Day in the Life: Curator and Art Historian Aindrea Emelife Meets Her Art Heroes and Breaks for Zoom Calls During Frieze London

The curator documents a day of happy reunions at and around Frieze London.

Making plans with powerhouse patron Maja Hoffmann. Photo courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

The fall season is swinging again in London with the return of the fair and auction circuit. Curator and art historian Aindrea Emelife (@aindreaemelife) let Artnet News tag along virtually to Frieze London, through reunions with art and fashion-world friends, inspiring new discoveries, and a much-needed slice of chocolate-beetroot cake. Read on to find out more about her whirlwind day at the fair.

7:15 a.m.

Wake up and check my phone. My friend, the artist Kudzanai-Violet Hwami, has texted me about our dinner last night. Surround yourself with artists; they are good for the soul.

7:30 a.m.

Time to caffeinate, treadmill, then address my emails. I must admit, there’s a lot of plates spinning at the moment. I started the month by opening “BOLD BLACK BRITISH” at Christie’s; it’s a takeover of the auction house and a full immersion into the intergenerational, multidisciplinary legacy of Black British Art. I close this month by opening my first exhibition in the U.S., “Black Bodies, White Spaces: Invisibility and Hypervisibility,” with the Green Family Art Foundation in Dallas. Amid all this, I’m finishing off my forthcoming books, launching a curated set of editions with AvantArte, and planning my 2022–24 exhibitions. However, today is about Frieze.

9:30 a.m.

Emails finished. Dear collector Ralph Segreti texts me from the VIP tents saying to watch out for Frieze Week; in the issue I’ve profiled his art collection, which features the likes of Theaster Gates and Rashid Johnson among incredible, new-to-me minimal artists like Jennie Jones.

First stop: picking up a dress at Giles Deacon’s studio. Photo by and courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

10:00 a.m.

Uber to designer Giles Deacon’s studio. Giles has selected some dresses to wear to TWOXTWO gala when I’m in Dallas later this month. Who said academics don’t wear pink?

11:00 a.m.

The déjà vu of blurred Regent’s Park trees is quite comforting. Burna Boy is blasting into my eardrums. Frieze London first; promises of calmer aesthetic bliss to soothe my inner Courtauldian afterwards.

11:30 a.m.

Vaxxed and checked; let the fun begin.

12:05 a.m.

Wait…where are the heart palpitations? The fair’s usual chaotic energy and thirst has been replaced by a more elegant fervent curiosity. It’s more Cirque de Soleil than circus; fewer people, more polite, no juggling bears.

I head straight for Tiwani Contemporary to see Andrew Hart’s work. Andrew and I met when he did PLOP Residency, a program I set up with the painter Oli Epp. The paintings don’t translate well in photos; you need to witness the shadowy layers and hypnotic undertones in person. The best paintings are even better face-to-face.

12:20 a.m.

At Carl Freedman’s booth, Lindsey Mendick’s subversive, witty vases with octopus tentacles and protruding penises are a delight. Mendick does dark humor in a way online viewing room experiences would miss entirely.

12:45 a.m.

I meet up with Osman Ahmed, fashion features director for i-D. High compliments for my Bethany Williams trousers (thank you, Bethany!).

With Petersham Nurseries pal Gael Boglione, post-refuel. Photo courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

1:00 p.m.

Starving, I head to Petersham Nurseries’ La Goccia for juicy bites of monkfish and pillowy focaccia, and to meet my friend Gael Boglione, the powerhouse behind Petersham. We talk pears and pecorino as I fuel myself and my electronics (can I petition for Frieze portable chargers?).

1:15 p.m.

Admiring Deborah Roberts’s playful mixed-media explorations of race and otherness…then admiring the Deborah Roberts. What a joy to meet the artist herself! We discuss the work that features in my current exhibition in Dallas with joyful re-enactment of the scene. I think I have now peaked quite early in this fair—this is one of the best things; I just know it. Must push on.

Me and Deborah Roberts with her work on view at Stephen Friedman’s booth at the fair. Photo courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

2:00 p.m.

I don’t get to see enough Simone Leigh. What a triumphant work this is at the Hauser and Wirth booth! I suppose it is no secret that I am the ultimate Leigh fangirl; we need a Leigh solo show on our turf, stat, and I wholeheartedly volunteer to curate it. A breathtaking Frank Bowling and a delightful Louise Bourgeois straddling contortion are additional excitements. I came with high expectations from Hauser and Wirth and, as usual, wasn’t disappointed.

3:10 p.m.

Favorite install: Issy Wood at Carlos/Ishikawa. Soft, uncanny, furry canvases from Wood, plus tiles worth tearing up the floor and framing. It’s the tender deliciousness I wanted.

Just look at this Simone Leigh on the Hauser and Wirth stand! Photo by and courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

4:00 p.m.

The delightful Caspar Williams and my dear friend Helen Neven show me around the Corvi-Mora stand: attention-grabbing work from Lynette Yiadom-Boakye and a personal fave, Shawanda Corbett. I fall hard for the byzantine Afrofuturism of Jem Perucchini. I make a mental note to investigate.

4:30 p.m.

Herald St Gallery has an excellent roster, and here, Alexandra Bircken’s splayed motorcycle wear is exciting to behold. My friend at the gallery, Émilie Streiff, explains that Bircken trained as a fashion designer—which is so apparent in the grasp of textile and material. Instantly add her book to my Blackwells basket with next-day delivery.

A quick visit with Caspar Williams and Helen Neven at the Corvi-Mora booth. Photo by and courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

5:00 p.m.

Say a quick hi to Sadie and Pauline and admire Sarah Lucas’s new sculptures: more colour and shoes from Tokyo. I will be a Sarah Lucas fan forever; do check out “Sarah Lucas: Sex Life” at The Perimeter, London (Alex Petalas’s space, where my last show, “Citizens of Memory,” was held).

5:30 p.m.

I sneak in a coffee at Gail’s and a few Zoom meetings, hopefully out of nosy earshot. I can’t help but think about my experiences going to the fair as an 18-year-old curator-hopeful and the aspirational treat of a Gail’s Bakery experience. Coffee culture was not a staple in my household: “We have biscuits and Yorkshire tea at home,” my mother would say. The chocolate beetroot cake is soft, rich goodness.

5:40 p.m.

Inside a Do Ho Suh at the Lehmann Maupin booth! Then there’s a two-hour gap, which consists of an Uber home, an outfit change, a 15-minute power nap, looking over notes on Francesco Borromini for a documentary I’m presenting, and other perfunctory errands and habits.

The delightful Louise Bourgeois straddling contortion at Hauser and Wirth. Photo by and courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

7:45 p.m.

Arrive at the Serpentine Gallery dinner. A huge hello to Hans Ulrich Obrist, who has been of endless support and guidance, and another peek at James Barnor’s exhibition.

8:00 p.m.

James is here! I thank him for kindly allowing his work to feature in “Bold Black British” at Christie’s and stroll through the show.

8:15 p.m.

My good friend Ben Okri arrives—sans beret, but with an excellent hat. Ben gave me a poem he had written to read at the opening of “Bold Black British” and asked how I delivered it. I said I tried to channel him, but it’s hard to compete with the master! We talk Nigeria travel plans—there is no better West Africa travel guide. Ben, Yinka Ilori, and I speak earnestly with Yinka Shonibare.

8:25 p.m.

I manage to catch up with Maja Hoffman, who so graciously hosted me at the opening of her Luma foundation in Arles. Maja is a powerhouse and an agent of care and support for all creatives, artists, and storytellers. We hatch a plan to meet up.

With my good friend, the writer Ben Okri, at the Serpentine dinner. Photo courtesy of Aindrea Emelife.

8:45 p.m.

Speeches! Brilliant words from architect Sumayya Vally, whose Counterspace pavillion has been hosting important dialogues and discussions. The pavilion pays homage to existing and erased places and communities; living in times where we can meet and come together within such elegant and radical design is powerful.  Very inspiring way to lead into dinner…

9:30 p.m.

I spent most of the evening immersed into my favorite sort of conversation—how to disrupt the art world, and why discomfort and putting real life at the center of art matters—with Vladimir Yavachev, nephew of the late Christo. We discuss the Arc de Triomphe commission, the future of public art, the act of curating as a kind of trojan horse, and the power of accessibility with excitement.

10:00 p.m.

We go to see something special on the bridge. Unintentionally blurry, but I can’t tell you too much about this, or I’ll ruin the surprise of my next project.

10:30 p.m.

I arrive at the Gagosian bash at Louie London and head straight into hugs with Miles Greenberg, Antwaun Sargent, and Manuel Mathieu, then congratulate my gallery buds Ottilie Windsor and Jona Lueddeckens. I leave the party later than I should; I blame the DJ.

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