Monday, 27 June 2016


Up Now in London

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Francis Alÿs: Ciudad Juárez projects  @ David Zwirner, 24 Grafton St – Mayfair
Paradox of Praxis 5: Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream Ciudad Juárez, México, 2013 - Video, 7:49 minutes
The Mexico-based Belgian Francis Alÿs has a rare ability to cut through complex plenitudes to memorable metaphor. Here we have the latest in two long-running series: his engagement with children’s games shows us tag with shards of mirror in the notorious ‘murder capital’ of Ciudad Juárez; and the fifth of his ‘paradoxes of praxis’ takes on the aphorism ‘Sometimes we dream as we live & sometimes we live as we dream’ by kicking a flaming football through the streets of by night – a violent yet beautiful way to fleetingly illuminate the city’s problems while suggesting that the failure to grapple with them fully may be represented by ‘kicking the can down the road’.

Children's Game #15, Video still, in collaboration with Julien Devaux, Felix Blume
and Alejandro Morales, Ciudad Juárez, 2013. Photo:Francis Alys

Self @ Massimo De Carlo, 55 South Audley St – Mayfair

Kaari Upson Kiss (Woven), 2009-2015
There are plenty of self-portraits around at the moment *. The most imaginative are here: Kaari Upson's 'Kiss' diptychs in which she presses her self-portrait onto that of an unknown man to yield a disturbing merger; the four-strong Austrian collective Gelitin presenting themselves as mirrors so that they combine with the viewer; Paweł Althamer as the Polish cartoon character Matołek the Billy-Goat with a startlingly-lit heart - against the background of Dan Colen's after party scatter of the hand-made sculptures of fag-ends and empty wine bottles; Andra Ursuta scattering the promise of her readiness to please as an artist in the form of hundreds of cards advertising an 'ethnic bimbo' offering ‘all services’… and a dozen more.
* See for example the exhibitions culled from the Ruth Borchard collection at the Jerwood in Hastings and at King’s Place in London
Installation view with Paweł Althamer and Dan Colen (Todd-White Art Photography) 


Niki de Saint Phalle: je Suis une Vache Suisse @ Omer Tiroche Contemporary Art, 21 Conduit St - Mayfair

To 10 Sept:
Je Suis Une Vache Suisse, 1991 - oil, pencil and mirror on wood, 99 x 96 x 20 cm

There are some superb historical shows on at the moment: Louise Nevelson at Pace, Jean Dubuffet at Timothy Taylor, Gego at Dominique Lévy...  Less obvious, perhaps,. is this co-selection with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park of  Niki de Saint Phalle (1930 - 2002). It's seeded with darkness, All Over being one of the collages of everyday items (somewhat akin to Mike Kelley's later 'Memory Ware' series) which she stated making while in a mental institution following depression and prior to her famous shooting paintings. Omitting those, the show fast forwards to her brighter and more animalistic side, including the eponymous Swiss cow with cheesy holes; her usual fun with birds and snakes; and the plaster work showing her friend Clarice Rivers (Larry's wife) pregnant - which was to swell into the Nana series.

All Over, 1959-60 - objects i plaster on wood panel

Rubén  Grilo: Proof of Concept @ Union Pacific, 17 Goulston St -  Aldgate

1 Milka Avellanas Enteras 32 Bites (Aprox), 3 Lindt 30 Bites, 1 Smarties Sharing Block 16 Bites, 4 Kit Kat 16 Bites, 5 Nestle Aero 28 Bites, 3 Green & Black‘s Thin Milk Chocolate 8 Bites, 4 Valor 11 Bites and 2 12 Bites, 3 Cadbury Dairy Milk Marvellous Creations Cookie Nut Crunch 16 Bites, 2 Reese‘s Filled with Peanut Butter 15 Bites, 4 Niederegger Lubeck Marzipan Classic 10 Bit, 2 Galaxy Smooth Milk 42 Bites, 2016, Tinted hard plastic, magnets, aluminum foil, laser-cut, bent and powder coated steel sheet, 179 cm x 73 cm
All the press release for this show says is that Spanish sculptor Rubén Grilo claims no credit for it. But whoever is responsible, it’s an enjoyable if head-scratching experience to ponder what concept is proven. I’ve previously seen his grids made from casts of chocolate. which bring modernism and consumerism into a tasty set-to. Here they’re mounted on bales of hay, suggesting rough and ready building blocks at odds with factory production, which is further undermined by the table-come-plinths on which Grilo shows other sculptures: he exposes their construction and puts a lot of effort into sanding back new components to make them look old. On them are giant versions of the shapes made by biting - presumably into chocolate...

Sincerely Yours (Outer Left Section), 2016, Automotive clay and clay modeling film on extruded polystyrene foam, mirror, chipboard, steel table and paper cups, 150 cm x 63 cm x 196 cm


Jeff Koons: Now @ Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street –  Vauxhall


'Play Doh', 1994-2014
Damien Hirst, in his more than impressive new space, provides a punchily presented and much less predictable overview of Koons than I’d expected: hoovers and basketballs present and welcome, but also early inflatables to tee up the later stainless steel blown-up big ‘can’t-believe-it’s-not-vinyl’ ones; a bigger balloon ‘celebration’ than has been shown in London before; giant eggs as well as Jeff’s own sperm on Illona’s face; the 27 aluminium casts which make up the monstrous child’s play of ‘Play Doh’… 

Three Ball 50/50 Tank (Spalding Dr JK Silver series), 1995


Gabriele Beveridge: Eternity Anyways @ Chewday’s, 139 Lambeth Walk – Vauxhall

To 9 July:

Dead Skin Living, 2016 [detail] chrome, hand-blown glass

You’d be a bit daft - if taking in the Koons - not to drop in on Chewday’s, just 100 yards south. Gabriele Beveridge’s best-known stream of work, appropriating hairdresser’s demo photos with variable fade, takes the window. Inside is an all-encompassing installation which has transformed the former clothes shop using… reconfigured clothes shop fittings, titivated by blown glass hung on clothes hanging fitments and the powder-coating of selected elements. The effect is more painterly than sculptural, in a way which suggest that the personal leaks through whatever the setting.

Clouds (I), 2016 found shop panels, powder-coated shop panels, uprights, pegs, hand-blown glass


This is a Voice @ the Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road – Euston

Marcus Coates: stills from 'Dawn Chorus'
 After a rather successful venture into monographic presentations, the Wellcome Collection has returned to its primary mix of art and artifacts linked to body and mind in medical science. ‘This is a Voice’ is the best such show yet: it teems with fascinating and obscure byways from voice disguisers to hunter-gatherer music to an ammoniaphone, though simply the chance to see and hear Becket’s ‘Not I’, Marcus Coates’ ‘Dawn Chorus’ multi-screen presentation of birdsong impressions, Laurie Anderson’s ‘Oh Superman’, and Ted Kotcheff’s film-length phone call ‘The Human Voice’ would be plenty of reason to visit. Moreover, the rotating element in the less impressive second show ‘States of Mind’ is (to 24 July) Kerry Tribe’s affecting 20 minute film study of ‘H.M.’, a man whose memories were blank from 1953 until 20 seconds before the present when he was filmed 50 years later.

Kerry Tribe: still from 'M.B.', which plays on two screens with a twenty second gap

Lisa Milroy: Out of Hand @ Laure Genillard, 2 Hanway Place – Tottenham Court Road

To 25 June:

Handbag, 2014, mixed media. approx 90 x 100 x 25cm.  (FXP Photography, London)

Lisa Milroy takes over the whole gallery-flat at Laure Genillard as art blends wittily into fashion and lifestyle to question their boundaries. There  are stops at all of the Slade Head of Painting’s distinctive modes: a painting of shoes serried animatedly on off-white harks back to the 1990’s; figures evoke the Japanese influences which followed; then there are reversible paintings, one of them doubling as a handbag;  woven paintings, some with bags fronting them up; dress ‘n’ painting combos, one with a bedspread thrown in; lipsticks aplenty in the loo; and Lisa’s own range of hand-painted  dresses.   

The Lisa Milroy collection of Hand-painted Dresses


Images courtesy / copyright the relevant artists and galleries 


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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN 161-170

The Art of Surprise: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #169


Luke Gottelier: ‘Hamster Studio’, 2016

Pretty much anything goes in contemporary art, but it’s still possible to be surprised, as I have been recently. Luke Gottelier (to 3 July) has form for performatively abusing paintings - using one as an ashtray, for example, and setting cats loose on another." target="_blank">At Bruce Haines’ Mayfair gallery
he's gone further by setting up a complete miniature studio in a hamster cage, ready for the hamster to move on to production.  At" target="_blank">Copperfield Gallery (to 16th July) Spanish artist Marco Godoy has set up the referendum-topical opportunity to speak directly to one of several participating  Syrian migrants currently living in Germany: they’ll tell you their story and answer questions if you ring from the gallery phone – which proved a discombobulating experience, at once intimate and distanced.  Meanwhile at Art Basel, there were washing-up bowls full of dirty dishes on the floor of" target="_blank">Reena Spallings’ space. The title ‘malewhitecorporateoppression’ indicated a feminist statement from an artist who – with plenty of experience living in communal arrangements - refuses to do the job left to women by men. In fact the work is not so casual: Georgie Nettell placed the ingredients to make the right stains for her purpose!  If it had been, then Mike Bouchet deals with the other end of the process at" target="_blank"> Manifesta in Zurich (to 18th Sept). In collaboration with the local sewage company, he’s made a hall-filling 80 tonne installation out of one day’s worth of Zurich’s human excrement. Though treated, it was still a little piquant…

Georgie Nettell: ‘White Male’, 2015


Mike Bouchet: ‘The Zurich Load’, 2016


Nifty after the Dream: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #168

john hoyland piano nobile

                          John Hoyland: ‘15.3.76’, 1976

I like a nifty bit of curatorial alignment. Piano Nobile’s Aspects of Abstraction 1952-2007 (to 23 June) features particularly good William Scott, Tony Cragg and Sean Scully, two nice slices of William Pye and a fine canvas by the less-known Leo Davy – all covered in a proper catalogue with informative texts by Margaret Garlake and Julia Fischel. Its coup, however, is the proximity of Howard Hodgkin and John Hoyland. Hodgkin, of course, is an apparent abstractionist who calls himself a representational painter, albeit one who doesn’t paint appearances but ‘emotional situations’. The underlying subject is often his response to people*, and he’s showing at the National Portrait Gallery later this year. So it’s not too surprising that a sunscape can be read into ‘Transatlantic’, 2007, wittily presented on a bread board and suggestive of the setting of the American Dream. Hoyland, though, emerged from an interaction with American action painting at the acme of that dream, and is very much concerned with paint as subject and process to be made visible. You don’t expect a sunset in his earlier work, yet alongside Hodgkin I started to see one in ‘15.3.76’, a blockily translucent exploration of the weird pinks he handled particularly well.
* Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that Buphar Kakhar (Tate Modern to 6 Nov), a fellow-accountant and also the leading gay Indian painter, was a friend of Hodgkin’s whom he credits with a key role in coming to terms with his own sexuality.

howard hodgkin piano nobile

Howard Hodgkin: ‘Transatlantic’, 2007

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?


Will You Like Marmite? Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #167

RIMG8229 suzy

Suzy Willey: ‘Brink’, 2015

The Marmite Prize is perversely named: there’s no sponsorship involved, and you’re meant to think of the earthenware stockpot from which the yeasty spread took its name – but who does these days? It comes around every two years or so and shares an absence of cash inducement with the Jerwood Fellowships from last month. Given that most of the prizes are literally ‘a pat on the back’ *, the Marmite is mainly about honour, and this year, that’s considerable: in the inaugural year 2006 all 77 entries were exhibited, now 39 have been selected from 1,246 submissions to make up a most enjoyable mix at Block 336’s expansive space in Brixton. Each edition is dedicated to an artist, and here it’s Mary Heilmann (due soon at the Whitechapel), so organiser Marcus Cope peppers the space cheerfully with his take on her chairs. Part of the fun of such shows is, of course, to contradict the judges. For me, there’s one outstanding figurative work – not the winner, but runner up Emma Cousin’s ‘Square Shuffle’ – but overall the unplaced abstract works have most punch: you could choose between Selma Parlour’s pellucidly layered geometries; Steven Gee’s giant self-standing centrepiece with mayonnaise; Lindsay Mapes’s multi-coloured Newman-baiting plethora of zips; and – my joint winner – Suzy Willey. Her ‘Brink’ seems to pitch cake decoration, speech bubbles and quilting into the marmite then stir in such art influences as Jonathan Lasker and Jane Harris to piquant effect.

* to be fair, the first prize (for Jessie Makinson, who has a well-timed solo show at Roman Road) is, in another tradition, a valuable sculpture (this year by Alison Wilding).

RIMG8233 cousin

Emma Cousin: ‘Square Shuffle’, 2015-16 comes from a series of paintings featuring legs: here it is with one of the artist’s…

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

Embassy Art Trips: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #166

costa shirts

Adriano Costa, ‘Novos Contemporâneos, New Contemporaries, tea time’, 2015 

London’s embassies can be good places for art. Germany and Sweden take an interest, and both Brazil and Canada have interesting shows freely accessible by the general public – and just a few yards apart at Trafalgar Square. The Brazilian Embassy actually has two large and characterful spaces. The first, known as Gallery 32 (USP: vertical neon tube lighting) recently showed British photographer Jason Oddy’s super-controlled explorations of Oscar Niemeyer’s modernist buildings in Algeria. The second, the grand Sala Brasil, is the former ticket hall for the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company. There HS Projects have installed four top Brazilian artists: Tonico Lemos Auad, Adriano Costa, Rodrigo Matheus and Matheus Rocha Pitta (to 2 July). ‘What separates us’ explores value systems and exchange mechanisms, complete with the chance to buy what has proved one of the most-commented-on garments I’ve ever worn. Costa’s range of T-shirt’s presents the hallucinogenic vine and leaf brew Ayahuasca, known for triggering vomiting and spiritual insight in shamanistic Amazonian ceremonies, as if it were a commercial brand. At Canada House, it’s well worth making your way through the airport-level security for ‘The Tremendous Elusive: Emily Carr and the Canadian Imaginary’ (to 19 June). That links paintings by the increasingly acclaimed Group of Seven member Emily Carr (1971-1945) to work by various Canadian successors.


Emily Carr: ‘Wood Interir’, 1932-5

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

UNGLITTERING PRIZES: Paul’s Art Stuff on a Train # 165

lewis roast

Dale Lewis: ‘Sunday Roast’, 2016 Photo © Dawn Smith

Money is a helpful and potentially empowering advantage for an artist. Yet by way of a prize, perhaps it’s even better to win the mentor-plus-show package awarded by the Jerwood Painting Fellowships. Three applicants from 400 were selected by Phoebe Unwin, Jane Harris and Dan Coombs, all prominent painter-teachers, and the year-round programme is just now concluding with a touring show of the resulting work (Jerwood Space, London to 19th June, then Bournemouth, Cardiff and Norwich). All three artists seem to have progressed to interesting positions. Dale Lewis (with Dan Coombs up), the only one whose work looks at all like his mentor’s, makes enormous multi-figure compositions, each in a frenzied sixteen hour session. He uses a widescreen format which bring a Pollock-like rhythm to daringly rapid paint-handling akin to Germans in the 1980s, and makes great use of patches of raw canvas. Lewis is already selling well, and his sex, drugs and alcohol triple has the biggest impact here. Francesca Blomfield (Phoebe Unwin) has what look like serial abstractions, but actually show hair and pasta with cunningly varied appearances of flatness and volume; and interior views of limousines, with vaguely transcendental colouring traded on by her own added texts ending in ‘day’. Archie Franks (Jane Harris) has the most varied practice, at its best in ‘Static’, which conflates a TV’s malfunction with a rain-driven seascape. All in all it makes for a lively show.


Francesca Blomfield – ‘Noon Approaches Fast on Payday’ and ‘The Night is Falling into Day’, 2016 Photo © Hydar Dewachi

jerwood painters 002 franks
Archie Franks: ‘Static’, 2016 Photo © Hydar Dewachi

Memories of Conflict: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #164


Eugène Delacroix: ‘Weislingen Captured by Goetz’s Men’, 1853 – oil on canvas, 74 x 61 cm

Even by my standards, which I admit are a little crazy, I saw a lot of art in the week ending 5 May, visiting 80-odd galleries in Berlin, including most of the 54 which opened in sync for the admirable Berlin Art Weekend, plus 20 in London. So an interesting test is to ask: what comes instantly to mind, thinking back? Two works of conflict are first. The Delacroix show at the National Gallery has been roundly criticised for not including any of his large scale works and only a small proportion of Delacroix, whatever the size. I’m always more interested in what is in a show, and ‘Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art’ (hurry – to 22 May) is chock-a-block with great paintings, including some outstanding, if small, examples by the man himself. ‘Weislingen Captured by Goetz’s Men’ creates a rotating three horse maelstrom of colour which confirms him as the finest ever painter of battle action: it looks like chaos, as it should, but there’s control in there too. Meanwhile in Berlin, Martin Honert creates an war memory at Berlin’s Johnen Gallery in one of three typically hallucinatory reconstructions of his childhood experiences through the sculptural imitation of photographic effects. ‘VSG-Gruppe’, 2015-16, is a 3D version of a 1956 black and white photograph of a sports club for the maimed, its grainy grey-glazed look enhanced by the incorporation of sand as it stands in for the ongoing social impact of World War II.

honert 3

Martin Honert: ‘VSG-Gruppe’, 2015-2016, polyurethane, sand, wood, oil paint, 220 x 560 x 200 cm

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

Not Quite All Night: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #163

hughes 2
Des Hughes Installation view (photo Clare Woods)

For all the romantic bravado of pulling an inspired all-nighter, I suspect most artists have a more conventional routine alongside a more balanced view of their wider responsibilities than one associates with the denizens of the Cedar Tavern. That seems to be the case with Des Hughes, who shares a studio with his partner of 25 years, painter Clare Woods, and a home with their two children. The couple have a surprisingly comprehensive and most enjoyable double-display ‘The Sleepers’ in Chichester at the moment, which shows their work together and in relation to their choices from Pallant House’s collection. As you can see there (to 5 June), Hughes works by day on all manner of adventurous sculptural forms. Yet he also has a conveniently small-scale and unmessy ‘evening practice’, which fills the transitional half hour on return from the studio between art and domestic worlds. Hughes collects old cross-stitch ‘samplers’ which he updates through a mixture of unstitching, re-stitching, and occasional additions so that anachronistic words, often from rock lyrics, are smuggled in to counter the traditional context with wry gloom. ‘I thought I’d climbed a mountain’, for example, ‘but I was only over the hill’. Bruce Haines’ new Mayfair space, small as an art fair booth but well placed opposite Sotheby’s, is ideal for showing a dozen of these (‘XXX’, to 3 June). I like that idea of a time-specific practice, though I suspect few artists do much of their work at the favoured hour – 4.30 a.m. – at which I’m writing this…

hughes never

Hughes with ‘Never Try Never Fail’, 2015 (photo Simon Martin)

Fantasies of Prince Crumb: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #162


                 R.Crumb: from Art & Beauty 2, 2002

By way of curious confluence, two big names – Richard Prince and Robert Crumb – have impressively installed shows featuring depictions of women in which the artist might be seen to pursue his own fantasies. If there was nothing more to say, it wouldn’t be art, so what else is there? R. Crumb’s ‘Art & Beauty’ magazines, drawings from which are at David Zwirner to 2 June, see him transform various sources into his strapping type. As such, they play into the artistic tradition of the grotesque, paralleling for example Bruegel’s accounts of folk behaviour. Crumb also offsets the bawdy images with breathless pseudo-high-falutin’ texts which send up the artist’s own desires, academic commentaries on art, and how the media present women. The living artist known as Prince (Sadie Coles to 18 June) has a specially constructed corridor-come-shrine for a dozen big new paintings. Their grounds are blown-ups versions of 1960s cartoons in which buxom women are cast as playthings. Here, the subversion lies in how Prince references his most famous series – the joke paintings – and half-covers them with a hotchpotch anthology of his ‘own’ (largely borrowed) painting styles, in which Picasso and de Kooning loom large as classic depictors of the female nude – sort of a self-parody wrapped up in a wider parody. So is it enough? I suspect both artists are happy if the answer remains unclear, for such ambiguities and doubts can be what draw us into an engagement with, rather than a mere passive acceptance of, art. I’m not sure that’s enough either, but I am sure the not-rightness is the point. 

prince free love 2013

                     Richard Prince: ‘Free Love #213’, 2015

Most days art Critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?

From Post-nationalism to Brexit: Paul’s ART STUFF ON A TRAIN #161


Guan Xiao: ‘Little Drum’, 2015 – incorporates a screaming Beatles fan

My first thought on seeing the ICA’s presentation of young Beijing-based artist Guan Xiao (‘Flattened Metal’ in collaboration with the K11 Art Foundation to 19 June) was that it looked pretty typical of the kind of show you’d see in Berlin. She derives her own cute logics from the contemporary overload of data, through both a video triptych of clips and sculptural collages in which items including muted speakers echo the colours of elaborately patterned backdrops which incorporate anthropological texts. It looks as if the Internet is a raw material too natural for her to make a point of using it, and with no bias at all towards China. Rather than criticise a lack of local flavour, I was inclined to see this as a post-nationalist and post-ideological. The same can be said of the combinations she shows against a striking photo-background of snakes at the Zabludowicz Collection (to 17th July). Her name looks pretty Chinese, though, and more memorable to the western ear than many, though it did occur to me that ‘Guen Xiao’ would be even better, so incorporating all five vowels with more economy than ‘European Union’. I wonder how flexible the transliteration of Chinese characters can be? That put me in mind – a rambling mind, it will be evident – of how the Brexit referendum debate hasn’t even asked the right question yet, let alone answered it. Like it or not, we’re currently part of Europe, so the right question is: ‘what would be best for Europe?’. When even the ‘stay’ camp are talking about what’s best for Britain, post-nationalist art feels like a timely move.


Guan Xiao: ‘Documentary: From National Geographic to BBC’, 2015. Photo: Zhang Hong

Tuesday, 21 June 2016



Maurizio Cattelan / Edith Wolf-Hunkeler project, 2016
There's plenty of interesting stuff in the artfest which is Zurich and Basel this week. Both deliver a winning combination of what you might call big wow and little wow: large-scale highly visible and installations of great immediacy, and quieter, smaller works over a sufficiently self-effacing nature or location such that they won’t have been widely noticed – yet which still carry a charge. 

Mike Bouchet: The Zurich Load, 2016

Manifesta – cuarated by artist Christian Jankowski – has a nice simple set-up: everything was based on ‘What People Do For Money’. Jankowski commissioned 30 artists to interact with local professionals from dentist to dog hair stylist to translator to gym instructor: you could see the resulting work at the central venues and visit the professional bases for extras. Maurizio Cattelan and Mike Bouchet got the most PR: Cattelan set up the illusion of a Paralympic athlete wheeling herself across the surface of Lake Zurich; Bouchet made an 80 tonne installation out of one day’s worth of Zurich’s human excrement - somewhat piquant, even in its treated form. Jankowski complemented those projects with lots of extra non-commissioned pieces on related themes. 

Gold leaf and acrylic on canvas

I wasn’t too surprised that no artist sought to buddy up with my profession of accountancy, though it does seem from Jonathan Monk’s cheeky painting that one of us was involved in the installation. It also serves to illustrate how non-commissioned pieces were set up on scaffolding so you could look around the back and see the work of labelling.  
Francis Picabia: Femme aux Allumetes (II), 1924-25 at Kunstaus Zurich
The 200 work Picabia retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zurich was a predictable highlight. His serial switching of styles, wilful perversity, mocking of all camps and embrace of ambiguity engaging and influential. And the works have their own punch beyond that narrative. I’d say there were 20-odd main phases on show: photo-impressionism; his version of Fauve/ expressionist modes; pseudo-cubism; dance abstraction; mechano-morphic portraiture; techno-eroticism (Picabia loved women, cars and art equally); Spanish kitsch; straight portrait drawings; enamel anti-paintings; ancient worlds with fake craquelure; the ‘transparences’ (which layer disparate images over each other); monstrous anti-hedonism; paintings destroyed by paintings; object collage paintings; pseudo-classical realism; anthropomorphic abstraction; late figuration; and the endpoint  of dot works. His most-heard quote ‘Our heads are round so our thoughts can change direction' never seemed more apposite. Femme aux Allumetes (II), 1924-25, is one of a series which ask what is being depicted: the object or what they apparently amount to. Is the subject a woman, with hairgrip eyes and the implicit value of her necklace reduced to small change, or is it mainly a presentation of the implied spark – Picabia is rarely far from the erotic – of the matches. The going rate for a reasonable Picabia at Art Basel? About £2m.


Thomas Wachholz: Ohne Titel (Reibfläche), 2015 at RaebervonStenglin - red phosphorous and binder on wood, traces of ignited matches
RaebervonStenglin’s main show was of a favourite of mine, Andrew Dadson. But the office drew me in too with paintings in which Cologne-based Thomas Wachholz had covered a canvas with printed colour then attempted to paint it off with alcohol.  Tucked away round the back of the gallery's second space was the result of a previous project by Wachholz. The role of the artist is often to get people to do things, and here he had  - not without considerable effort - persuaded a manufacturer of matches to cover the whole of a large canvas with the phosphorous used on matchboxes.  He then struck on the marks, and the public also got a chance last year in a version on the wall.

Francis Alÿs: Untitled (Two Sisters), 2005-2006 - Diptych, each oil paint and pencil on tracing paper, each 46.5 x 36.5 cm, framed at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

 An easily missable work by a famous artist was in Peter Kilchmann's room of stock subsidiary to the main show. This diptych is typical of Francis Alÿs hesitantly poetic paintings, which feel like rehearsals for the real thing - and, indeed, often relate to the film projects they help to fund - yet achieve an icon-like aura which you don’t associate with a mere study. These two sisters give an engaging new spin to the idea of racial harmony achieved by uniformly coffee-coloured people.
Kurt Schwitters: Electric Ha, 1935 at galerie gmurzynska
Zurich was celebrating 100 years since Dada started in the city, hence Museum Reitberg's the wonderful show of African influences fed through the movement (one highlight being Richard Huelsenbeck and Raoul Haussmann’s sound poems) and galerie gmurzynska’s striking creation of a MERZ-type environment setting 70 works by Kurt Schwitters in amongst Zaha Hadid. That had his famous sound poem  Ursonate, 1922–32 and a good selection of the 3,000 collages he made.  The smallest was this postage-stamp sized scrap of thought to have come from a Norwegian fishing company. Schwitters, of course, destroys one meaning to create another. Here it is tantalising tricky to guess what phrase ELECTRIC HA might be extracted from, but as presented it seemed to be mocking modernity.  Rther desirable, but even at this size, you’d be looking at around £20,000.

Bastian Gehbauer: Cress growing Greenhouse. Monster, The Netherlands 2013
I blundered across the Swiss Photography Awards, which are well off the track, looking for something else which was closed. No matter: I was impressed by the German Bastian Gehbauer: clinically controlled images of unusually well-targeted subjects – I don’t think serendipity would cut it for him. His series 'Zirkel I' includes a sperm bank’s nitrogen tank , an automated crematorium, a garage of sorts designed to allow prostitutes to have sex in cars more safely, and this  Dutch greenhouse which uses a mixture of blue and red LED diodes to enable cress to grow with minimal sunlight.



There's even more art in Basel than in Zurich at the moment. Art Basel, with closing on 300 galleries, is only the third of it given various other fairs, and the many shows around the city, including the Kunstmuseum's opening of a swanky third building. The highlight was the main fair's 'Art Unlimited; section of 88 major projects, which was the best I’ve ever seen it.

Alan Charlton: Wall of 8 Greys, 2016 - acylic on canvas, 3.38 x 19.75m in Art Unlimited
Installations tend to take the most space in Art Unlimited, but there were plenty of competitors for the title ‘biggest painting’, depending on just how you defined a painting. Two multi-part works made a for a remarkable chromatic contrast. Alan Charlton has been making – only – monochromatic grey painting for close on half a century, but this most be the most quietly spectacular, combining 32 canvases in same-coloured columns of four in eight different greys to a total width of 20 metres.
Peter Halley: Weak Force, 2016 - 4 x 18m in Art Unlimited
Peter Halley, on the other hand, has been using fluorescent colours to make his characteristic  ‘cells’ and ‘prisons’ since the mid-80’s. Weak Force is an eyeball-searing combination of four multi-panelled paintings set on wallpaper printed with colourful explosions which, says the show text ‘wryly links the sundered histories of geometric abstraction, abstract expressionism and pop, intimating the destruction that underlies the solidity of what we construct’.

Rayyane TabetThe Dead Sea in Three Parts, 2013 - mixed media, 150 x 300 x 400cm, in Art Unlimited
It’s tough to make work which addresses a political agenda in a manner which doesn’t preach, has some aesthetic impact, and resonates as a work of art.  I liked three works which did this. First, Lebanese artist Rayyane Tabet’s ‘The Dead Sea in Three Parts’, modestly-sized by the standards of ‘Art Unlimited’ but nonetheless potent. The Dead Sea in Three Parts is consists of made-to-scale representations of the  Dead Sea, as partitioned in 1947: the largest piece - Jordan's - stands balanced while the West Bank's and Israel's parts have fallen away. The topography of instability is captured in the artificiality of division.

Lawrence Abu Hamdan at Mor Charpentier


It’s only logical to follow that with Jordan born, Lebanon-based (but currently Goldsmiths studying) Lawrence Abu Hamdan - and his political work had a practical impact. He investigates sound and politics forensically, and this work shows the evidence behind a murder charge. Left to right above is the audio analysis of live bullet, a live bullet with rubber extension, and a rubber bullet. The artist explains: ' as part of Forensic Architecture’s (Goldsmiths College) study for Defence for Children International, Palestine, we looked at cases where Israeli border guards shot to death two teenage boys and then denied the charge against them, claiming that they had only fired rubber bullets. My job was to identify from the sound of the shot if it was in fact live ammunition, or rubber bullet gunfire. An important conclusion from this audio forensic investigation was the identification of a distinct sound that is not a rubber coated bullet sound, nor is it the sound of live fire but rather a confluence of the two. A rubber bullet extension mounted on the soldiers’ rifles ostensibly made them look like they were firing rubber bullets, but the sound of the shots told a different story. The extension suppresses the sound of live ammunition and, to a lesser extent than a silencer, it can be used to disguise the presence of live fire. This is an important sound signature to identify because, coded within this cloaked sound, there is an intention to conceal the act of murder'.

Yngeve Holen: Butterfly, 2015 (two from the series, each aluminium fence, 251 x 151 x 54cm 

Yngeve Holen, a rising star of the Berlin art scene, opened his moxt substaintial show yet at Basel’s Kunsthalle during the fair. One room held sections of airport security fencing, bracketed onto the wall to form an adjusted readymade which referenced the modernist grid while calling to mind the refugee crisis undermining current borders. The implied narrative was of breaking through the perimeter, though actually the fence was merely sourced from Frankfurt Airport’s supplier. Holen has cut out six sections in ‘butterfly’ form for sale, and all were on sale in Basel - at Liste (Frankfurt's Neue Alte Brücke) and Art Basel (at Modern Art and Gallery Neu).


Jeppe Heine: There is Always Someone Else, 2016 -  powder-coated aluminium, two-way mirror, powder-coated steel, two candles at Galleri Nicolai Wallner
Danish artist Jeppe Heine was responsible for the Appearing Rooms fountains which have become a regular South Bank feature in London, and he has often made comparably crowd-pleasing use of mirrors. Here a simple trick leads to a seemingly trancendental effect: the cabinet unit can be opened from the side in order to make the necessary seven hourly change of the candle which viewers see through a two way mirror, so plotting it onto their reflections.

Jakub Julian Ziolkowski: Candle Girl, 2016 -  oil on canvas, 40 × 34 cm at Foksal Gallery Foundation

Polish painter Jakub Julian Ziolkowski is currently producing his fantastical canvases in Vietnam, staying on following a project there. Wherever he is, Ziolkowski has said 'I don't know where it all comes from', but obviously it wasn't from looking into Heine's mirror. 'Bosch-meets-Ensor' is Jerry Selz's summary, spot on for this flaming vision.

Thomas Ruff: Press ++3042, 2015
Thomas Ruff continues to come up with new strategies to challenge the conventional documentary expectations of photography while not taking any photographs himself. His latest, ‘‘Press’ series is very much in the zone of Picabia’s 'transparences': he blows small analogue press photographs of various subjects up to poster size, and prints the reverse of the card – labels, totes, technical specifications etc – onto the front as well, so enriching the image with a sort of functional graffiti which tugs the tail of the eternal problem that extra information may obscure as much as it reveals.



Anri Sala: Lines recto verso (Jung, Huxley, Stravinsky), 2015 - Graphite, coloured pencil and eraser on either side of Chinese paper, 139 x 139cm at Gallery Alfonso Artiaco

Anri Sala, best known for film and installation, made Lines recto verso (Afif, Sala, Flavien) (2015) by tracing the palm patterns on the hands of himself and two artist friends into a comparable linked shape, using Chinese paper so that the double tracing, front and back, of these left hands  can be seen, a reference to the slippages between versions of Sala's Ravel Ravel (2013) where two different interpretations of Ravel’s Left Hand Concerto for Piano and Orchestra are heard alongside one another. Building on that typical combination of simple and complex, a second such drawing featured the lines from another empathetic set of contemporaries: Stravinsky, Jung and Aldous Huxley.

Cao Fei: Rumba II: Nomad , 2015 -  video / 14mins 16secs at Vitamin Creative Space

In China’s leading new media artist, Cao Fei, showed a film in which domestic vacuum cleaning robots were set free to roam a building site on the fringes of Beijing on which – as is the Chinese rule - the structure of the past was being pulled down. Evidently the cleaning task is utterly hopeless. The bots came across as alien and threatening yet friendly and comical. Sometimes chickens stand on them, sometimes they knock items off table tops. In front of the film, three bots acted out their edge-sensitive dance on top of plinths.


Fiona Connor: Community Notice Board (One Life), 2016 corkboard, silkscreen and UV print on aluminium plates, vinyl, wire, pins, tape, staples
Finally, one way of being overlooked is not to look like art. New Zealand gallery Hopkinson Mossman achieved that entertaining fair trick at the young gallery fair Liste by placing a plausible-looking well-aged notice board in the corridor just outside their room. Only when you saw similar work in their space were you drawn into the discovery that New Zealand artist Fiona Connor made all the components herself, including printing the original paper elements pinned to the board in aluminium. This, then, was art about attending afresh  freezing time. Connor also plays off a long tradition of related noticeboard deception, from Cornelius Gijsbrechts and Edward Collier to Ryan Gander, Hany Armanious and Lucy Mackenzie.






About Me

My Photo
Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09)and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, The Art Newspaper and Border Crossings. I have curated five shows in London during 2013-15 with more on the way.Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.