Art in Regent's Park

Frieze London opens for its tenth edition

The Frieze Art Fair returns from New York to London this Thursday, bringing together 175 of the world’s most innovative contemporary art galleries in a bespoke temporary structure erected in Regent’s Park. Exhibitors will come from 35 countries including Argentina, China, Columbia, Hungary, India, Korea and South Africa. Furthermore, this year the Fair includes two exciting (if a little overdue) new sections: Focus and Frieze Masters.

Focus is only open to galleries established after 2001, each of whom are invited to curate up to three artists’ works at the Fair, while Frieze Masters, which will run in parallel with the main festival and require a separate ticket, will present “a contemporary perspective on historical art”. That is to say, for the first time, Frieze will sell old as well as new art.

Over 90 galleries from territories including Spain, Lebanon, Turkey and Brazil will exhibit works “ranging from the ancient era and old masters through to art of the 20th century”, a decision praised by the Guardian’s art critic Jonathan Jones. “Lo and behold,” he writes, “the art world has discovered that time is not flat. We do not occupy an eternal present. There were artists before we were born, and there will be artists after we die … New art is not an orphan: it is the child of history. Frieze Masters will make it easier for everyone to see that.”

Frieze curator Sarah McCrory has commissioned five site-specific pieces for this year’s Fair. One, a structure which explores the “use-value” of art by providing a forum for artists who produce food, chaotic dining events, performances and talks has been created by Lake District-based Grizedale Arts and the Yangjiang Group collection. Another will see a section of Regent’s Park smouldering as a field of incense burns to suggest contemplation and reflection (Joanna Rajkowska), and a recreated crime drama scene by Asli Çavuşoğlu will interrogate the parallels between murder mystery production and the destructive decisions taken when making art.

The Fair will also boast films, talks and a Sculpture Park curated by Clare Lilley, Director of Programme at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, alongside gourmet food, workshops and a Family Space. Although the primary function of the Fair is to sell the works exhibited, most visitors will attend as spectators rather than prospective buyers. In fact, Frieze stopped publishing sales figures in 2006, for this and other reasons. Tickets are limited “to ensure the best experience for all visitors”, but for those not lucky enough to get a ticket, the Sculpture Park is open free to the public.

Frieze London will be in Regent’s Park from 11-14 October.

"The Maids" by Paula Rego, a Frieze Master. Image: Frieze.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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Women on the edge: new films Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women

With their claustrophobic close-ups and desolate wide shots, both films are stunning portraits of life on the brink.

Jacqueline Kennedy and Christine Chubbuck may not have had much in common in real life – the former briefly the US first lady, the latter a put-upon television news reporter in the early 1970s in Sarasota, Florida – but two new films named after them are cut resolutely from the same cloth. Jackie and Christine are character studies of haunted women in which the claustrophobic close-up and the desolate wide shot are the predominant forms of address.

Both films hinge on fatal gunshots to the head and both seek to express cinematically a state of mind that is internal: grief and loss in Jackie, which is set mainly in the hours and days after the assassination of President John F Kennedy; depression and paranoia in Christine. In this area, they rely heavily not only on hypnotically controlled performances from their lead actors but on music that describes the psychological contours of distress.

Even before we see anything in Jackie, we hear plunging chords like a string section falling down a lift shaft. This is the unmistakable work of the abrasive art rocker Mica Levi. Her score in Jackie closes in on the ears just as the tight compositions by the cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine exclude the majority of the outside world. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín knows a thing or two about sustaining intensity, as viewers of his earlier work, including his Pinochet-era trilogy (Tony Manero, Post Mortem and No), will attest. Though this is his first English-language film, there is no hint of any softening. The picture will frustrate anyone hoping for a panoramic historical drama, with Larraín and the screenwriter Noah Oppenheim irising intently in on Jackie, played with brittle calm by Natalie Portman, and finding the nation’s woes reflected in her face.

Bit-players come and go as the film jumbles up the past and present, the personal and political. A journalist (Billy Crudup), nameless but based on Theodore White, arrives to interview the widow. Her social secretary, Nancy Tuckerman (Greta Gerwig), urges her on with cheerleading smiles during the shooting of a stiff promotional film intended to present her warmly to the public. Her brother-in-law Bobby (Peter Sarsgaard) hovers anxiously nearby as she negotiates the chasm between private grief and public composure. For all the bustle around her, the film insists on Jackie’s aloneness and Portman gives a performance in which there is as much tantalisingly concealed as fearlessly exposed.

A different sort of unravelling occurs in Christine. Antonio Campos’s film begins by showing Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) seated next to a large box marked “fragile” as she interviews on camera an empty chair in which she imagines Richard Nixon to be sitting. She asks of the invisible president: “Is it paranoia if everyone is indeed coming after you?” It’s a good question and one that she doesn’t have the self-awareness to ask herself. Pressured by her editor to chase juicy stories, she goes to sleep each night with a police scanner blaring in her ears. She pleads with a local cop for stories about the darker side of Sarasota, scarcely comprehending that the real darkness lies primarily within her.

For all the shots of TV monitors displaying multiple images of Christine in this beige 1970s hell, the film doesn’t blame the sensationalist nature of the media for her fractured state. Nor does it attribute her downfall entirely to the era’s sexism. Yet both of those things exacerbated problems that Chubbuck already had. She is rigid and off-putting, all severe straight lines, from her haircut and eyebrows to the crossed arms and tight, unsmiling lips that make it difficult for anyone to get close to her. That the film does break through is down to Hall, who illuminates the pain that Christine can’t express, and to the score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. It’s perky enough on the surface but there are cellos sawing away sadly underneath. If you listen hard enough, they’re crying: “Help.” 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era