Artists’ Artists: Part One

Hurvin Anderson, Artur Barrio, Renate Bertlmann, Polly Braden, Matt Keegan and Sergio Lombardo discuss the artworks that have stuck with them


in Frieze Masters , Influences | 12 OCT 20

Hurvin Anderson nominates Handsworth Songs (1986), directed by John Akomfrah, produced by Lina Gopaul and Black Audio Film Collective

Handsworth Songs is an objective look at the Handsworth riots that took place in Birmingham, UK in 1985, centring coincidentally on the place I grew up. On the one hand I have a deeply personal reaction to the film, recalling as I do the riots themselves and recognising faces and locations. Yet the splicing of footage  the detachment in each frame – is neither romantic nor sentimental and allows me also to step back and view events as an outsider. Essentially, the film observes a harassed community and the way it reacts to conflict. I find it overwhelmingly honest on each viewing and an exceptional piece of filmmaking. It is also a work that engaged my imagination, demonstrating alternative ways to tell a story, and one that helped set me on a path to attempt just that. 

Hurvin Anderson lives in London and Cambridgeshire, UK. In 2019, he had a solo show at the Rat Hole Gallery, Tokyo, Japan. In 2021, he will have a solo exhibition at the Arts Club of Chicago, USA, and his work will be included in the British Art Show 9 touring exhibition.

Leonardo da Vinci, ‘Underwater Breathing apparatus’, in Codex Arundel, 1478–1518. Courtesy:

© British Library Board

Artur Barrio nominates Leonardo da Vinci’s Notebooks (mid-1480s–c. 1517)

Around 1966, I began working on my CadernosLivros (Notebooks), in which I record my ideas, notes and inventions, all of which are inherent to the development of my work.

The CadernosLivros is a ‘mental thing’…my workshop…

The CadernosLivros isn’t an artist’s diary.

The connection to Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Notebooks’ is latent: an association between idea, drawing, text and freedom. It is something other than the work’s terminus and its consequent immobility in space.

Artur Barrio is an artist who lives in St Paul’s Bay, Malta. His work has been exhibited internationally for 50 years. In 2021 he will have a solo exhibition at MAAT, Lisbon, Portugal. His work is included in Spotlight at Frieze Masters 2020, presented by Galeria Millan, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

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René Magritte, The Lovers, 1928, oil on canvas, 54 x 73 cm. Courtesy: The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence


Renate Bertlmann nominates René Magritte, Les Amants (The Lovers, 1928)

I have been influenced by only one male artist: René Magritte. He created such a fascinating universe – vast and limitless in possibility. His appearance belied his talent: dressed in his grey suit like a harmless civil servant – no ‘fancy artist’ outfit – and no large studio either, working as he did at a small easel on a small canvas. Creating from a place of no-mind, he had direct access to the universal consciousness. This enabled him to open a whole cosmos within the limited square of his canvas: enigmatic, ironic, intelligent, evil and human.

When I discovered his painting, Les Amants, I was totally fascinated, as it was a great example of what Magritte called ‘evoking the mystery’. Whether it was the unconscious memory of his mother – who drowned with her nightgown wrapped around her face – we shall never know. To cover the heads of these two figures, enshrouded in a kiss, was a mysterious act for Magritte; so strong and repellent and resistant to simple interpretation. It had such a pull and touched me so deeply that I dedicated to him a series of photographs: ‘Hommage à Magritte’. Using a self-timer and covering my head, I communicated with my alter ego via double exposure.

Renate Bertlmann is an artist who lives in Vienna, Austria. Her work is included in the Spotlight section of Frieze Masters, presented by Richard Saltoun Gallery. Her solo exhibition, as part of Carlone Contemporary, is on view at the Belvedere Museum, Vienna, Austria until 31 January 2021. Her work is also included in ‘The Beginning. Art in Austria 1945-1980’, Albertina Modern, Vienna, which is on view until 8 November 2020.

Susan Meiselas, ‘Carnival Strippers’, 1972-75, photograph. Courtesy: the artist


Polly Braden nominates Susan Meiselas’s ‘Carnival Strippers’ (1972–75) 

From 1972 until 1975, Susan Meiselas travelled between New England, Pennsylvania and South Carolina to photograph carnival strippers. Having gained their trust – accepted backstage into their changing rooms – she taped interviews that record their desires, hopes and dreams. She then turned to their audience, to the managers and the boyfriends, recording their feelings, too, about the show and the women. The result – ‘Carnival Strippers’ – is a complex, incredibly human, sad and sometimes joyful, open and non-judgemental body of work.  

Polly Braden is a photographer who lives in London, UK. In 2019, her book, London’s Square Mile: A Secret City, was published by Hoxton Mini Press. She is currently working on a project about single mothers that will be shown at The Museum of the Home, London in 2021 and then tour to Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool, and Arnolfini, Bristol.

‘Democracy: A Project by Group Material’, 1987–89, installation view at the Dia Art Foundation. Courtesy: Dia Art Foundation


Matt Keegan nominates ‘Democracy: A Project by Group Material’ 1987 – 1989)

In late September, The Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) Boston, MFA Houston, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Tate Modern in London decided to postpone a jointly organized Philip Guston retrospective ‘… until a time at which we think that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Guston’s work can be more clearly interpreted.’ Curiously, the ongoing and months-long protests for racial justice happening across the USA and elsewhere does not provide the time for such an exhibition and related programming.

During the neoliberal turn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency and the height of the AIDS crisis, the Dia Art Foundation – at the recommendation of Yvonne Rainer – provided an artist collective with a venue and an extended show run to address democracy. ‘Democracy: A Project by Group Material’ took place at Dia from 1987 to 1989 and translated to a companion publication in 1990; it stands as an exceptional model of open-ended exhibition-making, collective programming and distributable documentation. In the related book, Group Material writes: ‘Because every social or cultural relationship is a political one, we regard an understanding of the link between politics and culture as essential.’ Their multipart project addressed topics that have striking resonance with the present moment. Sections were titled ‘Education and Democracy’, ‘Politics and Election’, ‘Cultural Participation’, and ‘AIDS and Democracy: A Case Study’.

Matt Keegan is an artist based in Brooklyn, USA. His book 1996, co-published by New York Consolidated and Inventory Press, is released on 10 October 2020.


Piero Manzoni, Merda d'artista (Artist's Shit), 1961, tin can, printed paper and excrement,

5 × 7× 7 cm. Courtesy: © DACS, 2020; photograph: © Tate


Sergio Lombardo nominates Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’Artista (Artist’s Shit, 1961)

In the early years of my career (1958–64), I was affiliated with the Pop art scene of Piazza Del Popolo in Rome. On a theoretical level, however, I was deriving inspiration from other artists: in particular, from Francesco Lo Savio and Piero Manzoni, who had both contributed to the most radical developments in avant-garde Italian art of the 1960s.

Manzoni and I were also allied through a parliamentary debate when, on 1 April 1971, the Hon. Guido Bernardi, a representative of Italy’s Christian Democrat party, railed against both Manzoni’s Merda d’Artista (Artist’s Shit, 1961), then being shown as part of a retrospective at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome curated by Palma Bucarelli, and my Progetto di Morte per Avvelenamento (Death by Poisoning Project, 1970), which was on display at the same time in Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts.

Beyond our being united by this event, Manzoni was a pivotal reference point for my practice – so much so, in fact, that, in 1995, I wrote an article about him for the journal I founded in 1979, Rivista di Psicologia dell’Arte (Psychology of Art Magazine).

As Bernardi’s testimony had already shown, avant-garde art practices were frequently trivialized in Italy. This was particularly the case with Manzoni. I therefore sought in my article to refute four common misconceptions about his work in a bid to garner greater appreciation for his practice, which had been undermined in the wake of widespread media coverage. For me, Manzoni was not an ‘expressive’, ‘irreverent’, ‘playful’ or ‘creative’ artist. As I wrote:

‘“Extreme self-awareness” in tandem with “precision and cast-iron logic” do not denote an irreverent attitude, much less a ludic spirit. Rather, the dramatic lifestyle that led to his untimely death and the serious commitment he made to launching an experimental gallery and magazine of critical theory at his own expense – in a conscious attempt to avoid engaging with a hedonistic and frivolous society devoted to the consumption of an increasingly superficial, pornographic and dishonest spectacle of culture – demonstrate Manzoni’s extreme asceticism. “Beyond every superficial hedonism, every impression, every memory, we break down experiences and gestures to discover the most intimate moments, to sift the essential from the superfluous and render it mundane with great precision.” (Manzoni et. al., Per una pittura organica, Towards an Organic Painting, 1957). Only the facetious, indifferent operators of such a glib culture would be capable of this kind of folkloric sell out of Manzoni’s image, in which they cast him as a good-time guy, replete with the superficiality and banter of a publicist, ever-ready to dish out gimmicks and witty repartee.’

(Excerpt from Sergio Lombardo, ‘Piero Manzoni e la cultura spettacolo. Confutazione di quattro giudizi banali’, Piero Manzoni and the Culture of Spectacle: The Refuting of Four Common Opinions, in Rivista di Psicologia dell’Arte, n. 6, 1995, pp. 10-17, p. 15)

Translated from Italian by Rosalind Furness

Sergio Lombardo is an artist who lives in Rome, Italy. A leading figure of the international historical avant-garde and of Italian Pop Art, his work has been widely exhibited for the past 60 years. His work is included in the Spotlight section of Frieze Masters, presented by 1/9 unosunove, Rome, Italy.

Main image: John Akomfrah, Handsworth Songs, 1986, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Smoking Dog Films and Lisson, London