Wednesday, 30 June 2010


By what criteria should art be judged? If by ability to cool you on a hot day - no mean consideration just now - then Anton Henning’s fan-rotated canvases at Haunch of Venison give you a better breeze than Mark Wallinger’s motor-spun self-portrait as Pope Innocent at Anthony Reynolds, but the clear prize-winner is the installation at Sprovieri. All have their serious merits too, even if one has to concede that Picasso (at Gagosian) remains the best artist in town by more orthodox criteria - and he also contributes towards a healthy current representation of ceramics. Clay, too, can be cool.

Chelpa Ferro
: Jungle Jam @ Sprovieri, 27 Heddon St – Central

To 8 Aug and then 24 Aug – 18 Sept:

Chelpa Ferro (meaning something like ‘Old Money’) is a Brazilian art group created in 1995 by sculptor Jorge Barrão, painter Luiz Zerbini and video editor Sergio Mekler. They have previously worked with sound and with giving consumer society’s cast-offs a fresh and typically anarchic spin. Consistent with that, ‘Jungle Jam’ is a low-tech-meet-high-tech installation of thirty food blenders with plastic bags attached. A fifteen minute computer cycle rotates the bags, set to various speeds, in alternating kinetic sequences. The stimulating outcome is at once a colourful dance; cooling rushes of air; and surprisingly loud syncopated sounds, which put me in mind of wing beats or trees in the wind – so bringing the jungle into what is otherwise a decidedly urban set-up. The whole could therefore speak of environmental concerns as well as economic and social chaos: bringing those together, it somehow reminded me of the prevalent South American practice of illegally tapping the electricity supply.

Alison Wilding: Pruneyes

Super Farmers’ Market @ Handel Street Projects, 19-21 Sicilian Avenue – Holbourn

To 17 July:

Super Farmers’ Market is the second in what so far is a biennial series of shows by the temporary space operators Handel Street Projects, which bring together the commodities of art and food. A impressive roster of 32 artists have been asked to ‘upcycle’ by using low or nil cost locally sourced items – cheap supermarket goods and discarded packaging – to make art of higher value. They provide an enjoyable demonstration of how to use improbable materials imaginatively: Saso Sedlacek’s Salami Condoms, Phyllida Barlow’s wall sculptures in porridge and wire, and Alison Wilding’s face of popcorn, toffee and prunes will give you the idea. Nicholas Pope’s totem-pile of jellies, which returns to the inside of its fridge plinth overnight, seems to be lasting out the hot weather surprisingly well. A more politically engaged side is also served up: for example by Rasa Todosijevic’s angles on the presentation and realities of Serbian food in the 1970’s; Agnes Varda’s film about those who live off the waste of others; and a Stuart Brisley performance video, which uses a clever double narrative technique.All in all, then, a balanced and satifying meal.

From SOS Starification Series 1974

Hannah Wilke: Elective Affinities @ Alison Jacques, 16-18 Berners St – Fitzrovia

To 14 Aug:

The New York artist Hannah Wilke (pronounced ‘Wilkee’) died of cancer in her early fifties in 1993 – indeed, two works in this selection from the estate held by her sister are made with the hair Wilke lost during chemotherapy. She investigated the sex, science and politics of the body, and her primary motif was the folded vagina / wound form, which she used as a charged counter to male dominance of the art world. Here it appears in the eraser (putty rubber) sculptures which she attached to herself in the well-known mid-seventies SOS Starification Series of photographs; otherwise minimalist white grids; fleshy ceramics; a latex wall sculpture; and the 77 multicolour elements of ‘Hannah Manna’. They are also stuck onto postcards on which they take over the phallic extension of Long Key, Florida and the patriotic urgings of the Lincoln Memorial. Add in some striking performance photos and watercolours, and this is a poignant and representative overview of an influential artist. And she founded the ceramics department at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, which leads me on to…


Richard Slee @ Hales Gallery, Tea Building, 7 Bethnal Green Rd - Shoreditch

To 17 July:

Here the leading contemporary ceramicist Richard Slee (less surprisingly pronounced to rhyme with glee and Wilke) delights in undermining the supposed function of objects. He does that, first, by his choice of subjects: a ceramic tennis racquet makes no kind of sense, but is presented as if it did, not as if it is a mere sculpture. Second, he applies excessive ornamentation: useless as a ceramic saw may be, it is rendered doubly so in that the blade is overwhelmed by a ludicrously impractical handle. Third, when things are plausible in ceramic – picture frames, for example – they are turned into something else: sections of frame become scorpions and mountains, would you believe. My favourite piece, though, is a blue table tennis table on which thirty balls are presented, as if to show their possible positions in a developing rally, by means of baroquely fluted ball-holders which also read as waves on the table’s sea. The absurdity of that conjunction was hard enough to pin down that I suspected it of making some sense. For more in the same spirit, go to Slee’s concurrent show at the V&A, ‘From Utility to Futility’.

Untitled, Mona Lisa (blue lagoon)

Gelitin: One is too much and a hundred are not enough @ Carlson, 6 Heddon St – Central

To 28 July:

A small space tucked away on the second floor does little to signal the ownership of Massimo de Carlo, perhaps Italy’s most powerful gallerist. De Carlo says he doesn’t want it to come across as an outpost from Milan, and that has been reflected in an admirably risk-taking if somewhat patchy programme to date. The four-strong Austrian collective Gelitin are most associated with confrontationally comic performances: dressing as chickens, hanging naked upsidedown to be spanked by leeks, using their anuses as candle holders and so on… But, perhaps seeking to escape that typecasting, they present only paintings here - albeit paintings without paint: they have made fourteen wacky Plasticene on wood variations on the Mona Lisa. In fact, the medium is characteristic and they have tackled the theme before, so there is something obsessive about their gleeful semi-sculptural reworkings of the world’s most famous smile – which suffers such fates as conversion to balls and the embedding of tossed salad as well as more predictably phallic makeovers. As a deconstruction of how the media distorts celebrity, this makes for fresh fun with perhaps the most widely appropriated image of them all.

Jamie Shovlin: Chat

Mulberry Tree Press @ SE8, 171 Deptford High Street – Deptford

To 11 July (Fri-Sun only):

SE8 is a lively non-commercial project space in Deptford with a leaning toward the conceptual. Indeed, the whole of the current show is a concept – that of the imaginary Mulberry Tree Press, which forms the platform for a rolling roster of work concerned with the translation between places and forms. There are discussion events, video (Gary Hill and Roderick Buchanan are coming up), shelves and a table of new and re-contextualised publications, a curated show in glass cabinets full of removals and refusals, and two pinboard presentations. For those last Jamie Shovlin updates work which riffs cleverly on the gaps between how messages are initiated and received. ‘The Ecstacy of Communication’ revisits a 2002 project in which Shovlin borrowed RCA library books and erased all the passages not highlighted by previous readers. He had Baudrillard’s eponymous volume reborrowed this year, and has superimposed new versions of those pages on which more emphasis has been added in the intervening years. ‘Chat’ consists of multiple requests for salacious or redemptive true life stories from the readers of the women’s weekly magazine ‘Chat’, printed onto flyer cards made from pulped toilet paper. There are hundreds of cards, but then who doesn’t have such a story?

Joby Williamson: What Have You Forgotten? An Installation of a Post-It Note Archive @ Tintype, 23-25 Redchurch St – Shoreditch

To 17 July:

Tintype, which is less peripatetic than formerly now that Pat Treasure and Teresa Grimes have taken a let on Redchurch Street, presents 'a Post-It note archive'. That may not sound too enticing, but it proves unusually entertaining. In fact, there are no Post-It notes present, but a five screen slide show which takes about fifteen minutes to present 400 selected from Williamson’s collection of some 1,000 discarded notes he has come across over the last decade. Each is blown up big, increasing the aesthetic impact of accidents of haste, and given about ten seconds on view. Williamson uses found material in all his art, and most days he comes across notes which hint in a half-voyeuristic, half-anthropological manner, at the secret lives of others. The slide presentation helps to plays them off against each other, from ‘Respect the Owl’ to ‘donkeys do not amuse me’; from ‘I remember you from the 1950’s’ to ‘I knew you would look beautiful’; from ‘what have you forgotten?’ to ‘nothing – again’. ‘Maybe it’s my diary’, muses Williamson in one of the show’s accompanying texts, ‘through other people’s thoughts’. Curiously hypnotic.

Toby Huddelstone: Actions in Galleries No.55: Being sick in Albert Oehlen

Toby Huddlestone / Reynir Hutber @ ROOM, 31 Waterson St – Shoreditch

To 18 July:

ROOM presents two young English artists who pick up themes from the 1970’s with an entertaining twist. Reynir Hutber (who has somehow wound up with an Icelandic Christian name and a German-sounding surname) has just won the Catlin Art Prize for the live video feedback installation ‘Stay Behind the Line’. In it he puts his virtual self, lying naked on the floor, on the screen in front of the viewer. You can then watch yourself experiment with prodding ‘him’, standing on ‘him’, covering ‘him’ with objects etc to diverting – yet also disturbing – effect. It might be seen as a technologically savvy update of Peter Campus’s pioneering work, with an ethical dimension traceable to Marina Abramovic. Toby Huddlestone brings a wittily deconstructive literalism to the notion of audience interaction by having himself filmed – often acting pretty oddly – in front of iconic works. Titles such as ‘Almost Drawing on Cy Twombly’s ‘Thrysis’ in Hamburger Bahnhof 09.02.06’ and ‘Scratching Arse Crack Three Times in front of Doris Salcedo’s ‘Shibboleth’ at Tate Modern 02.11.07’ will give you the idea. Apparently he has to work with a pickpocket-style distraction team to avoid censure by gallery guards….

Installation view

Matt Calderwood: Shatterproof @ Maria Stenfors, Unit 4, 21 Wren St – south of King’s Cross

To 24 July:

David Risley relocated his gallery to Copenhagen 18 months ago, but Maria Stenfors makes it at least three ex-Risley staff who now run excellent programmes (ie along with Adam Thomas, also showing Matt Calderwood currently in a group show at Supplement; and Poppy Sebire). In the second Stenfors show, Matt Calderwood sets up intriguing interactions between six works spread across three separated spaces. First, we get 48 hours of the view from his studio in three minutes, playing on the paradox of how speed can show us things missed at normal rates. Gravity rules in the second room as the only balancing agent for sculptures made of big (25kg), satisfyingly touchable – and shatterproof – modular units of rubber; but it is human power which stamps a wine glass onto photographic paper to make a surprisingly clear photogram as proof of the action – a shatter proof. The third room has a film of the sculptures’ liquid rubber being degassed ready for pouring, lit by nine audience-triggered fluorescent tubes from which light is allowed to escape only at the ends. So: power and agency meet conditions of production and reception - and given the prevalence of oily blackness, you could even read it as relating to BP’s current travails.

Acrylic in Canvas with Ruptures: Brushstrokes

Analia Saban: Information Leaks @ Josh Lilley Gallery,44-46 Riding House Street - Fitzrovia

To 17 July:

The young Argentinean painter Analia (say Anna-Lia) Saban has lived in Los Angeles for ten years, where she studied with John Baldessari at the University of California. She makes ingenious, metaphysical and yet humorous deconstructions of the elements of painting, adopting a different concept for each show. The one thing she hasn’t done is to apply paint directly with a brush onto the final canvas. That doesn’t change in the subterranean and transcendental subversions of her British debut, ‘Information Leaks’. Downstairs, riffing on the usual use of a cellar, the paint is stored in bags of canvas: some of it bleeds through laser-cut holes in the canvas to form rudimentary images, while most of it dries into sculptural forms. Upstairs, more transcendentally, the paint is pressed between canvas and a Plexiglas template of an image, which it attempts – with just a hint of comical vanity – to move beyond. It is, them, a show with plenty of theoretical background. That's fine, but the reason it works so well is that fascinating objects emerge from the theory.

You can read my interview with Analia at the Saatchi Online magazine

Merlin James: House in The Marshes

Tour Feature: People often ask me what I would recommend as an afternoon’s tour of current exhibitions. Fitrovia is good at the moment, as in addition to my listed shows at Josh Lilley and Alison Jacques, the Spanish collective Aggtelek at Crisp, the semi-transparent 'frame paintings' of Merlin James at Mummery & Schnelle and the group show of young abstract painters at Pilar Corrias are all well worth visiting, and then it isn't far to Gagosian at Britannia Street.

Still showing from previous lists:

Anthony Caro to 6 July, Nick Hornby to 9 July, Anton Henning to 10 July, The Ground Around to 11 July, New Symphony to 17 July, Steve McQueen to 18 July, Michael Stubbs to 24 July. gives full address and opening time details of most shows


There are lots of generally-based group shows opening for the summer: many may begood, but it's hard to predict so this is list concentrates elsewhere...

Pavel Pepperstein @ Regina: 30.6 - 2.9

Olga Chernysheva @ Calvert 22: 1.7 - 29.8

Systematic @ 176: 1.7 - 15.8

Liane Lang @ Squid & Tabernacle: 2.7 - 24.7

Jonathan Delafield Cook @ Pippy Houldsworth: 2.7 - 24.7

Clunie Read @ Studio Voltaire 2.7 - 7.8

Leah Gordon @ Riflemaker: 8.7 - 10.9

Lara Schnitger @ Modern Art: 8.7 – 7.8

Frank Bowling @ Rollo: 7.7 - 3.9

Ruairiadh O'Connell @ Bishchoff / Weiss: 15.7 - 7.8

Photo credits: relevant artists and galleries + Peter Kidd (SE8)

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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, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.