BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 21 JUN 24

What to See Across the UK This Summer

From Otobong Nkanga’s ritualistic compositions to the biophilic design of Tropical Modernism

BY frieze in Critic's Guides | 21 JUN 24

Otobong Nkanga | Lisson Gallery, London | 24 May 3 August

Otobong Nkanga, We Come from Fire and Return to Fire, 2024, hand tufted carpet, glazed and smoked raku ceramic, obsidian, shungite, tourmaline, labradorite, handmade rope, metal connectors, Murano glass with black palm kernel oil and palm oil, 7.2 × 2.7 × 3.4 m. Courtesy: the artist and Lisson Gallery

What does it mean to smoulder, crack open and emerge from the ashes? Such elemental and existential questions preoccupy Nigerian artist Otobong Nkanga, whose inaugural solo show at Lisson Gallery contains objects, tapestries and sound installations that unite disparate materials into ritualistic compositions. 

In the show’s titular work, We Come from Fire and Return to Fire (2024), a heavy hand-braided rope clamped with iridescent, smoked-raku ceramic beads snakes around precious stones on a hand-tufted carpet, reaching up to the skylight. The careful arrangement is at once imposing and enticing: I have to resist the urge to lie on the rug and absorb the energy of the obsidian, tourmaline and labradorite. The carpet’s design was inspired by the constituent minerals of pyrargyrite: pyr and argyros being Ancient Greek for, respectively, fire and silver. The amorphous rug contains psychedelic colours and patterns; black lines slice through layered shades of purple peppered with spores of red and cobalt. – Vaishna Surjid 

Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence | V&A South Kensington, London | 2 March 22 September

The Architectural Review, 1953, illustration. Courtesy: RIBA Collections and © Gordon Cullen Estate

The modernist movement that swept through Europe and North America, dominating architectural design for most of the 20th century, eventually made its way to the Global South. Formally adapted to suit the hot and humid climate of these regions, tropical modernism emerged as a term in the 1950s to define and unify buildings designed by European architects working in these non-Western sites. The leading practitioners of the movement were British architects Edwin Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, who designed buildings throughout the so-called tropics of South Asia and West Africa. 

Given that these projects were variously commissioned, procured and funded along colonial networks, it is difficult to divorce them from notions of coloniality, even as they were built in post-independence nations. Underpinning them is a form of soft power – an exertion of influence on people’s cultural, rather than political, lives – described by sociologist John Tomlinson in Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction (1991) as ‘the exercise of domination in cultural relationships in which the values, practices and meanings of a powerful foreign culture are imposed upon one or more native cultures’.  Derin Fadina

Hettie Inniss | GRIMM Gallery, London | 30 May 20 July

Hettie Inniss, To You, 24 Years from Now, 2024, acrylic, pigment, oil, oil stick and sand on canvas, 1.8 × 2.1 m. Courtesy: the artist and GRIMM, Amsterdam, London and New York; photograph: Jack Hems

In her essay ‘Memory, Creation and Writing’ (1984), the American novelist Toni Morrison considers what it means to deliberately recall an episode from the past. This act, she writes, ‘is a form of willed creation. It is not an effort to find out the way it really was – that is research. The point is to dwell on the way it appeared and why it appeared in that particular way.’ Morrison’s words might serve to describe the practice of the young British painter Hettie Inniss, who, in her debut solo exhibition at GRIMM, London, presents a suite of canvases depicting streets, landscapes and architectural interiors emptied of human life, each one painted from memory in a luxurious yet faintly sinister palette dominated by glowing ambers and golds. The more time we spend with these works, the more their still, airless worlds feel subject to a kind of dream logic: long shadows fall where they shouldn’t; light condenses into floating orbs of pale pigment; and reflections seem to land on surfaces that aren’t there. – Tom Morton

Do Ho Suh | Modern One, National Gallery of ScotlandEdinburgh | 17 Feb 1 September

Do Ho Suh, Inverted Monument (detail), 2022. Courtesy: the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul, and London

‘I’ve always wanted to challenge the didactic rigidity of the museum and its architecture,’ the artist Do Ho Suh writes to me in an email. Suh’s work exists in an exploratory realm between sculpture and architecture, sometimes partaking of drawing, as well. Famous for his soft actual-scale renditions of Korean architecture and Western residential structures (what he terms ‘translucent fabric home[s]’), the artist frequently plays upon our expectations regarding oppositional pairs such as hard-soft, opaque-translucent and miniature-monumental, to name but a few. As the critic Janet Kraynak observed in a 2001 Venice Biennale catalogue essay, Suh engages with some of the same concerns and strategies as practitioners of minimalist sculpture, generating conditions of visual investigation under which the viewer must toggle between the experience of viewing a field and that of focusing on a discrete object. The inability to come to rest on one side of this binary results in a state of suspension – an opening of pre-existing categories, along with a reorientation of the viewer’s senses. – Lucy Ives

Alvaro Barrington | Tate Britain, London | 24 May 26 January

Alvaro Barrington, They have They Cant, 2021, hessian on aluminium frame, yarn, spray paint, concrete on cardboard, bandanas, 229 × 245 × 56 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris; photograph: Charles Duprat

Since I first encountered Barrington’s work a few years ago, I’ve most admired the breadth and range of his flirtations – the way he glides, in painting, sculpture and performance, between the intimacies of daily life and historic memory. In 2020, at Corvi-Mora in London, Barrington’s ‘Garvey 2 – They eyes were watching god’ scaled these registers by looking closely at links between the US, Europe and the Caribbean, where Barrington was born and partly raised. It’s one of a series of exhibitions he’s developed around the life of Marcus Garvey, the writer, publisher and Pan-African activist who pioneered Black separatism in the early 20th century. Though primarily a painter, Barrington here installed A Different World (2017–ongoing), a series of beams that stretched from floor to ceiling, chiming with the gallery’s sloped roof. From each protrudes an antique postcard, their paper surfaces embroidered with various shapes in yarn. By obscuring landmarks, beachside towns and golf courses, Barrington recasts the recessive photographic background as an ambiguous foreground, drawing your attention to what isn’t there – in a way that tourism, with its careful emphasis on hotels and monuments dissociated from ordinary local life, seldom does. Andrew Durbin

Main image: Alvaro Barrington, A Different World (detail), 2017–ongoing, installation view, Corvi-Mora, London, 2020–21. Courtesy: the artist and Corvi-Mora, London; photograph: Marcus Leith

Contemporary Art and Culture