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The quiet importance of Marisa Merz

Plus: Abstract expressionism outside the RA; Njideka Akunyili Crosby at Victoria Miro; Helen Marten's rise to stardom; and Philippe Parreno in the Turbine Hall

24 September 2016

As Frieze week approaches, there are hundreds of new exhibitions and events vying for attention across London. Which should you see? We’ve put together a series of highlights: for the full selection, click here.

Marisa Merz at Thomas Dane Gallery (28 September–12 November)

The only female artist associated with the Italian arte povera group, Marisa Merz remains an important reference point in modern art – she won a Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale for lifetime achievement in 2013 and has been the subject of a number of solo shows. But Merz has kept a relatively low profile (despite being married to the artist Mario Merz), and there is something humble and quiet at the heart of her experiments with material and scale. This exhibition (the first on the artist at Thomas Dane) presents new works by Merz, who is now in her nineties: from portraits – which continue her interest in the border between figuration and abstraction – and small fired clay heads, to works on paper.

Untitled (2011–12), Marisa Merz

Untitled (2011–12), Marisa Merz. Courtesy Thomas Dane Gallery © London and Gladstone Gallery New York and Brussels

Robert Motherwell at Bernard Jacobson (16 September–26 November)

Abstract Expressionism is having a moment. Staged to coincide with the RA’s vast display of the ‘phenomenon’ (not movement, according to curator David Anfam), Bernard Jacobson examines the abstract impulse throughout Motherwell’s career, which spans the 1940s until his death in 1991. Initially inspired by philosophy, Motherwell’s commitment to painting was cemented following his move to New York in 1940, where he was influenced by the principles of surrealism and his friendship with Roberto Matta; among the highlights here is Mexican Window (1974) which references a trip Motherwell and Matta took to Mexico in 1941. Jacobson is well placed to mount such a show – in 2015 he published the first biography of the artist, Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant.

Mexican Window (1974), Robert Motherwell. Courtesy Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Mexican Window (1974), Robert Motherwell. Courtesy Bernard Jacobson Gallery

Njideka Akunyili Crosby at Victoria Miro (4 October–5 November)

Opening at the beginning of Frieze Week, this is an opportunity to see the dense work of young LA-based, Nigerian-born artist Njideka Akunyili Crosby – her first solo exhibition in Europe and featuring a new body of work. Depictions of domestic scenes or social gatherings on closer inspection reveal more ambiguous images – Nigerian pop stars and models, lawyers and dictators – which disrupt any clear narrative. Akunyili Crosby describes her interiors as ‘wormholes’ which gives some sense of the broad cultural, social, and political connections she makes. A process combining painting, drawing and photo-transfer techniques adds to her work’s rich layering.

Super Blue Omo (2016), Njideka Akunyili Crosby

Super Blue Omo (2016), Njideka Akunyili Crosby. © The artist

Helen Marten at Serpentine (29 September–20 November); Philippe Parreno at Tate’s Turbine Hall (4 October–2 April 2017)

Helen Marten’s profile continues to grow: this exhibition of new work by the London-based artist follows her nomination for both the Turner Prize and the Hepworth Wakefield’s inaugural Sculpture Prize. Her installations, combining sculpture, text, and painting, seem to grapple with the world; they’re deliberately ambiguous and inescapably playful. At Tate Modern, don’t miss the unveiling of French artist Philippe Parreno’s Hyundai Commission in the Turbine Hall, a multimedia artist whose exhibitions – or ‘choreographed spaces’ in his words – erase the line between reality and fiction.

Limpet Apology (traffic tenses) (2015), Helen Marten

Limpet Apology (traffic tenses) (2015), Helen Marten. Photograph: Annik Wetter, Geneva; © Helen Marten; Courtesy of Sadie Coles HQ, London, Koenig Galerie, Berlin, Greene Naftali, New York, T293, Naples and Rome

Exhibition view, Philippe Parreno, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS , Park Avenue Armory, 2015 © Philippe Parreno. Courtesy Pilar Corrias, Barbara Gladstone, Esther Schipper; Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti

Exhibition view, ‘Philippe Parreno, H {N)Y P N(Y} OSIS’, Park Avenue Armory (2015). © Philippe Parreno. Courtesy Pilar Corrias, Barbara Gladstone, Esther Schipper; Photo credit: Andrea Rossetti

More London highlights…

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