Artists Fairs United Kingdom

Breaking boundaries: art outside the park

Our pick of the “embedded projects” around the city during Frieze

Kenny Hunter’s sculpture I Goat in Bishops Square, Spitalfields. Photo: John Sturrock

One of Frieze’s now long-established effects is to encourage every museum and gallery in London to programme its most eye-catching shows for the international art world’s annual mass descent on the British capital. But it is also a moment when the fabric of the city becomes infused with art. Frieze’s sculpture park, visible from the fair itself, is the most obvious, but these embedded projects, beyond the confines of white cubes and museum halls, take many forms and offer some of the best moments of the season. Here, we look at four diverse projects and explore the different ways in which artists and curators engage with the metropolis.

The zeitgeist pop-up

The Moving Museum: “Open Heart Surgery”, 180 The Strand, WC2, until 13 December

The Moving Museum’s exhibition “Open Heart Surgery” is an attempt to reflect London back on itself. “All the international world is gravitating to London to see the best of what the international world has,” says the curator Aya Mousawi, who founded the Moving Museum with Simon Sakhai, “and I think it’s a great opportunity to have somewhere that can showcase what we see as a snapshot of what’s happening at the centre of London.”

The show includes the work of numerous emerging figures who are creating a buzz, including Lucky PDF, Adham Faramawy, Celia Hempton and Mary Ramsden, and more established artists such as Shezad Dawood and the Deutsche Börse prize winners Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.

“When it came to putting the artists together,” Sakhai says, “we were certainly looking at various generations and what was happening, and trying to identify that perhaps there was a particular scene or group of artists, or a type of practice, that something exciting is happening with, and [that] people are starting to look at.”

The show takes place in a brutalist building that was derelict until recently in the city’s West End. It offers 3,000 sq. m of space, which, with its concrete ceilings and floors and white walls, sits between a post-industrial warehouse and a white cube. Mousawi says that the venue was crucial, since it gave the artists “an opportunity to work in such a vast space and actually be in control of it”. She adds: “There’s something special in the fact that we’re bringing this group of artists together, and it’s in London… we want it to have this energy that’s alive throughout the entire period, and having it in this space, setting it up in the way we have, is something that I think will create that.”

The atmospheric installation

Daniel Silver: Dig, Artangel at 24 Grafton Way, WC1, until 3 November

Daniel Silver’s Dig is the latest atmospheric work to be embedded in London and produced by the arts organisation Artangel (see box). A mock-archaeological dig teeming with sculptures in marble, clay and plaster, it was inspired partly by the archaeological sites seen by Silver in Greece and Jerusalem, but also by kitsch marble sculptures in Carrara quarries and Greek mock-historical knick-knacks in shops.

The sculptures themselves were inspired by Sigmund Freud’s collection of totemic and erotic sculptures, which were the starting point for the British-Israeli artist’s discussions with Artangel. “We started talking about Freud’s interest in archaeology,” says James Lingwood, a co-director of Artangel, “and this slow and erratic process then guided us towards this idea of excavation. With that in mind, we realised that we needed a rough site of some sort. It could have been more or less anywhere in London, but it was interesting to be in a part of the city in which, very notionally, an archaeological dig could have happened.”

They managed to find a forlorn, overgrown space in the heart of the capital—just north of Oxford Street—that has been empty “for at least two decades”, Lingwood says. Owned by University College London Hospitals, it was the location of one of London’s largest Odeon cinemas.

It is the combination of this central London wasteland and Silver’s ambiguous sculptures that lends potency to the work. “For us, site is a material,” Lingwood says. “And it’s a material that is part of shaping the experience of the work, as much as, in the case of Daniel Silver, the marble or the plaster or the mud, or whatever. The site is never, for us, something neutral or passive. If one thinks of these projects having a certain chemistry to them—and quite a volatile chemistry, sometimes—within that, the site or the material of the site is a very active element,” he says.

The city sculpture park

Spitalfields Public Sculpture, Bishops Square, E1, ongoing

When the area around Spitalfields market was redeveloped in the 2000s, it was accompanied by a series of sculptures dotted around the new Bishops Square area, commissioned by the art management specialists Rachel Dickson and Emma Russell, who continue to organise an evolving series of works in the area. “The Spitalfields estate management were very keen to bring in as much of the local community—the visitors, the traders, the different stakeholders—[as possible] to give them some kind of involvement within the new development. The public sculpture programme is really part of that,” Dickson says.

They call the works “site-responsive” rather than site-specific, since “some works that were already extant have told the right stories”. Among the emerging artists they havechosen are Gereon Krebber, who has since shown widely internationally, and Elenora Aguiari, whose red silhouette of the nearby Christ Church Spitalfields “became a real landmark—people would meet by the red church”, Russell says. “When we feel the pieces are so embedded in the site that people are using them in that way, then we feel we have been really successful.”

A cluster of new works was installed in Spitalfields this week, and, similarly, many take on the site’s history. “Something completely new to us is that one of the artists, Justine Cook, has made a piece and called it The Rookery,” Russell says. “I didn’t know that the East End slums in the past were known as ‘the rookeries’ because of the way that people were cheek-by-jowl with each other, and they didn’t get on, [in] the way that rooks nest in large, untidy colonies close to each other.” She adds that “to ‘rook’ is also slang, meaning to cheat or thieve”. In response to this idea, Cook has made large balls stuffed with crows’ feathers that hang in uneven clusters between Brushfield and Market Streets. “It’s all about activating the different locations,” Dickson says.

The artist in the community

Liu Xiaodong: “Half Street”, Lisson Gallery, 52-54 Bell Street, NW1, until 2 November

Liu Xiaodong’s six-week residency in the area around the Lisson Gallery is the story of an artist among a community, and of the gallery’s own relationship to its immediate surroundings. “When you are in London, it’s such a big place, but we felt as if the locality of the gallery was important because it gave a focus to the project,” says Ossian Ward, a contributor to The Art Newspaper who is also now Lisson’s head of content.

As with his previous projects in China, Israel and elsewhere, Liu lived and painted among people he did not initially know; the gallery’s founder, Nicholas Logsdail, and his staff made the introductions that enabled Liu to hone his project. He paints his figurative paintings within the locations he depicts—in this case, two pubs and an Egyptian restaurant—so it was partly a practical decision to be near the gallery. But Ward says that the title of the show, “Half Street”, also reflects the diversity of people close to the gallery. “It was almost like you didn’t need to go too far to find all of life in London—it was actually on your doorstep,” he says. Liu’s connection to people and place is explored not just in the paintings, but in a diary of his experience and in photographs that he paints into, evoking the fleeting sensations and shifting memories of the time spent with his sitters.

Part of the gallery’s role was to soothe any suspicions the sitters might have, and to make sure that Liu could socialise with his sitters, as he always does. “He doesn’t really talk to people while he’s painting; he’s very focused for the two-hour sittings, which is pure painterly performance,” Ward says. “But the rest of it is hanging out in pubs and talking to people.” Ward and others would accompany Liu, bringing catalogues of his work and helping with the language barrier. “It is a local outreach, even though we don’t do that as such,” Ward says. “If you’re not painting someone on commission, or they’re being brought into it, you have to have a level of trust that you build up.”

On location: Liu at work in the Chapel, Marylebone
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