Jannis Kounellis @ Ambika P3
To 30 May: www.sproveri.com and www.p3exhibitions.com
Pretty-much opposite Madame Tussauds is the monumental underground former concrete construction hall of the University of Westminster. It has recently had an impressive exhibition programme, but it is still something of a coup to feature a major new installation of typically ritualistic elements by the veteran Greco-Italian arte povera star Jannis Kounellis. Attracted by the mysterious industrial setting, he has played off the biggest space with double-bed-sized units of steel lined with bottles part-covered by fabric, as if to protect the glass’s hard fragility, and topped by coal. They make a giant ‘K’, standing for Kafka’s character trapped in bureaucracy as well as for Kounellis himself, and which he sees as forming dead ends from one of the labyrinths he has built elsewhere. That heavyweight gesture is offset by lighter touches in the rest of the space, with many hanging coats. The totality sets off dialogues between industrial and domestic, hard and soft, fixed and transformational, all of them open to human interpretation such that you might sense why, according to its author, Kounellis asked for fifty pages of biography in a forthcoming monograph to be reduced to five lines on the grounds that his work should provide the rest.
Three Brushes, 2008
Antoni Tàpies: New Work @ Waddington, 11 Cork St – Central
To 15 May: www.waddington-galleries.com
These works, mostly from 2009, by the great Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (born Barcelona, 1923) show no reduction in power. His paintings, more like walls than windows in their concrete realism, are known for mysterious symbols and the imaginative use of materials. Here newspapers, brooms, buckets and a knot of cloth get stuck to the canvas, as does Tàpies’ characteristic marble dust in resin, which gives the appearance of the artist having drawn in sand. The equally typical cross, plus or ‘T’ sign gets a full workout in its potentially personal (T for Tàpies or his wife, Teresa), religious, memorial, wound-dressing and mathematical modes. Destruction, reconstruction, time’s ravages and creativity’s resistance to them are all in the mix, I feel, but so naturally there’s no need to force the issues.
Mom and Me in Mirror, 2002
Leigh Ledare: The Confectioner’s Confectioner @ Pilar Corrias, 54 Eastcastle St – Fitzrovia
To 5 June: www.pilarcorrias.com
Sometimes where you shouldn’t go is where you have to be. This astonishing, uncomfortable and beautiful show takes Nan Goldin, Larry Clarke, Tracey Emin and Richard Billingham as read and ups the ante. American photographer Leigh Ledare (say Le-darr) dissects his relationship with his fifty-something ex-ballerina mother from multiple angles. We see her kissing her son in a sexual manner, posing both for fashion shots and pornographically, seeking through the small ads ‘a wealthy husband (not someone else’s) who wants her own private dancer’, and having sex with possible candidates. We also see her by turns needy, weeping, pathetic and physically injured. This is done through documentary and recent images, scrawled notes, filmed footage and even, in what might be termed incest by proxy, photographs of Ledare taken by women whose own personal ads for a man echoed his mother’s desires. It could be exploitative, but his mother is a collaborator. It could be artificial, but the artifice is part of who she is. It could be shallowly shocking, but the depth of their relationship is obvious. Nor does Ledare spare himself, and I had the odd experience of talking to him in front of his naked portrait. You, too, may not know where to look, but look you most certainly should.
Richard Billingham @ Anthony Reynolds, 60 Great Marlborough St – Soho
To 22 May: www.anthonyreynolds.com
Talking of Richard Billingham, he has own show of new work nearby. It’s much more restrained than either Ledare’s or his own early work, as much a portrait of the various cameras used and printing choices made as of his family and travels. Landscapes and animals feature, as they have in most of Billingham’s work over the past ten years, as well as his own young family. Billingham came to fame as a son documenting his parents, and now the wheel has turned to fatherhood. The winning images are those of his toddler son, Walter: laughing in bed, swamped by an adult tracksuit top, padding around in his nappy. They’re the pictures you’d hope would get taken if your father was a photographer – which is a strength, for they are very warmly diverting; but also a limitation, for they are on one level not all that surprising - unless, perhaps, one can read back from his earlier work to detect undercurrents of disturbance. I was more inclined to think that their radical point might be that after so much challengingly brutal art photography, it’s become a more provocative risk to be sweet.
No 508 février mars avril 2007
Jean-Luc Mylayne @ Spruth Magers, 7A Grafton St – Central
To 29 May: www.spruethmagers.com
What may look like rather amateurish snapshots of birds, sometimes out of focus or relegated to the edge of the picture, are printed here on a grand enough scale to generate a more deliberate aesthetic and to signal a back story behind their avoidance of the techniques of the professional wildlife photographer. French artist Jean-Luc Mylayne has been photographing birds obsessively for over thirty years, using a large format film camera with multiple focal points, but without telephoto lenses. Typically he takes months (as reflected in the titles) to research, set up and catch what he wants, refusing to put himself manipulatively at the centre of things. The images, then, come to represent the phenomenology of man interacting with nature: throough making the viewer search out the subject; through how fully the birds are integrated into their environments; and through linking the bird and human worlds in their differing but equally transient timeframes. The results are plangently addictive.
Hotel Milan – Room 607
Erwin Olaf: Hotel @ Hamiltons, 13 Carlos Place – Mayfair
To 4 June: www.hamiltonsgallery.com
The life of a successful photographer is tough: a ceaseless round of different cities and beautiful models… Which the increasingly well-regarded Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf has recorded in a series of hotel rooms around the world by combining muted 1960’s colouring with intricate patterning, narrative-hinting atmospheres, and a very painterly take on the mostly nude models. Or has he? In fact, in a spin which links the traditions of cinematic set design to the model-constructing territory of Thomas Demand or James Casebere, these shots were all taken in Olaf’s studio, in which he made hyper-detailed replicas of hotel rooms in which he has stayed. So the rooms are playing at being hotels (down to the characteristic radio, phone and ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign) just as the models are playing at being their photographic selves. I particularly like how the prominent fire escape plan in ‘Hotel Milan – Room 607’, the most Newtonesque of the ten images on view, triggers and gives an edge to the questions of where and of what the woman is thinking.
Big Potato Pallette
Georgie Hopton: Cut and Come Again @ Poppy Sebire, 232 Kings Rd – Chelsea
To 29 May: www.poppysebire.com
Poppy Sebire pops up - for the third time - in a spacious former Post Office near the Old Town Hall on Kings Road. There you’ll find a delightful and seamlessly interwoven show from Georgie Hopton, who’s Yorkshire-born but now based in upstate New York with her husband, Gary Hume. Hopton’s first London solo outing for some years sees her use the seasonal cycle and output from her garden as the inspiration and creative metaphor for a playful set of works. Photographs of Hopton interacting with vegetables sensually and economically combine the traditions of landscape, still-life, self-portrait and nude. Vegetable prints - colourful, textural and daringly redolent of the primary school classroom - make lively anthropomorphic use of shapes ranging from those of allium stems to pumpkins to produce which is exotic to English eyes: the dinosaur and crown of thorns gourds, for example. Hopton has also made bronze versions of her ‘palette’ – potatoes with surprisingly bright American skins, set on a chopping board and part-painted ready to print – all presented on a canvas on top of a plinth. The total effect is to provide a sophisticated adult context for appropriately childish glee.
Phyllida Barlow: Bluff @ Studio Voltaire, 1a Nelsons Row – Clapham Common
To 29 May: www.studiovoltaire.org
Studio Voltaire is a support-worthy gallery attached to 30-odd artists’ studios, and is only twenty Northern Line minutes from Old Street (stroll up the High Street, turn right after Sainsburys). This show is an early shoot in what will be Phyllida’s spring: the energetic recent pensioner has other London shows due soon at the Serpentine (8.5 - 13.6)and V22 (12.6 - 15.8), not to mention recent and forthcoming projects in Seoul, Basel, Bergen and Nuremberg - not even a broken foot suffered while moving a sculpture can slow her down. Studio Voltaire has an installation of six big units; four small sculptures in the office; 31 paintings; and a £50 fund-raising edition. ‘Bluff’ itself – geology meets confidence trick – has big black columns / groynes / barricades like fallen basalt, security cameras made of plaster and scaffolding, and a hut which seems to have got stuck halfway through climbing up the wall. You can stand beneath it and look up at a polystyrene sky. Is that the would-be-escapee hut’s unknowingly cheap vision of freedom? Not that it’s really a narrative show … it's more about bringing materials into conjunction and letting them do their form-finding thing.
The two sides of August
Martin Wilner: Making History: UK @ Hales,Tea Building, 7 Bethnal Green Rd - Shoreditch
To 23 May: www.halesgallery.com
Regular readers (hi Mum!) may recall that I hold Ian Breakwell (who died in 2006) in high regard. So who is now undertaking that witty graphic memorializing of the significance of the mundane? Martin Wilner is the closest I’ve seen: a practicing New York psychiatrist who spends his non-working time either commuting or dissecting the news. On the subway he draws what he sees and sets down what he hears in one concertina notebook per week. At home he sifts the newspapers and chooses a story each day, on monthly themes ranging from cars to murder to fetishism (yes, he should have been in Gagosian’s recent JG Ballard show). He copies the texts in miniature and matches them to a relevant drawing. Each sheet of ‘Making History: 2009’ has a month’s worth of daily drawings on one side and stories on the other and has the extra twist – for one year only – of using British newspapers to give him a virtual presence here. It’s an absorbing anatomy of our national obsessions - and of our take on both countries’ recession.
Not a Mondrian: Theo van Doesburg's 'Composition in Half-Tones', 1928
Van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde @ Tate Modern - Southwark
To 16 May: www.tate.org.uk
There’s pretty much everything in the Tate’s De Stijl-themed group show: typography, furniture, stained glass, architecture, music… Even if you stick to painting it ranges from Dada to Constructivism. But lighten up: first off you can play the game of speeding round the exhibition and seeing how fast you can spot the six Mondrian paintings in amongst the many less renowned abstractionists on show (don’t, by the way, try to cheat by consulting the catalogue: it gets the list wrong). The game is surprisingly easy, and his work does somehow just feel ‘right’. Next, however, you have to think about why it’s easy. Does that make his work better or just more familiar? And if better than the assorted Van Thisses and Van de Thats, then how and why? That lightening up can only last so long...
Still showing from previous lists:
David Burton, Ruth Ewan, Brian Moran to 8 May, Tondo to 8 May, Simon Tegala to 8 May, Mat Collishaw to 9 May, David Rickard to 9 May, Krysten Cunningham to 15 May, JaffaCakes TLV to 15 May, William Tillyer to 15 May, Martin Honert to 15 May, Bharti Kher to 15 May, Chris Ofili to 16 May, Cerith Wyn Evans to 22 May, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot to 23 May, Ilya & Emilia Kabakov To 29 May,Angela de la Cruz to 30 May, Jennet Thomas to 6 June, Michael Samuels to 19 June, Anthony Caro to 6 July, Steve McQueen to 18 July.
www.newexhibitions.com gives full address and opening time details of most shows
TEN FOR THE FUTURE
Shana Moulton @ Gimpel Fils: 13.5 - 3.7
T.V. Santosh @ Aicon: 13.5 - 12.6
Luisa Lambri @ Thomas Dane: 13.5 - 25.6
Michelle Grabner @ Rocket: 14.5 - 19.6
Alex Hudson @ Vegas: 14.5 - 6.6
Clay Ketter @ Bartha Contemporary: 14.5 - 27.6
EA Byrne & Jamie Lau @ Fold Gallery: 14.5 - 13.6
Anthea Hamilton, Mirabele Marden & Dana Schutz @ Brown: 15.5 - 19.6
Nora Schultz @ Sutton Lane: 18.5 - 28.6
Rana Begum @ Bischoff/Weiss: 20.5 - 3.7
Photo credits: relevant artists and galleries