Saturday, 30 June 2012


Existing galleries continue to expand and new ones to open. Among the heavyweights  Sadie Coles has four shows at the moment,  and Pace moves into Burlington House and  David Zwirner into Grafton Street in October. And almost all of this month's ten are recent expansions or creations - including a whole clutch in Deptford ...

Lello // Arnell: Echo Chamber @ Beers Lambert, 1 Baldwin Street - Hoxton

5 July – 12 August:

Beers Lambert hasn’t moved so far west as some, but – like everyone except Wilkinson – has left Vyner Steet. Cool and sardonic Scandinavian pair Jørgen Craig Lello & Tobias Arnell open the new space with what looks like an elegant set of modernist-styled works, but is actually full of conflict and deception.  A grey canvas proves more of a fight than a collaboration between black and white;  Richard Dawkins’ evolutionary message is distorted by Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling; a Charles Eames chair becomes an atavistic mask… The well-considered focus is on how we understand – or misunderstand - the past, and how those versions of the past live on in the present.

Peter Callesen

The End @ Jacob’s Island Gallery, 56 Butler’s &  Colonial Wharf, 10-11 Shad Thames –  Bermondsey
To 28 July:

There are times when I groan ‘enough skulls!’, but this modern reworking of black humoured momento mori motifs isn’t one of them. The highlights include artist-curator-gallerist James Hopkins’ sculptural mirror anamorphosis, which turns a jaw-bone-like shape into a full skull when seen reflected in a beer can; Darren Coffield’s upside-down skull paintings; and mordant Dane Peter Callesen’s intricate paper cut-out of a skeleton looking back at the man he used to be, presented alongside a film of the artist in a cemetery, reading out his own drily absurd eulogy (‘how many nights we sat up late talking…’).  Mat Collishaw, Hugh Mendes and John Stark are among those adding to the gloomy entertainment.

Kaari Upson: Baby Please Come Home @ Massimo De carlo, 55 South Audley StMayfair

To 30 July: 
After lying low a while in Heddon Street, Milan’s biggest contemporary gallery has expanded into what looks an impressive two room space at street level even before  you find the six subterranean rooms. They contain the first substantial British showing of work from on-trend LA artist Kaari Upson’s ‘Larry Project’, in which she picks over the personal papers and largely burnt-out remains of a house inhabited my a seedy man she never knew, but whose identity she seeks to hijack. Ritualised drawings, durational video performances and dramatic installations rendered from the house in charred wood,  latex, mud and silicone all pile on the intense analysis of herself through him. 

porn star eyes
Sadie Hennessy: Strange Hungers @ WW Gallery, 34/5 Hatton Garden – Farringdon

To 14 July:
The ‘elephant in the room’ at WW’s new space is tackled head on in the collage of that name, in which a 50s housewife gets to grips with a phallus almost as outrageously-sized as those which do duty as lighthouses elsewhere. The brazen invention continues as we find ourselves looking up a skirt made of hair while swimming goggles bat their eyelashes and a zimmer frame prepares to party. More subtly, the acting modes of wholesome advertising and pornography collapse into each other as we struggle to read a lack of innocence into stuck-on porn star eyes. Laugh as we might, Hennessy hits the target of how sexual commodification gets in everywhere.

Installation View with 'Stripped Biographies' and 'Press Release'

James Brooks: The Information Exchange @ Domo Baal (co-presented by Man & Eve), 3 John St – Holborn
 To 14 July then by appointment, performance evening of Thurs 19 July
Lucy Newman Cleeve’s excellent notes do more justice than I can to the subversive conceptual play behind James Brooks’ formally elegant work, a sort of imageless and textless critique of how we use images and text. Thus are newspapers obliterated by their own ink as if in a surfeit of news, stories layered into geometries which emphasise the trammeling formats they must follow; and disparate lives unified by the stripping of 26 biographies’ dust jackets, and the show's press release turned into a work. There’s sound too, and Phil Spector’s becomes a wall of discord when 21 of his tracks are played at once… 

Angel Vergara: Berlusconi Pasolini @ news of the world, Enclave 3, Resolution Way - Deptford

To 29 July:
Deptford has reached critical mass as an art destination just six minutes from London Bridge with the opening of several new project spaces a few flicks of paint from the railway station. Excellent artists feature in Lubomirov-Easton and Enclave Projects’ group shows, and, at news of the world, Angel Vergara, Belgium’s representative at the last Venice Biennale, has an impactful first UK exhibition: his unique way of painting onto video footage matches the excess of the contemporary image stream with equally arbitrary brushstrokes trying to follow the movement. Here the method is applied to Pasolini’s denunciation of the Italian media just as we see Berlusconi (before his fall from what was hardly grace) attacked with the bizarrely appropriate weapon of a statuette of the Milano Dome. 

Nadine Fecht: 3 by 4

Pencil and Paper @ Poppy Sebire, 6 Copperfield St – Southwark

Danny Rolph has exploited two rich seams to bring together 14 works which make telling use of basic means, pencil and paper. First, access to Spruth Magers’s collection, yielding for example a feisty George Condo and an angry Marcel van Eeden; second, commissions from artists he admires, such as a delicately sensuous Chris Ofili and a poetically conceptual Anna Barribal. And I loved the exacting instabilities of Nadine Fecht, who  made me feel that her intricate geometries were still in process: no sooner did I get a grip on one area than a neighbouring zone swam away…  her being German, my mind then leaped absurdly to the Euro crisis…

Russlan Daskalov: on the beach at the sunsetsunrise

La Düsseldorf  @ Hidde van Seggelen Gallery,  2 Michael Rd – World’s End, Chelsea

To 28 July:

Professor Thomas Grunfeld of the famous Künstakademie Düsseldorf, who showed his own work at the gallery last year, makes a selection of eight former pupils. His influence can be witnessed especially in Russlan Daskalov’s punchily comical use of computerised ellipses. ‘Why all nude women?’: I asked –‘So that I enjoy making them’, came the attractively straightforward reply.  Others seem to resist their master’s influence pretty successfully, including Anna Mirbach: her frescos, heavier than her, fuse industrial abstraction with crystalline and organic semi-figuration which emerges through a process of carving into polystyrene to make the negative from which their pigmented concrete forms are cast. 

Anthony Hall: Continual Slow Drip

On the Move @ The Gazelli Arthouse, 39 Dover St - Central

To 16 Aug:

There’s dark life at the heart of Gazelli’s four-artist third show following its move to a permanent space. Charlotte Becket makes angular crushes of discarded black plastic which turn out on closer engagement to be expanding somewhat creepily into your space, with a sound whihc could be of crystalline growth. Science serves artistic flow in Anthony Hall’s liquid sculptures:  a ‘Perpetual Puddle Vortex’ makes oil disappear into the middle of a plinth, only to reappear thanks to interior motor and marbles; and ‘Continual Slow Drip’ effects a globular take on  Charles Ray’s 1987 ‘Ink Line’ by having a mixture of olive oil and black paint blink its way down a fishing line. Hyo Myoung Kim and Giovanni Ozzola also make their moves. 

Donelle Wooldford(s)
A Trusted Friend @ Carlos/Ishikawa, Unit 4, 88 Mile End Rd - Whitechapel

This is a slippery show to get hold of, but that’s au point, as all the artists show under alter egos. Joe Scanlan, for example, lures you into the suspiciously attractive cubist wood collages of Donelle Woolford, only to pull the rug out with the absurdly inflated claims she makes for them (including, at the opening, in answering the questions of a similar-looking woman with whom she’d swapped roles by the end of the interview). The gallery also gets disguised: a version of it is being painted onto it, and the controls for the lift – to imaginary floors –  turn out to alter the lighting unpredictably. In the dark? You may be… but it’s fun.

Images courtesy of the relevant artists and galleries + Andy Keate (Brooks)

Saturday, 23 June 2012


In which, armed only with a European Rail Pass, a shamefully underused German phrase book and an extravagant six days off work, I tackled Frankfurt, Zurich, Basel, Kassel, Hanover and Hamburg in a city spree which encompassed the major events of Art Basel and the thirteenth in the quinquennial Documenta - or, as curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev would have it, dOCUMENTA (13) . Here’s a small pick from the excess…

Omer Fast

Frankfurt has wonderful banking-backed institutions, and several were involved in a thorough overview of lens-based work, ‘Making History’, on how historical happenings are reflected in the images of today. This also proved to be the first part of an impressive Omer Fast survey: ‘Take a Deep Breath’, builds dizzying layers of reality and unreality on the back of the making of a film inspired by an incident in which someone found they had called first aid for a suicide bomber. It was to be followed by ‘Continuity’ in Kassel, ‘Game Show’ in Hannover and ‘Nostalgia’ in Hamburg,  all highlighting the Berlin-based Israeli’s ability to show differently repeating iterations of material in compelling way which expose the artificiality of ‘the truth’.. .

Jorge Macchi

Zurich has special openings of all its galleries on the Sunday prior to each Art Basel, and this was also the reopening after two years of the refurbished Lowenbrau building. There Hauser & Wirth now have one of Europe’s biggest galleries, spread over three floors.  Roni Horn’s drawing retrospective was good, as was a sharp and funny selection of Ger van Elk’s 70’s work at Bob van Osouw; Silvie Defraoui’s videos (especially ‘Aphrodite Ping Pong’), cunningly linked to a neat painting show at Susanna Kulli; young British painter Benjamin Senior at Bolte Lang; and Jorge Macchi’s ‘Light & Weight’ at Peter Klichmann, in which the ingenious  ‘Illumination’ made the show’s title literal by casting the beams from torches in concrete so that they formed a star of heavy light.

Koons' 'Split Rocker' in the Beyeler gardens

Basel’s too-much-to-see in its busiest week included many interlocking shows, talks and events  in addition to the central concept of  250 world class galleries selling their best work: I also got to Art Edition, Art Features, Art Unlimited and Art Statements on the main site; Art Parcours in the city; the separate Liste, Volta and Solo Projects fairs; and concurrent shows around Basel, of which the highlight – as everyone I spoke to agreed – was a stunning presentation of Jeff Koons at the Foundation Beyeler.

Horoshi Sugimoto
There must be 10,000 works to choose from, but one comparatively unassertive one which surprised and drew me was a set of five sculptures by Hiroshi Sugimoto. They  relate to his much better-known photographs of the sea, which he depicts in patiently-awaited periods of meditative calm. Here, the images of five seas were set inside glass pagoda-come globes, placed on tall plinths to integrate the world, its seas and man.

Mike Nelson
The biggest hall houses ‘Art Unlimited’,  projects sponsored by participating galleries, with a tendency towards the spectacular. In Mike Nelson’s ‘After Kerouac’ the oddly non-Turner-winning Nelson turns literature into a space as usual, but not through a  warren of atmospheric rooms, but  single architecturally striking form: a spiralling white corridor covered in black tyre marks stands in for the single continuous scroll on which On the Road was famously typed, leading one into a central zone suddenly piled with tyres.

Alicja Kwade
Alicja Kwade’s ‘In Circles’ brings us from spiral to circles: an installation of particularly richly textured found objects which the artist has somehow bent to her will, citing the definition of a circle as ‘a special ellipse in which the two foci are coincident and the eccentricity is zero’ only to make a most eccentric world out of it. 

Gitte Schäfer: 'Flower Wall'
28 young galleries are invited to produce single artist projects in the ‘Art Statements’ section. Zurich’s Lullin + Ferrari had the highest-maintenance stand, made by upcoming German artist Gitte Schäfer. Like many, she collects items to turn into sculptural combinations, but like Kwade she brings a rare flair to the process: 288 whimsically distinctive vases were installed on a mirror wall, and a Rorschach-shape’s worth of them were filled with locally-sourced blooms to make a vanitas regularly freshened from a veritable florist at the back of the stand. Cue intricate rhythms and references to the vanitas tradition and religious triptychs’ grisaille outer wings (here left flowerless).

Rosemary Trockel
By no means everything in the Fair is new, and Rosemary Trockel’s  prints of found images of spider webs at Klosterfelde is a classic from 1993.  The eight spiders in question had been given various drugs, so altering the natural web pattern shown in the centre to versions which would struggle to operate in fly-catching practice. They  provide a different spin on the artist’s own creativity, the advantages of getting outside oneself, as flagged by the title 'What it is like to be what you are not';  and on Trockel’s own best-known method, the weaving of ‘paintings’.

Levi van Veluw
Four artists new to me who particularly impressed in the subsidiary fairs were kinetic sculptor Pa Lang; process abstractionist Andy Boot, whose latest paintings use gymnastic ribbons fixed in a wax ground; Dutch painter Greet van Autgaerden, who bases abstracted landscapes on communally-collected childhood memories of summer camps; and  - staying with childhood memories - Levi van Veluw’s amazing reconstruction (at the Ron Mandos Gallery in Volta) of his boyhood bedroom by means of a life size room made out of wooden blocks suitable for young builders at play.

Of course, many familiar artists showed well: I could mention Neo Rauch, Walead Beshty, Doug Aitken, Los Carpinteros, Alexis Harding, Peter Funch, Daniel Lergon, Sarah Barker and Boo Ritson or I could desist...

Matias Faldbakken
On to Kassel, where there’s more work than one person could see fully and more themes than one person could assess - though you can buy a vast ‘Book of Books’ in which a hundred people do so between them. The trends include:

·         lots of material which wasn’t created as art, but is now presented as such, making the curatorial team the artists

·         myriad excavations of the past – both historically and in terms of how work was produced

·         a whole pile of accumulation pieces, some rigorously orderly (Korbinian Aigner’s apple paintings, Geoffrey Farmer’s vast shadow puppet collage, Sanya Ivekovic’s stuffed donkeys), some far from it (Song Dong’s ‘zero effort’ garden hills, Lara Favaretto’s scrapyard, Matias Faldbakken’s book-spill in the city library)

·         a thoroughgoing – if sometimes slightly wearying – use of ‘unexpected’ locations around the city
·         plenty of paintings, but not by famous painters: they’re almost all either by-products of people who mainly do other things, or attempts to revive interest in long-unfashionable artists, most of them dead. That was part of a strenuous effort to foreground the overlooked... despite which, the work I liked best was almost all by artists already well-known to me

What you really want to concentrate on if visiting Documenta is ambitious, knock-out work which is unlikely to be as good anywhere else. As it happens, much of that is in two areas somewhat away from the main Friderichsplatz centre:

The old railway station has compelling work by many artists, including Clemens von Wedemeyer, Tejal Shah, Willie Doherty, Haris Epaminonda & Gustav Cramer and also:

·         a half hour personal video tour by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, which is spookily effective in placing you between your present, her present when recording it, and the pasts she talks about.

·         William Kentridge’s tour de force installation ‘The Refusal of Time’, with five large walls projections across three walls, plus sculptural and kinetic elements

Haegue Yang
 ·       Haegue Yang’s stately dance of blinds along an abandoned platform
·         Rabih Mroué’s account of the self-documentation of the deaths of Syrian protesters

And the zone around the Huguenot House, newly converted to artists’ studios as artworks by Theaster Gates, has:

·         Tino Sehgal’s remarkably effective, if not remarkably deep, ‘This Variation’. I entered a pitch black room which felt crowded with other visitors. Soon, I realised it was just me and a dozen performers, who dance around you making noises, calling out words and singing – a stunning a Capella version of ‘Good Vibrations’ is mixed in with statements about the value of art. After five minutes your eyes adjust, and the visual interest of the movement comes into play. Then some other visitors did come in, adding a comic element as they stumbled around in their turn for initial confusion. After fifteen minutes of what seemed to be a forty minute basic cycle, I was sufficiently in vibe to pretend to be a performer when the next newcomers arrived…

·         A gently resonant installation of paintings by Francis Alys
·         Paul Chan’s ‘Volumes Incompleteset’ – six hundred book covers on which the artist has painted in grisaille

·         Gerard Byrne’s multi-screen re-enactment of collaged conversations from surrealist writing, set up to answer questions about male sexual attitudes. ‘Can you tell if a woman has an orgasm?’ - ‘What do you think of onanism?’ - ‘Must love be reciprocal?’.  How much of our speech is an act?

So there you have a handily compact eight of my personal top dozen from Documenta. The others being largely accumulations in line with the trend:

Kader Attia
·  Kader Attia’s  ‘The Repair’ at the top of the main Fridericianum venue is a teeming installation which makes a stunning full and disturbing backwards historical comparison between African wooden heads and the faces of those injured in World War I

Anna Maria Maiolino

·   Anna Maria Maiolino’s obsessive accumulation of clay items ‘Here & There’, which fills an entire  gardener’s cottage in Karlsaue Park, where you’ll also find…

Sam Durant
·  Sam Durant’s ‘Scaffold’, which looks innocuous but proves to be a mash-up of the gallows on which famous executions took place.
Tacita Dean

·  Tacita Dean’s blackboard drawing project ‘Fatigues’ linked Kassel to Afghanistan – a set theme for this Documenta – and was ideally placed in the unlikely site of a former tax office.  

Sven Johne
As luck would have it, I arrived in Hannover just in time for the annual ‘Museum Night’, with 19 spaces open till midnight and served by a fleet of specially laid-on buses.   The perfect way to take in the three venue ‘Made in Germany Zwei’, surveying the work of 45 up and coming artists working in Germany – whether German or not – and a good mixture of those new to me and those already well-known internationally (Cyprian Gallaird, Rosa Barba, Saadane Afif, Keren Cytter, Ulla von Brandenburg, Simon Fujiwara, Bernd Ribeck, Shannon Bool, Mike Bouchet…). I like a good reason to look at the perversely nondescript, and conceptual photographer Sven Johne - another who seemed to crop up in every city – provided that with a large series of somewhat muddied, semi-urban fields. They resulted from him following the circus he remembered from his East German boyhood, and documenting the sites just after the tent had been dismantled.

Louise Bourgeois
The Kunsthalle in Hamburg is Germany’s biggest and, indeed, with only three hours in the city I got no further. The pick of its current special exhibitions is of late work – ie after age 85! – by Louise Bourgeois. It includes several cycles of the textile works made from her own old clothes, which Bourgeois saw as an exercise in the memory of ‘how did I feel when I wore that?’. Many of them turn on the spiral, which fascinated her for its ambiguity: was it winding down into a compressed point of disappearance or radiating out into a trusting acceptance of the world? The spiral appears in the sky in the cycle The Waiting Hours, which makes for a visual match with the Jorge Macchi above…

That’s enough Euro madness.

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.