A day in the life of art's hottest city

As collectors descend on London for the Frieze Art Fair and The New York Times applauds the capital's 'dizzying' array of new exhibitions, Arifa Akbar sets off to see them all in one go
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The Independent Culture

"Even in a city whose energy for contemporary art has been boundless, the number of artists in town for openings this week is dizzying."

That was The New York Times's verdict on the British capital yesterday morning. Canada's Globe and Mail described the centrepiece, this year's Frieze Art Fair, as "the most sizzling, hyped and hectic art event of the year... It is hard to separate art from reality." The Age (Australia) and The Wall Street Journal were similarly effusive.

This week has been the most exciting in the British art calendar: at least one mega exhibition opening every day in London; the Frieze juggernaut this weekend; blockbusters like Karla Back's sculptures at Modern Art Oxford; the photography of Martin Parr at Gateshead's Baltic; and The Long Dark at Manchester's International, a group show of industrial medievalism. Art lovers have a treat of a weekend ahead. So how much can one see in a day?

9am: Hayward Gallery, Ed Ruscha

I head for the early-bird viewing – VIPs sipping champagne with gallery director Ralph Rugoff. "Ruscha is such a great explorer, he has never stopped re-inventing himself over the past 50 years," says Rugoff. Single-word motifs by this major figure in the US art canon announce: "Oof", and "Noise".

10.15am: Tate Modern, Turbine Hall, Miroslaw Balka's 'How It Is'

A troupe of teenagers and elderly couples clutching each other's sleeves makes its way up a ramp and into a vat of darkness – the latest Turbine Hall work, by the Polish artist Balka. A Scottish couple, Gary Bowman and Katie Wright, swung by Tate Modern after their plane from Edinburgh landed early. "It was a wee bit like dating in the dark!" said Mr Bowman, 30 – although Ms Wright appeared less keen. A middle-aged man, caught in the spirit of the occasion, was rescued from staring at a shopping trolley by a curator who pointed out it was not part of the exhibit.

10.45am: Tate Modern, John Baldessari: Pure Beauty

The work of Baldessari, another influential Los Angeles artist (who will discuss his career in public with Ruscha in London next week), is comprehensively exhibited for the first time in Britain. On one side of the room, a large sculpture. On the other, a hidden camera that films visitors as they arrive. These images are replayed on a wall after a short lapse. Befuddled visitors collide with images of themselves. Time for a quick coffee in the 7th floor café overlooking the Thames.

11.20am: Tate Modern, Pop Life: Art in the Material World

Pop Life hit the headlines after the Metropolitan Police last week removed a photograph of a nude, 10-year-old Brooke Shields. There was lots else to see, from Warhol's GEM paintings which must be viewed under UV light to Damien Hirst's living sculpture, in which twins, 24-year-olds Caroline and Simone, sit playing cards above two spot paintings. "This is the first time we've done this sort of thing," said Caroline (or Simone?). "We stopped dressing the same years and years ago so this feels really weird."

12.10pm: White Cube, Anselm Kiefer

An exclusive crowd of art lovers, dealers and collectors at this trendy Mason's Yard gallery for the German artist's large-scale works of forests. "He is one of the best artists out there right now," said one moneyed collector, clutching catalogues for the Sotheby's and Christie's evening sales. "This is the best thing in London at the moment."

12.40pm: Royal Academy, Anish Kapoor

The RA is a stark contrast to White Cube's minimalism. Kapoor has transformed the sober rooms with a gunk-firing cannon, distorting mirrors, pyramid sculptures, boisterous crowds ... it's an adult fairground. There was a loud discussion: "They're vandalising their own gallery! How will they get that wax off the ceiling?"

1.30pm: Frieze Art Fair

As well as heavyweight dealers, this draws big names from beyond art – Gwyneth Paltrow and Italian designer Valentino have already squeezed through the hordes to peek at 164 galleries' stands, including work by Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin. Children shriek gleefully at their one-hour workshop, allowing parents to drop the leash and explore, fast. Not everyone is impressed. "We can't believe how much crap there is," says Stuart Bolin, an art student, 26, with his friend, Jessica Palalagi, 30.

4.30pm: Barbican Centre, Curve Gallery, Robert Kusmirowski

The Polish artist's sinister recreation of a Second World War bunker, with decomposing railway tracks, electrical fuses and relics, is worth repeat visits. "We wanted to come back and see it again, it's just so atmospheric. It's like a film set," said Lizzie Work, an actor. "Haunting."

5.20pm: Whitechapel Art Gallery, Sophie Calle – Talking to Strangers

Calle's most sensational work Take Care of Yourself makes this worth a trip: a letter sent by her lover telling her he was leaving her. She forwarded the note to over 100 women: actresses, sex therapists, clowns ... eliciting responses. A group of east London girls gather around the video of Miranda Richardson, who incredulously reads the letter aloud while she strokes her cat on a sofa. A clown giggles at the letter before falling asleep, exhausted by the clichés.

6.30pm: Zoo 2009

With an hour to spare before the galleries close – for the next 12 hours at least – this hybrid event focuses on emerging contemporary art (for sale) is a great way to end the day at 8pm – and start your very own collection.