Monday, 28 December 2009

NEW YEAR CHOICES


For the most part this just rounds up what's still on of the shows I recommend ahead of the mid-January openings, but with pictures!
Meanwhile, in the bigger places, head to Trafalgar Square for a threefold dose of charged sculptural realism. The rightly lauded National Gallery show ‘The Sacred Made Real’ isn’t just a chance to see seven stunning paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán (though it is that, and suffice it to say that he fully measures up to the four from Valasquez),it also makes a strong case for how the art of polychromy – painting votive wooden statues – fed into the those Spanish works. Superbly-preserved examples by forgotten Spanish sculptors such as Juan de Mesa and Juan Martínez Montañés are shown alongside the tenebrous masterpieces which they influenced. Spotlit in gloom, the wooden figures teeter – often very effectively – on the edge of kitsch and surreal in the relish with which they recreate details such as Jesus’ flayed back.

The Chapman brothers may come to mind, or even Marc Quinn’s quinquennial cycle of heads cast from his own blood – and as it happens the National Portrait Gallery is now showing its recently-acquired version of 'Self'from 2006. And there’s some of the same spirit and crepuscular viewing conditions back at the National Gallery in Ed and Nancy Kienholz’s ‘The Hoerengracht’, a monumental restaging of the Amsterdam red light district in the 1980s complete with prostitutes life cast from visitors to the Kienholz studio – it’s magnificently seedy, and all held together by light, framing devices and resinous gloop. The installation seems to have got a bad press, not for the presence of such content in such an august institution, nor for the parallels drawn with Dutch paintings from the Golden Age, but for finger wagging attitudinising – maybe so, but I couldn’t work out what message was being preached.






The Epoch of Perpetual Happiness

Peter Davies @ The approach, 47 Approach Rd – Bethnal Green

To 17 Jan: www.theapproach.co.uk

If you like lists and quizzes you’ll love Peter Davies’ big painting ‘The Epoch of Perpetual Happiness’, which provides a pictorial spin on his well-known lists of a hundred hot or cool artists. It presents a huge range of art and pop references – the press release lists some 150 for you to spot but you can also gain bonus points for discovering unlisted inclusions: one of them is Gerhard Richter, represented through the filter of his candle on the cover of Sonic Youth’s ‘Daydream Nation’. Richter is also a presence in the show as a whole in the way in which Davies pursues parallel but very different strands of painting which themselves interrogate the nature of painting. The other two large canvasses here are an obsessively detailed take on colour field abstraction via thousands of small squares, and the conversion of gestural abstract expressionist marks into an anally retentive equivalent using carefully ruled straight lines.


Jessica Lagunas: The Better to Kiss You With

The Body in Women’s Art Now @ Rollo Contemporary Art, 51 Cleveland St (Fitzrovia)

To 20 Jan: www.rolloart.com/

The first part of a three-part survey of work created by women artists this century in which the body is central, ‘Embodied’ combines Regina José Galindo and Sigalit Landau’s recent video classics with less well known but also interesting work by Jessica Lagunas (who, like Galindo, grew up in Guatemala) and young British photographer Lydia Maria Julien. And there is an excellent catalogue. I recommend you start downstairs, where Lagunas piles on the beauty to edgily comic excess by applying lipstick and nail varnish for an hour, and then drop back between the shorter works to see how she’s getting on…


Ornulf Opdahl: 'Mood Paintings of the North' @ Kings Place gallery, 90 York Way - Kings Cross

To 26 Feb: www.kingsplace.com

Kings Place is very much worth a visit: not only is it a spectacularly appointed new building with a high quality music programme and a good café, it also has lots of visual art, courtesy of the Pangolin and Kings Place galleries. The former is unusual in showing primarily sculpture and being linked to a foundry, and exhibits many sculptures outside the gallery (a leaflet takes you round a trail, and there are striking front window displays).

The Kings Place Gallery spreads its wares across three levels outside the large but rather tucked away room of the gallery itself. Currently it is showing no fewer than 50 recent oils and watercolours by Ornulf Opdahl, who paints the mountains and fjords of Alesund on the west of Norway. If that sounds like a recipe for traditional romanticism, it is: in the accompanying ten minute film Opdahl himself talks about his recurring fascination for 'a landscape which always reflects my mind'. But he also says that he 'tries to be abstract all the time', and that is what gives his dramatic explorations of light and mood a modern inflexion - in another context, you might not guess the subject of 'The Mountain, Ramsen, Winter'...


Cecily Brown: Aujourd'hui Rose

Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real @ Parasol unit, 14 Wharf Rd - Hoxton

To 7 Feb: www.parasol-unit.org

Veteran Hans Josephsohn's figures dotted around the Parasol unit's elegant and considerable space are the counterpoints to four painters - Cecily Brown, Shaun McDowell, Katy Moran and Maaike Schoorel - who work in the space between figuration and abstraction. This show would be worth visiting just for the opening room of Katy Moran's intimate and astutely-judged apparent hesitations. But you also get Cecily Brown’s punning modulations between people and skulls; the flickeringly fleshy evocations of Shaun McDowell, rapidly emerging as the best known of the Hannah Barry Gallery's South London set; and Maaike Schoorel making a portrait of Roger Hiorns almost disappear into blankness as if she knew that he would fail to win the Turner Prize.


Painting 15 from 'Under the Snow'

Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: Under the Snow @ Sprovieri Gallery, 27 Heddon St – Central

To 17 Jan: www.sprovieri.com

Sprovieri is tucked away on the first floor behind the phone box (which features on the cover of Ziggy Stardust, incidentally) at the end of Heddon Street. It opened ten years ago with the New York based Russian émigrés Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, and has shown them regularly. If you think of the Kabakovs as producing hardcore conceptual installations turning on the legacies of Soviet history, then this gently lyrical set of large paintings from their extensive ‘Under the Snow’ suite will surprise you. They show a world blanketed in snow, varying gaps in which reveal people and landscapes. These play on memory, scale, and what is and isn’t hidden. There’s a hint, perhaps, of Ilya’s original career as a children’s book illustrator. White, say the Kabakovs, 'is the space of pure contemplation’ that ‘suddenly turns out to be inserted into the visual world' in the form of snow. There is also an intriguing extract from the complex project ‘The Teacher and The Student: Charles Rosenthal and Ilya Kabakov’, which consists of work shown as the products of a fictional version of Ilya and his teacher.


Eva Hesse & Katja Strunz @ Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Rd

To 7 March: http://www.camdenartscentre.org

Camden has two strong shows at the moment. No surprise in the case of Eva Hesse’s tensely ambiguous, appropriately provisional ‘studioworks’ – poised between mathematical and organic, pictorial and abstract, male and female, prison and home: these tabletop displays got rave revies in Edinburgh. But German sculptor Katja Stunz fits in well with her ‘Sound of the Pregeometric Age’, a room full of instrument or musician-like found sculptural combinationals. They are set up stands, and wired for sound to give off the crackles, shrillings, rustles and bleeps of their world as if testing the acoustics of the space. This works especially well when the traffic outside joins in. Meanwhile the title points to echoes from the deep past – the ‘pregeometric age’ is not art before minimalism, but a scientific term for the time before the big bang.



Untitled (74-8)

Donald Judd: ‘Progressions 1960’s and 1970’s’ @ Simon Lee, 12 Berkeley St – Central

To 29 January: www.simonleegallery.com

The purest pleasure currently available in a London gallery may well be this series of six horizontal mounted wall works by the late American master of anti-illusion, Donald Judd. It’s a chance to track the subtle changes in shape and means from 1967 to 1975 in what, colour aside, may look near-identical works. In fact, Judd sought increasing perfection in line with the improving manufacturing capability, moving from galvanized iron painted with lacquer to highly polished brass to anodized aluminium, in which an electrical process maximizes the adhesion of the paint.


The Journey

Gordon Cheung @ Room, 31 Waterson St – Shoreditch

To 31 Jan: www.roomartspace.co.uk

Gordon Cheung has surfed the zeitgeist from one recession to the next with his imaginings of the end of civilisation with his characteristic integration of stock listings into paintings: here the close-up heads of those market beasts the bull and the bear ram home such themes. But is it time for a change? Cheung provides three with laser-burnt subversions of Durer etchings, and new lines in sculpture and video animation: the latter in particular are mesmerically well-suited to his psychedelically apocalyptic colours. And the four screens of cowboys come with the bonus of The Doors' seminal 'The End' as a soundtrack.


Bee Painting, Small Screen III, 2009

Klaus Weber @ Herald St, Bethnal Green

To 17 Jan: www.heraldst.com

And perhaps the weirdest pleasure, if pleasure it be, are these shit paintings. Not mere bad paintings; nor paint pretending to be shit as in Dan Colen; nor genuine balls of elephant shit as in Chris Ofili; nor even the canvases placed in the Swedish forest by Henrik Hakansson, who waits for swallows to make abstract patterns - that’s close, but not quite weird enough. The highly imaginative German artist Klaus Weber (you may have seen his people with fountains sprouting from their orifices on the South Bank or his vacuum sculptures) has radically delegated artistic control by exploiting the fact that bees are bunged up in the hive all winter, and then take a ‘cleansing flight’ during which they defecate on anything which is unnaturally white. Canvases placed in a bee-keeper’s yard were thus anointed by delicate yellow and light brown marks to become ‘bee paintings’. You can compare the bees with bomber planes. You can muse on how it must feel to be liberated from such a burden. You can ponder the bees’ easy desecration of the modernist purity of the white canvas. Or you can just say: well, that’s weird.



Hans-Peter Feldmann @ Ancient & Modern, 201 Whitecross Street – Barbican

To 16 Jan: http://www.ancientandmodern.org/

How often do you see 174 paintings of nudes in a contemporary gallery? Especially one with Ancient & Modern’s particularly modest scale? Well, it turns out to be an exact fit for Hans-Peter Feldmann’s installation of stamps, each showing just that. It’s a well-worn topic for thematic stamp collectors, but the gallery context alters their reception, just as it has that of the multifarious other selections the wide-ranging German has presented in the past in addition to his photographs.

TEN FOR THE FUTURE

I am looking forward to:

Ori Gersht @ Mummery & Schnelle 13.1 – 27.2

Oliver Laric @ Seventeen 13.1 – 13.2

Ryan Mosley @ Alison Jacques 13.1 – 13.2

Danny Rolph @ Poppy Sebire 14.1 – 20.2

William Eggleston @ Victoria Miro 15.1 – 27.2

Max Mosscrop @ Five Years: 16.1 – 31.1

Waseem Ahmed @ Laurent Delaye 22.1 – 27.2

Magali Reus @ Ibid Projects 22.1 – 7.3

Michael Landy @ South London Gallery 29.1 - 14.3

John Gerrard @ Thomas Dane 3.2 – 6.3

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About Me

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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.

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