London is awash with a range of exhibitions to coincide with the Frieze art fairs. Here is a selection of some of the best on offer.
Dinh Q. Lê’s The Colony at Peckham’s Electric Theatre
In a derelict former cinema in the modish southeast neighborhood of Peckham, Vietnamese artist Dinh Q. Lê has created a powerful, multilayered video installation centered on bird droppings. It may sound like an unlikely draw, but guano, found in mountainous supplies on the remote Chincha islands off Peru, was considered a miracle fertilizer in the 19th century and became the focus of international dispute among colonial powers. Lê’s three-channel projection, partly filmed using drones, reveals the islands’ inhospitable beauty, the backbreaking toil of the laborers, their prison-like dormitories, and the vast colonies of birds responsible for this bizarre trade. Photographs, maps, and newspaper clippings from the time complement the film. The news clips focus on the economic and diplomatic aspects of guano, while shadowy apparitions of Chinese bonded workers, superimposed over modern-day shots of the islands, point up the shameful exploitation of the laborers.
“The Infinite Mix” at the Store 180 The Strand
The Hayward Gallery has joined forces with the independent record label The Vinyl Factory to stage this exhilarating pop-up show of visual artists who work with music, including Stan Douglas, Elizabeth Price, Cameron Jamie, and Rachel Rose. Set in a labyrinthine empty office block on the Strand, the exhibition exploits the building’s architecture to showcase a range of technical formats, from holographic illusions, such as Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster looming out of the shadows of a derelict corridor in the guise of Maria Callas in her work OPERA (QM15), 2016, to 3-D video, featuring plants lunging wildly as if traumatized by horrors they have witnessed in Cyprien Gaillard’s 2015 Nightlife, screened in the bowels of the building. Other highlights are Ugo Rondinone’s immersive video installation with the legendary Beat poet John Giorno performing his electrifying 2015 poem THANX 4 NOTHING—“Huge hugs to my friends who betrayed me … America, thanks for the neglect, I did it without you”—and Khalil Joseph’s vibrant video portrait of the people and streets of Compton in Los Angeles, m.A.A.d. (2014). Profound, entertaining and hypnotic.
“James Richards: Requests and Antisongs” at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London
The ICA has an impressive show devoted to British artist James Richards, who will represent Wales at the 2017 Venice Biennale. Richards combines found images and sound in his practice to create emotive landscapes that are almost sculptural. In the lower gallery the artist presents a six-channel sound installation Crumb Mahogany (2016). It is not a work to be hurried through; only by sitting with it can one appreciate the rhythmical symphony of sounds that invite rich associations, conjuring passing trains, heavy breathing, white noise, whale songs, and snippets of music in a series of crescendos and disruptions. In the upper gallery two installations offer a kaleidoscopic sequence of visceral images, from medical documentaries, newscasts, and French erotica. Both play with ideas of looking, the former employing extreme close-ups of eyes, images of masked carnival-goers, and perspectival tricks, while the latter features scrolling images of what appear to be attractive contours of a landscape but are in fact magnified views of a severe skin disease.
“Edward Burtynsky: Salt Pans, Essential Elements” at Flowers Gallery, Kingsland Road
In London’s East End, Flowers Gallery is showing Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s recent aerial photographs of salt pans in Gujarat, northern India. This technique dramatically flattens the picture plane, producing a resemblance to modernist abstract oil canvases, in which minimal blocks of color have been applied against a reworked gray background. However, on close inspection the apparent erasures and scrape marks turn out to be vehicle tracks and reveal industrial activity around limpid rectangular pools of salt water. Complementing these painterly images is the display upstairs of Burtynsky’s breathtaking photographic explorations of mining, quarrying, and oil drilling operations around the world. The images’ beauty belies the disastrous impact of these manufacturing and industrial processes on the environment.
“Inside: Artists and Writers in Reading Prison – Group Show” at Reading Prison
Half an hour’s train ride out of London, Reading Prison is hosting a star-studded exhibition of artists including Roni Horn, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Ai Weiwei in homage to Oscar Wilde, whose famous Ballad of Reading Gaol was inspired by his incarceration there from 1895 to 1897. The cells and corridors of this Victorian redbrick prison, in use until 2013, offer a sobering and poignant setting for exploring themes of injustice, loneliness, and alienation. Among many potent works, Marlene Dumas’s silently accusatory portraits of Wilde and his lover Lord Alfred Douglas stand out, as does Nan Goldin’s restaging of the French writer Jean Genet’s 1950 film Un Chant d’Amour, depicting the erotic relationship of two gay prisoners in adjacent cells. Visitors become voyeurs as they gaze through a peephole in the cell to see the film, aping the prison warder in the film. Another corridor is taken up with Doris Salcedo’s installation Plegaria Muda (Silent Prayer, 2008–10), consisting of ranks of coffin-size tables with upturned tables balanced on top above a layer of soil, which has caused grass to sprout through the wooden slats like graves in a cemetery. Each Sunday actors and performers from Ralph Fiennes (October 9) to Patti Smith (October 30) will give readings in the prison chapel of De Profundis, Wilde’s love letter to Douglas, nicknamed “Bosie.”
“The EY Exhibition: Wifredo Lam” at Tate Modern
In its ongoing bid to tell a global history of art and realign the art canon away from traditional Western centers, Tate Modern has mounted an illuminating survey of the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam. The show traces the strong influences of his friends Picasso and André Breton in Lam’s early work while living in Europe, but demonstrates how on his return to Cuba in the 1940s Lam conceived his own language, infusing the “primitive” masks of Picasso and fantastical creatures of Surrealism with the magic of Afro-Caribbean culture. As Lam stated of this cultural merging in his work: “I could act as a Trojan horse that would spew forth hallucinating figures with the power to surprise, to disturb the dreams of the exploiters.” Drawing on the Santería religion, Lam’s canvases from this period—his strongest—exude a sultry, quivering sensuality as menacing goddesses cavort with monsters in the lush vegetation.
Now in the autumn of his life, the French postwar artist presents his elegantly patterned wallpaper, paintings, sculptures, and furnishings in this exhibition that fuses art and design, public and private, collective memory and literature. First shown at the gallery in 1972, his installation Enough Tiranny is re-created here in a kitschy nostalgic meditation on the passage of time as strains of David Bowie blare in the background. Disco balls dangle, carp-filled fountains bubble, strobe lights spin colors onto a floor decked with silver beads, wilting roses, lacy underwear, ornamental animals, and outdated electronic appliances. Reflections on time and loss, aesthetics, and the meaning of home thread through the exhibition. In another room Chaimowicz has intervened in the Serpentine’s decor to evoke the gallery’s previous incarnation as a tearoom. And elsewhere, nine marble slabs painted in busy patterns lean against a wall in dialogue with a small oil canvas by the French painter Edouard Vuillard, master of domestic interiors that engulf their occupants.
Paula Rego at Marlborough Fine Art
Marlborough Fine Art has a major exhibition of the Portuguese-born artist Paula Rego, to whom the gallery is also dedicating its booth at Frieze Masters. The Mayfair gallery show offers a rare chance to see Rego’s superb large-scale pastel series “Dancing Ostriches” from Disney’s Fantasia, originally commissioned for a 1996 show at the Hayward Gallery. Instead of Disney’s graceful lithe-limbed birds, Rego portrays chunky aging ballerinas in awkward poses, sometimes foreshortened or other times barely contained within the picture frame. Besides its extraordinary depiction of muscular flesh, the series offers a masterful investigation of female psychology, underscoring the women’s strength and vulnerability at the same time. Upstairs a large-scale tapestry based on a 16th-century folk tale is displayed alongside etchings and lithographs from the two 1996 series “Pendle Witches” and “Children’s Crusade,” both of which convey otherworldly realms where the grotesque and fabulous meet.
Based on the Lithuania-born filmmaker Jonas Mekas’s novel of the same name, Gordon’s film I Had Nowhere to Go includes only some 10 minutes of images. However, the rasping, accented narration by the nonagenarian Mekas describing his experience of internment in a Nazi labor camp followed by a displaced persons camp, alternating with descriptions of his life as an immigrant in New York, is so compelling that one senses that more images might be an unwelcome distraction. Gordon has created an evocative soundscape to accompany the narration and underscore the motifs of displacement and disorientation. But it’s not all horror and sadness; the film is peppered with humorous moments, such as Mekas’s observation about the multiple nuances of the phrase “fuck you” in his adopted homeland.