Apollo Magazine

Beyond Frieze – London’s galleries put their best foot forward and 1-54 returns

Somerset House hosts the London edition of 1-54 and galleries across the capital make the most of the limelight

Oba Boss (detail; 2020), Patrick Akpojotor.

Oba Boss (detail; 2020), Patrick Akpojotor. Courtesy SMO Contemporary

From the October 2021 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.

One of the great selling points of 1-54 London (14–17 October) has always been the fair’s setting among William Chambers’ sumptuous neoclassical rooms in the south wing of Somerset House – a far cry from the convention centres and marquees that so many other fairs call home. There’s also something invigorating in seeing the best of contemporary art from across the African continent displayed amid this Palladian pomp. Perhaps it is small wonder that, whereas directors of other fairs are keen to consolidate the digital lessons of the pandemic, Touria El Glaoui is most looking forward to putting on a physical show again. ‘It’s just exciting to be able to do all the things that we weren’t able to last year,’ she says. 

Oba Boss (2020), Patrick Akpojotor. Courtesy SMO Contemporary

The event sees the return of the sculpture commission for the Somerset House courtyard – this year a display of hand-stitched flags and large-scale paintings of basketball scenes by British-Ugandan artist Lakwena Maciver – as well as the ‘Forum’ programme of talks, curated this time around by the Egyptian-Sudanese curator Omar Kholeif. Among the 48 exhibitors this year are 20 from the continent of Africa – a record that El Glaoui also puts down to gallerists’ urge ‘to be part of something in real life again’, with so many fairs in Africa cancelled last year; they include SMO Contemporary Art from Lagos, which brings a portrait by Patrick Akpojotor with echoes of both Vorticism and Surrealism, and Circle Art Gallery from Nairobi, which offers a spider-like abstract sculpture by the Ugandan artist Donald Wasswa. The fair will maintain an online presence, but as a ‘complement’ rather than a ‘replacement’, El Glaoui says. ‘There’s a need for our younger galleries and artists to be shaking hands, building real relationships with collectors’ – and with fewer international visitors expected than in the pre-pandemic era, the fair’s primary focus is on growing the collector base for African art in the UK.

Self-portrait (1980), Leon Kossoff. Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London, Mitchell-Innes & Nash, New York, and LA Louver, Los Angeles; © the artist’s estate

A renewed attention to the local seems to hold true across the London art world as it gears up for Frieze Week. Coinciding with the return of Frieze London (13–17 October) in Regent’s Park are a host of gallery displays, among which are two substantial retrospectives of London-born giants of the post-war era. Annely Juda Fine Art hosts the first display of Leon Kossoff’s paintings since his death in 2019, which coincides with the release of his catalogue raisonné and is travelling to New York and Los Angeles next year. Spanning some 60 years, the oil paintings on show here chart the rapid changes of the city in which Kossoff lived all his life, from the streets to swimming pools, construction sites and Tube stations, and include an austere self-portrait from 1980. Marlborough, meanwhile, holds its first display of works by Gillian Ayres, who died in 2018; the focus is on the late 1970s and ’80s, a period which saw the abstract painter relocate from London to rural Wales, and again to Devon. Keep an eye out, too, for Elizabeth Neel’s visceral abstract works at Pilar Corrias, Richard Serra’s drawings at Ordovas, and John Giorno at Almine Rech. 

From the October 2021 issue of Apollo. Preview and subscribe here.

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