Tuesday, 7 September 2010


The autumn season has arrived and it is vigorous,lively and varied, embracing new modes of abstraction, various takes on self-identity, inkblot inspirations, the postal system and eccentric performance...


Alex Gene Morrison: Dark Matter @ CHARLIE SMITH London, 336 Old St – Hoxton

To 2 Oct: www.charliesmithlondon.com

At first glance this show of what look like gloweringly elemental abstracts with slab-like titles (‘Mass’, ‘Beam’, ‘Static’ and, indeed, ‘Slab’) has little in common with the more populated paintings and videos of Morrison’s last London solo outing in 2006. In fact, they represent various openings, and their status as coffins, tombs or as portals into other potential dimensions becomes clear when you learn that they were partly inspired by the death of the artist’s father. Morrison’s previous interest in video games, counter cultures and science fiction remains, but with classic abstractionists added to the mix in what might be seen as accounts of future worlds in which a particular set of twentieth century pasts has come back into fashion: Morrison says he likes ‘the time travel aspect of referencing Malevich, Rothko and Rienhardt while keeping the viewer in the present’.

You can see my interview with Alex Gene Morrison at www.charliesmithlondon.com/press-2010-08-23-agm.pdf

My Work Here is Done XV

Steve Bishop: ><>< @ Gallery Vela, 38 Langham St – Fitzrovia

To 25 Sept: www.galleryvela.com

Steve Bishop seems to be leading a sculptural double life: his neon ‘n’ taxidermy graduation period work from 2008 is still being widely shown (and will be in Part II of the Saatchi Gallery’s ‘Newspeak’) even as he develops his current more abstract strand: assisted ready-mades with a particular penchant for glass coffee tables. Might that be why the eccentric exhibition title is a mixture of a keyboard’s forward and return symbols? What pushes this seven piece set beyond mere elegance is how unlikely combinations – such as glass and cassette tape – achieve a conversational harmony; whereas items which ought to get on – most obviously two barstool bases of the same design – contrive to fall out. This is the third show at Alli Beddoes and Patrick Cameron’s Gallery Vela – named to suggest a constellation of stars – and it’s developing an interesting programme, with each artist also proposing literary and musical tie-ins: Baudrillard and John Cage (with a performance from 4 pm on 25 Sept) are among Bishop’s picks.

Cecily Brown: New Laboutin Pumps

The Body in Women's Art Now: Part 2 - Flux
@ ROLLO Contemporary Art, 51 Cleveland St - Fitzrovia

To 5 Nov: www.rolloart.com

This show is rich in underpinning ideas about what might be termed the assertion of female identity beyond feminism – see my interview with its curator, Philippa Found at www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/blogon/allbycontributor.php?search_by=PAUL%20CAREY-KENT – but it also contains what are, taken for themselves, compelling works. Upstairs are three well-known artists: Cecily Brown somehow gets a muddy brown abstraction to coalesce into a lushly erotic scene of pumped-up copulation. Nathalie Djurberg’s extreme pair of videos show a father figure trying to cut off his darker desires along with his limbs, but to no avail; and a mother suffering from her children deciding to return to the womb. Tracey Emin rips into traditional views of female handiwork by showing the assertive double-handiwork combination of drawing herself masturbating. Downstairs are three interesting newer artists. Tiina Heiska and Sarah Lederman bring abstract and existential dimensions to female figure paintings; while everything is fluid, literally and metaphorically, in Helen Carmel Benigson’s very contemporary videos.

Installation view

David Blandy: Child of the Atom @ Seventeen, 17 Kingsland Rd – Hoxton

To 2 Oct: www.seventeengallery.com

Downstairs, David Blandy shows a 14 minute film which takes forward his ongoing but oblique exploration of his self-identity by showing him as a world-be cartoon hero and with his infant daughter visiting Hiroshima to search for their origins – on the basis of what Blandy calls a familial myth that ‘my late Grandfather would not have survived being a Japanese Prisoner of War had the atomic bombing of Hiroshima not occurred’. Upstairs, Blandy has converted the gallery into an anthology of Hiroshima as it is now. This set-up has three points of particular interest. First, it anatomises the difficulty which everyday banality has in escaping the portents of history in such a place (an aspect, incidentally, which is beautifully explored in a purer form in Kirk Palmer’s recent lyrical cityscape film ‘Hiroshima’). Second, the artist’s daughter narrates the trip as her future, adult self – so standing in for what Blandy’s father might have said at the time Blandy was a boy about Hiroshima’s role in his son’s origins. And third, that use of the ‘future self’ put me in mind of the fiendish philosophical conundrum which Derek Parfit formulates in ‘Reasons and Persons’ (1984). A crude version of that might go as follows: right actions in respect of the future are those which maximize the welfare of future generations; the atomic bombings were such a pervasive event that they affected who existed. Therefore, we should be pleased that Hiroshima happened, or there wouldn’t be a ‘we’ to be pleased. In the same way, future generations could see, for example, global warming as having been in their interest. Parfit shows that it’s not so easy to produce a knock-down rebuttal of this intuitively absurd conclusion. Perhaps Parfit’s logic can help assuage Blandy’s guilt at feeling he is in a sense the product of an atrocity…

Alejandro Ospina – fotolog/ @ IMT, Unit 2, 210 Cambridge Heath Road – Cambridge Heath

To 31 Oct: www.imagemusictext.com

To date IMT director Lindsay Friend and curator Mark Jackson have concentrated on conceptually-driven installations with an emphasis on sound, and Alejandro Ospina’s is the gallery's first exhibition of paintings. Most of them show semi-naked teenage girls from the artist’s native Colombia – but it is, of course, a thoughtful show rather than a titillating one, and the themes connect neatly to those at Seventeen and ROLLO. Ospina paints directly from computer monitors in a post-modern take on both the figure and still life traditions, using a rapidly painterly style and incorporating the effects of disguise or censorship in the originals, all of which are from publicly posted personal albums and tend to put the viewer in the place of the unseen mirror. The painter – far from controlling a model in the studio – is at the mercy of how his models pose themselves and of what internet search engines throw up. The paintings show how the girls want to present themselves to the world, and celebrate the power we now have to disseminate constructions of the self without technological constraint. But there is a darker note: the last painting is of Phillip Alpert, who argued with his under-18 girlfriend, distributed her naked photo widely, and was prosecuted for child pornography offences.

The inspiring book

Reanimation Library: Hackney Branch @ [ space ] , 129-131 Mare St – Hackney

To 16 Oct (but note the limited weekend opening times): www.spacestudios.org

Paul Pieroni runs a highly energetic and eclectic programme at Space, with several innovative shows going on at any one time. They tend to include extensive film programmes of the sort you are more likely to plan to watch than to actually to sit through, but those run alongside more concise efforts - of which my current favourite is the eccentric-sounding ‘Reanimation Library: Hackney Branch’. That originates from a off-beat collection of books in Brooklyn which is used as a means of sparking art. In this case it leads to half a dozen entertaining pieces triggered by a 1961 Texas University volume which proposes the Holzman Inkblot Technique as a more scientific approach to personality testing than the better-known Rorschach Test. Cue such paeans to interpretative uncertainty as asking people to say what they see in the blots only to obstruct their mouths by dental damming (Hans Dienberger), the presentation of a sculpture of an inkblot through the photographic record of its only viewing before it was destroyed (Nina Beier), and one man enthusiastically sucking the prosthetic nose of another (in Richard John Jones’ 60’s gay homage ‘Jack Takes a Trip’). What can it all mean, and what does your answer tell us about your personality?

Adam Dix: The Advocates

Keep Me Posted @ Posted, 67 Wilton Way, London – Hackney

To 26 Sept: www.postedprojects.co.uk/keep-me-posted

Founding White Cube director Julia Royse has a pop-up space running through to next February in a former Post Office just west of the Hackney Empire, funded by the local council’s Empty Shops Project. The tightly packed and curated first show reflects nostalgically on the days when letter writing, local post offices and rapid delivery were the norm. Several of the 26 artists exploit the location: for example Andrea Blank has put a parcel made of stone on the weighing machine, and the mug of tea and desk top accessories on the counter prove, when one walks round to the staff side, to be hollowed out from the back for Miyo Yoshida’s ‘Absence’. It’s an enjoyable show, not least for Cate Halpin's eccentrically personal stamp album, James White’s painting of a wishfully screwed-up electricity bill, Adam Dix’s crowd in thrall to satellite dishes and Polly Morgan’s pigeon in a bottle - which might look good giant size in Trafalgar Square...

Promise 3

WITH: WITHSTORE _001 (LONDON) @ Rokeby, 5 Hatton Wall – Farringdon

To 2 Oct: www.rokebygallery.com

Over the past decade, the collective WITH have acted as post-modern satirists of artistic value by making bespoke ‘solutions’ which, with appropriate evidence provided, live out experiences on behalf of a client – perhaps most pointedly when they undertook to do nothing for a week on behalf of Rokeby director Beth Greeenacre, so leaving her free from her usual obligations. Now they have gone entertainingly, multiply and surreally off the shelf: WITH will be happy for you, miss meetings on your behalf, provide a scratch-off-and-see poster which allows you to recover hidden memories, or accidentally (on elaborate, health & safety-teasing purpose) smash a glass for you in performance. You often don’t know quite what you’ll get: you need to be brave to commission an encoded sex act or have them develop offensive opinions on your behalf. All fun, but not altogether fool: WITH neatly skewer our assumptions about normal social and business interactions and relationships, and have developed a distinctive graphic style to set out what they will do.

Room from 'The Coral Reef'

Mike Nelson etc @ Tate Britain - Millbank

To 3 Jan 2011: www.tate.org.uk

Even setting aside the Eadweard Muybridge and Rachel Whiteread shows, Tate Britain is well worth a visit for three newish reasons: the recently refreshed rooms of work from the collection, notably Gerard Byrne's immersive film installation '1984 and Beyond'; Fiona Banner’s spectacular use of the Duveens Hall to show two jet fighter planes as found sculptures of a diving harrier and a crouching jaguar; and best of all the first British installation since 2000 of ‘The Coral Reef’, Mike Nelson’s disorienting and atmospheric fifteen room tour de force of the clashing belief systems which lie under the surface of capitalist society. In retrospect, ‘The Coral Reef’ seems remarkably prescient of the world after 9.11, and all the more menacing for that. Now if someone could just explain why Nelson – along with Tacita Dean and the Chapman Brothers, come to that, not to mention Tracey - hasn't won the Turner Prize, whereas...


Joana Vasconcelos: I Will Survive @ Haunch of Venison, 6 Burlington Gardens – Central

To 25 Sept: www.haunchofvenison.com

Haunch of Venison’s imposing but awkward temporary space in Burlington House has proved more suited to the spectacular than the subtle, and Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos certainly doesn’t hold back in this museum-scaled retrospective. ‘The Bride’, the Duchamp-mocking chandelier out of 25,000 tampons shown at the 2005 Venice Biennale, isn’t here, though a vast knitted chandelier dominates the stairs. There are lots of animals covered in crochet, but the most effective – and spectacular – pieces are ‘Catwalk’ and ‘Garden of Eden’. The former seems to present the fragile egos of the fashion world in the form of ceramic dogs (though why not cats?) hanging from a revolving carousel. Visitors can set this turning so that the dogs swing into each other, and smash rather satisfyingly, bit by bit, into pieces. Walls have been taken out to accommodate the impressive spread of ‘Garden of Eden’, a darkroom installation of plastic flowers which glow in fibre-optic style to create a colorful landscape. 'Wow!' trumps 'why?', but I guess both are about the superficial allure and distancing undertow of the modern addiction to the artificial and, perhaps, how we have replaced ethical values with commercial ones.

Marcus Coates:
Shamanic costume, for consultation in Elephant and Castle, London 2009

Tour Suggestion: There have been some vissicitudes in the quality of galleries on Vyner Street since it emerged as an art destination, but despite the recent departure of Ibid Projects it is certainly well worth visiting at the moment. For me the highlights are Madder 139’s group show on blackness, plays on perspective at both Nettie Horn and Gooden, a concise (and film-free) survey of Marcus Coates in his debut show for Kate MacGarry, and Ciprian Muresan’s frightening puppet film at Wilkinson. And then Space, as above, is the merest bus-hop north up Mare Street...

Still showing from previous lists:

Gelitin to 15 Sept, Alice Neel to 17 Sept, Sally Mann to 19 Sept, Alex Katz to 21 Sept, Chelpa Ferro to 30 Sept.

www.newexhibitions.com gives full address and opening time details of most shows


Here are ten shows I'm looking forward to:

Kengo Kita @ Daiwa: 13.9 – 11.10
Jason Martin @ FAS Contemporary: 15.9 – 7.10
Sadegh Tirafkan @ Selma Feriani: 15.9 – 27.11
Dig Down in Time @ Man & Eve: 16.9 - 23.10
Elina Brotherus @ Wapping Project Bankside: 16.9 – 23.10
Knopp Ferro @ Maddox Arts 16.9 – 13.10
Nathaniel Rackowe @ Bischoff / Weiss: 17.9 – 20.10
Nina Beier @ Laura Bartlett: 16.9 – 23.10
Gary Fabian Miller @ Hacklebury: 23.9 – 29.1
Paola Pivi @ Carlson: 25.9 – 31.10

Photo credits: 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, 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.