Show reviews
A Tale of Two Cities: Frieze & Paris Plus (October 2022) 

In October this year, two major art fairs took place in quick succession: Frieze in London, and Paris Plus by Art Basel in Paris.All eyes were on Paris Plus because it took over from FIAC - a fair that for decades had been THE contemporary art fair to see in Paris. Paris Plus is the new hot property in the portfolio of Art Basel, the leviathan of global art fairs.

Having visited both fairs this month, I was struck by how much more navigable, airy and curatorially exciting Frieze was in comparison to Paris Plus.  Perhaps it was the fact that this was the first edition of Paris Plus; the fair had to be put together in record time, whereas frieze is a well-established and well-oiled art magnet for celebrities and art collectors. This discrepancy might also be due to Paris Plus taking place in the Grand Palais Éphémère (a temporary exhibition hall on the Champs de Mars) which had been packed tight with galleries while the Grand Palais is undergoing refurbishment. 

At Frieze I felt that galleries presented artwork in a spacious and sensitive way, often by taking a punt on one or two artists and displaying them exclusively. Some also playfully varied the architecture of their stands.  This year’s fair was a solid show, with lots of highly accomplished and established artists. I would love to see gallerists taking more risks and showcasing wackier pieces.  I thought that several booths stood out as having been exceptionally well designed and curated. The best was Stephen Friedman Gallery’s presentation of Jeffrey Gibson’s first solo survey in the UK. Plinths were painted red and the walls were decorated with an intricately patterned wallpaper that lent itself perfectly to Gibson’s Choctaw-Cherokee inspired works.

 

In Paris Plus, by contrast, artworks were crammed onto the walls and it seemed that the galleries themselves were not given enough space to effectively install work. I hope that in its future iterations, Paris Plus shows more up-and-coming galleries, and that the galleries no longer feel the need to cram so many works on each wall.  Despite these teething problems, I imagine that with Art Basel behind the Paris Plus show, it will go from strength to strength in the coming years. One aspect of the fair that I loved was how Paris Plus installed sculpture around Paris (taking its inspiration from Frieze’s Sculpture in Regents Park),

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in particular in the Jardin des Tuileries and on the Place Vendôme. Against the backdrop of the Place 

Vendôme, the work by Alicja Kwade looked particularly stunning. 

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For the uninitiated, what strikes you most upon entering an art fair is not just the art, but also the ambiance. Depending on your point of view, you will either love it or loathe it. Personally, I love people-watching and so soaking up the atmosphere is a must - particularly at Frieze, where the British viewers dress up to rival the artworks on the walls. Inevitably there’s a lot of tippling champagne, instagramming, hailing friends, air kissing and selfie-pouting going on.

But what about the actual art on the walls, I hear you say. Without further ado, here are some of this year’s highlights…

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In Paris, I enjoyed Katherine Bradford’s beautifully dream-like and comic acrylic painting Men in the Sky with Onlookers. I was very impressed by the colours and energy of Leelee Kimmel’s canvases, and Nathanaelle Herbeli’s semi-transparent, aquatic paintings of interiors. The American artist Robert Kushner’s painting Pink Camelia was exquisite with a delicate gold-leaf surface. The Ivory Coast painter Roméo Mivekannin is definitely one to watch: his portraits are an irreverent spin on Western tradition, upended by references to West African spirituality and power.

 

Finally, I was fascinated by William S Burroughs’s 1987 mutli-media work Space Door, and emotional, symbolically-charged works by Barthélémy Togo. 

In London, my favorites included Grayson Perry’s Chris Witty cat, because of its hilariously uncanny resemblance to the man, and a sculpture by Leonardo Drew that conveyed a sense of density and explosion. Elias Sime’s colourful, abstract pieces made of reclaimed electrical wires and hard-ware components had real presence. I also loved the re-presentation by Blindspot Gallery of Hong Kong–based artist Trevor Yeung’s 2019 installation, Between Water, in which 25 plastic cups, half-filled (or half-empty, depending on your view) with water, are precariously hung from the ceiling. They are arranged in a grid and spaced out approximately 120 cm (nearly 4 feet) from each other, which to the artist is the polite distance one might keep from a stranger, but during the pandemic gained new significance as an artwork about bodies, autonomy, disease and survival.

 

Last but definitely not least, Frieze exhibited well-established artists who didn’t fail to deliver incredible work. I particularly loved Theaster Gates’s wall-relief Colour Study with Red and Gray made of industrial enamel, bitumen, wood, rubber and copper metal. I also loved Hew Locke’s work Hinterland, reworking a public sculpture of Queen Victoria and superimposing on her image ghostly figures of annihilation, death and empire. Last but definitely not least, the minimalist and tactile works of Harmony Hammond were wonderful to discover. 

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Art Schools Degree Shows (June 2022) 

June and July are an exciting time in the emerging art world as MA and BA students put on degree shows showcasing their end of year work. The ArtULTRA team has made several excursions to visit London’s art schools this June already, and we hope to go to see yet more degree shows in July. It’s a great way to meet emerging artists who are preparing to take the leap from education to the professional art world. Here we review the degree shows that we have seen so far, including their curation, and we highlight some of the remarkable talent you need to know about.

At the Kingston School of Art, we found a few gems, including two paintings by Karwea Sharratt, and a sugar crystal chandelier by Manfred Pegram. We also thought Ahlam Ahmadi’s installation using sand, acrylic paint and intaglio prints exploring the oil resource curse and Qatari social housing was arresting. Chearra Mager’s Black Angel made us ponder the traditional images of angels in the Western canon. On the downside, we were disappointed with the curation of the show. Armed with a tiny labelled floor plan, we struggled to work out whose work was whose. It was an unnecessary ordeal. What’s more, there were no labels on the artworks themselves and no information about the graduating artists. For a degree show whose objective is to celebrate and launch the work of emerging artists, we thought it could definitely do better!

Zooming over to the Central St Martins’ (CSM) combined design and fine art degree show at Kings’ Cross, we attended the private view which had a fantastic buzz. Live performances were staged in the university’s bustling central hallway. Artworks were clearly labelled with artist, title, materials, and a helpful QR code that took you to the student’s UAL page online.

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central hallway. Artworks were clearly labelled with artist, title, materials, and a helpful QR code that took you to the student’s UAL page online. Just having a short bio and statement meant that it was much easier to understand the principal concerns that each of these artists were exploring. Part of what can make a degree show difficult to curate is the eclectic nature of combining all the students’ practices, but CSM managed to do so harmoniously. The artworks complemented each other and offered insights into central themes of identity, ecology and digitisation. 

We loved Dora Perini’s enormous, three-tiered sculpture that made chocolate goo using the force of gravity, on which three performers meditated. Adam Muscat’s steel relief sculpture encapsulating Kabbalistic spirituality was wonderfully intricate, as were the coral-like shimmering sculptures by the ceramic artist Shao Qi Tan. Other highlights included poetic video and installation works by Wanci Xie, Kashish Saini, and Natalie Sasiprapra Organ that tackled themes of cultural misrepresentation, personal identity and memory. 

Our visit to the Chelsea College of Art Degree Show brought several artists to our attention. These include the surrealist painter Abi Bronimann,  and Caroline Ashley, whose large, woven structures were intriguing hybrids that merged tapestry, sculpture and installation. The show had a rich array of conceptual and more traditional art on display, but some pieces stood out like Kailene Grey’s impressively dynamic sculpture, which captured the energy and drive of a woman running forward at full tilt.

Next on our whistle-stop tour, we popped to the Westminster School of Art Private View to catch up with one of our previously featured artists, Matilde Merliwho is graduating this summer.  Matilde’s work is as impactful as ever: she had built a small room in the middle of the show in which she recreated her personal universe, letting us glimpse her fears and demons. 


Next, we visited the MA/MFA degree show at the Slade School of Art at UCL. The show was thoughtfully curated by the students themselves: we enjoyed talking to the artist Antrea Tzourovits about how he had altered his studio space to introduce a new wall and chest-height plinth running the length of the room. Antrea explained that the students, including himself, had made architectural changes 

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chest-height plinth running the length of the room. Antrea explained that the students, including himself, had made architectural changes to the exhibition spaces in order to give viewers the best way to experience their artworks. He spoke about making the degree show a collaborative event where viewers could bring their own emotions and memories into the display. We found, however, that because there was little accompanying text, it was really difficult to ‘get into’ a lot of the work that was cerebral and highly conceptual. It’s lovely to spend time exploring a piece - but there is so much to get through in a degree show! Once more, we felt the Slade could have done more to give visitors information to understand each students’ practice. 

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Reboot by Songwon Han

Having said that, there were pieces that we particularly loved at the Slade and instantly connected with. These included: Anna Choutova’s oil-painted cut-outs of consumer goods; Songwon Han’s incredible video, which channelled alter-egos and a bewitching knife dance; Bartlomiej Hajduk’s brightly-coloured folkloric drawings and sculptures; and Juliet Baker’s fantastic pink prints and multi-media sculpture Spilling out exploring the tactile relationship that exists between her body and the various materials she uses. 

At the Camberwell BA show, we lacked any website links, QR codes or Instagram handles for the majority of the artists being shown. Each room did have, thank God, a plan with names - but as the show was spread out throughout four blocks, it got very confusing the more room plans we accrued! There were several artists that really transfixed us. Mattia Guarnera’s acrylic Poker Face portraits were striking - this artist is definitely one to watch! We also loved Ruby Head’s A5 series in which she paints everyday London life in a very simple and touching way. Anja Kuzmic’s virtuosic oil paintings were a great blend of horror, drag and Tumblr Goth. We really liked Ashleigh Stevens’ tender portraits, and Mateo Gabayet’s immersive installation. Mateo had stencilled an entire corridor with his own abstract designs based on Techno music, some with ultraviolet and glow-in-the-dark paint. The artist then asked us to put on some fractal goggles - the kind used for raving - and we found ourselves totally lost in a kaleidoscopic infinity of coloured fragments! 

The latest show (so far!) that we visited was that of the Royal Academy Schools. We loved speaking to Catinca Malamaire and Sofia Causse, two of the artists showcasing their work.  Sofia told us about discovering new iterative processes during her time at the school. She explained that she has expanded her practice as a painter to include ceramics and installation work. Catinca’s final piece Emergency Ex included: a video performance of her moving through the leftover structures of a disused warehouse, photography and light installations. Her exploration of vacant spaces and obsolescence was mesmerising: inside the warehouse, she performed a balletic sequence in collaboration with outdated film-set lights.  

Another artist who addressed vacancy and history was Kobbi Adi, whose work consisted of removing all the plaster casts from the RA’s architecture studio. This ‘anti-art’ artwork was a little perplexing at first, but ultimately struck us as highly evocative. The negative spaces revealed by removing the sculptures gave us an insight into the RA’s long-established history and made us reconsider this history now that the room had been temporarily robbed of its edifying contents. 

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Binah by Adam Muscat

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Matilde Merli next to her degree work

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The London Art Fair April 2022

In April, ArtULTRA headed to Islington to check out the London Art Fair. After two years of being held online, the fair reopened at the Business Design Centre with over 100 modern and contemporary galleries from all corners of the globe. Upon entering the fair, we noticed an energetic buzz of gallerists engaging with customers and people waving at each other from across the stalls. Everyone seemed glad to be back.

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To exhibit at the London Art Fair, galleries have to be invited by the selection team: it’s similar to Frieze, rather than The Other Art Fair where artists can hire their own stalls. The type of galleries exhibiting would classify as ‘high street galleries’- reputable, and most are established. They are not, however, the 'superstar' galleries like White Cube or Hauser and Wirth. The fair focuses on modern and contemporary British art, with many artworks made during the past two years during lockdown. But the London Art Fair also showcases international artists and galleries, which make up a quarter of their exhibitors. 

On display, we found relatively established artists with an international career and solid sales records. Many galleries were selling print editions of famous works, by very high profile artists such Francis Bacon, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall or Tracey Emin. Surprisingly, not all these works were astronomically expensive, with prices ranging from £1,000 to £30,000. 

The Museum Partner for this edition of the London Art Fair was the Cambridge-based The Women’s Art Collection, which had their own stand celebrating the breadth and diversity of women artists, collectors and patrons. Their stand had the stunning painting, Tuesday, below by the Lancashire-born artist Leonora Carrington.

 

We particularly liked Tiffanie Delune, a French Belgo-Congolese artist based in Portugal whose work is pictured here. We also enjoyed speaking to a few gallerists, including Brit who established the digital gallery Mothflower about a year ago and has a nice selection of emerging and established artists on her site.

Tiffanie Delune, Free Birds Learn to Sing in Silence

Another highlight of the fair included discovering the symbolic mixed media artworks of Canadian emerging artist Gabrielle K Brown. Brown was exhibited by the Cornwall-based Anima Mundi Gallery in Art Projects, a small area on the second floor of the fair dedicated to emerging artists. Her large-scale wooden panels were a surrealist blend of folk-style wood-carving, Native American-inspired imagery and references to Looney Tunes, Pop Art and Biblical stories. Brown is inspired by a deep reverence for nature, and her works offered criticism of consumerism and ecological destruction fuelled by an oil economy. 

Unfortunately, the area dedicated to photography Photo50 was rather anodyne. A group exhibition had been curated by Rodrigo Orrantia entitled ‘No Place is An Island’ which presented photographic, video and performance-based works around the theme of ‘connections and dialogues.’ The area could have benefitted from a greater effort at coherence and better presentation of photographic works (which were not always printed large enough for viewing).

 

Overall, however, visiting the London Art Fair was like riffling through a box of chocolates – there were some real gems to discover! 

Tuesday by Leonora Carrington
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Gabrielle K Brown, Greed Never Looked So Good