Wednesday 29 August 2012


Every now and again I jot down impressions of an interesting piece but for one reason or another don’t feature the show in a top ten for the month – a combination of timing, balance and the simple fact that I can only choose some 5% of shows considered. I was surprised to find that these jottings covered so many works this year. Here they are in a daisy chain of sorts… from geometry to atmosphere in landscape, from fire to eye closure, light, foam, water, sand, movements from the centre, wood, the Dali-esque, violence, politics, flowers, fruit, found objects and an unrestrained blaze of colour to finish.

Guy Allot: Blue Pylon, 2012 at Madder 139, May-June

London-based painter Guy Allot looks at how we seek to explore and control nature, and has used spaceships and American pioneers to represent that spirit. The latter led him  to  energise landscapes to striking effect by  showing us the view through a hole in a tree – inspired by Californian giant redwoods you can drive under. ‘Blue Pylon’ varies this by applying a sort of constructivist fragmentation to the scene by means of a pylon. This, like the tree paintings, plays with how we frame what we see, and also has the pictorial logic of generating a serendipitous cubism while implying the human impact on the landscape in a fresh way.


Bella Easton: Geometric Hearts, 2012 in the Royal Academy Summer Show, June-Aug

Much of the Summer Show may be lacking in adventure, but there are always enough highlights to constitute a satisfying sub-exhibition. This year they included Bella Easton's 48 hand drawn copper plate etchings printed onto copper, watercolour and paper. The burnished repetitions enact a complexly fragmented dance between architectural and natural, and between pattern and image - enhanced here by how the reflected branches form heart-shapes which suggest an emotional overlay at odds, perhaps, with the rational order.


Diane Arbus: A House on a Hill, Hollywood, 1963 in 'Affinities' at the Timothy Taylor Gallery, July - Aug

There must be 50 Diane Arbus photos which everyone likely to have seen this show will know, but only a couple of them were in this refreshing 35-strong choice covering her mature years of 1956-71: instead there were less often seen examples of her theatrically surreal full-on portrait studies, such as ‘Two Girls in identical raincoats, Central Park, NYC’; several from an intriguing London series of  look-alikes, including Valentino, Churchill and Elizabeth Taylor; female impersonators seen making up; and two landscapes which are not just empty of people, but of substance, too – this movie set house and a screen of clouds at a drive-in.

Jane & Louise Wilson: from the eight photograph suite Atomgrad (Nature Abhors a Vacuum) (2010) in ‘Moments of Reprieve’ at Paradise Row, July-Sept

The former David Roberts’ space served as Paradise Row offsite for a persuasively-curated photographic show about loss. It included the Wilsons’ hauntingly detailed depictions of deserted interiors from the ‘atom city’ of Pripyat, near Chernobyl, which was abandoned in such a hurry in 1986 that the everyday was left to decay.  A yardstick appears within each image, marking scale and functioning as an indicator of the scientific objectivity which could be said to have fallen down here. 


Guillermo Kuitca: Untitled (Guille), 2011 in his solo show at Hauser & Wirth, June-July

What may look like a abstract canvas by Argentina’s leading painter has a lot of personal and collective history behind it: the mountain-like forms derive from Kuitca’s memorialisation of modernism, itself parallelling remembrance of the fate of those oppressed in the military dictatorship in which Kuitca grew up; and the coloured lines are from unmoored cartographies which speak of alienation and losing the right way and can be traced back in turn to Kuitca’s affecting 1990’s paintings of maps on mattresses.

Caragh Thuring: Mr Fabris, 2011 in ‘Troubling Space’ at the Zabulowicz Collection, July – Aug

This was the most recent of five splendid paintings by Caragh Thuring in a show which sought ‘to trouble the very definition of space’. Thuring’s characteristic oil on unprimed and largely uncovered linen does indeed play with multiple pictorial spaces, and gives the impression that a volcano painted small has exploded to splattering effect. Did the titular Mr Fabris have a comparable temper? Not, Thuring told me, so far as she knows - but the 18th century Italian painter Pietro Fabris was known for his depictions of volcanic activity. 

Emma McNally: Carbon Sounding in 'Atoms, Insects, Mountains, Stars' at Trinity Contemporary, Feb-March

On the one hand Emma McNally’s drawings are decidedly erudite: she’s studied philosophy, science, literature and music. She cites Merleau-Ponty for his interest in inter-connectedness, and in what it means for the world and the self to be ‘made for each other’; and Deleuze & Guatarri’s quotation of music critic Gisele Brelet, who suggested how through ‘the labour of rhythm’ Messiaen conveys the relations between the infinitely long durations of the stars and the mountains and the infinitely short durations of insects and atoms.  On the other hand, and independent of theory, the heavy charcoal wash and glimmer of buried nails which form Carbon Sounding have a direct ethereal beauty somewhere between night sky and molecular diagram. McNally wanted, she says, ‘to look at dark, sonorous rhythms like a drone or a deep hum’.

Mohammad Ali Talpur: See Saw in ‘Alif’ at Green Cardamom, June-July

It’s a shame that Green Cardamom is moving away from physical exhibition as its five years in Portchester Place have showcased an eclectic range of projects from an Indian Ocean perspective. A strong finish was provided by the Pakistani artist Mohammad Ali Talpur (born Hyderabad, 1976). He has gained attention for intricate drawings which bring a rhythmic delicacy to a grid arrived at through the traditions of the Indian miniature and of calligraphy, rather than through modernism. Here he added – in a new departure - an oddly hypnotic video with parallel minimalism of means: simply Talpur himself winking from eye to eye – see 

Rudolf Polanszky: Koma - Night and Sleep Drawing, 1983 at Ancient & Modern, March - April

I like both the application of unusual processes and the dance between conscious and sub-conscious which occurs when  process is left to run. The Viennese artist Rudlof Polanszky (b.1951), a close associate of the recently late Franz West, ticked those boxes with the impressively-scaled ‘night sleep drawing’. Polanszky attached brushes dipped in red, blue and yellow paint to his body, legs and head before turning in on his bed of paper. Come morning, he had ‘painted’ the somnambulant  coma.

Dan Holdsworth: blackout 8 in 'Transmission: New Remote Earth Views' at Branco Grimaldi, March-May

Branco Grimaldi’s Dan Holdsworth show included as adjunct several of the 21 large scale prints from his Blackout series of 2010. The images, though triggered by power failures in New York, are of darkly volcanic Icelandic mountains - but printed in negative, so that they look like crystalline ice against a cloudy sky which emerges pitch black. The effect, at once sublime and alien, emphasises the variety of images implicit in one data source, something taken further by Holdsworth in the show's more recent work, which turns digital data directly into sculptural maps.  

Otto Peine: Untitled in ‘Otto Peine: Retrospective’ at the Mayor Gallery, May-July

Following on from Henk Peeters and Bernard Aubertin, Otto Peine’s show  made for a recent hatrick of Mayor Gallery solos for the Zero Group artists who – along with Yves Klein, a close friend of Peine – are probably the best-known users of fire in painting.  In Peine’s case, fire is part of an overarching interest in light rather than destruction, and this pure and beautifully coloured ‘fire gouache’ from 1962 fits in with that. It involved mixing a circle of inflammable paste with the paint, setting light to it, and tipping up the still-wet canvas during the process.  

Roberto Almagno: Ancora in ‘The Perfection of Form’ at Rosenfeld Porcini, May-June

Roman sculptor Roberto Almagno’s obsessively worked-over forms were a good match for the high-end design of the London redoubt of the Galleria Napoli Nobilissima. They’re made from fallen tree branches, which Almagno smooths back and moulds using a combination of fire and water, then paints matt grey. The best of them retain the curve of the edited tree yet take on a paradoxically metallic appearance and essay some very unarboreal conjunctions. Titles such as ‘Solleva’ (calling forth), ‘Sciamere’ (memory) and ‘Ancora’ (again) signal spiritual ambitions, but their strength remains in formal elegance assisted by the installation’s  effective use of shadows.

Bettina Buck: Filed Foam at Rokeby, June-July

The stand-out work in Bettina Buck’s joint show with Peggy Franck was the former’s ‘Filed Foam’, which trod a neat line between logical and daft. An imposing 140kg limestone boulder pinned three heavily outgunned pieces of cut foam against the wall like the ultimate bookmark. Seen as a performance, as is typical of Buck’s materials, the stone – consisting, of course, of dead animal matter and standing in for the artist – had already undergone its transformations; but the exposed areas of foam were set to go yellow over the course of the exhibition, which felt like an escape act of sorts. 

Anna Molska: Hecatomb in ‘Stage and Twist’ at Tate Modern, May-Oct
Romanian Cyprian Muresam and Pole Anna Molska make for an interesting pairing , imported from Warsaw’s Museum of Modern Art to Tate Modern’s project space. Muresan, perhaps best-known for his satirical films of puppet characters, explores the Soviet legacy through a ghostly view of what was once Europe’s biggest tractor factory and a wall of 40 young ‘Pioneers’  either playing at blowing a bag to bursting.. or sniffing glue.  But Molska provides the most striking image: the ceremonial sacrifice of a hundred cattle conjured by the title of her video ‘Hecatomb’ leads to scenes of a man in a greenhouse attempting to whip a deluge of foam.  

Ciprian Muresan: Communist Manifesto, 2006 in Wilkinson’s summer show, August

Here the said Romanian, who often deals with the retrospective aspects of his country’s former regime, presents a Pig Latin version of the Communist Manifesto. That’s more a procedure than a translation, moving the starting consonant from any words not starting with a vowel to the end of the word; and then adding ‘ay’ or ‘way’. Thus ‘red’ becomes ‘edray’. So what does Muresan's reduction of Marx & Engels to a linguistic game say about the ability of communism (or its successors) to present the old as new and the obvious as obscure? Was it always just umbomay umbojay?

Song Dong: Writing Diary with Water in the Hayward Gallery’s ‘Invisible’, June-July

I have a list of completely invisible art – works which could have been included in the Hayward’s survey of the genre ‘Art about the Unseen, 1957-2012’, but were not…  Photographs of Song Dong making diary entries were, though, in that entertaining show: he claims to have written them in water on the same stone each day since 1995. There’s nothing to see, but the meditative practice removes the risk from the diary getting into the wrong hands even as it becomes, says the Chinese artist, ‘thicker day by day’ with his thoughts.

Klaus Weber: Sandfountain at Stratford in Frieze Projects July-Aug

Inventive German artist Klaus Weber has previous with fountains: you may have seen his statues spewing from every possible orifice on the South Bank or the LA fountain he made be arranging for a car to crash into a standpipe. Having heard that he had re-engineered a fountain for Frieze's Olympic-linked project programme to run with sand instead of water, I envisaged a good spray to not-soak me, but in fact the work was a trickle-down more meditative than spectacular. Given which, thoughts turned soon enough to how sand might replace water more widely as global warming takes hold... 

David Claerbout: The Quiet Shore in ‘The Time that Remains’ at the Parasol Unit, June-Aug

Belgian video artist David Claerbout’s thematically interconnected and labyrinthinely simple work explores temporality with rare poetry and rigour. ‘The Time That Remains’ ranged from the fourteen hour ‘Bordeaux Piece’ to projections in which what looks at first like a narrative proves to be many stills taken of the same scene at the same moment but from different places. In what Claerbout calls ‘a marriage between duration and space’, ‘The Quiet Shore’ takes half an hour to build up views of a French beach, enabling the viewer to explore the scene far more intimately than would be possible in reality, while being kept simultaneously at a distance from the human relations depicted. Therein lays the tension which ensures that, in Claerbout’s words again, ‘when you are looking at a photograph you are not looking at a photograph’. 


Tina Tsang: Memories of Life on Earth in ‘Psychopomp’ at Mead Carney July-Aug

Mead Carney, a new space promising a varied programme, kicked off with what was, oddly enough, the third recent show I’ve seen called ‘Psychopomp(s)’, following on from Marcus Coates and Polly Morgan. Singaporean ceramicist Tina Tsang’s first full foray into art featured complex mythical figures surrounded by a dozen giant seashells, each held out by hands emerging from the wall. They lured you in close to hear vignettes of desire and experience: heartbeats, bells, voices and sounds of love as well, of course, as the sea. If that sounds corny, it worked beautifully in practice as a refreshingly unironic take on memories’ molluscian softness  in the context of its exo-skeleton. 

Aglaé Bassens: Exposed, 2011 in 'The Perfect Nude' at Charlie Smith, July 

‘The Perfect Nude’ had pretty much the same content as its eponyme in Wimbledon during January to March. The hundred nudes felt more attuned to July, but this creamily provocative painting by Belgian-born recent Slade graduate Aglaé Bassens made more sense second time around: while hinting at performance and fairytale contexts, Bassens’ decision to keep a fur coat of sorts in reserve gained an extra logic from the kind of summer we’d had…

Christoph Ruckhäberle: Untitled in 'Die Stadt' (The City) at Campoli Presti, June – July

As Leipzig School work goes, Christoph Ruckhäberle’s paintings are unusually colourful, humorous and patterned. He describes the world inhabited by his stylised and timeless characters as “a construction of reality, not a representation or impression”, and that’s a good fit for the lively rhythm of these noses and wigs, inspired by the fast cut sequencing of German cinema in the 1920’s. Yet for all their jaunty surface, these figures interlock rather than interact: maybe there’s a melancholy undertow here, a suggestion of the depersonalising effect of  frenetic and over-informed lives .

Nikolai Ishchuk: Offset 536 in the London Open at the Whitechapel Gallery, July-Sept

The London Open was well put together but plenty of the work seemed of limited substance. Among the exceptions were Nikolai Ishchuk’s computer-manipulations of found photographs to undermine conventional displays of domestic bliss. He used the ‘Offest’ command in Photoshop (with the number of pixels shifted completing the titles) to remove the original closeness between family members by shuttling central contact to the edges, setting up large ‘negative spaces’ appropriate to the statistical likelihood that all will end in tears. Are photo albums, asks Ishchuk, ‘merely cover-ups for what is really managed distance’? 

Kim Lim:  INTERVALS II, 1973 at Tate Modern

These pine units  by the still-underappreciated Singapore-born wife of William Turnbull (1936-97) recently emerged from the Tate’s storage is something of a minimalist analogue for Ishchuk.  Lim actually gave several allowable ways of displaying the three pieces, so altering the relative placements of its elements – but none of those endorsed are flat on the wall,  Lim explained her interest here as being in ‘that space between wall and floor - the tension set up by the vertical, horizontal and the angle’.

Richard Woods: Man Cutting Wood no. 4 (2011) in the Creative Cities Collection at the Barbican (August)

There’s a whiff of home improvement in Richard Woods’ practice, which connects art with architecture and design to explore the place of handmade decorative designs in a machine-driven functional age.  He often uses colourful vinyl woodgrain, which feeds the joke in this retro-tinged mini-assembly line of sawing. It might also be seen as a sly self-reference to the shaping of Woods, who was just  one of 60 British-based artists purchased for this Chinese collection by a London-based curatorial team headed by Sylvia Zhan: it made for a very lively Olympic display at the Barbican before it headed east. 

Claus Larsen: Metamorphosis in the Creative Cities Collection at the Barbican (August)

The Creative Cities event also showcased hundreds of acquisitions from China and across the world. It would be kind to call these hit and miss, as the hit rte was very low, but it was hard to resist Danish painter Claus Larsen’s balletic retake of Dali’s  famous 1937 Paranoiac-critical work, Swans Relecting Elephants. Elsewhere in Larsen’s fauna-tweaking mode, penguins fly over a city, a gorilla wears a snake-scarf and an ermine holds the woman who held it in Leonardo’s original. And speaking of revisiting art history…

Dexter Dymoke: Flume in 'A Rain of Stars' at Nettie Horn, July-Aug

Dexter Dymoke could have followed on from the wood-themed works, as he’s an ex-carpenter who has increasingly escaped his natural material. But this is also another Dali-derived joke: the idea that the curtain could be too heavy for its pelmet carries the absurdity of a melting watch, regardless of whatever light the sculpture tries to throw on itself.  The title also suggests that the fall is of water, and the combination of neon/rock with fabric/water fitted in with Dymoke’s repeated combination of two disparate items to transform how we saw both.

  The Gao BrothersThe Execution of Christ in 'Death' at SHOWstudio Shop, June-Aug

The Gao Brothers – whose father never returned from his arrest in 1968 – have frequently subverted Mao’s continuing official status in China through such means as giving him breasts or making him pray. SHOWstudio gave a first European presentation  of a piece banned from returning to China, in which Goya’s original is used as a means triggering one myth while dismantling another. Mao was taller than you might think –  5ft 11 -  but seems even bigger set square in heavy bronze as seven of him dispatch the man who might be described as the saviour of the capitalist world…   

Piotr Janas: Untitled, 2011 in his solo show at the ICA, July–Sept

What I liked about Polish painter Piotr Janas’ creepy concatenations of fleshy gloops with geometric abstraction was how long I disliked them – a good few minutes – before I found myself attuned to their particular brand of ugliness. The livid inter-penetrations of mechnical and organic feel unoriginal – Bellmer, Bacon, Thek and West come readily to mind – yet oddly different; and so they reach that clichéd tipping point at which the compulsively bad becomes the inexplicably good.

Gordon Cheung: Tulipmania edition at Alan Cristea Gallery, July-August

When I first saw Gordon Cheung’s work (at the Keith Talent Gallery in 2002) his use of stock
market listings as a ground charged with social and economic trauma might have seemed of short-term topicality… but on the contrary. Cheung has recently used the tulip as a subject, referencing the still life of the Dutch golden age and also the infamous speculative bubble of 1636-7, when a bulb could cost more than a house before prices collapsed. The print versions, pepped up by hand-applied blob-streaks of paint, strike me as more reliable investments.
Edward Manet: Roses in a Vase, 1882

If choosing the ten greatest flower paintings ever, I’d include one of those in which Manet captured the posies brought to him during his drawn-out final illness.  Here the casual authority of the vase’s slight assymetry of the vase, the fallen bloom and its reflection, and the  abstract centre of stems behind glass and water coalesce into a magical freshness which almost pulls clear of the vanitas beneath…  Having said which, Brian Sewell’s review of  Sterling Clark’s collection of impressionism on tour from Massachussets dismissed this as ‘a nasty little Manet of roses in an ill-drawn vase’ – but it’s always reassuring to disagree with Sewell: that is, after all, what he’s there for.

Martin Gustavsson: Black Plums in 'Space Shift' at Maria Stenfors, April-June

London-based Swede Martin Gustavsson’s magnificently rendered and arrestingly large plums were a highlight of Maria Stenfors’ mini-survey of her artists on moving – down the corridor! – into a new space. They reminded of William Carlos Williams’ most famous poem: ‘Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold’. The painting is something of a break-out for Gustavsson, as most of his recent energy has gone into the ongoing series of chance-driven variably-arrangeable image constellations ‘In No Particular Order’ (due in London at the Twelve Star Gallery in October). A matter, perhaps, of plucking the plumbs from that stream.

Jonathan Trayte: Two Nudes (Black), 2012 at Josh Lilley

Young sculptor Jonathan Trayte turns food into its opposite and yet makes you wonder if you could eat it after all: his lacquer-painted bronze versions of market stall fruit have a seductively edibility. They also stand in for bodies, sometimes subtly, sometimes explicitly as in the case of the ambiguously-gendered butternut squashes of ‘Two Nudes Black’. Freud would have a field day…

Gabriel Kuri: Double Self Portrait in Tension (Two Point Crossed Section Chart), 2012 in 'Classical Symmetry, Historical Data, Subjective Judgement' at Sadie Coles, March-May

Talking of ambiguous gendering, this – is there another word? - Kuri-ous piece is one of several wall-based sculptures made from gold-coloured insulation foam by the Mexican master of arranging expiring aspects of consumerism.  The shapes come from mathematical graphs, and each has an additional object  attached which suggests either male or female bodies or processes: one appears pregnant with a conch shell, one has a testicular dangle of beer cans… Kuri, though, identifies them all as self-portraits.

Sara MacKillop: File, 2011 in ‘Erica Baum Sara MacKillop’ at BISCHOFF/WEISS, March-May

The idea that we view an object differently on account of the change of context provided by its being in a gallery, and so seen as art, is now commonplace. But Sara MacKillop goes one step further, in that it’s often how and where she puts the object in the gallery which is critical. Thus her ‘Folder’ is just that, but leaning against the window with its back stretched out it economically takes on aspects of deckchair, Rileyesque painting, fallen artwork and exhibitionist or vulnerable self-exposure. Whether you can recreate much of that at home should you return with what is after all just a piece of office stationery is another matter which – in the meantime – adds a further questioning layer to its gallery presence… 

Sarah Braman: I Can't Seem To Drink You Off My Mind in ‘Shapeshift’ at Stephen Friedman Gallery, June-July

New York based Sarah Braman also breathed life and a surprising beauty into an unexpected  found object, namely  sections of a camper van. Here the colours layered onto its plexiglass place us both  inside and outside the van, mediated by the reflections in its  windows. It also forms the diagonally-balanced cube which Braman has made ‘hers’ just when you might think all the likely shapes were ‘pre-owned’ by an artist. 

David Tremlett: Drawing for Free Thinking, 2011 at Tate Britain until Dec 2016

Tate Britain, least glamorous of the family these days, has been feeling scrappily transitional during many months of ongoing building works - during which it's made sense of a sort that  the most successful space should be the stairwell, thoroughly transformed by  450 sq m of colourful geometries of hand-rubbed pastel.  David Tremlett - and in this challenging case a twelve-strong team of assistants - aims to react to the space and emphasise its walls as if to bring out concealed histories rather than simply cover them over, and to do so through direct person to building contact: here, architectural features seem to have been gathered into a constructivist bonanza.

Albert Irvin: Andromeda, 2012 in 'Fidelio' at Gimpel Fils, July-Aug

Albert Irvin celebrated his 90th birthday with two floors of paintings showing the brio one might expect of someone half his age. He has, I suppose, settled slightly comfortably into a personal range of symbols and marks, but keeps coming up with lively variations full - in his own favoured phrase - of elan vital.  Here the musical title seemed right for the singing colours, which 'Andromeda' seemed to me to push furthest.

Picture credits: courtesy the artists and galleries + Thuring = Collection of Hugh Gibson, image courtesy the of artist and Simon Preston GalleryNew York

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.

About Me

My photo
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.