Thursday, 28 April 2011


There seems to be enough interesting abstraction around at the moment to motivate a wide-ranging tour of London. I start with seven examples from seven different gallery zones which illustrate the variety which flows from differing motive forces for the work. I would crudely characterise those as appropriation and collage (Taaffe), chance and process(Baroff), drawing and gesture (Crosby), photography (Graham), conceptual play and language(Pirecki)and definitional issues (Mummery & Schnelle) as well as pure painting (Hoyland). Added to all of which I would also recommend Harold Cohen at Bernard Jacobson; Robin Foottit at Cole Contemporary; Kate Owens at Seventeen; Simon Dybbroe Møller at Laura Bartlett; 'Provisional Painting' at Modern Art; the forthcoming Callum Innes at Frith Street and Frank Bowling at Rollo; and the rather different perspective of Buddhist artist Yi Xuan at the Hua Gallery.

Ingo Meller: Königsblau hell, Mussini 485 | Königsblau dunkel, Mussini 486 | Lichtblau, Pebeo 33 | Ultramarinrosarot, Scheveningen 187, 2008/09

What If It's All True, What Then? @ Mummery & Schnelle, 83 Great Titchfield St - Fitzrovia

Part 1: 6 April - 14 May (Part 2: 18 May - 25 June):
This overview of that fertile strand of abstraction which tweaks the distinction between painting and object has the incidental merit of invoking some excellent recent shows elsewhere(Angela de la Cruz and Peter Joseph at Lisson; Simon Callery at Fold; and Rebecca Salter, at the Beardsmore Gallery). Here's Ingo Meller’s radical follow-through on all those comments about figurative paintings being at the same time just paint: his curiously pleasing swathes are dragged onto linen, presented exceedingly plainly (no frame or support), and named after exactly what it says on the tubes of paint they come from and – in one way – represent.

Fuji Fujicolor HR400 400asa Beyond Caring 1984

Paul Graham: Films @ Anthony Reynolds, 60 Great Marlborough St – London

To 4 June:
The English photographer Paul Graham, based in America for a decade now, has a 30 year retrospective at the Whitechapel. In it, he holds documentary and formal concerns in balance in depicting such subjects as unemployment offices (the 'Beyond Caring' sequence whihc is the source for the 'Films' image featured above), the Irish troubles and Japanese consumerism. Anthony Reynolds' show presents an abstract take on the same material by scanning unused frames and ends of the film stocks: the resulting images are titled for the stock used and photograph taken with it - rather in the manner of Ingo Meller above.

Earth Watcher (Mysteries 6)

John Hoyland: Mysteries @ Beaux Arts, 22 Cork Street – Central

To 7 May:

I think of John Hoyland's 1979 retrospective as one of the Serpentine’s best shows – but I haven’t been convinced by much of his work since about 1985, which does sound a fairly lengthy ‘but’. I just didn’t pick up the same driving necessity as in his vigorously rigorous earlier work. It’s good, then, to report that many of the paintings here, made in his mid seventies despite health problems, are dark, brooding and somehow urgent abstractions with hints of voids and swamps as well as of night skies. There’s an aura of mortality, and it seems to be dark green.

Medallion Window

Philip Taaffe: Gagosian Gallery Britannia St - King’s Cross

To 14 May:
Anything could be in the teeming mix of Philip Taaffe’s bright and big (up to 12 feet high) new cross-cultural,cross-historical multiplicities, which turn all manner of appropriated motifs into abstraction through sheer density of patterning. The history of decoration and the illustration of the natural world are favoured, and the most strikingly new works here look like mash-ups of stained glass, Islam and batik. Taaffe uses various methods – from printing more than from from painting – to steer well clear of expressionist tendencies while coming no closer to minimalism. Indeed, I struggle to think of another abstract painter who seems so far from both.


Jill Baroff: The Edge of the World @ Bartha Contemporary, 136B Lancaster Rd – Ladbroke Grove

To 25 June:
The last pre-move show in Bartha Contemporary’s current westerly location concentrates on the ‘floating line’ works of Brooklyn-based Jill Baroff. She colours a frame-like shape around delicate paper, cuts it out, then makes a ‘drawing’ out of the semi-haphazard way in which the cut-out element falls, sometimes colour side up, sometimes not. They make an effective and relatively instant contrast with the beautiful ‘tide drawings’ in which Baroff records 24 hour cycles of sea movement through variable line spacings - ask, and you can see those, too.

King Heroin

Clem Crosby @ Rachmaninoff’s, First Floor, Unit 106, 301 Kingsland Rd – Haggerston

To 28 May:
Clem Crosby has been painting non-representationally for two decades. His chosen ground is formica, which provides a glossy, modern, industrial contrast to the more natural and historic oil paint, and also enables him to wipe off the paint at will until the ‘right’ spontaneous result is reached in the manner of a sketch made large. Crosby also has a neat way with titles: ‘Cartoon’ is half Tom and Jerry fight, half Renaissance whirlpool study; ‘The Greeks’ is an heroic attempt at the perfect orange; ‘King Heroin’ takes its cue from an anti-drugs leaflet and contains a more ironic echo of ‘hero’.

Philomene Pirecki - Grey Painting: Text Version

Aftermath: Objects From Projects @ the Chelsea Space,16 John Islip Street - Pimlico & Philomene Pirecki @ Laure Genillard, 2 Hanway Place – Tottenham Court Rd

3 May – 4 June (Objects) & 7 May – 16 July (Pirecki):
Laure Genillard ended conventional programming at her eponymous gallery last year, yet it has a healthy after-life with two exhibitions in May. The Chelsea Space sees her curate an exploration of another kind of after-life: that of installation projects. What is left for posterity from Genillard’s collaborations with such as Maurizio Cattelan, Stephen Willats and Peter Wuethrich? Meanwhile, her premises are now the site of occasional shows supervised by curator-tenants Hana Noorali and Lynton Talbot. It should be worth attending the opening (6 May) and / or ringing (07598 778 985) to access a wide-ranging show by Philomene Pirecki - whose practice is much wider than the abstract paintings for which she is best-known - which will change over the generous run of the exhibition.

Durrington Towers I

David Hepher: A Song of the Earth and The Cry of Concrete @ Kings Place Gallery, 90 York Way – King’s Cross

6 May - 10 June:
The King’s Place Gallery has a lot of space, and will use it all to survey some of David Hepher’s largest landscapes. As the show’s title suggests, it will feature not just his fairly often-seen urban collage paintings – which powerfully relocate the aesthetic effects of graffiti and neglect from tower block to canvas – but also his less familiar views of rural France. Either way, social concerns are present, but take second place to the echoes of the modernist grid in tower blocks, organic forms in farms and the contrasts between paint and more literal materials… so maybe I haven’t yet moved so far from the theme of abstraction.

Jemima Stehli: set up, sound check, end @ Vegas Gallery, 274 Poyser Street – Cambridge Heath

6-15 May:
One of my January recommendations was Andrew Cross’s surprisingly absorbing 30 minute film of drumming, ‘The Solo’. Now Jemima Stehli comes forward with a much longer video of a four piece band setting up and taking down a show. Stehli herself has been the lead actor in her fascinating explorations of body and image over the last fifteen years, but has recently moved towards real-time set-ups in which she is behind the camera. Until now, though, they've been shown only abroad. Something of an exodus is occurring from Vyner Street, incidentally: Kate MacGarry and Madder139 are moving back to their original areas (in Shoreditch and near the Barbican respectively) and this is Vegas’s second show elsewhere following a brief occupancy of the former David Risley space. Meanwhile, back in Vyner Street's biggest gallery…


Miroslav Tichý @ Wilkinson Gallery,50-58 Vyner Street

6 May - 5 June: driven or politically incorrect? Miroslav Tichý, who has just died aged 85, was a trained artist restricted by the Czechoslovak Communist regime. From the late 60’s to mid 80’s, he made voyeuristic photographs of the women of Kyjov with a crude home-made pinhole cameras. So is it just the erratic focus, scratches, scribbles and awkward framing which turn them from his means of arousal into objects of art? Or was Tichý also marking out dissident territory, mindful of the political parallels of his thwarted desires and satirising the surveillance and paranoia of the state? Either way, this should prove a timely and (uncomfortably) alluring chance to take a view.

Images: courtesy relevant galleries and artists + Rob McKeever (Taaffe)

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


In the romantic tradition, the artist’s hand is the paradigm indicator of the personal touch of genius. I noticed, though, that several interesting works at Cologne’s recent Art Fair (13-17 April) featured hands in more literal ways, typically glancing ironically at the tradition of the artist’s hand while also addressing other concerns.

John Miller: Everything is Said #7, 2009 @ Christian Nagel, Cologne

This painting purports to give the viewer the high emotion they might want from art… but being from arch-conceptualist Miller, who also had a parallel show at the Museum Ludwig, we should be suspicious. Indeed, this is one of a series taken from the TV show ‘I Love New York’, and so depicts fake feelings only and stands in – given the context of Miller’s oeuvre – for the fakery which runs through modern societies at every level. Those hands aren’t covering up the unbearable, but the inauthentic. And that shit brown is Miller’s most characteristic colour: many things get covered in it, though he has been known to turn it to gold…

Pierre Bismuth: The Right Hand of Joan Crawford in ‘Dancing Lady’, 2009 @ Team, New York

Here we can easily follow the artist’s hand, and yet... This is from a series in which Bismuth tracks the manual movements of screen icons by drawing onto a Plexiglas projection of the film. Bismuth then shows the resulting scribble-like path over a still from the film, taken from the point at which their hands lose contact. It makes for interesting power relations: the touchingly romantic hand in hand gesture is at the same time a little creepily submissive, and the presentation at once venerates and threatens to obliterate the star.

Horst Antes
: White Profile with Long Yellow Arms @ Galerie Schlichtenmaier, Stuttgart

Horst Antes (born 1936) is one of those German artists (one might mention Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Gunther Forg, Imi Knoebel and Gunther Uecker) whose work crops up all over German fairs but is rarely seen in the UK. Taking de Kooning’s influence in a figurative rather than abstract direction in the early sixties, Antes developed his signature ‘Kopffüßler’ (‘Head-Footer’) figures, in which the head feeds directly into the legs with no intermediate body: it’s easy enough to read them as symbolising Germany’s cut down role in the post-war world. This looks like one of those, except that the edit means that there isn’t a body not to see, so to speak; and the hands take over from the eyes as the stunted man’s means of expression.

Laura Ford: Tree Figure, 2011 @ Scheffel, Frankfurt

Welsh sculptor Laura Ford was brought up in a fairground family, which fits almost too well with her surrealistically-tinged, slightly unsettling yet frankly appealing work. This tree figure economically combines human, animal and vegetable. But does it stand for our positive integration into the landscape, or a less healthy suggestion that no element of nature is safe from human takeover? Or, from the tree’s point of view, is the potential for animation liberating, or does it just make the lack of legs more of a frustration? Whatever the case, if those branches are arms, then this figure has a very useful number of hands.

Sterling Ruby: Transnailz / GPBRG, 2010 @ Foxy Productions, New York

The American sculptor, ceramist, painter and video maker assaults the masculine establishment power represented by minimalist structures with such antagonistic elements such as graffiti, social outsiderdom and explicit sexuality. Ruby has also cited the US’s maximum security prison system as the source of the ‘tension between an absolute repressive state and a liberated state’ in works such as this collage of sprayed card on plexiglass. It’s one of a series which combines geometric colourfields with found transsexual images (here just a well-nailed hand) and dribbles of nail varnish. I like how unenticing the description sounds, yet how insidiously attractive the object proves to be.

Claus Richter
: Self-Portrait in Black with Soft Arms @ Clages, Cologne

There was plenty of Gerhardt at the fair, but not major works; and I’ve never much liked Daniel’s lurid paintings; so it was left to the third-most-famous German artist called Richter to appeal – with this engagingly doleful self-portrait in fabric and felt with arms escaping the frame as if ready to carry himself away. Perhaps, his gallerist speculated, Claus was worn to a flop by the effort that went into two recent solo shows. One is still up at the Cologne Kunstverien, a feel-good archive of his 70’s childhood interests featuring hundreds of toys ranging from Mickey Mouse’s Ferris Wheel to Butterscotch the Electric Pony, from Polly Pocket doll accessories to Harry Potter’s castle.

Des Hughes: In a Brown Study @ Ancient & Modern, London

Des may well be only the third best known British artist called Hughes after Patrick and Richard, but the gaps are smaller than between the Richters. His work might be summarised as: modernist design meets medievalism in a masquerade of materials. Much of this ensemble, which comes complete with water in the boot and an oddly insistent light, is made of resin, for example. Being 'in a brown study', incidentally, is a phrase first recorded in the 16th century and meaning to be deep in depressing thoughts. The hand, incidentally, is made out of hundreds of smaller hands in a neat fractal.

Installation shot

Laura Owens @ Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

American painter Laura Owens is known for her refreshingly airy way with disparately-sourced imagery. So - although she has painted non-figuratively before - it was a surprise to see that she'd installed 14-strong banks of almost entirely abstract canvasses at Gisela Capitain (in one the many shows opening in Fair Week). They were also square, lively and bright to the point of occasional fluorescence – and quite a few sported clock-style hands which provided the bonus of movement and changes in the relationships between the paintings’ elements.

The wounded Vija Celmins makes the most of her good hand...

Vija Celmins: Desert, Sea and Stars @ the Museum Ludwig, Cologne

The star guest at Art Cologne was Vija Celmins (say ‘Veeya Selmins’), who had flown in from New York to install a severe, sublime, black-and- white-only retrospective of skies, oceans, deserts and webs - despite having broken her right wrist. She said she attempts to represent what interests her in a totally different – because small and flat – world, and to make that world more real than the memory in your head. The beauty is an incidental bi-product of her meditation on how much she can see, but one which certainly helps draw viewers into their own intense looking. You probably know the work, so here she is with her limited action hand.

Ayako Rokkaku: ‘Colours in My Hand’ hand-painting performance @ Delaive, Amsterdam

Japanese artist Ayako Rokkaku put in long days demonstrating the self-taught way in which she makes all her paintings: directly by hand. She’s repeating the public production process at Amsterdam’s Fair in May. I‘m not sure her post-Murakami pastel-teenypop style’s for me, and Baselitz and Sasnall remain my favorites among painters currently adept at fingerwork. Nonetheless, she certainly added to the fun of the Fair, and I have to hand it to her for grasping my theme…

Paul McCarthy at the entrance to Art Cologne

As for the Rhine as an April art destination: though Art Cologne, founded in 1967, was the market leader twenty years ago, it’s now less international and doesn’t have quite the same capacity to make major statements as the premium fairs in Basel, London, New York and Miami. Nor are there satellite fairs. On the other hand, Cologne is less crowded; there is still more than enough to see, especially if you like painting, which dominates; many German galleries are of a high standard; and the quantity and quality of contemporary art on offer across the adjacent cities of Dusseldorf, Cologne and Bonn taken together is probably comparable to London. They’re pleasant cities, too, so all-in-all it’s a worthwhile option for mid-April.

Photo credits: relevant galleries and artists + Simon Vogel (Laura Owens)and Art Cologne (view of the Fair)

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.