Jackie Wullschläger for the Financial Times - 8 October 2020
An upbeat free-to-wander exhibition combines playfulness with serious concerns of contemporary realities and metaphysics
Autumn in Regent's Park: no tent, no booths, no crowds, but yes, an actual, physical presence for art. In this year of a largely online edition, Frieze Sculpture's annual exhibition is the high point of the 2020 fair. It is hard to overstate how welcome this free, outdoor, wander-as-you-please contemporary art exhibition is for London: tangible, tactile, liberated from the impositions of masks and time slots.
Arriving at the Park Square East gate, you confront the pun that is Gavin Turk’s oversized trompe l'oeil bronze of a half-open peeling wooden door, “L’Age d'Or”. It is placed to frame the park; to walk through it is to enter a crazy out-of-scale world where the human and the natural by turns converge and disrupt one another. The range of sensibilities is extreme: from the mystery of time and space, form and formlessness, memories of the body moving through landscape, in Richard Long's intricate/casual granite and marble “Circle for Sally", to Sarah Lucas's prosaically absurd, massive concrete slab “Sandwich”, already soggy with puddles, an ungainly, austere interloper among graceful lawns.
“L'Age d'Or” resonates with current concerns about home, security, inside/outside, barriers, borders, how we negotiate space and other people. But Turk was inspired by a more abstract idea – Magritte's 1939 painting “La Victoire" depicting a door occupying an empty beach: a surrealist game proposing intersections between different realities.
This seems to be what curator Clare Lilley is striving for with some dozen large- scale works, more than half made in the last year, dotted across the English gardens. Some by acclaimed names, others emerging, they present a snapshot of sculpture's conceptual trends and celebrate the medium's materiality and resilience. Turk injects Alice-in-Wonderland playfulness; elsewhere, a shiver of pleasure at fairytale menace is the initial response. Two new Frieze commissions loom here. To the west, a neon beanstalk: spiralling aluminium sheets rolled into cones, welded section by section and painted fluorescent pinks and purples, mimic the lupin plant – bright flowers in dense whorls on erect spikes – as an outlandish triffid, nature soaring out of control, in Arne Quinze's seven-metre “Lupine Tower".
To the east, a taut steel twist of Rapunzel hair stands paradoxically upright, hard, at monumental height, competing with the trees: Kalliopi Lemos's “The Plait”, long sinuous loops cut off at top and base, representing, according to the artist, “a gesture of disobedience... against beauty stereotypes”. Combining doors and fashionistas, Lubaina Himid's inventive “Five Conversations", created last year for New York's High Line, connects to both Hume and Lemos. On five reclaimed wooden doors from Georgian townhouses, Himid painted life-size portraits of elegantly attired women, of different skin colours, cut as silhouettes, talking to each other, confidentlyposed at the bizarrely dislocated thresholds to affluent homes. A circular door knocker is one woman's madly enlarged gold hoop earring; a letterbox forms a bold rectangle design on the dress of another. “Patterns are not neutral. They are words, signals and whole sentences, signing different moods, saying different periods,” Himid says.