Apollo Magazine

Frieze Week: Digby’s Diary (Thursday)

PAD, the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, and another clutch of gallery shows: this week is taking its toll

Kolwezi 7, Shituru (2011), Sammy Baloji. At 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, Somerset House

Thursday, 16 October

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In the first instalment of this diary, I referred to myself as an ‘art world parasite.’ This was not self-deprecation: it is my station and I am not proud of it. Well, maybe a little. But even parasites must play by the rules: in this case the sacred one is that beggars can’t be choosers. If you’re invited to something, you don’t turn your nose up at it.

Last night I let the side down. After the Sotheby’s Contemporary party, I was invited to an after-hours do at Soho’s New Evaristo club. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t find the strength. Clearly, this week is taking its toll.

To be fair, the day had been a long one. I started at 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair at Somerset House. I turned up late and had to do a whirlwind tour round. This I quickly regretted – there’s some seriously good stuff here.

I was particularly taken by Galerie Iman Farès’s room (yes, 1:54 gives entire rooms to its exhibitors – bliss), where I saw Congolese artist Sammy Baloji’s extraordinary Retour à l’authenticité series. This is a photographic project based around the ruins of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko’s farcical project to ‘re-Africanise’ what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The detritus of an invented past stands as a terrifying reminder of the corruption and horrendous violence of the regime it symbolised.

Next up was Steve McQueen’s film Ashes at the Thomas Dane Gallery in St James’s. I dropped by the David Hammons show at White Cube in Mason’s Yard, then crossed over to the PAD fair at Berkeley Square. I always end up visiting PAD after I’ve done Frieze, and the relative calm is a tonic.

There are no surprises there, but that’s not really the point. PAD is exceptionally good at meeting its remit – that is, exhibiting top-notch art and design in a very elegant setting. I spent slightly too long eyeing up the very desirable photography at the Michael Hoppen gallery. The staff started giving me odd looks, so I got out before I was pushed.

Then it was the predictably astonishing show of Gerhard Richter’s recent work at the Marian Goodman gallery off Golden Square, then Nabil Nahas’s new paintings at Ben Brown Fine Arts, then Tim Noble’s grim Sue Webster at the Door at the Society Club… then I just stopped taking notes. Jesus. Will my marbles be the first to go, or will it be my liver?

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More from Digby Warde-Aldam

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