Sunday, 8 August 2010


I tend not to feature the big public shows as they're well-covered elsewhere, but they're the main ones still open in August. So here for a change is my - loosely defined - 'institutional' choice. The Picasso and Alÿs shows are 'must sees', among the best shows in London in recent years, and the Surreal House and New Décor shows taken together aren't far behind. My choice still excludes quite a few shows which I found less persuasive or have touched on before: I reckon there are a good thirty shows on in London's institutional spaces at present.

From 'Ambulantes'

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception @ Tate Modern – Southwark

To 5 Sept:

This wonderful show demonstrates the Mexico-based Belgian’s consistent ability to find political and aesthetic resonance in actions which are as simple in their conception as they are complex in their ramifications. Who’d have thought life in the streets of Mexico City and the frustrations of Latin American economic development would have had so much poetry in them? The title alludes to how, even once we’re aware of the emptiness of capitalism, we still fall for its mirage.The catalogue, unusually, doesn’t get much bound up with the 20-odd main pieces chosen for the show, but illustrates, describes and considers 60 works well enough to make it clear that a quite different exhibition could have worked just as well. There’s also something touching about the rather scruffy little paintings through which Alÿs explores his ideas - and which also help to fund the more extravagant actions, such as moving sand dunes, building bridges from boats and chasing tornadoes. The installation is good, too: one neat touch is how boys in one film play the game of skimming stones out towards the Thames.

Anatomie féminine, 1946

Picasso: the Mediterranean Years (1945-62) @ Gagosian Gallery, Britannia St – King’s Cross

To 28 Aug:

True, the Gagosian Gallery isn't an institution, but I'm counting it as a museum of international quality for the somewhat jaw-dropping purposes of Picasso’s ‘Mediterranean Years’. There are plenty of less often-seen works among this extensive survey of a literally and artistically sunny period for Picasso. That means plenty of fresh examples of the way Picasso continually innovates and yet seems to do so by incorporating all his previous styles. The result is that when you come across a work you haven’t seen before, it may look like nothing else he did, but it will also look completely like a Picasso: to take some marvellous examples: the painting of a swimmer which crowds its space with the urgency of a drowning; a vase wearing a bikini; a door with Françoise Gilot – with whom he moved south in 1946 – painted on it; caricatures of couples in conversation; and drawings of women with bizarrely huge eyes.

Francesca Woodman: Yet Another Leaden Sky (Rome, Italy), 1977-78

The Surreal House @ The Barbican Gallery

To 12 Sep:

The Barbican’s main gallery is a famously awkward space, and it has been eclipsed by the superb use made of its subsidiary Curve over the past couple of years. For now, though, that is reversed as John Bock is better in Berlin than at the Curve in London just now, whereas the main galleries exactly suit the psychology of space explored by ‘Surreal House’. It brings together an eclectic range of work dealing with the renegade dwelling as a site for the surreal. The sub-themes, such as 'Vertigo of the Modern', 'The Mother' and 'A Home for Birds' work well, and there is plenty of material included which is outside the mainstream story of surrealism but feels very relevant here: Buster Keaton, Edward Hopper,Francis Bacon, Paul Thek, Rebecca Horn and Rachel Kneebone,for example.

Jim Lambie: Get Yr Freak On

The New Décor @ the Hayward Gallery - Southbank

To 5 Sept:

What should you put in a surreal house? The Hayward may have the answer. The gallery looks much as it was before its latest refit, but the staff have natty new pink uniforms. However, there’s no need of architectural or sartorial distraction, because The New Décor’s anti-functional take on furniture is a gleaming treat and something of a riot - there are dark moments, but it's a funnier show than the Tate’s rather flat ‘Rude Britannia’. And it complements not just The Surreal House but also the excellent ‘Design High’ at Louise Blouin last year: that was mainly of furniture makers making art: this is essentially artists making furniture, however impractical or fantastic. The secret is simple: Ralph Ruggoff has chosen the right artists – there aren’t many surprises here – and they’re represented by big pieces which are among their best. Take doors: Jim Lambie reduces the handle to a phallic absurdity by applying 50-odd to one door; Ugo Rondinone goes wonderfully over the top in fortifying a massive medieval portal against entry (to the exclusive world of art?); Elmgreen & Dragset devise various strategies to stop them working as they should. The originality and resonance of the ideas is just as marked in the case of chairs, cupboards, tables, beds, lights and even bins.

The Pregnant Woman, 1971

Alice Neel: Painted Truths @ Whitechapel Gallery, 77-82 Whitechapel High St - Aldgate East

To 17 Sept:

Alice Neel (1900-84) excelled in a rare if narrow genre: the uncommissioned portrait. She was out of fashion for most of her life, which was a difficult one in terms of her relationships, children and mental state. All of that seems to pour into her emotionally charged paintings with their characteristic look from the late 50’s onwards of blue outlines, bold colour combinations and a superficially awkward anti-realism which comes close to caricature and yet convinces. This is a big, varied show, but Neel’s intense interest in her sitters shines through – be they mother and child, her own son, a critic she dislikes, or a famous figure such as Warhol: you do feel the difference from commissioned portraits. No wonder there have been widespread rave - overhyped, even - reviews.

One Flight Up

Alex Katz: Portraits @ National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place – Central

To 21 Sept:

The NPG's concentrated survey of Alex Katz begins with ‘One Flight Up’, a table-top holding two sided painted cut-outs of 31 figures from New York’s artistic society in 1968. The format emphasis what is present in the canvases too: that these are flat personalities, and we see the image of their self-images. The cut-out also brings to mind Matisse (and indeed, Barry Schwabsky’s catalogue essay nominates Katz as Matisse’s true heir). One of the 31 is, of course, Katz’s wife and muse Ada, who reappears strikingly in some of the accompanying paintings. She’s his perfect model, he says, because, ‘she saw a lot of movies and digested all the images so she never makes a bad gesture’. The show is brought up to the minute by Katz’s recent portrait of Ann Wintour, one from a new series with yellow backgrounds which have replaced the previous series’ more dramatic use of black. All are recognizable without being realistic: they’re visibly drawing-based, severely edited, and include such features as oversized or even flesh-coloured eyes. All of that speaks to Katz’s often-remarked origins in 1950’s abstraction – and you could argue that he and Alice Neel are more influential than, say, Jackson Pollock, on what artists are making today.

Virginia #42, 2004

Sally Mann: The Family and the Land @ The Photographer's Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies St - Central

To 19 September:

Sally Mann’s photographs make plenty of sense if you take the view that all photography presages death. She typically uses an old-fashioned wet-plate collodion plate camera and to make big black and white prints in the back of her truck, inviting the dusty conditions to enhance the impression that they have come straight from the past (and to energise the images:'I pray for the angel of uncertainty to visit my plate', says Mann). She became controversial in the 1990’s for her portraits of her often naked children, some of which the show includes, along with intense long-exposure facial close-ups. Mann moved on to gothic southern landscapes, often with battle histories, and then to death direct: corpses left to rot for scientific reasons by the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Centre. All her work is haunted by time and a disturbing sense that something might be wrong in the choice of subject and the world. That, rubbing up against the beauty of the images, is what sold this body of work to me despite what Mann admits are 'potentially fatal doses of romanticism'. Talking of which...

Changing things [detail], 1997: silk, plastic, wire and pins (342 parts)

Jim Hodges @ Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road – Finchley Road & Frognal

To 5 Sept:

This retrospective of the American artist Jim Hodges, who came to prominence during the Aids crisis with which his work is often associated, provides a heady dose of beauty with an elegiac undertow: flowers, webs, reflections, fragility… The mood is reinforced by Breda Beban’s parallel presentation at Camden, which films people listening to the songs they’ve chosen for their funerals. Hodges’ rooms are explorations of what all feels like drawing, but mostly by unorthodox means: by mixing ink with saliva, covering a newspaper with gold leaf, cutting away and folding out the leaves on a photograph, building a column of plastic flowers, making spiders’ webs from metal chains. It's very poetic and runs the risks of tipping into the precious or overly sentimental. However, I thought there was enough imagination and assurance in play to find a space apart from those fates in which, as the publicity puts it, the work comes across as ‘deeply personal but never quite autobiographical’.

Still from 'The Russian Museum', 2003

Olga Chernysheva @ Calvert 22, 22 Calvert Avenue – Shoreditch

To 29 Aug:

The latest sleek presentation from East European-oriented space Calvert 22 is much the fullest showing in Britain of the multi-media artist Olga Chernysheva (born Moscow 1962). Her career is post-Soviet – she was the first Russian to study at Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie – but looks back to the hangovers from the previous era to mediate old and new worlds. Thus the security staff and petty functionaries in her photographic series ‘Guard’ and ‘On Duty’ remind us of the malign system which comparable positions once backed up, even if their jobs now consist of doing nothing. 32 lightboxes featuring a cactus seller in a musty natural history museum provide a metaphor for Russian society’s more widespread tending of obsolesence; and the market traders in the watercolours ‘Blue-Yellow’ are marginalized survivals of the Tsars, never mind the Communists. I saw the show as more than just a meditation on the post-Soviet frame of mind, though, for who isn’t a product of the past - even if only in their reactions against it? The video ‘Russian Museum’ imposes the present on history very directly by depicting visitors’ reflections in paintings along with telling extracts from the contemporary-yet-dated audio guide for the museum – an innovative method of collage which put me in mind of…

The Artist: THE THE THING IS (FOR 3) @ Milton Keynes Gallery

To 12 Sept:

How big is London? Well, Milton Keynes makes a distinctive destination
for a 40 minute trip to what I’ll call the city’s outer outskirts for
the purposes of recommending a show by ‘the artist’ - who chooses not
to reveal a name. That tactic may seek to make us look transparently
at the work, not at him/her, and to cock a snook at the way
reputations create value in the art market. I can’t imagine the motive
is avoidance of blame*, for the artist’s first solo museum show is
bursting with interesting ideas wittily presented: the exploration of
potentiality; ordering chance; the messages in silence; denim as
utopian; even the invention of a new typography, based on letters on
the even pages living in the shadows of their opposite letters on the
odd page before them. Best of all are the radical forms of collage
through which the artist seeks to show how two things combined create
a third thing, as the show’s title stutteringly hints. Some collages
do this by placing pages in light boxes so that we see the images on
both sides of the sheet simultaneously; others simply remove the
staples from magazines (as illustrated)to allow inspired of choices two
previously-distant pages to interact in surprising ways. I emerged
wondering if it is ever possible to have just two entities. Maybe
Princess Di had the artist, not Camilla, in mind when she said that
there were three people in her marriage…

* Had the show been a clunker, I’d have outed Giorgio Sadotti

Still showing from previous lists:

Pierre Soulages to 1.10, Frank Bowling to 3.9, Chelpa Ferro 24.8 - 18.9, The Marquise Went Out at Five O’Clock to 5.9, Tanabata to 7.9, Bold Tendencies 4 to 30.9, Newspeak to 17.10 gives full address and opening time details of most shows


There will be any number of shows opening for the Autumn. Among those early in the month, I am looking forward to:

WITH @ Rokeby: 2.9 – 2.10
Sunless (curated by Walead Beshty) @ Thomas Dane: 2.9 – 2.10
Sean Branagan @ Gooden Gallery: 2.9 - 17.10
Alex Gene Morrison @ CHARLIE SMITH: 3.9 - 2.10
Alejandro Ospina @ IMT: 3.9 – 31.10:
Sinta Werner @ Nettie Horn: 3.9 – 17.10
Marcus Coates @ Kate MacGarry 3.9 – 10.10
Darren Almond @ White Cube West: 3.9 – 2.10
Rachel Whiteread @ Gagosian Davies St: 7.9 – 2.10
The Body in Women’s Art Now (2) @ Rollo: 8.9 – 5.11

Picture credits: relevant artists and galleries + Andrew Keate('the artist')

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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, 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.