Frieze New Writers Select the Best Shows to See in the UK and Ireland

From Cinga Samson’s ghostly figures to Sam Hutchinson’s reckoning with millennium aesthetics 

BY Niall Farrelly, Ming Zee Tee, Ajeet Khela, Katie Abbott, Lara Alake, Thara Parambi, Diana Bamimeke AND Irina Costin in Exhibition Reviews , UK Reviews | 31 JUL 23

This Critic’s Guide has been written by the eight participants who took part in this year's Frieze New Writers programme – a free-to-attend intensive three-day course for aspiring art writers led by the frieze editorial team in London.

Cinga Samson

White Cube, Mason's Yard

7 July – 26 August 2023

Cinga Samson, Uqobo lwakhe, 2023, oil on canvas, 210 × 260 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Nina Lieska

In Cinga Samson’s depictions of his native Cape Town, death lurks around every corner. His latest paintings, on display in ‘Nzulu yemfihlakalo’ – which loosely translates from isiXhosa as ‘the depth of mystery’ – portray dubious burials and cryptic rituals. Ghostly figures with limpid, pupilless eyes gather in arcane and lush cityscapes scattered with memento mori: ox skulls, animal skins, decaying flowers. Samson uses oil paint masterfully, meticulously layering sombre browns, blues and greens that contrast with expanses of white (laces, T-shirts, body bags). The work’s topographic specificity, narrative pretence and surface texture encode suspicions of past violence, crime and contemporary grief. Yet, in this disquiet, you feel a strange urge to keep looking. – Irina Costin

Ajamu X

Autograph, London

28 April – 2 September 2023

Ajamu, Bodybuilder in Bra, 1990, from the 'Black Bodyscapesseries, vintage silver gelatinous print, 45 × 34 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Autograph, London

Ajamu X’s eroticism is controlled and restrained, his black and white portraits are austere yet gentle in their gaze. His sitters are posed – isolated, idealized – but their expressions reveal the traces of their life experience. In his depictions of faces and bodies, Ajamu centres the pleasure of both subject and viewer, drawing us to the sensuality and physicality of the photographic image. Our eyes trace the light inside and outside of the frame as it glimmers on contours of musculature costumed in bondage or lingerie. Documenting Black, queer pleasure in all its multiplicity, Ajamu – artist, archivist and activist – seems to ask: what possibilities of self lie within the image? How can an exploration of their senses reveal self-knowledge for Black, queer men? – Ajeet Khela 


Crawford Art Gallery, Cork

28 April – 20 August 2023

'Bodywork', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Crawford Art Gallery; photograph: Jed Niezgoda

‘Bodywork’ is a polyphonic meditation on the human body, with its paradoxical tortures and pleasures. Breasts, eyes, limbs, torsos and uteruses appear in anatomical drawings, moody underwater photography and saffron-coloured bolts of fabric. In one corner, Elizabeth Cope’s surrealistic canvases, such as Generation Gap (2006), cast female ecstasy in a brash and transgressive light. Elsewhere, Maïa Nunes’s video ARIMA (2020) is a tenderly choreographed ode to the rain, and Jennifer Trouton’s botanical watercolour series ‘Mater Natura: The Abortionist’s Garden’ (2020–21) revisits Ireland’s historic 2018 abortion referendum. Uniting recent acquisitions from two institutional bodies – Crawford Art Gallery, Cork, and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin – the exhibition opens a space to reconsider one of the most contested sites in history: the human body. – Diana Bamimeke

Gabriel Massan

Serpentine North, London

23 June – 22 October 2023

Gabriel Massan, 'Third World: The Bottom Dimension', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Serpentine; photograph: Hugo Glendinning

‘Third World: The Bottom Dimension’ implicates us in a colonial experiment through the gamification of encountering a new world. Led by Gabriel Massan, the show platforms six queer, Afro-diasporic, Brazilian artists, who simulate and narrate their historical and contemporary experiences through sculpture, video, sound and a videogame and participatory digital tokens powered by Tezos. While some materials used in the installation are industrial and speak to means of production (steel, concrete), others are self-referential and point to the location of the show (organic matter collected from the park surrounding the gallery). ‘Third World: The Bottom Dimension’ impels us to question our tendencies toward Western hegemonic attitudes: to engage in the objectification of a nation; to study, classify and then proceed in wealth extraction. Massan’s project is ultimately a world-building exercise, prompting participants to reimagine attitudes toward the unknown and to scrutinize what we think constitutes development. – Thara Parambi

Larry Achiampong and David Blandy

Wellcome Collection, London

8 June 2023 – 11 February 2024

'Genetic Automata', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Wellcome Collection; photography: Steve Pocock

Science has a problem: despite factual evidence to the contrary, the troubling resilience of pseudoscience continues to proselytize race as a biological reality. In ‘Genetic Automata’, long-term collaborators Larry Achiampong and David Blandy interrogate the effect of this disturbing phenomenon. A series of experimental film installations dissects historic scientific atrocities – such as eugenic beliefs and the ongoing medical exploitation of African-American tobacco farmer and cancer sufferer Henrietta Lacks – by drawing parallels with videogames, avatars and the racialized experiences of the artists. Achiampong and Blandy’s eclectic pool of references blur fact and fiction, prompting viewers to scrutinize the inequitable manifestations of racialization both on-screen and off. The exhibition becomes a space in which to ruminate on what it means to be both human and humane. – Lara Alake 

Herzog & de Meuron

Royal Academy of Arts, London

14 July – 15 October 2023

'Herzog & de Meuron', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Herzog & de Meuron; photograph: © Royal Academy of Arts and David Parry

Herzog & de Meuron’s four-decade survey of architectural work at London’s Royal Academy of Arts reveals their capacity for uniting technical insight with emotional depth. In towering cabinets housing hundreds of models, we glimpse their process of designing public spaces that contain and enable great feeling: the many lattice ‘bird’s nest’ structures considered for the Beijing National Stadium (2008), for example, or a sample of the ‘broken brick’ exterior of Musée Unterlinden in Colmar (2009). The exhibition centres sites of care in a moving film exploration of 165 REHAB, Clinic for Neurorehabilitation and Paraplegiology in Basel (1998), and an interactive exhibit of Kinderspital Zürich (University Children’s Hospital), due for completion in 2024. How can architecture support and unlock healing? For the people who cannot leave these buildings, they become the sum of their immediate physical world. Herzog & de Meuron demonstrate how our built environment can be a stage for encounters and open-ended relations, inspiring our individual and collective imagination. – Ming Zee Tee

Sam Hutchinson

Forth, Nottingham

7 July – 2 September 2023

Sam Hutchinson, 'Vape Cloud Premonition', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Forth

Sam Hutchinson’s ‘Vape Cloud Premonition’ – the gallery’s first show after a period of redevelopment – questions the shifting nature of reality in the years since the millennium. In a new body of photography and sculpture referencing retro and pop-cultural material – slick action films, 1990s leather, Y2K shades – Hutchinson probes our fascination with the millennium and the fictional futures promised in the media. In You May Wake Up One Day and Find Yourself Extinct (all works 2023), he renders a castle from Blade (1998) DVDs, while photographs Composition with Home Depot (Well it Won’t Build Itself) and Sorry, I Forgot Fear was a Competition depict drab urban landscapes, such as retail parks and barbed wire-topped walls. The imagery exudes a false sense of familiarity; peeling away this façade ushers in an uncanny feeling that the world Hutchinson depicts is not our own. – Niall Farrelly

Marcin Dudek

Edel Assanti, London

31 May – 1 September 2023

Marcin Dudek, 'NEOPLAN', 2023, installation view. Courtesy: Edel Assanti, London

‘NEOPLAN’ opens with a haunting sight: the decimated remains of a football fans’ bus (Neoplan, 2023). Its windows are smashed, seats mangled. Marcin Dudek has replaced the roof with a colourful tapestry of stitched-together sportswear. It’s difficult to look away: a chilling reminder of violence’s morbid allure. Surrounding the bus, fragments of collage and video – found footage, ticket stubs and stadium photos – hint at the collective identity of football supporters. A mesmerizing constellation of memories emerges through the detritus, capturing more than just fan culture. ‘NEOPLAN’ invites us to grapple with our shared histories and to reflect upon how the groups we inhabit hold the power to shape, and even deeply scar, our lives forever. – Katie Abbott 

Main image: Cinga Samson, Ebembe ya Nioka, Esilaka Somote, 2023, oil on canvas, 240 × 310 cm. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Nina Lieska

Niall Farrelly is an Irish writer, curator and artist based in Nottingham, UK.

Ming Zee Tee is a writer and environmental lawyer based in London, UK.

Ajeet Khela is a writer based in St Andrews, Scotland and London, England.

Katie Abbott is a writer and digital communications professional based in London.

Lara Alake is a writer and curator from London, UK.

Thara Parambi is an Indian writer and artist living between London and Los Angeles.

Diana Bamimeke (they/them) is a writer and independent curator based in Dublin, Ireland.

Irina Costin is a writer, researcher and art historian based in London.