Inside Nikita Gale’s Frieze London Installation That Honors Black Women Musicians

Ayanna Dozier
Oct 12, 2022 5:46PM

Portrait of Nikita Gale at BMW Lounge at Frieze London, 2022. Photo by Shingi Rice. Courtesy of BMW.

Nikita Gale, detail of 63/22, 2022. Photo by Shingi Rice. Courtesy of the artist and BMW.

Nikita Gale is an interdisciplinary artist making performance art without performance. Central to the artist’s practice is the question: What makes a witness? Gale approaches witness-bearing through sparse installations made up of sound and equipment related to a performance, like curtains or a stage set, for example. With an MFA in new genres from the University of California, Los Angeles, and a BA in anthropology from Yale University, the Los Angeles–based artist combines research with expansive technology to create work that asks audiences to consider: What happens to performance once the body is taken away?

Gale’s rich, performance-centered yet minimalist practice is the center of the latest BMW Open Work commission. Titled 63/22 (2022), the installation features a recreation of a 1960s music studio in the BMW Lounge at Frieze London in Regent’s Park, on view from October 12th through 16th.

The commission coincides with the closing of Gale’s first U.K. solo exhibition, “IN A DREAM YOU CLIMB THE STAIRS,” at Chisenhale Gallery on October 16th, and follows the artist’s recent solo show, “END OF SUBJECT,” at 52 Walker in New York City earlier this year.

Nikita Gale, installation view 63/22, 2022, in BMW Lounge at Frieze London, 2022. Photo by Shingi Rice. Courtesy of BMW.


For the Open Work commission, Gale collaborated with BMW i7 designers to create a series of electric guitars, which will be featured at the the center of the lounge, alongside the new BMW i7 vehicle. Gale’s long-term collaborator Josephine Wang constructed the lighting design for the lounge, which shifts the mood and tone of the space.

Over the course of the fair, the guitars will be activated via performance by guitarists—all women or nonbinary people of color—throughout Frieze London, while inside the BMW Lounge, the car’s speakers will be used as a wireless amplifier. The performers are Ray Aggs, Alpha Maid (Leisha Thomas), and Joviale.

Attilia Fattori Franchini, the curator of the BMW Open Work commission, told Artsy that “every year, the BMW Open Work is like a blind date. You invite the artist for a conversation but it only ever works when it’s a good match.” Franchini approaches this introductory phase by asking artists if there is anything they would want to create that they do not have the time or resources to develop. For Gale, this was an opportunity to transform an obsession with cars and car shows into a performance on the history of Black women musicians that have been overlooked in history.

Nikita Gale, installation view of 63/22, 2022, in BMW Lounge at Frieze London, 2022. Photo by Shingi Rice. Courtesy of BMW.

Each of Gale’s guitars is named after a prominent 20th-century Black woman musician, including Big Mama Thornton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Memphis Minnie, Barbara Lynn, and Joan Armatrading. The use of historical figures follows Gale’s approach to archives and rememory as a way to both look back to the past and to intervene upon it. Rememory is culled from Toni Morrison’s 1987 seminal novel Beloved, about a ghost who died enslaved, who returns to seek justice for her family.

By having BMW designers plan and fabricate electric guitars, Gale’s commission is recreating a specific instance in 1963, where car designers collaborated with musical producers and engineers. In fact, the most popular electric guitar sold by Gibson, the Firebird, designed by Raymond Dietrich, was the result of such collaborations.

“Each guitar is a different character that has been refined with different BMW materials,” Franchini said of Gale’s work. “So we really made it possible for parts of the car interior [to be incorporated] into the guitar, like the neck of the guitar is made from one of the door handles.” Franchini added that Gale’s commission led the BMW designers to truly channel their knowledge of cars into thinking about the guitar.

Nikita Gale, installation view of 63/22, 2022, in BMW Lounge at Frieze London, 2022. Photo by Shingi Rice. Courtesy of BMW.

Despite the impressive set design, custom-made guitars, and BMW i7 itself, the real star of Gale’s installation and performance—and the artist’s practice broadly—is the transformative potential it can have upon the audience. Placed in dialogue with the history of Black women performers going unrecognized, Gale has historically, and through 63/22, created an audience for these now-absent Black women guitar players.

As the artist said to curator Amy Jones for the Chisenhale exhibition, “Having an audience to witness, distribute, and share experiences is crucial to the recognition of something existing or having happened.” Gale further stated, “It’s the way that the audience or the witness produces a thing, and then reproduces it…and how that site of encounter between objects and audience is the moment at which a new relationship is produced.”

Ayanna Dozier
Ayanna Dozier is Artsy’s Staff Writer.