Wednesday, 26 November 2014


The latest in my rolling top ten, together with previous choices which you can still see


Let's start with double birds...

Darwin's Dream @ the Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church - Euston

Koen Vanmechelen in The Crypt (photo by Alex Deyaert)

The extensive crypt under St Pancras Church holds an overview of the fascinatingly eccentric Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen. Over two decades and 18 generations, he’s been breeding gallus gallus as a rigourously structured analogy for human society: the aim is to demonstrate the benefits of diversity by successively combining national characteristics to produce the ultimate ‘Cosmopolitan Chicken’. Often, he includes live chickens in installations, but here we have a Himalayan jungle and a pond recreating the natural environments from which they have become the most transformed of animals; giant photographs and stuffed chickens demonstrating the breeding programme; Vanmechelen eating chicken; sculptures out of glass eggs - and chickens in conversation, presumably about how they become art.  

Mechelse Silky


Leila Jeffreys: Wild Cockatoos @ Purdy Hicks, 65 Hopton Street - Bankside

To 10 Jan:

Jeffreys flew over from Australia to be with her birds, here ‘Neville’ Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo (often seen as the most beautiful of them) and ‘Bob’ Long-Billed Corella (an old-stager with a broken beak).

You might expect a species by species account of bird families to yield a Becher-style objective typology, but Leila Jeffreys admires photographers who capture emotion, and it shows: her spectacular bigger-than-life portraits of the Cacatuidae come with her stories of the individuals, and spark with a life attributable to her patient methods. She introduces carefully selected cockies over several hours into a sympathetically prepared mobile studio, and talks to them continuously – exciting ‘Pete’ so much that his crest almost engulfs his face.  Owls - in a separte room - require a different approach, and Jefferys has the complexities of bower birds in mind as one future possibility. A neat compare and contrast is with Hiroshi Sugimoto’s immersive photographs of museum dioramas at Pace…

'Pete' Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo


João Onofre: Tacet @ Marlborough Contemporary, 6 Albemarle Street - Central

Tacet, 2014
. Still from single channel HD video

João Onofre likes to generate music from paradoxical nojunctions, and thid show centres on a performance of the notorious 4’33’’, for which John Cage's only instruction is 'tacet' - it is silent.  Ambient sounds are a large part of Cage's point, but here they come from the piano and with some spectacle as the pianist sets it alight. Other works with a strong sense of time passing complete show: the seasonal medium of a haiku embossed on the Portuguese parliament; wind chimes tuned to the notes D.E.A.D. in reference to a 1968 Bruce Nauman piece; and a large aquatint,in which binary code for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, takes on a calendar-like formation.

Tacet, 2014
. Still from single channel HD video


Suspicion @ the Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street - Bankside

Benjamin Senior: Grey Studio, 2014

The Jerwood Space provides an unusually complete package: an interesting curatorial position from Dan Coombs, spinning off a scene from Hitchcock; a short story which takes that in an entertaining new direction; and a good selection of painters, including Benjamin Senior’s weird integrations of figures with their surroundings, Damien Mead’s subtle take on the Janus double, Geraldine Swayne’s spookily intimate focus on women who may have been murderees, and Cavadonga Valdes’ car mysteriously parked in ivy - not forgetting the curator’s own distortions, the latest in his paintings from collages made up of images distorted by a photocopier (if you like that sort of thing, there’s another reason to check out Take Modern’s Polke show).

Damien Meade: Janus, 2013


Piers Secunda: The Rise of Oil @ Jessica Carlisle, 83 Kinnerton Street - Hyde Park / Knightsbridge

Sarah Adams @ The Maas Gallery,15 A Clifford Street - Central

To 23 Nov (Secunda) 
     29 Nov (Adams)

Piers Secunda:  A Texas Well, 1928, 2013, Texas crude oil and varnish on industrial floor paint with cast paint nuts and bolts in bespoke frame

Rocks may be slow-moving, but you’ll have to act fast to catch these two short-run geologically-tinged shows in spaces somewhat off the usual contemporary beat. Piers Secunda’s images of the heroic age of oil exploration – made with oil from the relevant source on industrial floor paint, which is itself a related product – merge conceptual rigour and still-relevant history.   The Maas Gallery's only living artist specialises with Morandi-like concsistency, on rocks and caves around the Cornish coast. The tide coming in, for example,  would be a seismic shift, yet her own ongoing excitement comes across in this latest sell-out show. A  repeated wet on dry process allows for a layered spontaneity which parallels the geological processes being depicted, and calls to mind abstraction and Lyonel Feininger as well as the 19th century romantic tradition.

Sarah Adams: Newtrain quartz formation, 2014

Elina Brotherus:12 ans après @ Wapping Project, Mallett, Ely House, 37 Dover St

Le Reflet, 1999

The Wapping Project, having relocated impressively to the top of Ely House in Mayfair, shows selections from two linked series of work by the Elina Brotherus, a photographer who splits her time between her native Finland and France. The first series (Suite françaises, 1999) documents her residency in Chalon-sur-Saône, aged 27, and includes the post-it slips from her efforts to learn French. She loves to play with reflections and the part-hidden, and the way her face is covered by the word ‘Le Reflet’ typifies that. In 12 ans après, 2014, Brotherus has returned to the school where she studied, looking back at 40 in a sort of time travel experiment with a strong undertow of melancholy – but also of wit, repurposing the post-it notes, and beauty: concentrating on landscapes and interiors, her eye for colour is clear through the necessarily deliberate means of her heavy and old-fashioned tripod-mounted camera.

 La Chambre 10 (Le reflet), 2012


Jonathan Parsons @ New Art Projects, 17 Riding House Street - Fitzrovia 

To 22 Dec:

Break of Day, 2014

Jonathan Parsons’ ever-evolving colour and process experiments generate alluring aesthetics. Break of Day is perhaps the most complex: Parsons has let white paint cascade down a grid of canvasses on a grey ground which causes the edges to blend seamlessly with their shadow on the wall. You can still see the raw white in the top strip and the intersticial traces, but most of that casual dripping has been painstakingly painted over in sequenced sets of primary colours. Most of the show plays related gamesis on circular panels of birchwood, blending chance, deliberation and colour theory to draw the viewer into the mildly paradoxical pleasure of  decoding narratives in abstraction.

Parsons demonstrates the usefulness of White (Dark/Light Spectrum), 2013 - as a halo!


Ben Nicholson @ Richard Green, 33 New Bond St & Francesca Simon: Site Lines @ Beardsmore Gallery, 23-24 Prince of Wales Road - Kentish Town
To 19 Dec (Nicholson)

Ben Nicholson: June 1960 (stone goblet)
If you savour the prospect of nine superb Ben Nicholson paintings spanning forty years of shifting angles on the organic geometry of landscape - and why wouldn't you? – then I also recommend Francesca Simon's show. She applies a related language to a modern urban setting: the elegant, largely muted, layered and scraped back gesso and acrylic surfaces in the neatly punning Site Lines are all derived from her studio's view out over the ongoing construction of Crossrail. That's made clear by the accompanying photographs, in which you can identify the double girder crane source of the comparatively strident yellow which animates most of the works. Moreover, you can see the ghosts of previous compositions - like those of previous buildings –  where the top surface is slightly raised. If you need to deal in the odd thousand rather than hundreds or millions, then a Simon may appeal. Having said which, I rather like the eccentrically vertical and voluptuous negatively articulated goblet above, which at £85,000 is 5-10% of the price of a top-valued example.

Francesca Simon: False Construct 1, 2014 


David Hammons @ White Cube, Mason’s Yard – Central

To 3 Jan 2015
               Untitled, 2014

This economical first London survey of Hammons’ oppositional practice brings the street into the gallery as a way of exposing – yet working with – its assumptions. Upstairs, dirt is bounced onto the ‘basketball drawings’ which conjoin arte povera to politics of Hammon’s early body print works, with the role of basketball as black youths’ escape (and the titular pun on ‘travelling’ as carrying the ball too far) pointed up by hidden suitcases. Downstairs, art history (in the form of abstract expressionist canvasses) is almost obliterated by tarpaulin coverings, strategic holes allowing some voyeuristic glimpses. And in something of a reverse of dirt manoeuvre, a fur coat is spoiled (or is its value increased?) by Hammons painting on it.

Ground floor gallery with basketball drawings

Pedro Cabrita Reis: The London Angles @ Sprovieri, 23 Heddon Street - Central

To 6 Dec:

The London Angles, 2014

As a collateral event, having represented  Portugal officially in 2003, Pedro Cabrita Reis made one of the best installations of the last Venice Biennale. He's been little shown in London, though, making this a welcome chance to see his typical constructions of architectural elements and integrated light, playing with the experience and energies of viewing in space. There are also newer streams of work: sculptures which play off the columns of Sprovirei’s main gallery to create – in the subsidiary room -  the eponymous ‘London Angles’, in which the object is light and its apparent shadow an object; and monochrome paintings which deflect attention to their architectural framing, the inside of which turns out to be the most painterly element. It’s all beautifully judged.

unframed #7, 2014 -  enamel on aluminium, double glass, MDF, armature, fluorescent light and electric cable


KP Brehmer: Real Capital–Production @ Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane - Liverpool St

To 30 Nov:
Correction of National Colours, Measured by Distribution of Wealth, 1972 (black = middle class, red = remaining households, yellow = big business)
KP Brehmer (1938-97) may be less famous than fellow 1960’s German  ‘Capitalist Realists’  Polke and Richter, but his work is more fully attuned to the name: this superbly organised  retrospective focuses on work which might be said to attempt to draw attention to the underlying and often subconscious influence of capital on society by making it visible. That takes the form of graphs (of gold prices, the feelings of workers, vacancies and joblessness etc), maps (the world reconfigured to show only those nations with adequate resources) and the West German flag redesigned to show the distribution of eathlth through the width of its bands). And there’s plenty more, illuminated by a stand-out catalogue essay from Mark Fisher: abstract versions of ideal landscapes; installations of pop imagery;  diaristic film; postage stamps blown up big, as a sociology of art…

Ideal Landscape: Meditation Wedge, 1:10, 1969


                                                 PREVIOUS CHOICES STILL ON


Gerhard Richter: @ Marian Goodman Gallery, 5-8 Lower John St – Central

To 20 Dec:

25.6.2008, oil on photograph
Enough new foreign galleries are opening in Mayfair that one might get blasé…   but Marian Goodman’s is heroically scaled, and kicks off with a refreshing account of Richter’s recent work: not the auction-friendly strands of scraped abstracts or blurred photo-realism, but...  

* a seven-pane glass sculpture;

* eight of the rigorously self-deconstructing photo-derived ‘Strip’ versions of his own painting, the biggest ten metres wide; 

* nine explorations of the grey monochrome, with oil on board, oil on glass and enamel behind glass showing their different effects;  

* eleven ‘Flow' paintings – multi-coloured pools of paint, its movement stilled by being trapped beneath glass; 

* a particularly good set of 17 small oil on photograph works; and 

* four colour-square works, cheekily installed to hint at the even grander space in which Richter has employed the motif in stained glass. This Adjaye-designed gallery isn’t quite Cologne Cathedral, but is closer than most...

Flow 933-3, 2013


 Images courtesy / copyright the relevant artists and galleries

Sunday, 23 November 2014



Photo Paris (13-17 November) was exceptionally crowded: all the better, perhaps, to look at work - at least - which contains no people, however many walk in front of it...

Paul Graham: Double Rainbow, Donegal, Ireland, 2013, at carlier | gebauer, Berlin

Given Paul Graham’s political concerns, his photos of Irish rainbows might suggest an after-storm epiphany for the end of The Troubles, or at least a meditation on the tempting illogicality of reading history into natural phenomena. Or has the US-based Briton merely hit on a subterfuge to enable creditable use of the beautiful but potentially over-sentimental themes of the rainbow, the pot of gold and its absence, the magic in such quotidiata as photography?

Taysir Batniji: Chambers, 2005 at Eric Dupont Gallery, Paris

Initially I saw no reason to be attracted to Taysir Batniji’s series of 23 colour photographs of unoccupied student rooms at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Mans, France. Yet the leaving behind of personal objects and traces in sparse semi-abandonment generates a definite aesthetic, a sense of intrusion into intimacy and an echo of other temporary states of existence which cannot but feel loaded when the photographer is Palestinian.

Sean Hemmerle: The Saddam Hussein Family Portrait, 2003 at Feroz Gallery, Bonn

Sean Hemmerle, who served in the U.S. Army (1984-1988), has documented the effects of war in New York, Afghanistan and Iraq. This unportrait photograph from after Hussein’s fall from power documents an attempted forgetting which has removed him and his family just as – and also quite differently from - how he himself engineered the removal of so many from their lives. If only it were as easy to eliminate the worst aspects of the past…

Penelope Umbrico: 5db0_1-2.jpg from Broken Sets / eBay 2008/2014 at Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco

American artist Penelope Umbrico is known for culling unexpected sets of images from the Internet: her collection of suns will feature at the Photographer’s Gallery from 4 Dec- 28 Jan. The ‘Broken Sets’ of chromogenic prints on metallic paper show that mal-operative LCD TVs – being sold on eBay for their parts – do function to the point of illuminating the screen. In these unpictures, the failure of new technology folds into with the aesthetics of modernist abstraction in a match-up of utopian aspirations.

Stephen Shore: 4-Part Variation, 1969 at Museum of Modern Art, New York

MOMA showed recent photo-acquisitions in one of Paris Photo’s special exhibitions, including the black and white serialism of this grid of a car with four doors open by a photographer better known for his influential documentations of America. The same base photograph, but cropped in four different ways to alter how close we seem to it, appears 32 times in an 8x4 sequence which I found teasingly impossible to resolve into a regular pattern: if ‘1’ is the most distanced view, it goes 1 2 3 4 / 1 2 3 1 / 4 2 3 1 / 2 4 3 1, then repeats.

Putput: popsicles, 2012 at Galerie Esther Woerdehoff,Paris

Interdisciplinary Swiss/Danish artist duo Putput have made a cheerfully saturated series of scouring pads masquerading as ice lollies, on the one hand referencing classic product shots, on the other hand undermining the sales intent by the disfunctional result. That putput me in mind of how food is often rendered inedible in order to photograph it optimally; and of how someone has to do the domestic drudgery which facilitates children's enjoyment of treats…

Santeri Tuori: Sky 22, 2011-14 at Gallery Taik Persons, Berlin

The Helsinki School of photographers may be large and loose-knit, but they show well together. This example from Taik Persons' wide range of Finnish work is an immersively scaled (245 x 170cm) example from Santeri Tuori’s Sky Series. The luminously painterly appearance is attributable to the layering of black and white and colour photographs, so combining weathers and moments such that, in curator Jan-Erik Lundström’s words Tuori seems ‘to choreograph the disappearance of time’.

Yuriko Takagi : SEI @ Lazarew Gallery, Paris

As if 169 galleries were insufficient, November was ‘photo month’ throughout Paris, Out of that extra multitude, Tokyo photographer Yuriko Takagi caught my eye with her 28 black and white close-ups of buds. Not only do they become flowers before the act, full of convoluted sexual promise, but Takagi creates a surreal symbology by linking each to one of the 28 separate words which are apparently pronounced ‘SEI’ in Japanese. That sounds more than confusing, ranging as they do from 'prosperous' to death, world, correct, west, control, sincerity, hope and strength. 

Stéphane Couturier: Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creation under construction, 2014

Stéphane Couturier brings a distinctive colour and design sense to scenes of construction and transformation, often by laying one view over another. He showed well with Algerian scenes in Paris Photo. Yet, as he was born in the Paris suburb of Neuilly sur Seine, it seemed only right that he was chosen to document the development of the area’s new building, an ‘iceberg’ design by Frank Gehry which opened in late October, and is said to have cost Bernard Arnault over €100m.