Tuesday, 30 April 2013


Georgina Starr: Two Bubbles

A quick plug for the Drawing Room, which holds its biennial fund-raising silent auction of drawings by over 200 contributing artists in its newish Bermondsey space for the first time (concludes 15 May): my pick from a lively selection is a witty watercolour by Georgina Starr, which leads me into several shows featuring the body ready for action, before moving back to the business of galleries moving…


Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou: Citizens of Porto-Novo @ Jack Bell Gallery, 13 Masons Yard, St James's - Central

Untitled (Musclemen series)
The latest set in Benin photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou's sequence of themed portraits of the people of his home town, Porto-Novo, sees him move on from voodoo masqueraders and women in colonial settings to the triple-loaded contrast of musclemen posed with artificial flowers against intense backdrops of African fabric. These reference the studio portrait photography tradition of Seydou Keita (and of Agbodjelou's photographer father) and also echo how Kehinde Wiley's black characters are overtaken by background patterning. Add specific local resonances, such as an implicit challenge to negative attitudes towards homosexuality, and there’s much more here than the obvious visual chutzpah.


Lisa Yuskavage @ greengrassi, 1a Kempsford Rd - Kennington

To 15 June: 

'Sorbet Sky' (13 x 11 inches)
I'm never too sure how much I like American painter Lisa Yuskavage's cutesy-classical provocations of painterly kitsch, in which women and nature seem equally wanton and fecund - which may be as it should: she herself says she strives ‘to bother people and to be loved for it’ and accepts that her work is ‘potentially terrible’. Her latest show is a study in scale. Large (2m high) very green landscapes, in which the frontal characters combine strangely with small background figures which often pop-up between their legs, are set against far smaller paintings (25 cm high) which range the figures around fires at dusk, hinting at some sort of ritual. The puzzle which drew me in was how they seem to work in completely different sizes to similar effect.


Martin Gustavsson: Indentations @ Maria Stenfors, Unit 10, 21 Wren St – Clerkenwell

To 8 June:  www.mariastenfors.com

Installation view with 'Players (Iron Oxide)'
London-based Swedish painter Martin Gustavsson tends to work in extended series, such as in the rearrangeable and expandable elements of In No Particular Order. His new direction is full of movement: acidic, in-your-face colours are used to uncannily corporeal effect to catch the effect of circling round a sculpture. The paintings themselves encircle the space and act as bodily objects, too: in a tribute to Rauschenberg which put me in my mind of his dance connections (still on view at the Barbican) and also interacts strongly with the gallery’s architecture. One painting rests on a tyre, another sports half a rusty framing device, three are bound together with a strap.


Carol Rhodes @ Mummery + Schnelle, 44a Charlotte Road - Hoxton

To 25 May: 

River and Roads

Five of Carol Rhodes' poised and painterly examinations of the effect of distance on our perception of landscape are complemented by the drawings which she uses in their production; and by three images which her gallerist Andrew Mummery has chosen as linked to her practice. Those include a Luigi Ghirri photograph and an Indian miniature, picking up both on the inspiration Rhodes drew from her Bengal childhood. The  unusually dark painting above was based on a drawing made in India (but not of it - Rhodes does not picture literal places). The three part show amounts to a portrait of sorts, and I started to wonder whether the prevalence of roads in the paintings was a punning self-reference…
This, incidentally, is in Andrew Mummery's new space, which is Carl Freedman's old space: you should also pop over the road to Carl Freedman’s new space, in which Ivan Seal successfully takes the creamily seductive ambiguities of his would-be–still-lives to a larger scale.  


Luigi Ghirri: Vintage Prints @ Austin Desmond, Pied Bull Yard,68/69 Great Russell St - Bloomsbury

3 May - 18 June: www.austindesmond.com

Modena, 1972 (Series: da Colazione sull'erba)

The increasingly highly-regarded Italian photographer Luigi Ghirri (1943–92) was in the last and will be in the next Venice Biennale for the quiet series in which he slyly comments on how people - even though typically out of frame - interact with their environments. As a 1970's pioneer of the use of colour in art photography he has emerged as something like the European equivalent of William Eggleston. The  discovery of curious equivalences between palms, decorative birds and missing paving stones above is typical of his quietly deadpan observation, as is the delicate questioning of what is real and what is represented. This beautiful show presents 16 of the small format 1970's prints for which Ghirri became known plus five photographs from the 1980's, when he made more landscape-oriented work  with a larger format camera.

Miles Thurlow: Variable Foot @ Kunstraum, 15a Cremer St - Hoxton

To 25 May: 

All the Gods

I lose track of how many artists have cast objects in resin to achieve a double-take of some sort - and yet Miles Thurlow achieves new effects in a site-specific show in what was formerly Limoncello's space (Limoncello – do keep up! – is now where the Russian Club used to be). 'All the Gods' (one of three sculptures in a show which solidifies the momentary) casts monumental blocks of polystyrene to three effects: challenging the gallery by taking up the maximum possible mock monumental space; drawing attention to painterly aspects of blobs, ripples and leakage; and reversing (yet imitating) Fischli & Weiss's deceptively light versions of reality made from polyurethane - Thurlow's two blocks weigh an unreal 150 kg each.   



Patrick Heron: Studies for a Portrait of T. S. Eliot in Room 32, National Portrait Gallery 

To 22 Sept: www.npg.org.uk/whatson/display/2013/patrick-heron-studies-for-a-portrait-of-t.s.-eliot.php

Study for a portrait of T. S. Eliot, 1947–8

Quite apart from the fascinating retrospective of Man Ray's portrait photographs (to 27 May) the NPG often has interesting new displays. If you share my view that Patrick Heron's work was at its most interesting in the late 40s when he was on the brink of his signature style, then the display of preparatory paintings and drawings which preceded his well-known portrait of TS Eliot is well worth catching. The approaches range from relatively straight to cubist to imitation still life (Heron recalls registering Eliot’s ‘faint surprise’ at hearing his head likened to a coffee-pot) - and you can catch Heron's version of himself in room 31.


Oscar Murillo: Dinner at the members club? Yes! i'll have a black americano first pls 
@ Carlos/Ishikawa, Unit 4, 88 Mile End Road - Whitechapel

Pre-scuffed installation view - the copper looks quite different now...

On-trend (I’ve just seen his triple (!) site show in Berlin) Columbian Oscar Murillo takes over galleries as studio-come-performance-come-party spaces, constructing low platforms on which canvases take shape amidst the mayhem, picking up dirt and wear along the way. Here Murillo also references a sweet factory in which family members have worked, including a film of rather visceral confectionery production. Under and around the platforms, the floor is copper sheeting, which captures more movement by inviting the visitor’s scuffing. The energy is impressive, and the resulting paintings catch that in gritty yet aestheticised slogans and scribble, akin to abstract expressionist Basquiats. I’m not sure what Bartolomé Esteban Murillo would say, but Oscar’s 18th century namesake also shows well in his parallel run in Dulwich...


Jacques Villeglé & Gil J Wolman: Collective Dis/Illusions @ the Mayor Gallery, 22a Cork St - Central

To 31 May: www.mayorgallery.com

                            Gil J Wolman: 'Untitled (Réflexions réflexions)', 1966   

Gil J Wolman (1929-95) was a co-founder with Guy Dubord's Letterist International in the 1950s: he was involved in any number of radical art actions, but was excluded before it mutated into the Situationist International (see http://www.macba.cat/PDFs/acquaviva_eng.pdf for an account of his life and work). From 1963 he developed the technique of 'Scotch Art', for which he applied strips of Sellotape to magazines, lifted away images and texts, and then applied them onto canvas. That resulted in distinctive collages shot through with the chance omissions caused by the process. Here Wolman is neatly paired with better-known French contemporary Jacques Villiglé, who exploits the ripping off of layered posters in what is in some ways a reverse of Wolman's procedure of applying the torn-away elements. 


A Brief History of Spots, Stripes and Holes @ Carlson Gallery, 55 South Audley St – Mayfair

To 15 June: www.carlsongallery.co.uk
Installation view with Ned Vena and Daniel Buren

This divertingly-themed show in Massimo de Carlo / Carlson's refurbished space could have been called  ‘A Brief History of Foreign Spots, Stripes and Holes’, as the obvious British candidates (Hirst, Hodgson; Riley, Davenport; Hepworth, Moore) are absent. The stripes have the most vibrancy (Ned Vena’s cunningly misaligned targets), the most subtlety (Steven Parrino’s folding of a monochrome being considered enough to count as two stripes) and the most presence (an unusually sculptural Daniel Buren from 1989, using wood –  it’s also, by the way, worth catching Buren’s Luis Vuitton fit-out on Bond Street). That’s not to denigrate Dadamaino’s holes, Dan Colen’s spots made from hundreds of studs or the unofficially-included multi-mirror piece by John Armleder which you can see in a side room (much more of him at the new Dairy Arts Centre).    

One of the Buren windows at Louis Vuitton

Images courtesy of the relevant galleries and artists + The estate of Patrick Heron (Study for a portrait of T. S. Eliot, All Rights Reserved, DACS, 2013)

Friday, 19 April 2013


 Rana Begum: 'Manifold' at the Christian Lethert Gallery, Cologne

 April 19 - May 25: www.christianlethert.com

Manifold is the first full presentation of a new stream in the work of Anglo-Bangladeshi artist Rana Begum. She’s become known for fetish-finished wall-based works which project into the gallery space, legible from front-on but dynamised by the viewer so that physical movement activates colour movement.  Prior to 2011, these took the form of repeating rectilinear units. There was a hint of Islamic patterning, but they referenced the street more strongly, evoking and concentrating railings, billboards, bridges and the passage of traffic in vertical repetitions with differences – recently, moreover, this style has returned to its sources as the basis for public and architectural commissions.

Begum’s new form is the fold: colour-coated aluminium sheets flattened against and creased away from the wall so that the varying areas and shapes of the edges are folded out towards the viewer at assorted angles.  Some of these folded pieces have glowered in black; some have flashed with multiple colours and danced with mirrorings.

Here in Cologne, though, in Begum’s first all-folded show, the vocabulary is stripped back to frontal white and back-edged colour which suffuses the wall behind.
The architecture seems to have moved indoors. Yes, there’s a cool geometry, but a domestic intimacy lies just beyond, and there’s as much origami as urbanism. Suspicious as I am of biographical reductionism, I note that the move from noisy street to quiet enfoldment coincides with Begum becoming a mother. 

Yet despite the minimalist tenor of these primarily white folds, there’s plenty going on.

First, objecthood.  Begum’s work might be described as operating in two and a half dimensions, that indeterminate space in between two dimensional painting and three dimensional sculpture. The primacy of white makes the most of the internally (as well as externally) cast shadows, which complicate that objecthood.  The little card indexes which diagram and index the works and double as notes for Begum’s assistants echo Donald Judd’s parallel documentation, and we might recall the first line of Judd’s seminal essay Specific Objects: ‘half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture’. Begum, though, links her works too directly to the world for them to count as specific objects in Judd’s sense, and there’s also a somewhat un-Judd-like lightness, even flightiness. Not for nothing do the folds resemble kites.

Second, colour. From some angles it’s as if the colour is being hidden, but unsuccessfully. It bursts out in strong fluorescence when seen from the side, and leaks from the edges even when we’re as front-on as possible, by virtue of its reflection (or should that be ‘shadow’?) on the wall. There’s something paradoxical in this subtle use of flagrantly strong hues, something sensual in its combination of the coy and the brazen. 


Third, light.  At any given time, there are surprisingly marked variations in the glow made by the same colour, depending on its positioning relative to the light sources and the angle of the fold on which the colours sits. We’re reminded of how what seem the same things can turn out differently in life.  And over the course of a day, under the influence of the natural light which Begum favours, those colours slowly change. There’s a meditative aspect to the folds, which may lead us to the ritual aspect of some folding, and encourages a different type of reflection.

One topic we might so reflect on is: do these folds use any maths? Various formulae could be applied, from Kawasaki's theorem to angle trisection to the Huzita–Hatori axiom. That’s a tease, though, as Begum confirms that her arrangements are purely intuitive – she likes the freedom of that, but says that she is anyway too impatient for systems.

What about the nature of the fold itself? Deleuze posited the fold as the primary constituent of a seamless reality. Thus ‘the outside is not a fixed limit but a moving matter animated by peristaltic movements, folds and foldings that together make up an inside: they are not something other than the outside, but precisely the inside of the outside’. Without buying into a whole ontology, Begum’s folds could be demonstrations of how the ‘inside’ space is topologically in contact with the ‘outside’ space; and, given the streetlife origins of her rectilinear work, it’s logical to read this new show as folding together the private and the public.

Those several considerations apply to individual folds. The complexity of their minimalism increases when we looks at the interactions which occur between several pieces as well as within each, and the combination of different scales as well as the interplay of angles, colours and shapes. Moving among a whole gallery of these precisely ambiguous forms, what started out so simply proves manifold indeed. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


No sooner have I celebrated women in charge than a glut of interesting artists who happen to be female open shows in the first few days of April, so here's some extra coverage… It’s an indication of the richness of London’s art scene that this list isn’t even exhaustive: there's also something to be said for the shows of Rachel Ward at Ronchini,  Henny Acloque at Ceri Hand, Annie Lapin at Josh Lilley, Susie MacMurray at Gina Agnew and Elizabeth Frink at Beaux Arts (though Woking's Lightbox is really the place for Frink just now) -  all of which have just opened; and that’s not to bring in shows I haven't seen or group shows - or men…. And next up are Saloua Raouda Choucair at Tate Modern, Lisa Yuskavage at Greengrassi, Fernanda Gomes at Alison Jacques, Carol Rhodes at Mummery + Schnelle and Melanie Manchot at Carslaw St Lukes, all opening on 18-19 April.


Rachel Whiteread: Detatched @ Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia St – Kings Cross

To May 25: www.gagosian.com


While this whole large show is a recommended chance to see Rachel Whiteread  expanding the ways in which she makes something solid out of absence, it may be that the most beautiful art room in London now is the one in which she’s placed six windows and five doors against the walls. These, negative casts in pale tints of translucent resin, pick up a patina of light in seeming to reveal the internal structure and history of the would-be entry and viewing points, which refuse to function as artistic and architectural convention would have it. Whiteread also has a nice new line in small collages of packets and coloured cellophane, which give a  transcendental twist to Rauschenberg's cardboards.

 Eilis O'Connell: The Physicality of Seeing @ Canary Wharf

To 24 May (artist's tour 30 April):  eilisoconnell.com   


Canary Wharf is well worth an art visit: there are 65 permanent works scattered around the complex, not all impressive, of course, but highlights include Bill Culbert, William Turnbull and Sinta Tantra. Plus the current temporary exhibition comprises a major overview of recent work by Irish sculptor Eilis (as in 'eyeless', it only just occurs to me, as if playing on her show's title) O'Connell. She's an ambitious transformer of natural objects, and ranges here from pellucid resin pebbles to bronze casts of plant stems to large scale figure-like groupings in the lobby of One Canada Square; to several monumental works in Jubilee Gardens, of which the gleaming polyester resin, steel and paint of  'Anode' (2010) looms up with particular presence against the corporate backdrop.


Nika Neelova: Fragments Shored Against the Ruins @ Vigo Gallery, 21 Dering St – Central

There's more imaginative casting  at Vigo Gallery, which is  divided in two for young Russian artist Nika Neelova's seductive way of integrating the past into her vision of a damaged future. Up comes down in the front space, which pitches a set of time-worn banisters, reconstituted into a rough circle, against aeroplane propellers earthed in fragile concrete. Down moves up at the back,  where we seem to be below ground, looking at eight charcoal casts of coal hole covers, which act like high windows around a central sculpture in which the parquet floor pattern  appears to unravel and arise.


Anne Hardy @ Maureen Paley, 21 Herald St - Bethnal Green

The external view of as yet untitled : wood, plasterboard, cast concrete, carpet, carpet tiles, strip lights, expanded foam, chalk drawings
Anne Hardy is known for her large images of the life-size sets she constructs - often using found items, often from the street - in her studio purely for the purposes of photographing them: three or four per yer over the last decade. Recently she has used mirrors and included text in the set-up as means of ramping up the levels of illusion and complexity of classification systems addressed. She presents three new ones here, but one is bound to wonder what the sets themselves look like, and now Hardy has constructed not sets to photograph but two sets as sculptural environments - one made from the left-overs from the other - which can be entered and treated as sculptures in themselves or as the scenarios for an imagined photograph. 


Rula Halawani: Traces @ Selma Feriani Gallery, 23 Maddox StMayfair

To 11 May: www.selmaferiani.com

A Key*
The familiar trope of photographing possessions with historic resonance is compellingly re-booted by Palestinian artist Rula Halawani: she visited hundreds of families who were forced to flee their villages in the face of Israeli aggression in 1948 to see what household objects they had retained; photographed a hundred collections; and whittled those down to the eight beautifully homogeneous sets of images we see. They’re presented alongside the families’ stories of how the items came to be handed down across 65 years, allowing us to muse on questions of identity and the pursuit of political change.

* Text translates: Thuraya Farah, 67 years old, is originally from Zakariyya village, northwest of the city of Hebron. She now livesin Al-Arrub camp. “When we fled, my mother locked the door to our house with this key. She thought that in a few weeks we would come back to our house. Many years went by and we still did not return; we keep this key and we pass it from one generation to another so that our children will never forget where they are from, and they will always remember that they have a beautiful home waiting for them to go back to. This key is a symbol of our heritage and our return to our homeland, the land of our ancestors…”


Jill Richards: Love Support Machine @ Riflemaker, 79 Beak St - Soho

To 4 May: www.riflemaker.org 

Lawrence, 1940-2008
Tot Taylor and and Virginia Damtsa’s ability to generate interesting shows at a slant to the mainstream shows no sign of slowing after seven years: recently they've emphasised psychologically charged work by women (Judy Chicago, Penelope Slinger, Josephine King, Alice Anderson). 'Love Support Machine' sees Jill Richards use attractive still life drawings to lure us into exposure of her rawest feelings about a string of lovers, friends, relatives and even the harrowing tale of her lost baby through innocuous-looking drawings of the objects and documents she has retained - supported by texts from the heart and boxes overflowing with the actual souvenirs. Apparently one ex turned up to the opening: Jill wasn’t pleased to see him, and he wasn’t pleased that she was wasn’t pleased!


Virginia Veran @ Centre for Recent Drawing, 2-4 Highbury Station Rd – Islington

To 25 May: www.c4rd.org.uk

Umberspinebomb, 2008-13
Virginia Verran is best-known as winner of the 2010 Jerwood Drawing Prize with a pen on canvas tondo. Sure enough, much of the work at C4RD  fits that description, but she’s been painting for many years in various formats, and the drawings here exchange - in an appropriately circular manner - language and ideas with a large square painting in which toy-like bombs seem to float into a murky river of a body. Or perhaps not: all the works  arrive at near-abstraction from figurative origins ambiguous enough that Verran was still juggling between titles as the show opened, though all her variants suggested that a dark environmentally-troubled heart beats beneath their more formal concerns.  


Jodie Carey @ Edel Assanti, 272-4 Vauxhall Bridge Rd - Victoria

To 11 May: www.edelassanti.com  

Untitled (Slabs),  2012.
In this installation of a series first shown in the bigger space of the New Art Gallery, Walsall, the monumentality of Jodie Carey’s plaster slabs is brought home – they’re 3 metres high, 180kg each and only remain standing in their sculptural interplay due to sandbags on their ‘feet’. Yet Carey gives these behemoths a paradoxical and childish lightness through pastel colouring them with crayon. They also pick up a multitude of irregularities in the process, making them seem as worn by the world as most of Carey’s elegiac oeuvre… Talking of which, don’t miss the drooping blooms in the office: damage-and-all new prints of found 1920’s negatives.


Liane Lang: Fallen @ Art First, 21 Eastcastle St - Fitzrovia

To 11 May:  www.artfirst.co.uk

Liane Lang's practice includes a well-established series of photographs in which rubber sculptural interventions – a stray leg, for example - cut across time and into the monumental pretentions of public sculpture. Revolutions have provided her with an ideal source: the parks of statues discarded by regime change. How logical it seems – now that she’s done it – for Lang to complement the photos with cast versions of some of those statues in their diminished states: thus do the mighty find themselves half-toppled, beheaded, shot through, rendered limbless or even reduced to their bossy boots.


Alex Olson: Bravo Zebra @ Laura Bartlett Gallery, 4 Herald Street – Bethnal Green

To 12 May: www.laurabartlettgallery.com  

Proposal 12

Young LA painter Alex Olson makes inter-related 'Proposals' for body sized paintings which start with typical abstract tropes such as spots, stripes and dashes, then undermine their expected regularity by making explicit use of crude tools – scrapers, knives, rough brushes – to ginger up the surface, mismatch colour and form, and smuggle in suggestions of textiles, graphics and not-too-fashionable ceilings (as well as art history, split 50-50 between Ab Ex and Minimalism). The result, in Laura Bartlett's first show since taking over Hotel's former space, is a lively walk along the Robert Ryman way.

Images courtesy of the relevant galleries and artists + Mike Bruce (Whiteread)


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.