Sunday, 23 April 2017


Up Now in London

Paola PiviYou Don't Have to Believe Me @ Massimo De Carlo, 55 South Audley St - Mayfair                                                          

To May 27:

Here are two polar bears made of feathers, and Duchamp for kids: a dozen spinning bicycle wheels with feathers attached merge his readymade and rotary phases. But both are parodies of flight and, downstairs, any innocent view of the world - as captured on 52 screens through 40,000 images culled from google searches - is undermined by a soundtrack of spoken lies (‘in the middle ages, kings only ate at night’, ‘catfish are mammals’, ‘the largest statue in the world is of Michael Jackson’…). Would we hear about Father Christmas? No, but upstairs ungainly drawings are blown up big time to tell of Pivi and her husband’s four year custody battle for their adopted son. They won, but the darkening still seeps.

I am a professional bear, 2017 - urethane foam, plastic, feathers


Garth Weiser @ Simon Lee, 12 Berkeley St - Green Park

To 27 May:

Detail from '10', 2017

I’ve been following Garth Weiser (say ‘Vyza’) for ten years now, but this is his first substantial UK showing for his multi-layered, digitally-aware immersively-scaled  but somewhat unphotographable abstractions.  You could say that every canvas is actually three paintings struggling to co-exist: a figurative underpainting – currently somewhat comic – an expressive abstract painting, and a geometric overlay. Such complexity is hard-won: Weiser lays strips of tape in patterns on top of the figurative ground,(adding rope in some recent works)  covers the whole with oil paint, removes the paint while the tape is still wet (accepting or rejecting accidental bleeds and drips to taste) and cuts into the remainder with a razor blade.  Result: an alluring all-over flicker between oppositions. If you could jam Picabia’s transparencies, Stella’s stripes and Richter’s overpainted photographs together, you’d be pretty-much there. 

'10', 2017 - 244 x 201 cm


Paul Johnson: Teardrop Centre @ Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road - Camden

 To 18 June:

Whereas the chaos of Francis Bacon’s studio was reconstructed in identical disorder in Dublin, Paul Johnson has made what looks at first like chaos by shifting what may well have been his fairly tidy studio into Camden Arts Centre.  On closer examination, aided by Johnson’s own 40-feature map of the room, it turns out that all is very fully considered: he has variously cut, cast, re-oriented, combined and layered items, using the contents of his studio as raw materials for discovery as – or transformation into - art. Walls become a table, crates form a sculptural barrier, a door stands islanded... As he oversees the scene in the form of a 'Stack-Man' made from piled newspapers, Johnson must be pleased with how this rejig has turned out - the more so as he’s paired with veteran Romanian avant-gardist Geta Brătescu making the most of her studio in the other galleries.

Sarah Roberts: Torremolinos-Tableaux-Tongue-Twister (After Sun) & Mark Jackson: Face Is The Closest @ Block 336, 336 Briston Rd – Brixton

To 6 May: 
Sarah Roberts installation view

Block 336 has room for two substantial shows, but this impressive pair feels like a whole: Sarah Roberts collects surfaces, here from the capital of crass tourism, Torremolinos, and repurposes them into a cult city unified by redness of object and light in the post-beach sunset in which ‘dark closed in on the pinks… amidst the dried renders crumbling’ *. Mark Jackson’s paintings of barely-present faces evade readability through a marble-smooth screen-like effect built from layers of translucent glazes with a hint of psychedelia. They might be just the right insubstantial inhabitants for Roberts’ paradoxically three dimensional world of surfaces.

Mark Jackson: Surfacing, 2016

* from Roberts’ text

Peter Dreher: Day by Day, Good Day at The Mayor Gallery, 21 Cork St – Central

Tag um Tag guter Tag (Day by Day good Day) Nr. 1637 (Day), 2001
Oil on linen, 25.4 x 20.3 cm

Peter Dreher is famous for having painted the same empty water glass over 5,000 times. I say famous, but ‘Day by Day, Good Day’ has been little-seen in London. Here are 58 examples from 1991-2011, sequenced day-night-day-night. The strongest contrasts are between sunny and cloudy days, but all 58 demonstrate Dreher’s exceptional praxical capacity to remain invested in the painting for itself, regardless of subject even, as he regards the glass and its reflections intensely. Obsessive? Oddly, I think not: he has other streams of work, and comes across as more akin to a daily jogger than a monomaniac, though at 83, he’s now too frail to jog.

Night - Day - Night sequence



Anne Collier, Positive (California), 2016 in 'You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred'

Spring is bursting forth with photography shows, perhaps on the basis that the Photo London (18-21 May at Somerset House) will see the full blossoming. Wolfgang Tillmans at the Tate, 'You Are Looking at Something That Never Occurred' at the Zabludowicz Collection, the Deutsche Börse prize show at the Photographers Gallery (which has 4/4 worthy winners), 'Double Take' at Skarstedt  and Christopher Williams at David Zwirner are prominent and impressive manifestations, Saatch's selfie show prominent but (though there are good bits) a mess. Roger Ballen at Hamiltons is also worth mentioning, and here are a couple of other less obvious choices from the bouquet:

Scarlett Hooft Graafland: Discovery  @ Flowers Gallery, 21 Cork St - Central

To 29 April:

Still Life with Camel, 2016 - 120 x 150cm

Flowers is blooming just now, as the gallery has its best painter at Kingsland Road (David Hepher) and an interesting new-to-Britain photographer at Cork Street. Much-travelled Scarlett Hooft Graafland is one of several photographers to have impressed me in the Netherlands*, and her panoramic landscape images of exotic countries with performative sculpture added  cleverly conjoin beauty, humour, a surrealist streak, art references and cultural import.  Take Still Life with Camel, made in the United Emirates: an absurd take on Christo which subsumes what could have been a biblical scene of camel and riders into a joyous mass of pink.  Or Salt Steps: the Incredible Hulk meets Koonsian inflatables as a Bolivian man’s would-be-power is lampooned by his inability to see where he’s going.

Salt Steps, 2004

* You could make a Dutch school to rival the Finish (currently on view at Purdy Hicks) with women dominant: Marleen Sleeuwits, Awoiska van der Molen, Amie Dicke, Sara Bjarland, Melanie Bonajo, Annegret Kellner, Fleur van Dodewaard and Dana Lixenberg would be my other choices...


Elger Esser: Morgenland  @ Parasol unit, Wharf Rd - Hoxton 

Salwa Bahry I (detail), Egypt, 2011. C-print, Diasec, 97 x 124 cm

The key to German Elger Esser’s photographs of conflicted territories which appear ‘too quiet’, in the classic Wayne-spoken formulation of the American Western, is his perfect pitch. That brings just the right degree of implication to modest-sounding proposals: ‘fake an archive of views from Israel / Palestine in 1948’;  ‘make big modern photos of Lebanon and the Nile look like fading postcards’; ‘ask another artist to complement your travelogue with paintings of local orchids’ and, best of all, 'show either side of a border view printed on either side of a sculpturally propped sheet of copper’. 

Installation view with 'One Sky' series centre: Photography by Ben Westoby, Courtesy of Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art

Talking of 1948…


Ella Littwitz: No Vestige of a Beginning, No Prospect of an End @ Copperfield Gallery, 6 Copperfield Street - Southwark

Installation view

Ella Littwitz provides an object lesson in how to generate a political and emotional charge from simple-looking means - all relating to the expansion of Israel into Palestine territory. A filigree bronze cast of Dittrichia Viscosa represents the first plant to colonise disrupted territory, its allopathic qualities enriching the metaphor. Traces of the non-native pine refer to its mass introduction as a sign of support for Zionism: every Israeli receives a tree on birth, and you can have a plaque in the forest named for you if you buy enough extra trees - the imperialist narrative is strong enough for Hezbollah to have attacked trees!  A sort of cellular growth of connected unpicked footballs evokes the story of how UN officials collected and returned balls which children in a school close the border had kicked into a minefield in 1948.

"More poetry than instruction", "More instruction than poetry", chalk on Blackboard, 70 x 70 x 2 cm each


Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg @ Lisson Gallery, 27 Bell Street – Edgeware Rd

Still from Worship, 2016

Nathalie Djerberg and her musical mood-darkening collaborator Hans Berg have tended to prefer experiment to formula in recent years, with patchy results. But here they return to what they’re known for, with three short and transgressive claymation films. If you want a goat suckling a tiger, an aubergine car and frankfurter motorbike, turds growing up lively, a moon which moons (buttocks added for the purpose), a doughnut drinking tea, love made to a banana and a well-hung matador applying his best estocada to sponge cake, then these short films are for you.  It’s hard not be jealous of such a playfully perverse subconscious.
Still from Delights of an Undirected Mind, 2016


Maria Lassnig: A Painting Survey 1950-2007 @ Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row - Central

To 29 April:

Self-portrait with speech bubble, 2006 - Oil on canvas,  200 x 150 cm 

Following her shows at the Serpentine (2008) and Tate Liverpool (2016), it’s not exactly a secret that Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) was one of the best painters of the last 50 years, but this estate-driven show reinforces the point with examples not previously seen in Britain. It clarifies her geographically-driven phases rather well: from early Viennese experiments in hard-edged abstraction to more expressionist abstracts leading up to her move to Paris in 1961, where she developed her ‘body-aware’ style of figuration. Relatively realistic works followed as she found herself a painter reacting against the prevalent conceptual use of media in New York (1968-80). She returned to Vienna in 1980 to become, at 60, the nation’s first female professor of art. Self-portrait with Speech Bubble is typical of Lassnig's late, great flowering, showing her concern with the directly sensing parts of the body – no need, it seems here, for a brain.

Girl with Wine Glass, 1971 - oil on canvas, 178 x 127cm


Richard Mosse: Incoming @ Curve Gallery, The Barbican 

Still from Incoming, 2016
Richard Mosse made a big splash at the 2013 Venice Biennale with his film of the ongoing war in the Congo. He shot it with discontinued reconnaissance infrared film which turned much of the battle scenery pink, so infecting the scenes with a surprising look which also carried political resonance. Can he replicate that kind of impact? It seems so: The Curve features film footage centering on refugees movements and still images of the associated camp infrastructure. Both are taken with a thermal camera which can distinguish people at a distance of 30 km and, as such, is classified as a weapon for export purposes. Again, the aesthetic is beautiful and distinct. Seeing thermally removes racial differences but emphasises mortality. Even though Mosse doesn’t really exploit the unusual dimensions of the Curve, his name can be added to the list of artists who – out of 27 high quality commissions - have excelled there over the last decade: Richard Wilson, Clemens von Wedermeyer, Robert Kusmirowski, Celeste Boursier-Mougenout, Song Dong and Random International.

Hellinikon Olympic Arena, 2016, digital c-print on metallic paper



Images courtesy / copyright the relevant artists and galleries 


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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, The Art Newspaper and Border Crossings. I have curated five shows in London during 2013-15 with more on the way.Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.