Michelangelo: 'The Fall of Phaeton' (detail)
Just now the dead seem to have the best shows: Michelangelo at the Courtald, Van Gogh at the Royal Academy, Paul Nash at Dulwich, Ana Mendieta at Alison Jacques and the last decade of Arshile Gorky at Tate Modern and Gagosian West. But I’m sticking to the living – and there’s plenty to enjoy from the current crop, including a trend towards the voyeuristic, most notably in two teeming group shows. If you like the art of now, by the way, I would recommend a new Arts Council-supported initiative by the enterprising Room Gallery, which is organising visits to a mixture of galleries and artists' studios on 12,13 and 14 March for only £15 per day you choose: see www.contemporaryarttours.co.uk.
Richard Prince: Crashed
Crash: Homage to JG Ballard @ Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia St – King’s Cross
To April 1: www.gagosian.com
This is a stunning presentation of work by some fifty international stars - set in the context of JG Ballard's ideas, but thoroughly enjoyable even if you’ve never read a word by him (maybe, even, better thus: no need to worry that the connections might be tenuous). The emphasis is on sex, technology and destruction, with the most-cited of the novels being ‘High Rise’ and ‘Crash’ itself, in which Ballard says he ‘used the car not only as a sexual image, but as a total metaphor for man's life in today's society’. The biggest room takes its cue from that by surrounding a Richard Prince car with works referencing conventionally masculine concerns and violent acts (Newton, Prince and Delvaux’s fantasies of women, Lichtenstein’s explosion, Warhol and Hirst’s aftermaths, Glenn Brown’s sci-fi appropriation ‘The Pornography of Death etc) all topped off by Roger Hiorns’ testicularly-dangling pair of copper sulphate-covered car engines. Selecting a highlight is invidious, but it is remarkable how effectively Mike Nelson’s installation succeeds in creating its own peculiar atmosphere in the middle of the gallery.
Gretta Sarfaty Marchant: Through a Glass Darkly @ Sartorial Contemporary Art, 26 Argyle Square – King’s Cross
To 6 March: www.sartorialart.com
At the risk of spoiling something best encountered as a surprise, if you visit the Gagosian’s JG Ballard show on a Saturday, then 200 yards to the west you can spy through an office door’s narrow window a naked man blithely carrying on with his administrative work. This is, of course, an art work located in the back room of a gallery: curator/director Gretta Sarfaty Marchant advertised for ‘a nude male model. Preferably early 30's, blonde with beard, blue eyes and spectacles’ as part of her ongoing project to find an authentic muse. That gave a novel twist to the ‘private view’ – which is shown on a monitor along with stills – and on Saturdays the would-be-muse is there in the flesh. The encounter, ‘like a bizarrely displaced piece of internet pornography’ according to Olly Beck’s accompanying text, is a chance to reflect on the viewer’s involvement in art and how are ‘we are all voyeurs ultimately trying to find something of ourselves through the act of gazing’. I leave you to decide if this is profound or just profoundly silly...
David Rickard: Test Flights @ The Economist Plaza, 25 St. James's Street - Central
To 12 March: www.contemporaryartsociety.org
More crashes after Crash? The Contemporary Art Society’s Economist Plaza programme beats the Fourth Plinth if you want regularly changing exhibitions of contemporary sculpture in London’s streetscape, and young London-based New Zealander David Rickard has made a wittily site-specific intervention there. He has shown a previous fondness for dropping his sculpture to arrive at its final form, and his ‘Test Flights’ of spheres of clay have resulted in what look like crashed ceramic UFOs through their being dropped from the various heights of the towers surrounding the Plaza. They range from moderately compressed to thoroughly flattened to shattered according to how far they have fallen – a playful seriality which may give the lie to the smooth alien landings of sci-fi films. The ‘flights’ themselves can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhJ4-Je5pBI
Sophie Rickett: Pissing Woman Study
Peeping Tom: group exhibition curated by Keith Coventry @ Vegas, 45 Vyner St – Cambridge Heath
To 28 March: www.vegasgallery.co.uk
After more than two years in a Redchurch Street basement, the adventurous Dutch gallerist Suzanne Schurgers is enjoying the increased light and footfall of the former David Risley space. Having said that, the second Vegas show on Vyner Street might suit a more hidden venue: its salon-style hang packs in some fifty contributors on the theme of the Peeping Tom. On-trend artist Keith Coventry has chosen a wide and fascinating range of works which might be broadly split between those exploring the conditions of scopophiliac perception and those for which the artists themselves have pried – as artists should – where others might not. The former include Fiona Banner’s nude-by-words, one of Michael Landy’s intense portrait drawings, and Claire de Jong’s elegant multi-mirror abstraction. Some of the latter group shine a sometimes uncomfortable light on such topics such as female urination (Sophie Rickett), looking up women’s skirts (Mat Collishaw) and - bringing the show some controversy - amputee porn (Sebastian Horsely). And a special mention for Jemima Stehli and Jeremy Deller, the only artists to feature both here and in the not-unrelated Gagosian show.
Song of Farewell
Frances Young: Sites of Transition @ Madder 139, 1 Vyner St – Cambridge Heath
To 28 March (but not 4-7 March): www.madder139.com
Debbie Carslaw’s Madder 139, which used to be near the Barbican, is like Vegas a welcome recent migrant to Vyner Street. Frances, who is indeed Young, caught my eye last year with the brooding combination of deserted roller coaster, flock of starlings, vinyl end-static, slow motion and dusk which makes up 'Song of Farewell'. You might call it triple loop: of bird migration, coaster and video. There’s a chance to catch that along with five new works from an American crossing and residency which show a similar interest in using structural devices to underpin their content. The hypnotic ‘Oscillation’, on a slightly different tack, plays with the negation and transformation of content by turning video images into an apparently avant garde soundscape and then the sounds of that into abstract patterns on screen. Video can be awkward for time planning purposes (eg there's five hours of material in Candice Breitz's examination of twins at White Cube), but seeing all these in turn will only take you 20 minutes and it’s well worth that investment.
Emma Biggs and Matthew Collings: Pattern Industry @ FAS Contemporary, 148 New Bond Street - Central
To 8 March: www.fascontemporary.com
Our culture can irritate when a leader in one field claims he should be taken seriously in another too, so it is tempting suggest that Matthew Collings – the critic who likes so little recent art – wouldn’t have much time for his own collaborative efforts with his mosaicist wife were they by anyone else. But it turns out that this show – inspired by the Five Sisters windows in York Cathedral – rather attractively succeeds in Biggs & Collings’ stated aim of combining the historical, modern and post-modern by ‘making an enormous recycling project not just literally with broken or fragmented forms, but exposing the historical fragments of ideas that underlie the way all of us see’. The patterns at work are in a sculptural mosaic of medieval pottery sherds; hand-painted wallpaper; and grisaille versions of their trademark diamond grid paintings, which are surprisingly rhythmic in the restricted pallet which references the cathedral’s unusual windows – themselves effectively collages of stained glass from centuries of varying replacements. Those who wish to pigeonhole Collings may find this annoyingly good.
Still from 'Background'
Magali Reus @ Ibid Projects, 21 Vyner St – Cambridge Heath
To 7 March: www.ibidprojects.com
If you like shows in which you circle round and come back to the beginning with a different perspective, then maybe you should go see this young Dutch artist’s first London solo outing without reading further. For her first room contains minimalist-tending sculptures which seem mainly to play elegant games such as exploring the spatial effects of eccentric positioning, or making metal look organic and silicone metallic. But the back room has a video in which three elements – a landscape of sandy aggregates, silver sculptural forms catching the sun, and six athletic men undertaking loosely choreographed but distinctly martial exercises – seem to be equated in some mysterious way. The film is called ‘Background’, and with that background the first gallery becomes a landscape and its minimal forms take on a military bearing: that swirl of green is camouflage, the high-perched form is a sniper’s hideout, a metal screen has a parade ground regularity. Aesthetics, Reus seems to suggest, are not so far from politics as we might assume.
'Physical, Emotional' - complete with crack from repair after a physical incident at the crowded opening left things a little emotional
Vanessa Billy: Who Shapes What @ Limoncello, 15a Cremer St – Shoreditch
To 13 March: www.limoncellogallery.co.uk
In a curious chime with Magali Reus’s show (and indeed Magali was at the opening) young Anglo-Swiss artist Vanessa Billy combines a video of gymnastics – a close-up of hands gripping, releasing and turning on a bar – with minimal-tending sculpture. But the tone and themes are very different, with Billy exploring what turns one thing into another and what turns anything into a sculpture. Radical elegance is the thing, my favourite being the paired flat-on-the-floor works which return glass to its origin in sand: ‘Glass Ceiling Once’, made from cement, soft sand and Vaseline and ‘Glass Ceiling Twice’, made from cement, sharp sand and polythene – and which, incidentally, had me Googling the different types of sand and their uses. Billy’s work tends to be fragile, and one piece was trodden-on at that opening – even though, in case you wonder, beer was served rather than the lemon-based Italian spirit from which Rebecca May-Marston’s gallery take its name. Other work includes Billy's characteristic use of water (or is it?)in polythene as a sculptural element and an engaging book, sharing its title with the show. Billy seemed omni-present in London last autumn (Photographer’s Gallery, Frieze sculpture park, Thomas Dane, Lisson) so one cannot say this solo is overdue, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
Stripped Away: Birgir Snæbjörn Birgisson, Helgi Hjaltalin Eyjolfsson & Helgi Thorgils Fridjónsson @ Tintype, 242 Cambridge Heath Rd – Cambridge Heath
To 14 March: www.tintypegallery.com
Tintype, which has no fixed abode, pops up in the old Wilkinson space with something a little different: a small show of three Icelandic artists. Birgir Snaebjörn Birgisson has previously lured me into his edgy explorations of racial identity and self-presentation such by persuading people to be photographed in implausibly blonde wigs and through his almost wholly white paintings of blonde nurses at work and of all the Miss World winners as blondes. Here he spins off into a series of 108 watercolour text works which laboriously reproduce ‘The Pretty Women of Paris’, an unofficial 1883 guidebook to Parisian prostitutes. This provides a mixture of chatty humane interest and crude assessment, making this a far from straightforward next step in Birgisson’s scrutiny of image (now without images) and objectification. Take Gertrude Stevens: ‘She is a divorced woman from New York, whence she arrived some six or seven years ago with her two children and her banjo after being fired at by her husband... She is as deaf as a post, but will not own to it, and answers her lovers anyhow by guess, making the most painfully ludicrous mistakes in consequence… She is noted for being one of the most clever women known for the expert consummation of oral pollution…’
Philipp Goldbach: Blackboards and Micrographs @ Annely Juda, 23 Dering St – Central
To 27 March: www.annelyjudafineart.co.uk
Birgisson’s textural labours are as nothing set against those of young German artist Philipp Goldbach. His ‘Micrographs’ are six foot high pencil transcription in necessarily tiny but just-about legible writing of travel accounts and philosophical texts. That is said to be the whole of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason you can see here, which must be well over a million words – I’m not sure I believe that, but it’s certainly a lot of labour, which makes the drawing, perhaps, its own commentary and an unusually profound and thorough one! As a complement, Goldbach also presents photographs of wiped chalkboards in various German University rooms in which such as Adorno and Heidegger taught: they become abstractions with the trace of writings and ideas past. And to complement Goldbach, Annely Juda are showing Edwina Leapman’s harmonious abstractions on the floor above – and many of them feature a dance of broken parallel lines which have the look of text which has blurred and so cannot be read.
Still showing from previous lists: Rana Begum to 2 March, John Gerrard to 6 March,Damien Roach to 6 March, Rula Halawani to 6 March, Simon Morse to 7 March, Eva Hesse & Katja Strunz to 7 March, Stephen j Shanabrook to 13 March, Shudder to 14 March, Lara Viana to 20 March, Bernard Frize to 24 March, Dan Perfect to 7 April, David Hockney/Andy Holden to 10 April, Uriel Orlow to 10 April.
www.newexhibitions.com gives full address and opening time details of most shows
TEN FOR THE FUTURE
I am looking forward to:
Members' Show @ Studio Voltaire 25.2 - 27.3
Mat Collishaw @ BFI 26.2 – 9.5
Kaye Donachie @ Mauren Paley 27.2 - 4.4
Céleste Boursier-Mougenot @ The Barbican 27.2 - 23.5
William Tillyer paintings @ Bernard Jacobson 3.3 - 3.4
Idris Khan @ Victoria Miro: 17.3 - 24.4
Adam Thomas @ Space 19.3 - 17.4
Nathaniel Rackowe @ Delfina Foundation 26.3 - 23.4
Ilya & Emilia Kabakov @ Sprovieri 30.3 - 30.5
Martin Honert @ Bloomberg 7.4 - 15.5