The launch of No 9 Cork Street: Frieze’s “major new initiative” then…
And on it all goes, the non-stop merry-go-round that did briefly stop but now appears to be in full flow again, the new normal the same as the old one so it would appear, the Frieze week is more like three, it probably seriously started yesterday – “You are invited to the launch of No. 9 Cork Street, a new hub for galleries in the heart of Mayfair, to preview the opening programme of exhibitions from James Cohan Gallery, Commonwealth and Council and Proyectos Ultravioleta” so said the electronic message, a private view opening at 9am, nine in the morning, what kind of fresh silliness is this? Who gets up early enough to get to an opening in the West End at nine in the morning!? But that’s the thing here, curiosity has us finding our way to the very much born again Cork Street and all those plush new gallery spaces that are now finding their post-pandemic feet. Feels like they all almost secretly sprouted while we were all locked down, smartly refurbished building all dripping with money and a million miles away from these studios in Hackney.
Yesterday we we’re mixing with bleary-eyed coffee hugging morning rush hour commuters and heading for the opening of a new space. Yesterday we we’re heading out from deepest East London to check out No. 9 Cork Street, a new hub brought to us by Frieze. We’re told the space will feature a revolving cast of galleries from all over the globe, a programme of relatively short-run shows from the high-end galleries of the seriously well-healed art world over the two floors of the space – I dread to speculate the price these guest galleries are paying? We overhear a rather bitchy mention of an eye-watering sum in the gallery next door later on, surely not? You hear all kinds of interesting things at things like Frieze and galleries on streets like Cork Street.
We arrive a fashionable ten minutes after the time stated, there’s already quite a healthy invited crowd in at ten past nine, this is not a natural hour for an artist like me to be up and about and this is not a natural place for a mouthy East London based painter like me to be. New York-based gallery James Cohan have taken on the ground floor to present ‘I Dare Not Appear,’ a solo exhibition of new work by Christopher Myers. I know little of the Brooklyn-based Myers, his work is immediately striking, bright, bold, demanding, ambitious textile-based wall pieces, big hangings, not quite tapestries but in that style…
“I Dare Not Appear” brings together new appliqué textile works with a collection of historical letters written by Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a young Egbado girl who lived in Victorian England. Seven of Forbes Bonetta’s letters from the collection of the artist’s family will be exhibited for the first time, an intimate counterpoint to the large-scale tapestries created by Myers.
The work is strong before you realise what the letters are, you don’t really need to know the story to react in a very positive way to the art, it does add though, the letters sit quietly in cases in the middle of the gallery waiting for you to get over the initial rush of the art
In 1850, Captain Frederick E. Forbes of the Royal Navy, was bequeathed a little girl by King Ghezo of Dahomey. The gift of the “perfect genius” of an “amiable” child was intended for Queen Victoria, as a sort of tribute between royals. Raised as the Queen’s god-daughter, at the interstices of global imaginaries of race, class, and colonialism, her life serves as apt illustration of the conceptual knots of Victorian England: an era characterized by a mindset that could simultaneously trample the world in colonial endeavor and see itself as civilizing souls like Sarah Forbes Bonetta. The artist holds Forbes Bonnetta’s hand-written letters and associated documents, which his family purchased from a London antique shop in the late 1990s. They form part of a collection started by his father, renowned children’s book author Walter Dean Myers, who based a book on these historical materials. The letters range from the emotional to the quotidian and represent a teenage girl’s perspective of living in between worlds, trying to navigate the needle-eyes of courtly life, Victorian class structures, race and culture.
For Myers, his relationship to Forbes Bonetta is interwoven with his own biography and rooted in his family’s stewardship of these and other archives. His tapestries delve into this personally-charged past to build visual narratives about the life of Sarah Forbes Bonneta that speak to the slippages between history and mythology. Collectively, they exemplify the artist’s deft hand in translating histories gleaned through careful research into evocative material form. He writes: “I am interested in the ways in which the presence of Blacks in the West is always, periodicized, constructed as a curiosity, or an innovation, as if we first appeared on the Windrush in England, or on the shores of Virginia in 1619, when in fact we have been present throughout the world and in history part of longer continuity of cultural exposure and exchange.”
Myers treats Forbes Bonetta’s life not as an isolated curiosity of the Victorian era, but rather as a constitutive tapestry, continuous and unbroken. Her story intimately links colonial enterprise and Victorian values to the effects of living at a conceptual juncture, one that presages the diasporic anxieties and experiences of today.
As a side here, it was just before setting out to Cork Street that I was reading of Farnham Art School, now knows by some horrendous corporate name or other were closing their once highly respected textile course, replacing it with something to do with games coding, sweeping all “craft-based” courses to another town, another place, hidden away. Surely a textile course should be housed right next to the painting course, surely it is of that importance, surely? Seeing rather a lot of exciting textile based contemporary art at the moment (yes I was a Farnham textile student back kin the day, the sewing machine is as powerful as the brush.
Christopher Myers (b. New York City in 1974) earned his B.A. in Art-Semiotics and American Civilization with focus on race and culture from Brown University in 1995 and participated in the Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Studio Program in 1996. His work has been exhibited throughout the United States and internationally at venues including MoMA PS1; Art Institute of Chicago; The Mistake Room, Guadalajara, Mexico; Akron Art Museum; Contrast Gallery, Shanghai; Goethe-Institut, Accra, Ghana; Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, Rwanda; San Art, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Myers is currently at work on a Percent for Art Commission at the Brooklyn Brownsville Public Library, expected to be completed in 2022. His work is included in the permanent collections of institutions including the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Los Angeles; Mead Art Museum, Amherst, MA, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. Myers won a Caldecott Honor in 1998 for his illustrations in the book Harlem and a Coretta Scott King Award in 2016 for illustrating Firebird with Misty Copeland. Myers currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
I;m not going to bluff here, Christopher Myers is a new name to me, and I guess this is what we want from No.9 Cock Street, from this new permanent Frieze space, new names to most of us over here, new exciting art, this textile based paintings, these wall hangings are exciting, they ask to be read, to be explored, you don’t need the letters or the piece of paper to tell you to what was happening, the pieces hanging there do read like a book, like giant illustrations (although those letters are fascinating). No.9 is off to a more than healthy start, the day is off to a good start.
There is more though, two more galleries presenting upstairs. Los Angeles-based Commonwealth and Council will debut new works by artists Danielle Dean, Nikita Gale, P. Staff and EJ Hill. and Proyectos Ultravioleta will show a joint exhibition by mother-daughter artists Elisabeth Wild and Vivian Suter. And you do have to stop for a second and again question the whole climate change aspect of Frieze and by extension the idea of galleries from all over the globe flying in art to be presented here, the fair itself is leaving me feeling more uncomfortable than ever this year, it is at best conflicted and rather absent from the debate around this year’s Frieze Fair so far. But then we do need to see art from Guatemala, we can’t just see art made in London. Confliction.
Elisabeth Wild and Vivian Suter once again immediately excite, presented by Guatemala’s Proyectos Ultravioleta Gallery (who currently have an Amalia Pica – as seen at East London’s Herald Street recently – solo show on at their own gallery). The mother and daughter team once again, as Christopher Myers did down tairs, make an instant impact, it is a wow moment when you first see it, a beautifully hung set of paintings, an installation almost, hung like textiles, more textile art (are you watching Fanham art school?). On closer examination they are unstretched canvases hung like fabric, the hang is exciting, like they’re drying in the sun, it demands you walk through it, like washing on a line, you want to get lost in the layers (you so want to touch them). We’re told the artists are from the Guatemalan highlands, the outskirts of Panajachel, I’m no expect here, I rarely get further than Bethnal Green tese days. Suter, who we learn is 70, is responsible for framed collage on the walls, the big hanging pieces that delight so so much, are the work of her mother, 97 year old Vivian Suter, once again I admit to knowing little of either artist
Proyectos Ultravioleta is pleased to present a two person exhibition by mother-daughter Elisabeth Wild and Vivian Suter Based in Guatemala, Proyectos Ultravioleta will show a joint exhibition by mother-daughter artists Elisabeth Wild and Vivian Suter. The presentation sees Suter’s characteristically vibrant unstretched canvases hung freely in a way that evokes the lush greenery surrounding her house and studio in Lake Atitlán (Guatemala), alongside a selection of Wild’s lapidary collages, composed of magazine cutouts. The show will be the artists’ second joint display in London, after being awarded the Focus Stand Prize for Proyectos Ultravioleta’s booth at Frieze London 2016.
Now how exciting these pieces are when taken away from this brilliant hang I’m not sure, as individual paintings or collage pieces do they really do that much? is it all about the hang, the conversations between pieces? Is there that much in a one-off piece? Is there supposed to be, is this enough? But then is there much in a Sean Scully stripe when you take away from the gallery and all the other stripes? This is an exciting presentation, I could spend hours in here, the hangings bring the collages to life, the collages ignite the hangings but as individual pieces is there anything here I haven’t seen at Hackney Wicked or one of those artist-led London car pork shows of the last ten years and that’s surely the thing here, this is a Frieze space so surely we’re right to be expecting the very very best? is it?
I guess two out of three ain’t bad (as Mr Loaf might have said), I must admit the room housing the pieces presented by Los Angeles-based Commonwealth and Council gallery did very little, rather like a day at Frieze, one gallery excites, the next one not so much.
There are questions about all this but it does look like No.9 will be a space to visit often, they’re off to a decent start and hey, it might be dripping with money and the finance of it all down Cork Street, it doesn’t cost you or me anything in terms of the price to walk in. We are going to be expecting the highest of standards in this space, we are going to be expected to be blown away. We shall see what happens in the coming months, watch this space. Ten in the morning, has anyone else opened yet? What are we doing here at this time of day? Let go look for the Pink Bear… To be continued. Frieze week has started… (sw)
The exhibitions will run through 23 October, 2021 and are timed to coincide with Frieze Week in London, a city-wide celebration anchored by Frieze London and Frieze Masters, 13 – 17 October, 2021. In addition, Cork Street Galleries has unveil two outdoor exhibitions. Gina Fischli’s site-specific installation, Ravenous and Predator’ (2021), inaugurating the Cork Street Banners commission, on display until 7 April 2022. Acute Art and Cork Street Galleries present Electronic Hydra Prelude, an augmented reality (AR) exhibition featuring artists Julie Curtiss, Koo Jeong A, and Precious Okoyomon, open from 7 October 2021.
ADDRESS: No.9 Cork Street, London, W1S 3LL. More details
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