Next week, when London’s biggest art fair Frieze kicks off, the big buzz is centred on the two tents in Regent’s Park housing Frieze London and Frieze Masters. It’s a snapshot of the market, and a chance to see some works that will disappear into private collections for a long time. But wow, it’s expensive: a visit to the “First Preview” on Thursday, which isn’t even the VIP day, will set you back £145 just for Frieze London and £245 for the two. For the weekend, it’s £56 and £82.
But there’s a hack for the art lover unprepared to spend their monthly coffee budget in one day. Elsewhere in London, the same galleries showing in the tents are putting on high quality shows — much better installed, much more in-depth in their scope, much more artist-approved and likely to be much quieter — and completely free to visit.
The shows here, opening this week and next, are just a start; there are scores more that won’t cost you a penny, and that’s before you even consider the non-profit galleries dotted across town. So here’s how to do Frieze (week) for free.
Mickalene Thomas: Beyond the Pleasure Principle
With a title alluding to both Sigmund Freud’s essay and a Janet Jackson song, this show features Thomas’s Jet Blue series, in which she uses Jet magazine pin-up calendars as the basis for collages brimming with energy and teeming with art-historical references. Set amid wallpaper with vast archival images of interior decor, they reflect Thomas’s ongoing exploration of Black female agency and sexuality, and queer identity.
Levy Gorvy, Old Bond St and Albemarle St, to Nov 13
Social Works II
In a notably museumy show, the critic Antwaun Sargent brings together a range of artists from the African diaspora, many working across media and disciplines, from the designer and artist Grace Wales Bonner to architect David Adjaye and photographer Tyler Mitchell. However distinctly, each artist explores the role of community and social space in defining identities.
Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, to Dec 18
Mark Rothko 1968: Clearing Away
Pace’s new gallery in Hanover Square is inaugurated by these luminous paintings on paper made at the end of Rothko’s life. His late period has been characterised as being dominated by ominous black and grey works, but these paintings—small for Rothko and meant to be seen up-close—belie that narrative. Despite experiencing physical and mental illness at the time, Rothko threw himself into vibrant colour.
Pace, to Nov 13
Claudette Johnson: Still Here
Still here, and still making powerful work. Johnson — a key member of the BLK Art Group, young Midlands-based artists who focused on exploring Black identity in the 1980s — makes striking, defiant images of Black women in particular. Here, she shows new paintings influenced by her experience of lockdown, among them a bold self-portrait in which Johnson glances over her shoulder, meeting our gaze.
Hollybush Gardens, to Nov 13
Davis died tragically young of cancer after a brief but brilliant career both as an artist and the founder, with his sculptor wife Karon, of the Underground Museum (UM) in Los Angeles. Archive material relating to the UM and a work by Davis’s similarly brilliant brother, filmmaker Kahlil Joseph, are included here, alongside Davis’s mysterious, beautiful, poetic paintings.
David Zwirner, to Nov 17
Shahzia Sikander: Infinite Woman
Sikander studied manuscript painting in Lahore and subverts time-honoured Central and South Asian visual languages and symbolism in works in various media. With constant reference to poetry as well as art, her work—here in film, painting, drawing and mosaic—takes on the global issues of today: race, migration, the legacies of colonialism and the climate emergency, in exquisitely realised works of elemental power.
Pilar Corrias, Eastcastle St, from Oct 12 to Nov 13
Lenore Tawney: Part 1
Tawney (1907-2007) only began studying art in her late 40s, and hit her stride as a textile artist in her 50s. The first of two Tawney shows at Alison Jacques concentrates on her pioneering early pieces, all lightness and luminosity, including forms hung from the gallery ceiling. Tawney’s friend, the great painter Agnes Martin, judiciously described the new expression she found in weaving, as “a wonderful and gratifying experience”.
Alison Jacques, from Oct 11 to Nov 6
A poet and painter, Kacharava was active in Soviet Georgia in the 1980s and then between Tbilisi and Europe until his death aged just 30 in 1994. His paintings, here selected by the painter Sanya Kantarovsky and curator Scott Portnoy, are often intense multi-figure compositions in atmospheric settings, filled with writing and jarring imagery, derived from everything from comics to German Expressionist masters.
Modern Art, from Oct 11 to Dec 18
Jordan Casteel: There Is a Season
The first solo exhibition outside the US for this leading figure in a new generation of figurative American painters. Vividly colourful and expressive, Casteel’s paintings include images of people that she knows well and self-portraits—she also paints her garden in the new painting Nasturtium—as well as anonymous travellers on the New York Subway.
Massimo de Carlo, from Oct 11 to Nov 17
Sze’s best known for her sculptures assembled from sundry objects which form uncanny, immersive environments. But she started out as a painter, and through a similarly collage-like approach, has found a way to match the intensity and intricacy of her three-dimensional work in paint, creating works rich in mystery and movement, appearing both to explode and implode before us. She also shows new sculptures.
Victoria Miro, from Oct 12 to Nov 6
Hurvin Anderson: Reverb
Marvellously lyrical and elusive new paintings by the British artist, exploring an eerie-looking hotel in Jamaica, the country of his heritage. For three years, Anderson’s focused on the hotel’s architecture and the surrounding landscape. But his paintings are also rich in art-historical allusion: in the superb painting Grace Jones, a figure clearly evokes Gerhard Richter’s great painting Ema (Nude on a Staircase), itself a riff on Marcel Duchamp.
Thomas Dane, from Oct 12 to Dec 4
Ron Mueck 25 Years of Sculpture, 1996-2021; Please Touch: Marcel Duchamp and the Fetish
Some major museums are—quite rightly, in my view—Ron Mueck sceptics, but if you want to see a broad survey of his work, then this is for you. It’s the biggest yet and includes the macabre Dead Dad, memorably shown in the Royal Academy’s Sensation show, as well as new works. I’ll be heading instead for the smaller show on the provocative eroticism at the heart of the Marcel Duchamp’s still beguiling oeuvre.
Thaddaeus Ropac, from Oct 13 to Nov 13
George Condo: Ideals of the Unfound Truth
Condo describes his fragmented figures and faces, veering from calm delicacy to abject violence as “composites of various psychological states painted in different ways”. Deeply entrenched in art history, inclined to reference everyone from Franz Hals to Picasso, his paintings and drawings—shown across both Hauser & Wirth galleries—can be anything from disquieting to laugh-out-loud funny. But they’re always arresting.
Hauser & Wirth, from Oct 13 to Dec 23