Wednesday, 17 January 2018


The 30th edition of the London Art Fair is business as usual: more bad than good, but plenty of both.  Here are ten things I liked:

Sylvan Lionni: Totem, 2017 at Taubert Contemporary, Berlin

English born, American-based, German-represented Sylvan Lionni's recent practice includes the elevation of cake boxes to the status of totems. He collects them seriously, then  reproduces their various flattened forms in steel, exploiting how they can be presented as paintings but with the implication of their unfolding into sculptures. Sweet!   

Frances Richardson: In Times of Brutal Instability at Chiara Williams, London
Frances Richardson’s whole stand conception featured a piled rug which was actually made of quick-drying cement, an ill-fitting carpet which piqued the  repair instincts of the LAF installers, but which was actually an addition place by the artist, and giant post-it note paintings in beautifully curved wood: the cute self-missives which used to be on the notes in the studio were displayed alongside: What do we share? / Dry Porn / The fragility of hope...

Gwyther Irwin: Quintet, 1962 at Jenna Burlingham Fine Art, Kingsclere, Hampshire
Where the continental affichistes such as Jacques Villeglé tore paper away from layered posters, one workstream of the underrated Welsh artist Gwyther Irwin (1931-2008) saw him utilise the pieces torn away from posters as the basis for collages. This (121 x 154 cm) is unusually large and by current standards not £45,000 seemed a fair price. 

Angela Tiatia: video still from ‘Walking the Wall’, 2014 at Alaska Projects, Sydney
Maori performance artist and former model Angela Tiatia had the traditional tattoos also sported by her grandmother applied to her legs by pre-electric and rather painful means, and the markings take centre stage in wall-climbing of a sort in which western body commodification is trumped by her assertive stare and native style.

Boyle Family: Study of Old Bricks, Red Wall Series, 1979-80 at Vigo, London
Boyle Family’s most famous is work is the ongoing World Series project, stemming from the random identification - by guest throwing darts at a world map in 1968 - of 1000  sites across the world to be replicated.   This, from a related project, is an uncannily accurate painted fibreglass section of a section of wall (since demolished to make way for Wetfield Shoppping Centre) and a similar illustration of how anywhere in the world can hold our interest if presented the right way.

Adam Hennessy: paintings at New Art Projects, London
Adam Hennessy’s lively paintings feature a jauntily mysterious personal vocabulary of pigeons, fingers, sheep and - above shed, squashed ant and cabbages. They took over his gallerist, judging by Fred Mann's shirt  above. The booth also provides a chance to browse Hennessey's cringe-makingly funny ‘zine about getting crabs.

  Sidney Herbert Sime: Waves at Art UK

Five contemporary artists chose five paintings each from the Art UK collection to fascinating effect. Haroon Mirza  - consistent with his technologically-infected practice - used arbitrary Google searches to make his choice, but that didn't stop this seascape by Sidney Herbert Sime (1864-1941) with its curious overlay of stepped black lines being one of the most striking paintings. Sime has his own museum near Guildford...


DJ Roberts: Beyond the bright cartoons, 2017 at Canal, London

The best curated stand was probably CANAL/Monika Bobinska's combination of space, poetry and luminous abstraction with Claudio Del Sole, James Brooks, Patrick White (a realtime video animation of the night sky) and DJ Roberts' neon version of a line from  'Far Out' as written in Philip Larkin's notebook - in any art fair, as the poem says, 'Much less is known than not' - but that's a positive. 


Fiona Pardington: Nabokov’s Blues: The Charmed Circle at Starkwhite, Aukland

Sticking with great writers,  Maori-Scottish New Zealand photographer Fiona Pardington loves to reanimate museum collections, and has turned her attention to Nabokov as a scientific and serious butterfly collector through massive close-up photographs of his specimens  and related notes - stacking hundreds of photographs into single images which bring us close to Nabokov's obsessions, the butterfly's thorax, says Pardington 'crushed by the fingers that held the pen'. 
Yoshishige Furukawa: ‘D-21’, 1975 at Maus Contemporary, Birmingham, Alabama

The American gallery combined fascinating conceptual painting by Spaniard Irene Grau with works from the 1970s by the Japanese artist Yoshishige Furukawa (1921-2008), who moved to New York in 1963 and experimented with industrial materials, such as the rubber used here, to make 'paintings without paint'.

Saturday, 13 January 2018


Brussels has a rich mixture of commercial galleries, institutions, projects spaces and private foundations... Here are a few things which gained my attention on 11-12 January.

Richard Jackson: Yellow Bad Dog, 20017 at Riva Projects

The most famous artwork in Brussels must be the 17th century bronze of a urinating boy known as the Manneken Pis, in tribute to which my Eurostar reading was Jean-Claude Lebensztejn’s Pissing Figures 1280-2014. I didn’t expect the current exhibitions to echo it, but one of the Charles Riva collection’s two impressive spaces in the city featured an entertaining selection of works contemplating our relations with the animal world – one being Richard Jackson’s canine action painter.

René Magritte: One Fine Late Afternoon, 1964 at the Magritte Museum

There’s even more Magritte than usual in Brussels at the moment, an overhang from last year being the 50th since his death: two dedicated museums, a consideration of his and Broodthaers’ influence on contemporary art, and even a chance – which I didn’t take – to walk into giant recreations of famous paintings at the Atomium. One of his less-known strands are the death and laughter combinations in which he recasts groupings of figures from art history in the sarcastic form of articulated coffins.

René Magritte: untitled drawing at the Magritte House Museum

The modest ground floor apartment, 135 Rue Esseghem, in which Magritte lived with Georgette 1930-54 has been preserved, with an equally intimate museum in the separate flats above. Just 5,000 visit annually, and the volunteer staff would welcome only 50% more. You can, for example, see Magritte the designer of advertising posters in lean years, track his friendships and feuds – fellow Belgian surrealist Marcel Mariën distributed fake cut price special offer leaflets for Magritte works he thought overvalued) – and the occasional glimpse of the directly erotic. This didn't look at all related to Magritte's usual trickery until I asked myself: is she holding a penis or a dildo?

Evan Holloway at Xavier Hufkens

Established artists to show well included Mark Hagen, Frank Stella, Betty Tompkins and Evan Holloway. The last of those has long played with giving trees unexpected shapes and colours. Here the LA artist reduced them for the first time to single line of bronze, diminishing to indicate the paradoxical passage from single truck to single twig, and cast in angular chromatic progressions. Perhaps that suggests a critique of the arrogance of human interventions in nature. Which may, of course, receive its comeuppance…

Amélie Bouvier: White Light Flare, 2017at Harlan Levey Projects

There again, three artists new to me impressed. First, Brussels-based French artist Amélie Bouvier’s show The Sun Conspiracy generates dangerous beauty from something I was unaware of but had hardly missed: another way in which the world faces disaster. This large ink drawing derives from the solar storm of 1859, which was on a scale which occurs unpredictably, but every 200 years on average. If it happened today, every nuclear facility in the world would be exploded, Bouvier warned me, by the magnetic forces unleashed.

Nikolaas Demoen: Gold not Gold at Marie-Claude Flesich

Belgian artist Nikolaas Demoen’s intensely thought-through practice varies – even within a group show at MLF – from sculptural jokes to paintings of philosophers as birds to the installation ‘Gold not Gold’, which is drawn with a pencil marketed as ‘gold’, but which is unconvincing until an intense light is - intermittently - shone onto it. There’s a concise lesson here for advertisers and managers as well as anyone with a personal relationship…

Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Wrapped Trees, Fondation Beyeler and Berower Park, Riehen, Switzerland, 1997-98

What sort of 'ing name is the Ing Art Centre? Whatever, its impressive retrospective of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s urban projects includes some room-sized models as well as drawings, collages, maps and photo documentation of the realised work. Their most organic and so perhaps least typical wrap was of trees, as here, which proved a hard idea to locate but eventually bore fruit in Switzerland.

Alice Anderson: 'Spiritual Machines' at Valerie Bach

I don’t pretend to neutrality, having curated her in London, but Alice Anderson is one of the most profound and radical artists working today, and she is the current highlight of Brussels’ commercial scene. Fresh applications of established practices are presented alongside a new type of performance and painting-like copper wire works which hang with a hint of Rothko in the cathedral vastness of the Patinoire Royale - a former royal skating rink into which the Valerie Bach gallery extends.

Gedi Sibony: Pitcher with More Purple and Green, 2017 at Gladstone Gallery

How come, I wondered, intimately scaled still lives paintings by Gedi Sibony, whom I associate with such moves as appropriating the backs of lorries? In fact, they are conventional found canvases, over which the American adds his own oil painting as he seeks to discover and emphasise their hidden qualities. The results put me in mind of late Winifred Nicholson – and luckily I like Winifred Nicholson…

Elina Brotherus: still from Orange Event, 2017 at Contretype.

Film and photography had but modest presences, the highlights being how both Mario Garcia Torres at Jan Mot and Elina Brotherus at Contretype combined them. It’s hard to pin down quite why the Finnish artist’s evocations of herself in landscapes and re-enactments of flux propositions as games are so affecting, but tone, modesty and lighting must be in there. Here she is inverting the Duchampian with a friend following Bengt af Kinberg’s mid-sixties instruction to ‘regard two or three oranges for a long time’ (well, less than three minutes).

'Politics of Discontent' at Irène Laub

This 11-strong show curated by Jonathan Sullam, focusing on works which on the one hand denounce a system but at the same time incorporate it, was built around three walls: the artist-curator's own room-dividing neon version of a military fence; Rui Calçada Bastos' photographic wallpaper of a surveillance camera trained on the visitors; and the start of one to be built with Keen Souhlal's individually-crafted porcelain bricks, the intricate oriental architectural patterns on which allow for voyeuristic views through in the manner of a mashrabiya.

Georges Seurat: The Seine and la Grande Jatte, Springtime,1888

The central six Royal Museum site is organised to make things awkward (for example security is more intrusive than airports', combined tickets don’t cover everything, the automatic ticket-checking machines malfunction, different-sized bags are allowed in different places, and there is no café). But it’s hard to carp when the collections are so good… This must be one of the best of Seurat’s more intimately-sized paintings.


Petrit Halilaj: “Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!?” @ kamel mennour, 51 Brook Street - Mayfair

To 26 Jan
Installation view with Do you realise there is a rainbow even if it’s night!? (gold green), 2017 - Kilim carpet from Kosovo, flokati, polyester, chenille wire, steel, brass; installation with flickering and unflickering light bulbs - and various of the Moth drawings 

French gallery kamel mennour,  a welcome addition to Mayfair for 18 months now, presents the Berlin-based Kosovan Petri Halilaj. Born in 1986, Halilaj is known for the sensitive way in which his art reflects a traumatic upbringing in the Yugoslav wars of 1991-99.  He made an impact at the Venice Biennale in both 2013 and 2017, and this show is a version of the latter. The antennae in his delicate ink drawings of moths expand to suggest the textile patterning of the Kilim rugs against which they are shown. A giant moth sculpted from carpet and a flickering light, to which moths are especially attracted – complete an atmospheric installation. Not sure I've encountered a deliberately flickering light before...  

Detail of Moth #7, 2017 - Wooden frame made by the artist, killim carpet from Kosovo, black ink on paper and metal pins
85 x 62 x 15 cm

Ilya & Emilia Kabakov: Quotations @ Sprovieri, 23 Heddon St (also at Tate Modern)

To 27 Jan
Ilya Kabakov: Quotations #1, 2012
The Tate's Kabakovs' retrospective (to 28 Jan) is a must-see, though it has been criticised for having too many recent paintings when installations are preferred. I disagree, but it is true that the choice of paintings (which are Ilya's work alone) is a bit unbalanced: lots of the image and history layering of the  'Two Times'  and 'Collage' series, but only one each from the superb 'Under the Snow' and 'Colourful Noise' series, and nothing from the 'Quotations'. So it is a worthwhile pendant to see two of that last set. In these, realistic elements are not part-covered by snow or lost in TV-like static, but lie behind a luminescent supremacist-style 'fence'. Sprovieri also shows the collaborative 'unfinished installation', the text for which explains, alluding perhaps to the plans for a new nation, that 'looking at a building under construction is much more interesting than looking at a finished one'.
Ilya & Emelia Kabakov: Unfinished Installation, 1995-2017


Hans KotterPoint of View @ Patrick Heide Contemporary 

Art,11 Church St - Marylebone

To 13 Jan

Installation view (photo Marcus Leith)

The gallery is celebrating its tenth year with a substantial and attractive book which reveals how Patrick came to sign up each of the  33 artists he has represented, and builds to an account of how they have taken his underlying preference for the language of abstract drawing in innovative and consistently delicate directions. The German post-Zero artist Hans Kotter is on to his fourth solo show. He draws with light, and impresses with the range of ways in which he transforms his works’ immediate environments through colour changes, illusions of depth and cyclical movement. There’s also some gentle humour in Practicing (Diptych), not a note I recall from before, and the chance to learn what a cuboctahedron looks like.    

Practicing (Diptych), 2016-17



Drift @ JGM Gallery, 24 Howie St – Battersea

To 20 Jan 

Phillip Hunt: Paperjet 4, 1999-2018

Niko Kos Earle pulls off a refreshingly ambitious show in JGM's sparkling new space: very big work brought in from across the world, united by an abstract intensity bordering on the spiritual, and by how the four artists have – in the titular theme – drifted around the world, between ways of being, and into different materials.  It hangs together beautifully as, for example,  Lluís Lleó, just returned to Spain from  America, achieves a monumental delicacy on paper; Suki Jobson repurposes old dresses discovered in her Irish birthplace; Anglo-New Zealander Simon energises architectural from with implied movement; and  Cape Cod based Phillip Hunt revisits work he made in South Africa last century to intoxicating effect *. 

Simon Allison: Spin Cycle and Debris, 2016 

* bias alert: I helped a little with the show - you can see a fuller account of it here



XVII: The Age of Nymphs @ Mimosa House, 12 Princes Street - Oxford Circus

To 13 Jan

Upper installation view with Nika Neelova, Folded Rooms, perimeter of studio traced in stainless steel and wax and folded, 2017 -  Photo: Damian Griffiths

A surprisingly extensive and central new project space makes the most of its unusual set-up here through a Russian-oriented show  which has an underworld, a transitional corridor and a more ethereal upper zone, all tied in to the number 17 – as in the anniversary of 1917’ revolution, the number of years Putin has been in power, and the time cicadas spend underground prior to their ‘resurrection’ for a month of mating. Olga Grotova’s films hook us into the cyclic calm of nuns who look as if they’ve stepped out of a Helmut Newton photo; Nika Neelova turns the topography of a shucked-off exoskeleton hanging below into a coolly folded room above; Yelena Popova provides both apparently evaporated portraits, as from the deep past, and an empty cut-out awaiting future faces; undeterred by their lack of tymbals to flex and wings to flick, Neelova and Mira Calix team up to imitate both male and female cicadas in the corridor, crossing sex and species boundaries and referencing the mythical transformation of people into the insects when first introduced to and overpowered by music. Does it all cohere? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly worth the pondering. 

Lower installation view with Olga Grotova, The Ice Rink, video, sound, 11’40, 2017 and Nika Neelova, Exuviae, 2017 - Photo: Damian Griffiths.

                             Marie Harnett: Still @ Alan Cristea Gallery, 43 Pall Mall – Central

To 6 Jan

Marie Harnett with the linocut Grief, 2017

Here Marie Harnett, known for her ravishingly detailed small drawings of films, extends her scale and material scope and the ways in which production and cinematic times relate. The frozen moment images are - still - all taken from film trailers, Harnett preferring not to have her choices influenced by the whole movie’s narrative, but the graphite works range from postage stamp to cinema screen sizes. They include Picabaesque  ‘overlap drawings’ (as below), taken from frames in which one scene cuts to another; and some extensive abstract passages. She’s also made large linocuts which use curved lines, suggesting fingerprints on celluloid filmstrips held up for inspection: they look like plenty of work, so it’s bracing to learn that a 15 x 10cm drawing takes her as long as cutting a two square metre triptych. The artist also reveals  not her hand but her sources’ hands in the short film (or is a trailer?) ‘Hands’, collaged from – you guessed it – film trailers. 

Allerdale Hall, 2016 - Pencil on paper, 8 x 15cm


Giorgio de Chirico: Getafisica da Giardino @ Nahmad Projects, 2 Cork St and  Reading de Chirico @ Tornabuoni Art, 46 Albemarle St - Central

To 15 Dec (Nahmad) / 10 Jan (Tornabuoni)

Sun and Moon, 1972
Happy times if , like me, you like all phases of de Chirico. Nahmad has the odder of two substantial shows, for which Francesco Vezzoli installs paintings against a wallpaper background of de Chirico motifs, complete with astroturf floor. There are 18 de Chirico’s: first run 1920’s classics, later ‘self-copies’ of the same subjects, some misdated by the artist (can you forge yourself? Discuss), self-portraits in his ‘old master’ style… and an ante-room full of the little-known late motif of the sun as a character which can, for example, sit on a chair. Vezzoli contributes three works: paintings which vary de Chirico’s originals in appropriate spirit, and a classical torso to which he has added a de Chirico head à la tailor’s dummy.  Great fun, and well complemented by the more scholarly presentation of 25 de Chiricos at Tornabuoni.

Installation view at Nahmad Projects

Tony Matelli: Past-Life @ Marlborough Contemporary, 6 Albemarle Street - Central

To Dec 22

Woman in the Wind, 2017 - marble and painted bronze

Jasper Johns may be the subtlest investigator of the differences between art and life (see the Royal Academy) and Giorgio de Chirico the most atmospheric combiner of classical and modern (see Tornabuoni and Namhad Projects) , but Tony Matelli acts as an inheritor of aspects of both with his  found statuary aged by sandblasting, truncation and patination, topped with contrastingly perishable items, such as fruit, made  permanent in painted bronze and cast glass to yield a  striking new twist on the vanitas theme. Back stage, in the office, you'll find Matelli's best-known stream of work - a bronze weed - and what looks like a dusty mirror, riffing further on apparent age and insignificance.

Reclining Figure, 2017 - marble and painted bronze


Marc Vaux | The Edge and Beyond - constructed works 1977 - 2017 @ Bernard Jacobson Gallery, 28 Duke Street St. James's - Central

To 21 December


Cube 1, 2006: powder coated aluminium, glass, hand-painted wood, 22 x 22 x 22cm
There's a twist in the tail of this 40 work retrospective survey. For the last quarter century of his production, Josef Albers (1888-1976) pretty much painted just squares. Marc Vaux, a consummate painter-maker, focused primarily on the square for forty years from the mid-sixties, exploring in particular how vari-colouring the edge of a white square and / or taking it towards three-dimensionality affect its light and space. This decade though, Vaux has gone beyond Albers by turning towards the oval. He says he wanted something which didn't operate on the horizontal and vertical, and neither was it symmetrical. Add that the oval can look quite different when its proportions are changed, can be tilted interestingly, and has links to natural and human forms, and the new direction he has taken into his eighties of his 80’s became clear.
Untitled, 2017: Mixed media with acrylic, 30 x 50 x 15 cm 


Hiroshi Sugimoto: Snow White @ Marian Goodman Gallery, 5-8 Lower John St - Soho

To 22 Dec

Union City Drive-In, Union City, 1993
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographs of movie theatres taken over the full course of a screening so that – typically - 170,000 images coalesce to form a white screen, tick enough conceptual boxes (time, absence, abstraction…) to have become a staple of themed group shows. But what is gained by seeing 20 of them together? Plenty, as it turns out: the shadowed detail around the screen is captivating in large format, and varies considerably between the sub-subjects here: still operative cinemas; abandoned theatres in which Sugimoto reintroduced a screen and projected a film to take his photograph; drive-in screens; and Italian opera houses – architectural inspiration for the American theatres which Sugimoto first started filming in 1976 - for which the film is typically projected onto the stage curtains.

Paramount Theater, Newark, 2015


Florence Peake: Rite @ Studio Leigh, 6 Garden Walk – Shoreditch

To 16 Dec

Still from Rite

Studio Leigh’s first show across the road from its former space sees dancer-artist Florence Peake draw multi-formed multi-collaborative inspiration from the Rite of Spring. Little of  the music is heard, but the centrepiece is a film in which Rosemary Lee, shot from a dramatic overhead view, battles her way out from under a bed of wet clay to the internalised sound of Stravinsky’s score, expiring after 14 minutes of dancing herself into birth and then, as in the ballet, to death. That floor has been cut into a grid and fired to make a performative sculpture. Peake herself has danced Rite-rhythmed body drawings - onto oil-primed paper and a plywood board with sand and plaster -  and made half-cairn, half-human sculptures tapping into the primitive forces of the Rite. The elements come together to make an visceral and active composition.

Installation view with The Ancestors and Spring Rounds (on wall)


Tom Wesselmann: Bedroom Paintings @ Gagosian Davies Street & Tom Wesselmann @ Almine Rech, Grosvenor Hill - Mayfair

To Dec 16

Bedroom Painting #21, 1969-1975

I guess one thinks of breasts  for Tom Wesselmann's pictures of body elements, but hands and feet star in the Gagosian half of this double-bill. In the oval Bedroom Painting #21, you might think they are set against abstract elements, but that radical black centre is a curtain, overlapping a green blind, allowing a slither of landscape; and we see yellow flowers, a section of purple wall and a light switch. And if you find it a little cold in its rigorous, formal, implicitly sexual organisation – what are these, adverts for parts of women? - then there’s a warmer, more intimate feel to the complementary show of later work in Almine Rech’s newly-opened basement space, All include the face, such as this mother and baby study, which flowed into a shaped canvas of 1979-91.  

Study for Barbara and Baby, 1979

It’s hard to complain about the big institutional shows just now: Whiteread, the Kabakovs, Modiligiani at the Tates; Monochrome Painting and Rodin at the National Gallery; Cezanne at the NPG; Rose Wiley at the Serpentine Sackler; the US generational overview provided by Wade Guyton (Serpentine), Seth Price (ICA) and Dan Colen (Newport Street); Thomas Struth at Whitechapel; Soutine at the Courtauld; Dali/Duchamp and Jasper Johns at the RA… and all except Johns are up over Christmas. Here are a couple of examples of why, contrary to the mysteriously mixed reviews the show has received, I reckon anyone who hasn’t yet been should head to 'Something Resembling Truth' by 10 December: 

Where ‘Flag’ was really a painting, ‘Fool’s House’, 1964, presents a broom which is not only a real broom, but is labelled as such. The same can be said of the cup and towel. The point is that the broom is actually being used as a brush, the sweep of which – in a satire of ‘action painting’ – has left a mark on the canvas. So if ‘meaning is use’, in the formulation of Johns’ favourite philosopher, Wittgenstein, then the ‘broom’ ought to be labelled ‘brush’. And so on:  ‘mixing pot’ not cup, ‘paint rag’ not ‘towel’.  Hence ‘Fool’s House’: the artist’s house has bled into his studio, and he has foolishly failed to identify the difference. Yet we may suspect that art and life are rightly seen as inextricable, or as Shakespeare had Lear put it: ‘this is not altogether fool’.


'Two Flags on Orange' from 1986-7 shows Johns continuing to manipulate his foundational motifs, even as they remain – first and foremost - the bearer of painterly effects which interrogate the relationship between art and reality. Here orange ignites the ground enough to hint at contagion; and by employing the ‘rotational effect’, whereby the flag dis- and re-appears at the edges as if the image were cut from a cylinder, Johns defamiliarises the flag and might even mean to form the capital letter ‘I’ from the negative shape. That’s would be directly autobiographical, as more recently explored by Mark Wallinger in paintings of the letter ‘I'; and also a typical reference to Johns’ own art, in which letters have a prominent place – so making one early motif out of another. The medium – ink on plastic – is unusual but as typical of Johns as encaustic.

          Chaim Soutine: Pastry Cook of Cagnes, 1922  

The place to be at the moment is  Somerset House  and surrounds: there's a wonderful 21-work Soutine portrait show at the Courtauld, Hassan Hajjaj has an innovative presentation in the Terrace Rooms, and Lisson (with twenty major installations), Vinyl Factory and the Koenig Gallery have projects a few yards away on the Strand and even the Courtauld's library has a show (of Simon Morley)...


 Richard Long's Avon mud painting for the Lisson show is, well, long - 60 metres...  


And then there's this...


Melancholia. A Sebald Variation @ Inigo Rooms, King's College London, Somerset House East Wing

To 10 Dec:


Still from Guido van de Werve: Nummer Veertien: Home, 2012

With so many big shows having opened for Frieze week it would be easy to omit the basement galleries under Somerset House’s East Wing, but that would be a mistake. Rather, you should take two hours out of the  hurly-burly for this paradoxically uplifting exploration of melancholy. Inspired by WG Sebald, especially ‘On The Natural History of Destruction’, it starts with Durer, incorporates the WW2 bombing of Germany and unseen work by Tacita Dean and Anselm Kiefer among others, and pivots on a cinematic presentation of Guido Van der Werve’s hypnotic 54 minute film Number Twelve, Home, which starts on the hour and demands to be seen in full. Then you can ponder whether ‘in the description of the disaster’, as Sebald claimed, ‘lies the possibility of overcoming it’. 
Jeremy Wood: My Ghost, 2015 - a GPS track of his movements around London over 15 years

Light in Motion: Balla, Dorazio, Zappettini @ Mazzoleni, 27 Albemarle St – Central

Giacomo Balla, Compenetrazione iridiscente N. 15 , c. 1912 

The Turin / London gallery uses its newly-expanded exhibition spaces effectively to set up a series of cross-generational trialogues revealing the affinities between the Italians Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Piero Dorazio (1927-2005) and Gianfranco Zappettini (born 1939). Balla’s ‘iridescent interfaces’ in particular shimmer in the manner of work made 50 years later, but the less directly futurist works seen here were largely forgotten until championed by his much-younger friend Dorazio in the late 50’s. Dorazio himself feeds the other key influences of Mondrian and Delaunay into explorations of colour and wave which, judged by Frieze Masters, are increasingly sought after. Zappettini draws the viewer into the optical and structural syncopation simply by applying plastic – sometimes coloured – over black and white drawings.  

Gianfranco Zappettini, Strutture in BX 2 , 1965-1967 , 80 x 80 cm


 Martin Puryear @ Parasol unit, Wharf Road – Hoxton

To 6 Dec:

Night Watch, 2011 -  Maple, willow, OSB board, 295 x 310 x 122 cm - Photography by Benjamin Westoby

A storied fifty year career lies behind Martin Puryear’s overdue first UK retrospective, which nods to his original training as a print maker but concentrates on a substantial grouping of sculptures. They succeed by combining subtlety – in the hand-honed use of wood in particular, in how undidactically the history of the African diaspora is invoked -  with a frequently large scale and clarity of forms which achieve a human yet mysterious ‘rightness’ which is easy to recognise but hard to pin down. There's plenty of ambiguity too: is Night Watch a field of corn, a hair transplant writ large, a broom to sweep away or bristle to enumerate the anxieties of insomnia, or a reference to Rembrandt? 

Big Phrygian,  2010–2014. Painted red cedar, 147 x 102 x 193 cm, Photography by Benjamin Westoby


Laurent Grasso: The Panoptes Project @ Olivier Malingue, 143 New Bond Street – Central

Laurent Grasso, The Panoptes Project at Olivier Malingue, London. Photo: Marcus Peel

This unusual, dramatically lit, dark-walled show comes from inviting Laurent Grasso (well-known in France as winner of the Turner-equivalent Marcel Duchamp prize in 2008) to combine his own work with choices from the gallery’s secondary market collection: Ernst, Picabia, Picasso, Magritte, Brauner... Grasso immerses us in gazes echoing the myth of Argos Panoptes, a giant covered with a myriad of eyes. His own additions of floating eyes onto found landscapes, and eyes-only copies of historical portraits, act as recurring motifs as surveillance, astrological observation and voyeurism come into play…

Laurent Grasso, The Panoptes Project at Olivier Malingue, London. Photo: Marcus Peel

Stuff / Sarah Pager / Charlie Warde @  Lubomirov / Angus Hughes, 26 Lower Clapton Rd - Hackney Baths

To 26 Nov

Chris Jones: Last Things Last, 2017 - book and magazine images, digital printouts, wallpaper, lenticular postcards, paper, board, wire, polymer varnish
Three interesting shows in the same building... The biggest is Becca Pelly-Fry’s exceptionally tight curation 'Stuff' on over-accumulation. Comedian George Carlin (‘home is a place to keep your stuff while you go and get more’) sets the tone for seven artists, centered around Chris Jones' computer and surrounding detritus made mainly out of magazine pictures. Phil Thompson presents a flash film of images found on discarded USB sticks; Alice Mendelowitz's paintings are designed not to take up space; and Richard Pasquarelli paints with precise simplification from his photographs of the homes of OCD organisers and compulsive hoarders respectively*. Elsewhere Sarah Pager has a lively show as artist in residence (towers of bins, lots of apples, a hypnotic animation made by multiplying one lone fly). And you can read my text on the third show, Charlie Warde’s 'Disappearing Landscape', either here or on the basement gallery’s wall. 

* here Pasquarelli shows sentimental hoarders, who keep stuff for its connections: he told me the other main types are information, aesthetic and recycling hoarders
Richard Pasquarelli: Ed No.3 and Sirje No. 1, 2017 - oil on linen

Installation shot: Sarah Pager, Harvest, 2017

Herman de Vries: The Return of Beauty @ Cortesi Gallery, 41 & 43 Maddox St – Mayfair

To 18 Nov:

Herman de Vries (born 1931) was part of the zero movement in the early 60's, from which material minimalism he has progressively infused the natural, its relation to man, and – as flagged by the title here – the potential return to beauty through the man-made’s reintegration with nature. He represented the Netherlands in the 2015 Venice Biennale, but has shown little here, so this impressive retrospective is most welcome. By way of a taster, it includes thousands of rose buds; various shades of ashes; all the leaves from a given branch; meadowland pressed behind glass; newspaper in systematically varied stages of deterioration; and a text work which enjoins us to ‘be happy’ – as de Vries does at the end of his phone calls - but repeats the word ‘happy’ thousands of times in a rainbow of colours. You’ll be happier if you see it. 


Robert Longo: Let the Frame of Things Disjoint at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Ely House, 37 Dover Street - Central

To 11 Nov:

Study of Eagle, 2017 - 92 x 107 cm

This, Robert Longo's  most substantial show yet in Britain, features 30 works, many of them enormous charcoals in  his signature, darkly radiant, technique.    True, Longo makes images because he loves them, but he looks for subjects which resonate both personally and publicly and come together to form an engaged account of the world with seduction and power at its centre. Here the overview, under a title taken from the doomed Macbeth, incorporates Ely House's former life as the home of the Abelmarle Club, terrorism, resonances from art history, and a unsurprisingly jaundiced view of America now. The backstory and interconnections ratchet up the power of individual works, which include a friend in a Burka, X-rays of famous paintings, a redacted Guernica, bullet holes in glass, a ravaged stars and stripes, and the 'paths of the mind' which merges tree and brain images in the wake of his stroke in 2013.

Untitled (Copenhagen, February 14, 2015), 2017 - 260 x 3015 cm


Leonardo Ulian: Real Reality @ Beers London, 1 Baldwin St - Old Street

Fireworks (2017), copper and concrete on steel plinth, 210x30x30cm 

London-based Italian Leonardo Ulian, who has degrees in micro-electronics and fine art, has become associated with intricate 'mandalas' built out of computer components. He moves those on in his new show, focusing on the hippy aspect of their 'tech meets spirit' vibe by integrating backgrounds of graphic colour blocks such as a mystic-looking sun and mountain. More radically, 'Fireworks' takes the looped copper wires further into 3D as another transformative experience is summoned, with economically surprising use of coloured sands on the wire ends to imitate sparklers, flowers and nerve ends. And ‘Labor Intra 1001’ lays out a complex but theoretically solvable maze to suggest both the brain's circuitry and the thinking going on in ours should we attempt it. 

   Labor Intra 1001 (2017), copper wire on canvas

!Mediengruppe Bitnik: Are You Online Now? @ Annka Kultys Gallery, 472 Hackney Rd – Cambridge Heath

To 11 Nov:

The Swiss collective (read the odd name as ‘not mediengruppe bitnik’) imaginatively subverts the online world, here with a striking installation which operates in appropriation and exposure mode, but also metaphysically. When the ‘adultery arranging’ site Ashley Madison was hacked in 2015, it became clear that almost all the subscribers were men talking – expensively – to an army of 75,000 female chatbots.  Ashley Madison Angels At Work in London allows us to screen test five of the 436 fembots ‘entertaining’ some 200,000 London-based users through various chat-up lines. Do they pass the Turing test? You’ll think not, which just goes to show how fully – perhaps desperately – their interlocutors must have suspended disbelief *.  And yet this could be the future…

* Though not all of them: see the full story here

Andy Holden & Peter Holden: Natural Selection @ former Newington Library, 155 Walworth Road - Elephant & Castle

Andy Holden is one of our best artists, and Art Angel have an unrivalled track record the commissioning ambitious new work in unusual places... So it's hardly a surprise that you should visit a disused Victorian library  which was previously father and son-run Cuming Museum. There you will see Holden's collaboration with his ornithologist father through two films with accompanying material and objects. First, 30 minutes on birds’ nests: how are they made and why do they take the form they do? How are the skills inherited? Might they possibly be art? What if Holden himself makes the nests? The other is a social history of collecting bird's eggs - the latter stages of which are either a rogue's gallery or sad case studies of obsessives born out of time (alongside one of the most notorious illegal collections is displayed). This is fascinating and also leads us to reflect on what we take from our parents, to what extent we can escape it, the difference between instinct and art, and what is real here, and what (like the collection of eggs) is not. 


Zanele Muholi: Somnyama Ngonyama (Hail, the Dark Lioness) @ Autograph ABP, Rivington Place - Shoreditch

Bester V, 2015

Zanele Muholi’s Faces and Phases portraits (from 2006 ongoing) asserting the presence of the black LGBTQI community in South Africa have been widely shown, but here we have only 70-odd self-portraits from 2014-17. Is there room for more such work in the post-Sherman, post-selfie age? This tremendous double exhibition - of her ‘Dark Lioness’ series, and newly commissioned images of Muholi in a kimono in Kyoto and a former prison in Johannesburg - proves there is. Race, class and personal history are more prominent than sexual identity as Muholi intensifies her blackness by increasing the contrast in black and white photographs and uses potentially absurd yet aesthetically potent props to clue us in to back-narratives. The scouring pad hat of Bester V. Mayotte, for example, both dignifies and critiques her mother’s lifetime of domestic labour; while Basizeni XI uses tyres to haunt the memorialising of her late sister with colonial rubber production and execution by ‘necklacing’.

Basizeni XI, Cassilhaus, North Carolina, 2016


Stano Filko: Reality of Cosmos @ The Mayor Gallery, 21 Cork St

Map of the World (Rockets), 1967 - monotype on map, 95 x 180cm
Lucia Gregorova Stach, of Slovakia’s national gallery, has curated this show of 1960’s work by the second most famous Slovakian conceptualist after Julius Koller. She pitches him as somewhere between Beuys (Filko has a foundation myth of becoming an artist following a near-death experience in a munitions factory) and Kabakov (he’s an oblique satirist of the communist state). Thus Filko (1937-2015) displays proposals for buildings, cobbled together anti-monumentally from found metal, so that they dominate an image of the Bratislava skyline’s socialist utopia. He pitches red blood against blue cosmos, male rockets against cavorting women in a pop-style assertion of erotic over political against the collage background of a world map – which his work, unlike his small country but consistent with what was apparently a big personality, threatens to usurp. 

Models of Observation Towers, 1966-67 - mixed media installation, 12 x 300 x 85cm

Sargent: The Watercolours at Dulwich Picture Gallery

To 8 Oct:
The Fountain, Bologna, c. 1906
80 works show John Singer Sargent relaxing into watercolour during 1900-18, largely for his own pleasure and often linked to travel tied into his more lucrative work, with Venice, Southern Europe and the Middle East prominent. The best (which is to say, most) have unexpected subjects or viewpoints allied to a tight structure with contrastingly loose and often surprising application of colour. And there’s magic in, for example, the way he can transmit a sense of hot or cool temperature; depict rocks under water with convincing economy of means; suggest his own movement as he paints from a gondola; or blend figures into the pattern of a landscape.


Turkish Woman by a Stream, c 1907


Bernard Piffaretti: Calligram @ Kate MacGarry, 27 Old Nichol St - Shoreditch

To 21 Oct

Untitled, 2017 - acrylic on canvas, 160 x 40 cm
'Is he still doing the same old double thing?' asked one painter when I mentioned Bernard Piffareti. And it's true, the French artist's first London solo plays several new canvases against several older ones, all using the method he's followed since 1986: choose a size and shape of canvas, choose an acrylic colour (he never mixes them), use it to paint a vertical spine down the centre, and then proceed to paint either side similarly. It turns out there's plenty to play off in that set-up, one being the back and forth caused by the slight differences between halves, another the unanswerable puzzle which has temporal or hierarchical primacy. Examples here include wall-like, road-like and floral modes, as well as the small, circular 'Tableaux en negative', which suggest a snapshot of part only of a larger painting, the two halves diverging notably from symmetry by capturing different aspects. There's also a text painting, which rearranges the show's title - 'Calligram' - to form a decorative pattern. It's a whole world, and maybe all the paintings - says Piffaretti, are just one large painting. 'And you', I asked back, 'are you still doing the same old single thing?'

Tableaux en negative I, 2010 - acrylic on canvas, 60 x 60cm


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.