Monday, 12 April 2010

NINE SINGULARITIES AND A RECONSIDERATION

It's always nice to think: well, I've never seen that before! Here, then, are nine current shows likely to provoke that reaction. They feature a pavement artist in the gallery; sixteen giant bindified mirrors; paintings flying through the air; the most stamps you've ever seen in a gallery; a group show of paintings without a corner in sight; water bottles as fetish objects; an invitation to look under a painting's skirt; the possibility of a fourth dimension; and, of course, zebra finches playing guitars… On the other hand you've probably seen quite a few paintings propped on elephant dung: my tenth recommendation is more likely a chance to consider the substance behind a spent surprise.


David Burton: Untitled, c. 1936

David Burton, Ruth Ewan, Brian Moran @ Rob Tufnell, 1 Sutton Lane – Clerkenwell

To 8 May: www.robtufnell.com

This is Rob Tufnell’s second turn in the timeshare arrangement whereby he uses Sutton Lane’s space, tucked in between Clerkenwell Road and Great Sutton Street. Rob is remarkably good at rediscovering the forgotten, in this case paintings produced at a wellwisher's prompting by London pavement artist David Burton. Hardly seen since he was one of Mass Observation's 'Unprofessional Painters' in a show which toured extensively in 1938-39, they're astonishingly fresh in condition, colour and the energy of their naïve and patriotic style. Burton is shown with Brian Moran’s cold war oriented redrawings of a wide range of source materials; and Ruth Ewan’s 34 postcards of the flags of former colonial powers, which she asked Bolivian children to deface with white paint. Result: a very lively treble take on aspects of imperialism.


6/18 of indra’s net mirrors

Bharti Kher: inevitable undeniable necessary @ Hauser & Wirth, 196a Piccadilly – Central

To 15 May: www.hauserwirth.com

One of the most successful British-born artists today is Bharti Kher, who left Newcastle for New Delhi in 1992, where she met and married the now famous Subodh Gupta. Bharti has stand-out work in the current Saatchi survey of Indian art, and now has her own varied, imaginative and extensive run of Hauser & Wirth - three floors plus the sculpture park behind the gallery. The show as a whole builds metaphysical explorations out of the application of everyday ritual: an automated singing bowl; a confessional room; a gently rocking unicorn; and the teeming application of stick-on bindis, which has become Kher’s trademark means of combining the symbolism of a ‘third eye’ while subverting the traditional expectations of female and national identities. She was first attracted by the more old-fashioned sperm or snake-shaped bindi – dual symbols of fertility which rather neatly unite male form with primarily female embellishment. Here she uses those on 21 medical charts, while a separate room seethes with the commoner spot bindis as partial cover for 16 large cracked mirrors. Spectacular, husband-trumping stuff.


Flying #13 - one of those in Paris, as it happens

Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: The Flying Paintings @ Sprovieri, 27 Heddon St – Central

To 29 May: www.sprovieri.com

Twenty years after emigrating to the USA, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov – surely the most significant living Russian artists – are still musing on the possibilities and impossibilities of utopian dreams. They have often used the idea of people flying to represent both the idealism of the communist system and attempts to escape it in either body or mind. See, for example, ‘The Flying Komarov’, as currently installed in ‘Star City’ at Nottingham Contemporary. They have also made paintings (‘Under the Snow’ 2004-06) which combine fragments of an idealised society with areas of blankness which suggest censorship, suppressed memories, and potentially counter-revolutionary abstraction. Their new series combines those two ideas by depicting paintings literally flying through white space, the implications being all the above plus opportunities to distort matters tellingly through inversion, scale differences, overlapping and anamorphic foreshortening. Sprovieri have a mini-retrospective of the Kabakovs plus three of the twenty flying paintings – enough to give you a flavour of their inventiveness, though either a flick through the catalogue or, utopically, an immediate visit to Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris is recommended for more.




Steve McQueen: Queen and Country @ the National Portrait Gallery, St Martins Place – Central

To 18 July: www.npg.org.uk

The NPG has become a very worthwhile contemporary art venue in recent years. Among the current offerings is Steve McQueen’s well-publicised project-come-campaign proposal to issue stamps showing all the British service personnel killed in Iraq in 2003-09. I hadn’t really thought about how it would be displayed, but the answer is an effective one: through 14 x 12 stamp sheets for each of the 160 soldiers featured in vertically pulled out philatelic presentation drawers. I make that 26,880 stamps in total. It’s a serious and moving display which remains topical in the context of the mounting casualty count in Afghanistan, yet there remains something diminishing, maybe almost childish, about art on stamps. That may be why I found myself rather inappropriately thinking that McQueen has just the name it would suit to be the first black Scottish transsexual monarch…

Jeremy Butler: 'Death Star'

Tondo @ Fine Art Society Contemporary, 148 New Bond St – Central

To 8 May: www.fascontemporary.com

Here a dozen mostly monochrome and completely round abstract paintings make for an unusual and surprisingly varied show. The format naturally suggests a whole world, but of what? Rubbish, in the case of Jeremy Butler’s Death Star, which is a blackness made of miniaturised binbags, tyres and detritus. Perceptual conundrums for Oliver Marsden, who has plenty of previous as a tondophilliac. Changing light for Rob and Nick Carter. Gestures for Jason Martin, whose brushy abstractions have entered a florid gold phase. And Fernando Mastrangelo crams in the sociological, religious and economic issues by colouring staple foods like sugar, beans and corn so they resemble precious stones, all in the shape of ceiling medallions from opulent homes and in the colours of Aztec gods. You probably need rectangular stuff to buy them with, though.


'Death Star Mk II' - for Ducker and, oddly enough, for this blog...

Richard Ducker: Null & Void @ Oblong, 69a Southgate Rd – Dalston

To 25 April: www.oblonggallery.com

Actually I suppose it may be that more galleries are oblongs than classic white cubes, but this year-old space’s name presumably signals a desire to be different. Never mind the width not equaling the length, though, what about the quality? Pretty good in the case of Richard Ducker’s domestic yet sensual sculptures, which seem to be able to make a fetish of anything – plastic water bottles by covering them with a black flock which would hardly play well down the throat, lumps of concrete by gold-plating them and adding the finishing touch of a brass drawer knob - and even of nothing: his ‘Sybaritic Suggestions’ appear to be no more than empty black bags on shelves, their titular love of luxury all in the absence. The titles pretend to ham things up through wry overstatement: ‘Eternity’; ‘I’m Not Unhappy Enough’; and ‘Hilarious’, which, of course, wryly isn’t.


'Look behind the picture...'


Laure Prouvost: all these things think link @ Flat Time House, 210 Bellenden Rd – Peckham Rye

To 25 April: www.flattimeho.org.uk

The house in which John Latham lived and worked is worth visiting in its own right, but the experience is enhanced for three weeks by the interventions of Laure Provost, who assisted Latham (1921-2006) in his last years. She has installed five short video loops which play off her own spry rearrangements of, and additions to, the house’s contents – for example by leaving teabags to dry on a radiator, as Latham was wont to do, and inserting her own secrets behind a work with the subversive-sounding video instruction to ‘look behind that picture – when they’re not looking’ (it’s OK, you can). Elsewhere Prouvost seems to smash the vase we can see on a shelf, indulges in warped narratives and gives a massage to a book on Latham, who was more inclined to slice books up, as evidenced all around. Latham’s art reflected his belief that time and events were more basic building blocks for the world than space and matter. If Prouvost supports the thesis, it is by slyly undermining both time and events. This is fun, but might turn to chaos on 24 April, when she invites five other artists to make a show in her show in Latham’s show…

See also my previous entry on Laure Prouvost’s ongoing (to 2 May) presence in Tate Britain’s Lightbox. For more John Latham, visit the Whitechapel (to 5 September) and Lisson (May 5 – June 5) galleries.


Still from '3 to 4'

Krysten Cunningham: 3 to 4 @ Ritter Zamet, Unit 8, 80A Ashfield St - Whitechapel

To 15 May: www.ritterzamet.com

Look carefully to track down a first floor industrial unit just south of Whitechapel tube station, and you'll also find more of the recent trend towards sculpture with a video context. Krysten Cunningham has worked as a technician in a physics lab at the University of California over the past decade. In ‘Hypercube’ she re-narrated one of the lab’s educational films - of computer-generated cubes multiplying - to speculate on the possibility of a fourth dimension. This argued that there are four dimensions, and so if we have only three dimensions then all our thoughts and experiences must take place in the mind of a higher being. If we don’t agree with this, says the voiceover, we must recognise ourselves as beings of four dimensions - albeit we may not be conscious of the fourth. All of which feeds into a new video, in which up to six figures in red, green and blue demonstrate similar geographies in a kind of pose-dance with rods through which Cunningham hopes “we might ‘touch’ or glimpse a new spatial dimension”. The sculptures echo those concerns while mixing readymade and woven forms in a hippy meets op art meets native Indian style. So: equal parts science and mysticism, new age and Bauhaus pushing at the borders of craft and daft. Somehow it all coheres rather hypnotically, as we wonder how much is aesthetic and how much is cod. In a way, quite Lathamesque…


from here to ear

Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: @ Curve Gallery, Barbican - Farringdon

To 23 May: www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery

Boursier-Mougenot is a French musician and artist who explores unexpected means of making sound. His best-known previous works are a paddling pool with floating crockery which chimes as it collides, and a fleet of hoovers attached to harmonicas. The Curve features close up film of guitar players but to the ‘sound of the images’, ie derived from the video signal, leading into the main event: a flock of 40 zebra finches, kept in place by light levels alone, create a soundscape as they hop on and off guitars. Their movements are largely in response to the 25 visitors allowed to wander among them at any one time, and the resulting chirpy-chirpy thrum-thrum works remarkably well - and much more consistently than you might expect. Aurally it ends up somewhere in the middle of John Cage’s use of chance, Messian’s bird song transcriptions and an outcrop from Sonic Youth’s unorthodox tunings. The whole ensemble may well be the most memorable in a London gallery now.


From 'Afromuses'

Chris Ofili @ Tate Britain – Millbank

To 16 May: www.tate.org.uk

It's a while since Chris Ofili's use of poo was a 'well I never' moment, and maybe most who fancy this show will have seen it by now... But it's on for a few weeks yet and I’d like to dissent from what has emerged as the conventional critical view. That seems to be that Ofili is spot on with his decoratively disgusting mix until you get to the Upper Room (started 1999) – which is the pinnacle or excess of the early elephant dung style, depending on taste – but then fails to find a convincing new language, especially since his move to Trinidad in 2005. Certainly the early work has kept its pzazz, but Ofili’s subsequent output includes the red, black and green series shown in Venice in 2003; most of his zingily relaxed watercolours; the subtle and persuasive drawing language of ‘7 Brides for 7 Bros’(2007); and the gloweringly deep ‘blues’ of 2006-08. All of that is full throttle stuff. Only in the last room and last couple of years of a big exhibition did I feel that a new direction remained to be worked through to the success which, the record suggests, Ofili will make of it.

Still showing from previous lists: David Korty to 17 April, Annie Albers to 17 April, Nathaniel Rackowe to 23 April, William Tucker to 24 April, Bas van den Hurk to 24 April, Benjamin Beker to 24 April, Henning Bohl to 25 April, Mob Remedies to 25 April, Laure Prouvost @ Tate Britain to 2 May, Ben Rivers to 2 May, Mat Collishaw to 9 May, William Tillyer to 15 May, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot to 23 May.

www.newexhibitions.com gives full address and opening time details of most shows

TEN FOR THE FUTURE

I am looking forward to:

Jean-Luc Mylayne @ Sprueth Magers 16.4 – 6.6

Leigh Ledare @ Pilar Corrias 16.4 – 6.6

JaffaCakes Tel Aviv @ 33-34 Hoxton Square 16.4 - 15.5

Lisa Yuskavage @ Greengrassi: 20.4 - 29.5

Martin Mull @ Ben Brown 21.4 – 5.6

Antoni Tàpies @ Waddington 21.4 – 15.5

Pyllida Barlow @ Studio Voltire: 23.4 - 29.5

Jannis Kounellis @ P3: 23.4 – 30.5

Gerry Fox @ Eleven: 29.4 - 5.6

Ximena Garrido-Lecca @ Civic Room: 29.4 - 30.5

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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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