast Frieze tent and the full on gaudy blaze of Damien Hirst’s flowers paintings at Gagosian. Maybe that’s why they sold out before the opening at over half million $ a piece. Overblown, spattered with fat gobs of paint straight from the tube, they are awful. Chelsea Garden Show on steroids, surpassed only in kitsch vulgarity by the bronzed up Chomper, a rare juvenile T-Rex dinosaur skeleton at David Aaron, priced at $20m. No wonder our museums cannot keep up with this over heated market.
It is a relief to hear a few stalls away the harmonies of a gospel choir at Edel Assanti, a gallery which consistently shows brave and wide ranging work at Frieze. Julian Knxx is a young émigré artist from war-torn Sierra Leone. He shows a film performance of his poem Black Room, a collaboration with the soul musician THABO Mkwanzi and the South African a cappela group Afrika Mamas. Their haunting songs of resistance and hope echo to the images of sinuous dancers against the walls of brutalist architecture. Fittingly, Knxx is also showing at the Barbican Centre an immersive work with gospel choirs from cities across Europe: Rememory of Flight, ‘What does it mean to Breathe now…the revelation is in your chest..’ Hopefully, Black Room will be seen by the migrant communities it celebrates, as it has been bought by the Arts Council Collection, which lends and tours countrywide.
A work which speaks, in its waxed, unplayable impotency, to the power of music to transcend human misery is Ai Wei Wei’s early work Violin with camouflage 1986 at Galleria Continua, Frieze Masters. Made during his unhappy years in New York ‘New York destroyed all my Illusions’ , the artist looked to Duchamp’s readymades: ‘I did not take a urinal..I took China as a readymade, or tradition, or the West’s political condition..’
An art fair is a not a comfortable fit for the artist as seer, as shaman, but Grace Ndiritu’s award-winning film Black Beauty: For a Shamanistic Cinema 2021 at Kate MacGarry is a compelling corrective. The African model Alexandra Cartier plays a TV presenter interviewing the great Jorge Luis Borges, their imaginary conversation ranging wide over the existential crises of our time and the paradoxes and failures of Modernity. Borges on Deep Time: ‘what does that mean, how does it affect the baker baking his bread, the poet writing his prose,..’ A fashion shoot in a spectacular quarry counterpoints, to the strains of Mahler’s 5th our model promotes Black Beauty face cream ‘saving earth is now officially sexy. Sexy, sexy.’ Helpfully, Frieze hosts a VIP Anti- Inflammatory Lounge, courtesy of Sturm facial products at £100 a pot.