Before the Frieze Sculpture Fair opens in October, visitors to Regent’s Park get a chance to have a look at the sculptures by 23 international artists in the beautiful setting of the English Gardens, free of charge from 3 July until 6 October 2019.
Selected by Clare Lilley (Director of Programme at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park) the sculptures represent a mixture of styles, techniques and materials. Several works were made using natural stone. Carved out of a single piece of onyx Solar Disc III (2018) is a work of one of the most renowned British sculptors Emily Young, whose trademark technique combines rough and polished stone surfaces. Perhaps the most common material we encounter among the sculptures on display is bronze, for example the bronze sleeping giantess (When I Sleep, 2018) by acclaimed British artist Tracey Emin. Quite a few artists have used found objects, such as car parts, street bollards and industrial waste.
A significant number of works were instantly likeable, such as the Tudor Ball (2019) by the American artist Lars Fisk, which reimagines the iconic vernacular architecture of the Tudor period complete with a thatched roof and real geranium flowers. Others were more of a ‘conversation-provoking’ kind. In her work Strange Temporalities (2019) the Iranian artist Ghazaleh Avarzamani seems to have dissected and reconfigured a children’s playground slide. Located nearby is an even more enigmatic structure by Peter Buggenhout from Belgium titled On Hold #9 (2019) consisting of large inflatable shapes and industrial waste. The title On Hold might suggest the temporality of the world around us, but it’s only one of possible interpretations.
Without proper context, the meaning behind many sculptures in the show might not be obvious, especially that the descriptions on accompanying labels are very short and contain barely any information about the artists. For those who want to learn more about particular works and artists there is a free mobile app with a very well-presented audio guide.
Usagi Kannon II (2013-2018) (loosely translated as Rabbit Madonna II) is the work of Japanese artist Leiko Ikemura. She has been creating similar works in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and was also motivated by environmental concerns. Unless we are familiar with the artist’s other works the rabbit-eared patinated bronze figure does not immediately communicate the sense of ‘universal mourning’ described by the artist. Only from a close distance do we notice the figure’s sorrowful expression. A split in the figure’s bell-shaped skirt is large enough for a person to walk in, which symbolically provides shelter to a visitor. From further away however, the sculpture looks like a large cute toy. This impression is strengthened by its location. We find it near a very photogenic work by American sculptor Tom Sachs – an oversized replica of My Melody toy (some might know the bunny-like anime character as one of Hello Kitty’s friends). Despite its appearance resembling a rough plaster cast, Sachs’s My Melody (2008) was made of bronze and painted white.
Speaking of toys, also nearby is the sculpture of a car by Vik Muniz from Brazil titled Mnemonic Vehicle No.2 (2015) It’s not technically a sculpture of a car, but a larger-than-life replica of a 1973 Jaguar E-Type Matchbox toy car (How surreal!). Appearances can be deceiving seems to be a recurring theme. Celloswarm (2002) by British artist Bill Woodrow from a distance looks uncannily like a cello covered by a golden swarm of bees. Woodrow’s cello is made of bronze and gold leaf and it’s balanced precariously on top of a large boulder.
One of the most interesting works is the Superhero Cog Woman #01 (2019) LR Vandy, British artist of Nigerian descent. The artist brings to attention the fact that the work done by women often goes unmentioned and uncredited. Resembling a female figure wearing a skirt composed of cog-like elements the Superhero Cog Woman honours all women who over the course of history have contributed to industry, culture, and society as a whole.
Autonomous Morris (2018) by Zak Ové, assembled using deconstructed and collaged car parts, is probably one of the most often photographed works on display. It brings to mind characters from the Transformers films and has an instant appeal, even if the meaning eludes the viewer. Autonomous Morris is quite different from other works by this British/Trinidadian artist whose sculptures often resemble West African totem masks, clearly referencing the artist’s heritage.
Bettina Pousttchi, German-Iranian artist, is interested in decontextualizing objects found in public spaces. An example of her practice is the slightly anthropomorphic group of street bollards titled Alexander (2015), named after the Alexanderplatz in Berlin. Reconfigured objects appear here as coming to life.
Joanna Rajkowska is an established Polish artist who works primarily on community art projects. (Read more here). Presented in this exhibition Rajkowska’s recent sculpture is strikingly different from her previous works. The Hatchling (2019) is a large replica of the blackbird’s egg. It not only looks like the egg of one of Britain’s most common garden birds, but also sounds like it’s about to hatch thanks to a mechanism hidden inside.
The Hatchling is one of several works in this exhibition that encourage visitor interaction – the gigantic egg encourages us to come closer and listen. Usagi Kannon II mentioned above allows a single person to shelter inside the sculpture, and a group of three little steel-and-concrete bridges inscribed with carved words created by Columbian artist Iván Argote titled Bridges (We are melting) (2019) are designed to walk on.
With such a varied selection of works it’s impossible to see a coherent narrative. It seems that one of the guiding principles was the visual appeal of the sculptures, which is not necessarily a bad thing, as the exhibition has a potential to appeal to a wide range of visitors. Some of us prefer a meaningful artwork to a pretty one, some want both, while others are mainly interested in taking a captivating photo which they can share with friends. All are good reasons to interact with art. Visitors to large art galleries and art museums are often complaining about the long queues leading to the most popular artworks or the vast numbers of selfie-takers blocking the view of the works everyone came to see. Outdoor sculpture exhibitions such as this one might be a good alternative to overcrowded galleries, and an opportunity to interact with contemporary art at leisure.
The Frieze Sculpture at the Regent’s Park will be available until 6 October 2019. Free entry.
Frieze Sculpture Fair website: https://frieze.com/fairs/frieze-london