Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 100: ‘Sexual Services’
Cathie Pilkington: ‘El Shaddai’, 2013 – oil paint on bronze
The bonanza at Transition Gallery in Hackney (to 29 March) whereby 50 artists respond to an invitation to provide items for an alternative and somewhat deranged Sex Shop is great fun. Jack Stockoe (who curated with Sarah Gillham and Darren Narin) helpfully provides a legal basis for any activity with a 16 page Sexual Services Agreement. It starts out by allowing the parties to decide which of the basic activities they wish to give or receive before moving on to such possible extensions as agalmataphobia (do you wish to partake in a statue fetish?), odaxelagnia (do you want to bite or be bitten?) and felching (don’t ask). Full definition of terms, conditions of termination and even a subsequent RSSA (Resumption of Sexual Services Agreement) for certain circumstances are set out. There are, though, some 140 boxes for both parties to fill in, by which time you may not be in the mood. The orthodox erogenous zones are well covered in works of some interest to agalmataphobes, from the more-is-less of Cathie Pilkington’s multi-breasted ‘El Shaddai’ (God Almighty), titled I presume in reference to a common male obsession; to Roxy Topia & Yvonne Stone’s rather attractive full representation of the clitoris; to Joey Holder’s 3-D printed model of a penis (of the bean weevil, which I don’t envy!). You can learn about knot-tying and the spray-on condom, and verbal, oral, moving image and conceptual gratification is also available… Surely, you feel the urge?
Roxy Topia & Paddy Gould: ‘Internal Clitoris (one size does not fit all)’ – paint and lacquer on air-dried clay, wood
Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 99: ‘Rugged’
Anna Betbeze: ‘Howl’, 2014
Not rugged as in craggy or bewigged looks, but as in hirsuteness hung on the wall. Quite plausibly the world’s two leading exponents of the art rug are featured in current London shows. American Georgian Anna Betbeze uses solid flokati – Greek wool rugs with felt bellies – which she burns with charcoal, floods with acid dyes and scalds with water as she develops colours to run through whole fibres, mid-sections or tips to achieve a shaggily layered iridescence. Aesthetic aside, her first London solo show (‘Plush Vision’ at Luxembourg & Dayan to 2 April) demonstrates the advantages she gains from using rugs for her agreeably elemental production process: they allow various hangs (partly over a partition top; of variable droopiness etc) in a way which canvas would not; create intricate shadows; and, as stainings in the tradition of Helen Frankenthaler, carry the neat inversion that it’s brushes, rather than canvas, that the rugs most resemble. Caroline Achaintre also has an international profile: the French-born, German-developed, English resident was in America when the mysteriously titled ‘Pacci’ was revealed at Arcade’s opening of the group show ‘Folleree & Folleroo’ (to 21 March). Achaintre starts from drawings, and then tufts individual pieces of yarn into a woven canvas base – which she has to do intuitively from the back, meaning that she, too, isn’t fully in control. Her more patchwork style tends towards the mask-like, exploiting the semi-accidents to cross-pollinate Primitivism, German Expressionism and the Carnivalesque to arrive at something like a tribal futurism. And do catch (to 3 May) the large room of her wider practice at Tate Britain .
Caroline Achaintre: ‘Pacci’, 2015
ART STUFF on a train # 98: ‘Abstraction and Tragedy’
Doug Ashford:‘Many Readers of One Event’ (2012)- detail ‘
The Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Adventures of the Black Square: Abstract Art and Society 1915-2015’, featuring 100 artists, is full of interesting byways in the history of geometric abstraction, such as suprematists other than Malevich, Andrea Fraser’s mock lecture, Oskar Schlemmer’s ballet – and an intimately-scaled and shocking installation of colourful tempera paintings with black-and-white photographs which had the look of capturing dance poses. ‘Many Readers of One Event’ is by Doug Ashford, who remains best known as founder member of the New York collective Group Material, who worked collaboratively from 1979 to 1996 to create exhibition spaces that functioned as forums to put political considerations in conversation with aesthetic forms: ‘The AIDS Timeline’ is a mixed-media installation which reconstructs the history of AIDS and indicts the government’s inaction and society’s complicity in that inaction. That might not sound like abstraction, yet it connects, as the figures are actually actors re-enacting the grief-stricken collapses of parents who have just discovered their children murdered. Ashford, who is talking at the Whitechapel on March 12, has said that his installation ‘embodies a way of looking simultaneously at two different kinds of intellectual organization of affect: one identifying with an experience — the act of empathy — and another that is off-center, examining the ways in which abstraction might create a condition for sharing an experience of something without a reference’. As a result ‘we can see ourselves as more than specific instruments produced by ideological contexts’. That’s very much in the spirit of Malevich’s aim of deepening visual experience…
Doug Ashford:‘Many Readers of One Event’ (2012)- detail ‘
Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 97: ‘Tits and Cocks and Wallpaper’
Sarah Lucas: ‘ICON’, 2006 in front of ‘Tits in Space’, 2000.
Wallpaper may suggest stifling domesticity rather than cutting edge art but two artists are currently using it to radical effect. There were plenty of penises in Sarah Lucas’s 2014 Whitechapel retrospective, and she has designed a ‘Soup’ wallpaper in which cocks float – but the breasts have it in Manchester. Hers is one of several shows at the newly-reopened Whitworth, which adopts the Whitechapel’s multi-display mode around the biggest Cornelia Parker survey yet. Wallpaper is a Whitworth speciality, and the whole room display of ‘Tits in Space’ makes for a high impact conjunction of Lucas themes: tabloid style meets high culture; bodies comically extend into the world; and laddish tropes such as smoking stand in for a critique of crude reductionism in the relationships between the sexes. There’s also a darkly cancerous undertone. Will the British Pavilion be papered in Venice?
Luc Tuymans is known for bleached evocations of the degradations of history and viral image transmission which – like Lucas’s work with its nods to Duchamp, Bellmer and Flavin – still keep a foot in art’s past. One contrast in his commendably varied new show (at David Zwirner, London to April 2) is between zoom-cropped portraits of Scottish Enlightenment activists and blandly grey views based on the wallpaper of a luxury hotel in Edinburgh. ‘Their serene, if stifling aestheticism’, says the press release, ‘seems to suggest how the perils of isolationism and class indifference may stall the radical ideas of forward-looking members of society’. And maybe that obelisk can stand in for Lucas’ missing phallus.
Luc Tuymans: ‘Wallpaper’, 2014
Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 94: ‘Video To Go To’
Hans Op de Beeck: still from ‘Staging Silence II’, 2009
Rotterdam’s art week – 3-7 Feb – continues to increase in popularity. The main fair, Art Rotterdam, had 132 galleries with 25,000 visitors, and there’s plenty else to see. Video art in particular is presented better than at any comparable event. The Projections section of the main fair has 12 films on variously-angled, panoramic, self-standing screens in one large hall. This is much more flexible for viewers than the consecutive programming one more often encounters. There is (until 8 March) also a public programme of films and photographic lightboxes with a landscape theme: 18 set in the windows of conveniently proximate modern buildings in the south of the city, sound being a subsidiary factor; and seven imposingly-scaled full volume installations inside one of the vast empty warehouses resulting from the shifting ways of port trading. So 10/10 for the set-up, and much of the content was also good. Judged by spectator numbers, the most popular artist in both venues was the only one to feature in both: the Belgian Hans Op De Beeck. Perhaps that’s down to the beauty he smuggles into his conceptual worlds, here in 2009’s ‘Staging Silence’, in which we fall for the illusion of a succession of memory landscapes even though we can see the maker’s hands construct them out of banal materials; and the new animation ‘Night Time’, in which nocturnal scenes are rhythmically and mysteriously drawn and undrawn.
Hans Op de Beeck: still from ‘Night Time’, 2014
Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 93: ‘Smash ‘n’ Burn’
Jesse Hlebo: ‘In Pieces’, 2015
Destruction brings with it an exhilaration and a definite aesthetic, however regrettable it is, and two of the most striking exhibits in London now play on that. The stand-out work in the Lisson’s revolution-themed group show (to 7 March) is Allora & Calzadilla’s film ‘The Bell, the Digger, and the Tropical Pharmacy’, 2013, in which the scooper or wrecker on a digger is replaced by a cast iron church bell, lending a mournful and alarming resonance to the demolition of a controversially closed pharmaceutical plant in Puerto Rica. Many of the resulting visuals are decidedly painterly, adding to the visceral compulsion of the 20 minutes of footage. The first show at 74A Newman Street since Edel Assanti took over the lease from Paradise Row makes a comparable impact. The cacophonous whole floor installation ‘In Pieces’ by the young American Jesse Hlebo provides (to 21 Feb) a treble dose of trauma: news and amateur online footage of disaster and conflict such as Hurricane Sandy and the disturbances in Ferguson is installed amidst dramatically burned wood and plasterboard panels which, being created for the purpose, call attention to the degree of mediation in how the video images are presented. In an extra meta-twist, Hlebo has also framed remnants of his own art, as it emerged from an accidental studio fire: spot the difference. Hlebo, like the Lisson’s Cubo-American duo, is implicitly critical of the actions of the authorities involved. Yet in neither case does that offset the illicit thrill of the destruction.
Still (before much action occurs) from Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla: ‘The Bell, the Digger, and the Tropical Pharmacy’, 2013
Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 92: ‘Popova and Over’
Yelena Popova on the Eastside Projects stand (and in the background, Flore Nové-Josserand’s paintings on Céline Condorelli’s structure)
The London Art Fair (20-25 Jan) consistently offers inconsistent quality in which the adventurous Project Section of thirty young galleries is the highlight. Unusually, two of the best artists were shown there by two galleries this year. London’s Vitrine and Toronto’s p|m both represent Wil Murray, so it was natural for them to combine their holdings to make one outstanding solo show. It was more of a surprise to find that midlands-based Russian Yelena Popova had been brought by both Nottingham’s Syson Gallery and Birmingham’s Eastside Projects. Popova’s paintings build in references to their conditions of production, storage, transport and display. It was logical, then, that Eastside showed several older works (2010) in a brand new custom-designed fold-out giant case system. Recently, Popova has been artist in residence at the National Trust’s Upton House, Warwickshire – a perfect opportunity to consider how the collection of Shell chairman Walter Samuel (1882-1948) developed and is presented there. That’s the subject of a film full of interesting musing on conservation and beyond, including the conundrum of the Ship of Theseus*. Here, new paintings were presented along with their means of storage, a bespoke chest of draws in Upton style. They were barely-there ghosted version of portraits which used to be in the Samuel Collection, but are no longer…
*Theseus’ boat was replaced plank by plank. Was it still the same ship? And what of the boat which was constructed from the discarded planks. Was that Theseus’S, too?
Yelena Popova on the Syson Gallery stand
Paul’s ART STUFF on a train # 91: ‘The Colour in Bermondsey’
Anita Klein: ‘Dea del Albicoca’
Bermondsey High Street has both a high end gallery (White Cube) and an alternative space which I frequently commend (Vitrine). Just now, though, there are two extra art reasons to visit, making it a destination of some breadth. Eames Fine Art is showing paintings by Anita Klein. She has a clean and vibrant way with the human figure with a knowing hint of the naïve: I liked her series of ‘goddesses’: archetypal versions of herself as everywoman, perched in the fruit trees which she regularly passes on a daily walk when working in her Italian studio. Her goddesses’ clothing often takes inspiration from the relevant fruit, reinforcing an air of fecundity which will evidently carry into her next project, about becoming a grandmother. Cecelia Brunson Projects is actually about 50 feet from White Cube if you could pass through the behomoth’s south-western corner wall. ‘The Many Colours of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness’ shows film, slide show and photographs by the Egyptian artist Basim Magdy, whose subject is colour as much as what’s depicted by it. Trained as a painter, he experiments by placing analogue film in household chemicals, re-colouring, degrading and splattering landscapes as if to suggest man’s effects on it. His short film uses an arduous process of converting digital film into analogue frames in order to process them in that way, then converting the result back to a beguilingly ‘pre-aged’ end product.
Basim Magdy: Still from ‘The Many Colours of the Sky Radiate Forgetfulness’
Most days art critic Paul Carey-Kent spends hours on the train, traveling between his home in Southampton and his day job in London. Could he, we asked, jot down whatever came into his head?