What to See in London During Frieze Week

From a rare display of works by Anna Mendelssohn at Whitechapel Gallery to Ellie Pratt’s distorted female portraits at South Parade

BY Juliet Jacques in Critic's Guides | 11 OCT 23

Lisetta Carmi

Estorick Collection

20 September – 17 December

Lisetta Carmi, I Travestiti, Genoa, 1965–70. Courtesy: © Martini & Ronchetti and Archivio Lisetta Carmi

The first British museum exhibition of Italian photographer Lisetta Carmi, who died last year aged 98, focuses on two of her series – one of which grew out of the other. Carmi’s interest in documenting the industrial landscape and the working conditions at the steelworks in her native Genoa during the mid-1960s led her to meet a group of trans women, and to capture not just their clandestine gatherings but their everyday lives. Perhaps because they’re both shot in the same city, the two series unexpectedly complement each other, united by Carmi’s sensitive, humanist attitude to her subjects and their social conditions, but also by her expert eye for light and shadow. Originally published in black and white in 1972, ‘I Travestiti’ (The Transvestites) here explodes into colour with recently rediscovered images that bring a completely different atmosphere to her work.

Sylvie Fleury

Sprüth Magers

22 September – 4 November

Sylvie Fleury, ‘S.F.’, 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers; photograph: Ben Westoby

While not a retrospective as such, Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury’s solo show ‘S.F.’ revisits three decades of her work, alongside new pieces created especially for the exhibition, installed across several floors of the gallery. Fleury’s ambiguous use of designer high heels – some altered, some not – in works such as Untitled (2021) recalls 1990s critiques of consumerism, and implicitly asks who benefits when such critiques are deemed unfashionable. Monitors showing fitness videos starring Jane Fonda and others (Turn Me On, 2022) and her terse, typewritten descriptions of women’s clothing in films, television and music videos show the persistence of gender stereotypes throughout the 20th century, while her striking ‘She-Devils on Wheels’ project challenges them. A women-only organization founded in 1997 after Fleury was refused entry to a motoring club, its headquarters are presented here across several rooms – perhaps the most striking section of a show full of sharp, simple images.

Lutz Bacher

Raven Row

5 October – 17 December

Lutz Bacher, Untitled (Diana), 1997, video still. Courtesy: the Estate of Lutz Bacher and Galerie Buchholz

Like Fleury’s ‘S.F.’, ‘Lutz Bacher: AYE!’ at the recently reopened Raven Row is not a thorough retrospective, but a collection of sculptures, videos and sound installations from the American artist’s 50-year career. Two very short videos become hypnotic in their repetition: Untitled (Diana) (1997), from the funeral of the Princess of Wales, and the four-screen Please (LC) (2013–15), which features Leonard Cohen singing a single word so many times that it ceases to make sense and becomes an instrument in itself. Bacher, who died in 2019 at the age of 75, engages with New York’s postwar avant-garde in Empire (2014), a two-screen handheld shot of the Empire State Building, refracted through Plexiglass and soundtracked by drone music, that clearly references Andy Warhol’s eponymous 1964 film. The highlight of the show, however, is Yamaha (2010) – a modified electronic organ that plays itself, like John Cage’s pianos, sat under several precariously balanced metal pipes. As with Bacher’s other works here, it seems overly minimal at first, but soon proves utterly compelling.

Anthony Cudahy


9 October – 11 November

Anthony Cudahy, Arthur Russell on the shore, 2023, oil on linen, 183 × 152 cm. Courtesy: the artist and GRIMM; photograph: JSP Art Photography

Split across two locations – GRIMM in Mayfair and Hales in Shoreditch – this exhibition by US artist Anthony Cudahy showcases his interest in queer iconography and history, personal relationships and humanity’s interactions with nature in a variety of stunning new paintings and drawings. A figurative artist whose use of colour and composition is reminiscent of Mark Rothko’s, Cudahy often portrays himself with his husband, sometimes blending their bodies into the landscape when away from their familiar urban settings. One stand-out piece is Cudahy’s melancholic and defamiliarized portrait Arthur Russell on the shore (2023). The work’s washed-out tones and shadowy facial expression are a lament not just for the prolific and versatile musician, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992 aged 40, but for a generation of queer artists and others lost to the US government’s ponderously slow response to the epidemic.

Paula Rego

Victoria Miro

22 September – 11 November

Paula Rego, Marathon (Running II), 1983, acrylic on paper on canvas, 240 × 204 cm. Courtesy: © Ostrich Arts Ltd and Victoria Miro

Paula Rego’s reputation has only grown since her death last year, and ‘Letting Loose’ provides an opportunity to revisit her paintings from the 1980s, when she secured her first major solo exhibitions and created several playful, childlike scenes of people, animals and enduringly strange hybrid creatures. It’s not hard to see why these works so significantly boosted Rego’s reputation: they are vibrant, humorous and astonishingly detailed, drawing on illustrations for children’s books to create their own idiosyncratic world. Rego’s sense of liberation that her work no longer had to obliquely address fascism in her native Portugal, after the dictatorship was overthrown in 1974, is palpable. Here, she combines the influence of artist Henry Darger with her difficulties in caring for her husband, Victor Willing, ill with multiple sclerosis at this time. The results are utterly distinctive, and quite disquieting.

Ellie Pratt

South Parade

27 September – 4 November

Ellie Pratt, Afterbirth, 2023, oil on linen, 40 × 30 cm. Courtesy: the artist and South Parade

Ellie Pratt’s ‘Taste Maker’ at South Parade features a series of paintings that distort and disorient the traditional portrait of the female face, as a way of exploring both the interior psyche and how women’s bodies have tended to be used by artists. In works such as Reflections 2 (2023), multiple fragments of faces, especially eyes, stalk the visitor throughout the space, including in rooms where one would least expect, asking viewers why they are staring at women in a gallery – and how it feels to be the object of the gaze. A small but powerful exhibition, ‘Taste Maker’ is accompanied by a text by Emma Firth, exploring the ways female poets, artists and models have talked about viewing themselves in the mirror, and the insecurities that come with being forced to see ourselves as others see us. The combination of space, images and words is surprisingly intense, and deeply memorable.

Hiroshi Sugimoto

Hayward Gallery

11 October – 7 January 2024

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Kenosha Theater, Kenosha, 2015. Courtesy: © Hiroshi Sugimoto

The Hayward Gallery’s retrospective of Japanese photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto is extraordinarily broad, taking in decades of conceptually diverse projects. These range from portrait-style photographs of models from Madame Tussauds, including Diana, Princess of Wales (1999), that effectively capture the uncanniness of waxworks, to a set of images of architectural landmarks, such as Brooklyn Bridge (2001), which retain their brilliance, despite being completely out-of-focus, thanks to Sugimoto’s use of an old, large-format camera. The series ‘Lightning Fields’ (2009), which captures bursts of electrical current from a Van de Graaff generator directly onto unexposed film to mesmerising effect, also nods to his love of historical technology and techniques. Particularly vivid on the huge walls of the Hayward is Sugimoto’s ‘Theaters’ series (1978–ongoing) – long exposures of films being screened in various cinemas allowed him to portray differing approaches to theatre design, and the eeriness of such spaces after they have been abandoned.

Anna Mendelssohn

Whitechapel Gallery

11 October – 21 January 2024

Anna Mendelssohn, Untitled (“we are either in the lap of history or not”), c.1970s–80s, graphite on paper, 19 × 23 cm. Courtesy: Anna Mendelssohn Estate

Based on her archive at the University of Sussex, the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition ‘Speak Poetess’ is the first institutional display of works by the formally and politically radical poet, writer and artist Anna Mendelssohn (1948–2009). Convicted in 1972 for her alleged connection to far-left terrorist group The Angry Brigade, who carried out several bombings in the UK in the early 1970s, Mendelssohn spent four years in jail. This retrospective includes a haunting sketch of Mendelssohn in London’s Holloway Prison with a cigarette in her mouth, alongside other fine line drawings with such provocative titles as Untitled (“we are either in the lap of history or not”) (c.late-1970s/early-’80s), or which show her interest in pictorial written languages including Arabic and Chinese. There are also selections from her hundreds of notebooks, allowing a rare glimpse of how her poetry – much of which Mendelssohn kept from publication – influenced the Sussex school of Keston Sutherland and others in the 2000s and beyond.

Main image: Sylvie Fleury, 'S.F.', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Sprüth Magers; photograph: Ben Westoby

Juliet Jacques is a writer, filmmaker, broadcaster and academic. Her short story collection, Variations, was published by Influx Press in June 2022. She lives in London, UK.