Thursday, 29 December 2011


Obvious highlights of 2011 included Miro and Richter at the Tate, Leonardo at the National Gallery, Toulouse-Lautrec at the Courtald, Degas at the Royal Academy, Twombly/Poussin at Dulwich, Pistoletto at the Serpentine, Struth and Sasnal at the Whitechapel, New Sculpture at the Saatchi Gallery and the British Art Show at the Hayward. Good stuff too, all of which I’m ignoring in plumping for a lower profile selection:

* 10 London shows, 5 which featured in my recommendations and 5 which might have but for one reason or another (eg the timing of the show or of my visit) did not

* 10 from the ‘rest of the world’ – fairly narrowly defined, in this case as ‘the other places I happened to visit’ or, in Southampton’s case, be in.

5 favourites from my 10 recommended London shows per month:

Phyllida Barlow: RIG @ Hauser & Wirth

Phllyida Barlow was something of an artists’ artist until she retired from her influential teaching practice at the Slade – Rachel Whiteread, Tacita Dean and Douglas Gordon are among her former students - revved up her exhibition schedule and got signed by Hauser & Wirth, for whom this was her first solo outing. The distinctive wood-panelled former bank proved an ideal host building for infestation by her trademark brand of pseudo-slipshod anti-monumental constructions. The scale of infestation was impressive over four floors of very physical sculptural experience – it got in your way – with political overtones: barricades with the feel of the street in a place with a capitalist history. What’s more, Christoph Buchel’s Piccadilly Community Centre was pretty much as effective in a different register in the same building…

Emma Hart: To Do @ Matt’s Gallery, 42-44 Copperfield Rd – Mile End

Feel-good show of the year was Emma Hart’s chirpily hypnotic cacophony of 27 ‘assistants’ - which is to say tripod-based sculptures with avian features, each showing a short film on a pocket camera in which Hart herself makes jokes and calls out instructions. Hart explains that the bird-cameras sprung from their visual similarities as small things with beady eyes, and their shared ability to influence our behaviour, eg we try to spot both. Fun aside, this also picks up on her ongoing concern for the camera as an active creator of events, and sneaks in surveillance as a darker theme by way of twitching. Hart is currently in residence at the University of Kingston, by the way, and you can catch her performing there on 25 January.

Pino Pascali’s Final Works, 1967 – 1968 @ Camden Arts Centre

The way in which the Italian arte povera artists used everyday materials remains highly influential in current practice, but Pino Pascali (1936-68) had hardly been seen in Britain before this show, despite his prominent role at the start of the movement, and despite – or is it because of? – his glamorous lifestyle and potentially myth-making early death in a motorcycle crash. It proved a startlingly fresh show, conceptually and materially (even though it used lots of steel wool, which should by rights have disintegrated by now). There was something right, for example, about the wrongness of a six-legged spider...

Clockwise Stoppage (8.30pm-5am)

What If It's All True, What Then? @ Mummery & Schnelle

This two part 12 artist show surveyed that fertile strand of abstraction which tweaks the distinction between painting and object. It had the incidental merit of invoking some excellent recent shows elsewhere (Angela de la Cruz and Peter Joseph at Lisson; Simon Callery at Fold; Rebecca Salter at the Beardsmore Gallery) and prefiguring (pre-abstracting!?) a couple to come (Jon Thompson at Anthony Reynolds, Paul Caffell at Mummery & Schnelle itself). Alexis Harding’s performances of paint, in which the canvas is turned as the paint congeals, were one highlight…

Jodie Carey: Somewhere, Nowhere @ The Pump House Gallery, Battersea Park

June was the perfect time of year to stroll through Battersea Park to the unique four floor gallery which – happily – survived a well-publicised grant reduction. Here Jodie Carey used a pared-back aesthetic to tease a fragile beauty from base materials, affirming life at the same time as evoking its vulnerability and potential addictions. Cumulatively, her installations - wallpaper patterns of cigarette ash; a marbled and surprisingly sparkly carpet of ground blood and dust; cast plaster slabs which incorporate the chance effects of coffee and lace - also brought a bodily presence to the architecture.

5  shows from London not previously featured:

Blue 25.05.11

David Batchelor: 2D3D @ Karsten Schubert

David Batchelor is known mainly as a sculptural bricoleur (eg of found light boxes) and colour theorist (eg his book ‘Cromophobia’). Novel as it was to see his paintings for the first time, their focus was, then, thematically unsurprising: pools of colour which provide the titles; a sculptural emphasis on how those pools wrinkle into intricate patterns when left to dry on sheet aluminium over several months; and a resemblance to forms on a plinth - whether they be abstract shapes, exhibited heads or, more cheerfully, liquorice allsorts.

Simon Periton & Alan Kane: The Asbo Mystery Play and Other Public Works @ Sadie Coles HQ

Sadie Coles might well be my gallery of the year, with an exceptional programme in both spaces. In cases such as William N Copley, Jonathan Horowitz, Andreas Slominski and Georg Herold that was no surprise, but I hadn’t know what to expect from Periton & Kane, though this was in fact the second collaboration between these artist-friends after an 18 year gap. An inventive and witty installation took as its theme the generation of absurd proposals for public works: how about giant cigarette lighters instead of streetlamps? Repainting the drains in disco colours? A tramp’s sculpture table? A pavilion based on a baseball cap? And so on, with many transparently affectionate ways to mock and yet pay obeisance to the possibilities of the monumental.

Untitled, 2011
Simon Liddiment @ the Standpoint Gallery

The Standpoint Gallery awards artist residencies which conclude with a quickfire show over a single weekend. I caught Simon Liddiment’s, which included a set of ‘male’ and ‘female’ anthropomorphic / phallic / mammary coat hooks, which Liddiment he’s painting daily until the ‘closure’ of touching is achieved: he expects that to take three years. Add an ingenious frieze of beer labels and a shelving bracket holding up a panda poster (deconstructing the frame’s role and setting up a half-rhyme between brackets and bamboo) and you had a satisfyingly focused and witty whole.

Floor Piece
Leah Capaldi @ The Hole

There’s a tradition of intense performance art in which the performer tests the endurance of themselves and the audience. Not so Leah Capaldi’s recent performances, as other people carry them out and they form part of the ambient scene. Her ‘Floor Piece’ at Simon Bedwell’s adventurous venue The Hole exposed just the crown of the head of an actor secreted beneath the floorboards in a memorable coup de theatre of exposure and vulnerability, offset by its humorous resemblance to a rodent. Capaldi also infiltrated both the Catlin Art Prize and New Contemporaries with overwhelming perfume, distracting viewers from the other works and pointing up those shows’ competitive edges.

Michiel Ceulers: MCHL CLRS DRNK TRBL @ Rod Barton

I happened to see three very different shows by the imaginative Belgian painter Michiel Ceulers. First, at Juliette Jongma in De Pijp, Amsterdam’s equivalent of the East End,were his included ‘matings’ of pairs of paintings found in the art college skip. Second, at Rod Barton in London, where what looked like crosswords-come-space invaders–come-abstract-geometries proved to be paint and vodka depictions of the QR codes which linked to an instructional video of how to make cocktails. So the paintings refer beyond themselves – to spirits in two senses, perhaps – and might even prove useful to the thirsty collector. Finally, at Maes & Matthys in Antwerp, he took an unexpected figurative turn.

Ten from Elsewhere

From 'I Modi'
RH Quaytman: Spine, Chapter 20 (Basel) Cherchez Holopherne, Chapter 21 (Cologne) and I Modi, Chapter 22 (Venice)

It was something of a year of triples, as I also saw three chapter’s of RH Quaytman’s increasingly well-regarded site-specific sets of paintings: in Basel (in dialogue with the exhibition history of the Kunsthalle, and also making up a retrospective through self-reference), Cologne (linked to an antiquarian bookshop) and Venice (inflected with nautical themes). All convinced in their context – and Spine, her own illustrated account of Chapters 1-20 – bid fair to be declared monograph of the year for and its nuanced self-exploration and the way it formed part of what it recorded (the strength of her following was shown when the launch run of 2,000 sold out on her opening night in Basle at $100 a pop).

Installation view with the levitating hoop 'Sunrise'
Eva Rothschild: Hot Touch @ The Hepworth, Wakefield

Wakefield’s new Hepworth Museum opened to general acclaim in May, and it certainly does its principal subject proud across six of the galleries. But there was plenty to be said, too, for the big solo show of Eva Rothschild’s ‘magic minimalism’, which took several cues from Hepworth whilst still infusing their materialism with a sense of looking for some mystery beyond. They seemed equally at home in Wakefield, whether laid on the floor, suspended from the ceiling by Buddhist hands, or constituted in large part by parodies of more orthodox plinths.

Lighthouse (East)
Catherine Yass @ the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill

Catherine Yass’s retrospective at the iconically modernist and recently restored de la Warr Pavilion included new work featuring a striking lighthouse platform a couple of miles out to sea in Bexhill. That was given added power by its being just about visible from the pavilion roof, and for me personally from the fact that, though formerly local, I’d never noticed it before! I was also struck by Yass’s innovative use of blues and browns: blue, she say, is the one colour which floats behind and in front of the plane… hence its a blue negative she lays behind the straight image taken 5 seconds later. And a London version of this show opens soon (13 Jan – 11 Feb at Alison Jacques).

The Fugue
Neo Rauch @ Museum Frieder Burda, Baden Baden

There was no shortage of outstanding painting restrospectives in London in 2011: Leonardo, Poussin/Twombly, Richter and Sasnal spring to mind. However, the highly influential Leipzig painter Neo Rauch remains little-seen in Britain, so it’s a shame these 40 works didn’t tour. True, Richard Meier’s new museum provided an ideal setting for the meeting of surreal individuality with collective memory which drives Rauch’s brand of enigmatic post-pop incongruities with one ghostly foot in the communist past… but I still reckon it was a Hayward-sized show. Better news here is that Rauch's underrated wife, Rosa Loy, has a solo show opening on 24 Feb at Pippy Houldsworth.

Still from 'Squeeze'
Mika Rottenberg: Cheese, Squeeze and Tropical Breeze: Video Work 2003-2010 @ Museum Leuven

The newly-extended museum Leuven, a university town twenty minutes from Brussels, has an interesting permanent collection and as many as six wide-ranging temporary shows on at any one time. This autumn those covered Gregorian chant and Dirk Braeckman’s photography as well as impressively sculptural installations of seven films by New York-based Argentinian Mika Rottenberg. Cue blissfully mad systems of manufacture which satirise capitalism and the roles it ascribes to women, such as the use of ultra-long hair in cheese making or recycling a bodybuilder’s sweat. Rottenberg’s most elaborate set-up yet – Squeeze – also features documentary shots of lettuce and rubber production made to seem almost as absurd as the invented elements.

Dress Vehicle
 Haegue Yang: Teacher of Dance @ the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford

The Berlin-based Korean brought a charged domesticity and an implied sculptural dance of folding and unfolding to Oxford’s airy space. Her ‘Non-Unfoldables’ are similar clothes racks transformed by covering and hanging items, while the ‘Dress Vehicles’ are boxlike groupings of venetian blinds on wheels, allowing the visitor to enter and move around the gallery. Was it too much to see the eponymous teacher as meditating on how much of our existence takes place in our relations with such commonplace objects?

Thomas Hirschhorn: Crystal of Resistance @ the Venice Bienalle

Thomas Hirschhorn’s almost absurdly ambitious Swiss Pavilion was a standout work at the Venice Bienalle. He provided plenty to read about how love, philosophy, politics and aesthetics operated through his rigorously excessive and illogically beautiful installation, inspired by a rock crystal museum, sci-fi B-movie sets, crystal-meth labs and a cheaply-decorated provincial disco. It was hard to know where – or, sometimes, whether – to look as the large space was overrun by broken glass, cotton buds, mannequins, disturbing war images, chairs, Barbies, mobile phones, beer cans and the crystals themselves ‘resisting visibility’ – with plenty of Hirschhorn’s signature tape to mummify things / bind them all together

Series E, 1967-68
 Charlotte Posenenske @ the Hansard Gallery, Southampton

The gallery linked to Southampton University presented the fullest account yet seen in Britain of Charlotte Posenenske (1930 -85), a German artist who has become widely known only since she featured in Documenta four years ago. The show concentrated on the influential work she made in 1967 before giving up art for a career in sociology – Judd-like scultures with a manufactured aesthetic but also an anti-market stance (unlimited editions at cost price) and a participative dimension, most obvious in those which can be rearranged by the viewer. Cerebral, cool and challenging.

Bear Creek

Boo Ritson: D is for Donut @ Southampton City Art Gallery

Two shows from Southampton may seem unbalanced but naturally enough I see everything in my home city, and it does have two excellent spaces. Body painting has become increasingly popular since Boo Ritson introduced her witty sculpture-painting-performance-photo narrative portraits of American characters five years ago. That may make them seem more mainstream than they are, so this, her first British retrospective, was a good chance to be reminded of their art credentials and punch – and of Ritson’s broader range from still lives to masks. It’s followed by a full show of new work at Poppy Sebire in the spring - to include landscapes on canvasses through which she puts people’s heads – such as ‘Bear Creek’ above.

Marcel Dzama: Untitled, 2000
My Winnipeg @ La Maison Rouge, Paris

Who’d have thought that the Canadian city of Winnipeg (pop 700,000), best-known for isolation, cold and having once housed Marshall McCluhan and Neil Young, had more than 70 recent artists worth exploring? Perhaps it hasn’t, but it has enough to make this big party of a show thoroughly enjoyable, mostly in a quirky way which casts the Royal Art Lodge (Dzama, Pylychuk, Farber etc) rather than the edgier General Idea (claimed for Winnipeg through college attendance, though more associated with Toronto) as the defining collective. Nor had I realised that Erica Eyres, Karel Funk and Kent Monkman were all born in Winnipeg. Highlights included the Guy Maddin docu-fantasia which provides the show’s name, and ‘Winter Kept Us Warm’, a basement full of work showcasing the potential for erotic action during the snow-bound months.


Vija Celmins: Desert, Sea and Stars @ the Museum Ludwig, Cologne

This was a severe, sublime, black-and-white-only retrospective of skies, oceans, deserts and webs from the American who has found a way to unite the conceptual with the traditional. It showed, said Celmins, her attempts to represent what interests her in the totally different – because small and flat – world of the image, and to make that world more real than the memory in your head. The beauty is an incidental bi-product of her meditation on how much she can see – of her drawing as evidence of thinking - but that beauty certainly helps draw viewers into their own intense looking.

Monday, 26 December 2011


It's in the nature of surveys and group shows that you won’t like everything, but a good one will have a high enough percentage to make a show within a show which particularly appeals, and the rest will provide valuable context. That’s a fair description of my first half dozen choices… 

Douglas Gordon: Self Portrait of You + Me (David Bowie)
 In Your Face @ SHOWstudio, 1-9 Bruton Place – Mayfair

To 4 Feb:

Nick Knight, photographer-founder of the art of SHOWstudio, has packed forty artists into an energetic and confrontational mixture of art and fashion which focuses on the corporeal. It’s worth checking out just to remind yourself of the power of Abramović and Ulay’s ten minute shouting match projected up large. But the show also contains some original Viennese actionism, a blood-heavy mini-show of Franko B, Nancy Burson’s pre-Photoshop (ie pre-1990) blendings of faces across race and gender, Douglas Gordon’s burn-out of David Bowie, Nancy Fouts’ mummified boxing gloves, a near life-sized patterned nude by Orange County skateboarder-artist Ed Templeton… and more of like ilk, which is to say the best kind of worst kind of taste.

Leon Kossoff: Willesden Junction No 1, 1966
 The Mystery of Appearance @ Haunch of Venison, 103 New Bond St – Central
To 18 Feb:

When Haunch of Venison returned to its eponymous space after a three year refit it was hard to spot the difference. Only now has the point been revealed: that the gallery has been extended to run right through to a new main entrance on New Bond Street. The blockbuster chosen to inaugurate the expansion takes a subject-based approach to trace the mutual influences of ten major post-war British painters. It’s a bit of a mixed bag (are those really the best Caulfields they could find?) but full of interest. The room of nudes, and all of the Auerbach and Kossoff are especially good (I've been known to distinguish their similar styles thus: if I like it, it must be Auerbach – but these are really top Kossoffs).

Jonathan Delafield Cook: Belanus Crenatus
Radical Drawing @ Purdy Hicks, 65 Hopton St - Southwark
To 28 Jan:

London has been blessed with some fine drawing-based shows recently: ‘Polemically Small’ at Charlie Smith was excellent in December, and ‘A Piece of Paper’ is at Madder 139 (to 28 Jan). I’m not sure the selection at Purdy Hicks is any more radical than those, but it has some great stuff in it: Keith Tyson’s huge and amazing 1,193-room plan of a university from 1993; five brand new, typically kooky, Marcel Dzarma drawings; Gavin Turk’s tea ring stains arranged like dirty takes on Bridget Riley’s circle drawings; Jonathan Delafield Cook’s detailing of a barnacle, made mountainous by scale; a beautiful Wangechi Mutu watercolour collage, and a suite of lively drawings in matching register by the new-to-me Australian Sally Smart.

Georg Herold: Untitled
Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany @ The Saatchi Gallery - Chelsea

This very broadly premised survey (art made in Germany by anyone or by Germans anywhere) is well worth seeing, especially for Georg Herold's canvas-covered painting-sculptures - as above - plus Thomas Helbig, André Butzer and Max Frisinger. But it’s part of the point of such shows to provoke, and even accepting the exclusion of moving images and the decision not to revisit Richter and his generation or those (Rauch and Skreber in particular) previously shown to good effect by Saatchi, I could happily have lost several of the artists featured. Perhaps Magnus Plessen, Susanne Kühn, Michael Sailstorfer, Sofia Hultén, Rosa Loy, Sabine Hornig, Daniel Sinsel, Florian Slotawa, Haegue Yang and Cyprien Gaillard could have filled in the gaps...

Leo Fitzmaurice: Misarray
 Chain Chain Chain @ Bischoff/Weiss, 14a Hay Hill – Mayfair

To 28 Jan:

This is something of a coming of age for Raphaëlle Bischoff and Paola Weiss as west end girls, for ‘Chain Chain Chain’ plays off the surrounding jewelry shops in considering art and value. The interlinking angles explored are well set out in an accompanying leaflet by curator Glenn Adamson, half the team behind the V&A’s big show ‘Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970-1990’ (itself open to 15 Jan). There is, though, a nod to the gallery’s East End origins: Sue Collis, who’s represented by Hoxton’s Seventeen, formerly near to Bischoff/Weiss, has exchanged a section of wall between the two spaces. Oh yes, and the other works - from Leo Fitzmaurice’s re-modernising edit of packaging, to Nicole Cherubini’s clay that never leaves its box, via several rather blingier works – are themselves rather interesting.

Ditty Ketting: Untitled (346)

 Ongoing minimalism @ Rocket, Tea Building, 56 Shoreditch High St – Shoreditch

To 5 Feb:

Is there no end (qv Newman, Stella, Cruz Diez , Riley, Buren, Rondinone, Davenport, Lambie, Phelps…) to the lure of the stripe? Well, I didn’t feel its pull pall in Dutch painter Ditty Ketting’s complex constructions. She uses a traditional colour wheel system, spiced by random spinning, to lay her colours over and under cage-like structures of black, white and grey. That imprisonment of sorts palpably fails to prevent the bursting forth of her 16 colours. She’s the most maximal of the minimalists in this bright survey, but all five (Ketting, Michelle Grabner, Will Taylar, Lars Wolter, Stefan Eberstadt) have their complexities – would ‘Intricate Minimalism’ have caught the vibe more accurately? But that’s enough stripes…

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings @ Gagosian London x 2 (and New York x 3, Beverly Hills, Paris, Rome, Geneva, Athens, Hong Kong)

12 Jan - 18 Feb (London):

In what must be the logical antithesis of a group show, here’s a chance to join the dots internationally as all 11 Gagosian galleries are turned over to some 300 of Damien Hirst’s estimated 1,400 spot paintings (including, he says, five he made himself). Along with the spins, they make up a persuasive - if overblown - reducio ad absurdum of abstract painting as a means of expression. They’re also Hirst’s most Warholian play on the market, and one he hasn't given up despite declaring several streams finished at his 2008 Sothebys auction (come to that, what has he actually stopped doing?). As usual this millennium, it’s the performance not the work which takes centre stage with Hirst – a pity in a way, but he is good at that.

Mille Fiori
Dale Chihuly @ the Halcyon Gallery, 144-146 New Bond St – Central

To 29 Feb:

It's not easy to take a gallery seriously when (as on the top floor here) it hangs Picasso next to Lorenzo Quinn without apparent irony; and, supreme glass-blower though he may be, I’d put Dale Chihuly's paintings on the Quinn side of that equation. Get past those reservations, though, and there's some spectacular and luminous Chihuly spread around the lower floors of Halcyon's new, fourth (!) and biggest London gallery. The forty-odd glassworks – such as fantasy shell forms, cascading chandeliers, multi-horned vases and a garden of people-sized plants complete with pool - reveal the force of a medium pushed to its limits.

Offshore - installation shot
 Magali Reus: ON @ The approach, 1st floor, 47 Approach Rd – Cambridge Heath

To 22 Jan:

It’s not quite a Halcyon expansion, but The approach has started to use a second room above its host pub. Young Anglo-Dutch artist Magali Reus uses it to screen fit young men straining to shift big blue bobbing barrels in a colour-matched sea. That acts as a literal and macho counterpoint to the main space’s pared-back installation of sculptural surrogates which suggest transport and displacement: sleek riffs on airport security trays, luggage racks, camping mats, cameras and emergency ladders for train tunnels – the last two hauntingly combined to suggest a cinematic tracking device. What would its film show? Perhaps, for all our huffing and puffing, that we’re getting nowhere…

Unknown (I/H4) 
David Walker: Brides on Fire @ Rook & Raven, 7-8 Rathbone Place - Fitzrovia

To 19 Jan:

And now for something somewhat different… I’m not sure I’ve previously featured an artist normally classified as ‘urban’ or ‘street’ in my choices, but David Walker’s surprisingly brush-free spray paintings at the new Rook & Raven Gallery have a distinctive panache which takes them beyond their impressive spray technique and the graffiti origins referenced in the many scrawled and decayed marks which irritate the details. It’s obsessive work: Walker only does female portraits, which he sees as ‘’the historic measure of painting and beauty’; and you can still see the effects of the three years in which he used only black, white and pink.

Images courtesy of the relevant galleries and artists

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


London is painting central at the moment (Leonardo, Degas, Richter, Sasnal, Condo, Saatchi’s Germans, Dulwich’s Canadians…) but that’s not my theme. Rembrandt’s self-portraits in stimulating interaction with Bacon’s (at Ordovas to 16 Dec) could be seen as a lifelong project. After seven years, Charles Avery is halfway through creating his own world through ‘The Islanders’ (at Pilar Corrias to 16 Dec). That makes its eventual timespan likely to rival Nobson Newtown, for which Paul Noble has reached his 26th and penultimate main drawing after 15 years (at Gagosian to 17 Dec). In which context I start with three shows spanning 7, 15 and 35 years respectively. And my other choices feature artists whose individual works feel very much as if they are part of one long undeclared project: no strategies of inconsistency from Georg Karl Pfahler, Daniel Buren, Anne Craven, Neil Farber, Nathalie Djurberg, Tomma Abts or Alastair Mackie. A prize, though, to Bruce McLean, whose contribution to the fascinating show ‘Your Garden is Looking a mess Could You Please Tidy it up’ (at Payne Shurvell to 17 Dec) has been 40 years in the making...

Train, Mechanical, 2003-09
Paul McCarthy: The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship @ Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly, Savile Row & St James’ Square – Central

To 14 Jan (outdoor sculpture ‘Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools’ to 15 Feb at St James’s Square):

It’s not for the squeamish, but Paul McCarthy’s sprawling three-site takeover of Hauser & Wirth has the swagger of a show which must be seen. The seven year ‘Pig Island’ project grew so big in the veteran provocateur’s LA studio that ladders are provided to aid viewing of the orchestrated version. It contains as many deviants, butt plugs, body parts and KFC buckets as one would expect – but seems mild alongside ‘Train, Mechanical’: two animatronic George Bush caricatures sodomise two big pigs, the ears of which are fucked by smaller pigs. The mechanism whinnies and whines, the Bush heads spin, eyes popping, and follow you round the room. And there’s much, much more … enough to set McCarthy up as the romantic artist hero he’s debunking at Piccadilly in ‘The King’?

Sarakiniko Meltemi
Massimo Vitali: New Work @ Brancolini Grimaldi, 43-44 Albemarle Street - Central

To 28 Jan:

The Italian photographer Massimo Vitali is known for the washed out effect he achieves through slight under-exposure, and his concentration over the last fifteen years on large colour prints of Mediterranean beach panoramas as a means of exploring the human interface with nature. This handsome show sees landscape features increasingly dominate the tourists who formerly took centre stage. These – far from being casual snaps – require detailed research and route planning ahead of a team of four with a truckload of equipment in what has become Vitali’s summer routine ever since Berlusconi first came to power. Perhaps, he hinted at the opening, a more radical change of tack may come now Berlusconi’s gone.

John Smith: Unusual Red Cardigan at Peer, 97-99 Hoxton St – Hoxton
To 10 Dec: 

The increasingly acclaimed but anonymously named John Smith wryly acknowledges his 1976 student film ‘The Girl Chewing Gum’ (in which a director’s voice seems to control the action in a street scene) remains his best-known – indeed, you can see the original at Tate Britain now. He has repeated this film shoot at the same street corner 35 years on and superimposed this over the earlier version,making for a commentary on social transformation. He also presents nine internet plagiarisms / homages of the film, and tracks the identity of an online advertiser of its VHS edition: Smith has bought and now exhibits some of the seller’s eBay offering, including the eponymous ‘Unusual Red Cardigan’. A typically eccentric tale of identity, value, change and the vagaries of fame…

Georg Karl Pfahler: Paintings @ Maria Stenfors, Unit 4, 21 Wren St – Kings Cross

To 17 Dec:

This is a rare but welcome British showing from the estate of Georg Karl Pfahler (1926-2002), a versatile Nuremberg-born ceramicist, painter, sculptor and architect. He arrived at a hard-edged style of abstraction in the early sixties, which was closer to emerging American models than to any other German work at the time - though he reminds me most of the Swiss Max Bill and his Danish contemporane, Ib Geertsen. Here six large, crisply unfussy canvases suit the gallery perfectly. Several feature a rounded framing device which implies they are extracted from a wider circle, and that contributes to a satisfying interplay between the paintings and also an overall sense of openness.

Daniel Buren: One Thing To Another, Situated Works @ Lisson Gallery,
29 Bell Street – Edgware Rd

To 14 Jan:

Since 1965 the influential French artist Daniel Buren has always worked with the tool of 8.7cm wide stripes – he says for him to turn to something else would be like a similarly established pianist switching to the trumpet. If that sounds narrow, the point of the stripes is to make you see not themselves but other things – here the gallery space, of course, but also perhaps a spiritual dimension: there’s a room of woven fibre optics which come and go with the current, and another of coloured shadows. Add an outdoor installation and Buren’s upcoming commission for the remodelled Tottenham Court Road tube station, and the idea that stripes can keep you busy for nigh on fifty years seems plausible enough.

Ann Craven: Summer @ Southard Reid, 2nd floor, 67 Dean St – Soho

To 28 Jan:

Southard Reid, above Black’s club, has something of a coup with the first British solo show from American painter Ann Craven. For two decades she’s spoken to the sense in which you can’t capture the present before it becomes the past, by obsessively repainting similar scenes with a rapidity which sets out to challenge that logic. Here she tries to arrest flowers, portraits and the archetypal always-changing-yet-always-the-same moon. What’s more, the moments are sealed in triplicate: through the image itself, band paintings made with the left-over paint, and the palette which held the paint, itself completed with the ‘tag’ of a bird, Craven’s best-known motif. The whole amounts to a vibrant anamnesis of the fleeting nature of summer 2011.

Untitled (Criminals)
Neil Farber: Ursa Major @ Pippy Houldsworth Gallery, 1st Floor, 6 Heddon St – Central

To 14 Jan:

The second show in Pippy Houldsworth’s welcome return to a central location focuses on the phantasmal crowdscapes of Neil Farber, a mordantly witty painter who came to attention as part of the Winnipeg collective The Royal Art Lodge. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people emerge from acrylic and poured media, often with pools of gel for heads. They range from criminals to pigheads to the Fraternal Order of Peasants. I particularly like ‘Untitled (Better Than)’, which exploits the ghostliness of white gel to set up a dialogue between living people below and an ethereal cloud-crowd above, all of whom are murmuring words in which their heads are the ‘O’s, like vOices frOm beyOnd.

Nathalie Djurberg with music by Hans Berg: A World of Glass at Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Rd – Finchley & Frognal

To 8 Jan:

This is a substantial first UK solo exhibition for Nathalie Djurberg, the Swedish ‘claymation’ animator who explores taboos with charmingly crude and macabre relish: five older films in a 35 minute sequence (including the wonderfully direct birth reversal ‘it’s the Mother’) plus four new five minute tales running in convenient parallel to the same music. Berg’s score chimes with the striking glass-like sculptures which stand before the screens. They also act as props in the films, in which Djurberg’s archetypes show their own fragilities: all find that desire is stronger than sense, as when a woman made of butter incites a bull to lick her out of shape.


Tomma Abts @ Greengrassi, 1a Kempsford Rd – Kennington

To 22 Dec:

The 2006 Tuner Prize winner isn’t one to hurry: this, her first subsequent London solo, features eight new drawings and eight smaller (Abts’ standard 48 x 38cm) new paintings quietly at one with their objecthood. The drawings share a linear red and yellow language which hints at architectural structures. The paintings emerge from the application of successive layers which generate ambiguities between painted shadows, built-up elements, apparent perspectives and the way colours advance or recede. It would be good to see these anyway, but there’s also an innovation in the form of channels cut fully through the canvas to divide them in two: the same, perhaps, but rather more so.

Alistair Mackie: Copse @ All Visual Arts, Omega Place – King’s Cross

To 16 Dec:

Alistair Mackie characteristically uses natural materials to conceptual ends. Here he shows just one large installation, of severely pruned trees the bases of which have been carved into table legs. This witty conjunction of actuality and potential neatly reverses Giuseppe Penone’s well-known series revealing the tree within a block of timber: Mackie show the furniture ‘hidden’ in a tree, mixing inside and outside, nature and culture, not without a dark side in the copse’s violent combination of lopped limbs and wooden legs. Ask, and you can also see quite a cache of Mackie’s other work in the back room, made from wasp nests, mosquitoes, mouse skulls, rhea eggs…

 Images courtesy the relevant artists and galleries + Alex Delfanne (Hauser & Wirth)

Thursday, 10 November 2011


This collection of incidentals comprises an interview with Helen Carmel Benigson, a reasonably substantial review of Charlotte Posenenske (for ArtUS), briefer reviews of Henk Peeters, Jacques Villegle, Terry Rodgers and Marie Amar (for ARTnews), and essays for the current / recent shows of David Rickard, Nika Neelova and Richard Moon.

Queen of the Screen (A4 Lightbox), 2011

 Helen Carmel Benigson: The Future Queen of the Screen

Paul Carey-Kent talks to young multimedia artist and performer Helen Carmel Benigson ahead of her new London solo show at Rollo Contemporary, which runs from 11 November – 13 January. You can also get a taste of her distinctive world at Helen TV:

Benigson’s new solo show, to be followed soon by a retrospective at the James Hockey Gallery in Farnham, is a multi-media case of excess all areas: performance, video, photographs, monotypes, prints, videos on top of video, video on the pavement outside, stickers in the window, a tie-in to Helen’s TV... Themes and identities weave their way between the works, and it all builds towards one increasingly complex – and assertively pink, young and female – view of the world. With all the layering, immersion and sexualisation going on, it’s not surprising that Benigson has been called the Pipilotti Rist for a media-savvy generation: there’s naturalness to her use of digital media, social networking and video sharing sites which suggests a sense in which the screen might take over from the body. And yet she’s in the current issue of Vogue…

You’ve just finished an MA at the Slade. What next?

I’ve just got onto the one year Lux Associate Artist programme, which provides mentoring and support for eight artists to make films, and sponsors a concluding show.

There seem to be a lot of you. How many identities have you got?

Versions of me include my cousin, girl hip hop dancers, an avatar princess, Princess Belsize Dollar, my online profile

Is all the work here by Helen?

Yes, Princess is only for performance, though she does feed in to Helen’s work, and sometimes Helen features Princess as a subject. The rapper is part a different person who is a character I play but who is part of me…

You’re rapping as Princess Belsize Dollar at your opening, but there will also be a game of poker. Why?

I’m interested in both performance and games. I examine the screen as a virtual space which is also an architectural space which can stimulate image and performance – and poker is the ultimate game which uses performance as a device, through tells, bluffing and concealment. I’m not looking to control the poker in the way I’ve previously controlled male rappers by making them use my words to seduce me. This is purely about performance. Poker is also one of those things I love – along with roses, sushi, rappers, palm trees, the beach, soldiers, footballers and boys who play Fantasy Football – all of which appear in my work. My friends say looking at my work is like seeing inside my brain.

The film ‘The Future Queen of the Screen’ features avatars. Where are they from?

They’re dueling dancers from a video game. I played it so as to make the characters do what I wanted them to, and then intervened in the film as well. They stand in for the real hip hop dancers, who also appear in the film. I’ve performed with them and so they stand in for me.

What’s the story of the film?

There are two narratives: one is an imaginary space set in the Dead Sea, exploring the subconscious - it is a space of thought and reflection, it is a much slower space, using the idea of the landscape as a metaphor for body. I was also thinking of the girl as a metaphor for Israel. In the other narrative two dancers upload their video to YouTube and have a dance battle with another girl online. They start a relationship with fantasy footballers who persuade them to upload the videos to YouPorn. They then have to escape YouPorn, so they escape to a different universe, to an imaginary dry space represented by the Dead Sea. I might have called it ‘Duels and Dualities’ if David Blandy hadn’t got there first!

The longest film, ‘Clara’ (9 minutes) collages and revisits footage from previous films. There’s hyper-saturated colour and sexual fireworks in-cell-like interjections. The explosions mutate into darkly violent patterns. There are recurring images of you in a swimming pool and a woman disappearing down a waterslide like a plug-hole. What pulls all that together for you?

Immersion, infection and infestation are important. My various selves are multiplied. And I’m obsessed with manipulating and challenging borderlines: much of the content does that, and there’s also a literal border on the video, made from more doubled images. I’m breaking down any borders between my works.

‘Cellular’ seems to move in a new direction, as it looks like one straight unedited 6 minute shot which moves around the women’s section of a maximum security prison in Cape Town…

It is one continuous shot from a car, all taken within the prison complex. But we did have to get security clearance, and then drive round taking that one shot several times!

So it’s the sound, rather than the images, which is layered here?

Yes, the women, inside their cells, call out to me and as I travel deeper in, and their voices become more visceral as I layer and intensify their calls.

And this becomes another way to build cells into the work?

Yes, the prison cell works as both a political container and a biological space. I can identify with the prisoners on a corporeal level, occupying a cell, negotiating power, sexuality, identity.

Pink Beach (Lightbox), 2011

‘Cellular’ is the first in another duality: of women-only spaces, the second being the women’s beach in Tel Aviv, which appears in several works including the films ‘Fireworks on a Blue Beach’ and ‘Superwet’. It turns out be a surprisingly pink place, though perhaps not so surprisingly so among your works…

For all of these spaces it’s about viscerally which is manifest via colour, sound and performance.

The superficial beauty and rather sexual-style of consumption of sushi by your cousin in an overlaid close-up draws us in to contrasts…

Yes, there are explosions, made even more sinister by its being Israel. And my cousin seems to be eating the people on the beach. Then the beach, spread across her face, becomes a veil. You can interpret that as political. The people are green, becoming viral in the pink sea, and suggesting the avatars in other works.

Why is wet and dry one of your favourite contrasts?

There’s an analogy for me with my use of the macro – micro, between the excitement of the screen being switched on, turned on – wet. And yet the disappointment if you zoom in on an image until it’s just a single pixel – because when this happens, you’ve reached the inside of the image and it becomes just a code. That’s dry.

Are you aiming at a young person’s sensibility, and asserting a young person’s identity?

That’s more a by-product of its being centered round my world. My practice is exploring identity, and being young is just part of that.

So what kind of artist are you? One of your monotypes says, ‘This is my life, not a soap opera’.

I don’t consider myself an artist, just a girl. But I am addicted to making art.

Charlotte Posenenske @ the Hansard Gallery, Southampton: 25 Jan – 9 March, 2011 (for ArtUS)

The gallery linked to Southampton University presented the fullest account yet seen in Britain of Charlotte Posenenske (1930 -85), a German artist who has become widely known only since she featured in Documenta four years ago. The show consisted of works on paper from the 1950's, showing restrained expressive tendencies; and remakes of her pared-back sculpture of the mid-sixties, concentrating on the influential work she made in 1967 before giving up art for a career in sociology. Her widower, Burkhard Brunn, was closely involved: he manages the estate in accordance with Posenenske's own principles, selling the occasional original prototype to subsidise making unlimited editions available.

Superficially, Posenenske's mature work looks like variations on Donald Judd, from whom she may seem be diverge mainly in abandoning art in frustration at its inability to deliver social change. Yet Brunn himself says that though Posenenske was aware of the American trends of the time, she came from a different place: her movement from the subjectivity of painted illusion to the objectivity of geometric regularity may echo the minimalists, but Posenenske's primary interest was in participation.

That is most obvious in those works which viewers are able to physically rearrange, but it’s also present in her collaboration with others in manufacture and installation; her acceptance - in contrast to the finish fetish typical of minimalism - of finger marks and graffiti as signs of the work being used; and in her desire to make art an industrial consumable available to everyone. Her unlimited editions at cost price sought to avoid any complicity with the market, and she used corrugated pasteboard as a light, cheap and disposable material. Accordingly, Brunn sees Posenenske's switch to the field of industrial relations as a way to pursue the same interest in participation through different means – ‘she had had two hearts in her breast' as he puts it: one for art and one for social studies.

But does Posenenske’s art do more than predate the fashion for ‘relational aesthetics’? Two further aspects interest me.

First, Posenenske makes subtly explicit many of the issues which are implicitly faced by all art: how one work fits within a wider practice; the individual’s participative role not just in perceiving the work but in constructing the conditions of its production and reception; the place of that production within the market; and the definitional boundaries of what can count as art.

To illustrate: the open-ended seriality of Posenenske’s potentially endlessly reproducible pieces sets out to be part of a system, any one piece taking its place within a community of existing or potential works, chiming with how society is full of systems which cannot be comprehended from individual transactions within them. The art market is one such. In the manifesto which Posenenske published in Art Forum in February 1968, she says that she ‘makes series because I do not want to make single pieces for individuals’. That forms part of an anti-market stance which challenges the status of factory products as art in sharp contrast to what Warhol made of that model of production.

Second, there’s some sort of dissonance between Posenenske's objects – which are gentle and a little conservative – and the ideas behind them, which are fierce and idealistic. That contrast gives Posenenske's sculpture a curiously plangent effect. Thus when she disrupts the surface in the elegant ‘Diagonal Fold’ (1966), it’s through angles which make the planes ambiguous, rather than by puncturing or attacking the canvas in the manner of Fontana or Parreno. If there’s potential for conflict in interacting with her work, it’s through two visitors attempting to set the doors of her ‘Revolving Vanes’ in different positions, which feels like arguing about who goes into the dining room first.

Perhaps we can go further by reframing Posenenske’s withdrawal from art as a logical end to its reductive trajectory, and so as an art act in itself. What, then, could be quieter – and yet more intense – than silence?

Nika Neelova: Memories of Now

The obvious point of entry to Nika Neelova’s world is through its atmosphere. ‘Monuments’ consists of three brooding installations: stairs, with spear-like railings, which threaten to fall onto us in the process of going nowhere; what looks like an elevated and useless section of railway acting as a burnt gallows, from which coils of charred rope descend; and the ash from that burnt timber spread across four flags, to deny them their usual function of symbolizing power. We’re in a series of fragmented places, linked by darkly evocative materials and by the sense that they could soon tip into an end.

But there’s beauty here in the romantic sublime, which nineteenth century artists found in ruins, and in the detailing of the distress: the understructure of geometrical forms covered by baroque flourishes, the painstaking fabrication - those ropes are cast from twists of paper, the stairs waxed to the max, that ash is sewn into patterns... All this gives a sense of glories passed, for sure, but a feeling too that there’s something subtler to be engaged with here than a theatre of loss. So what is that other way in?

Artists are often inspired by their childhood experiences and seek to revisit them in some way. Proust provides the great literary example, while one of the purest parallels in contemporary art is the hyper-realised tableaux of Martin Honert. Both seek, however hopelessly, to capture things as they were. Nika Neelova may start from a related desire, but her strategy differs fundamentally: she seeks to capture – from memory alone – how those scenes from the past might look now, years later: to catch, if you will, the memory of now.

It’s a difficult task. Not only – as in Proust and Honert – might the fallibility and subjectivity of memory distort that past reality, it’s also a speculative matter to guess to what extent time will have affected the remembered places, and how that might have manifested itself. Add the constraints posed by Neelova’s method, which is to construct these imagined contemporary ruins by collaging together degraded elements from other places, and it is apparent that she is making a point of the impossibility of being ‘right’ in any objective sense. Her desire to remake the track from past to present is balanced by her building into the very nature of her work the practical impossibility of going back.

At 24, Neelova may seem a little young to be driven by such concerns, but they make sense in the context of her itinerant life to date: born in Russia, she lived in France from five to ten years old, returned to Russia until she was 15, then studied in the Netherlands before moving to London in 2008. No wonder all homes strike her as provisional, and she hankers to recapture some sense of the places she has lost.

All of which may sound likely to lead to internally-directed and potentially impenetrable work. Neelova avoids that, though, by two means. First, she constructs those past spaces of hers out of items from other places and other pasts. Second, she’s fascinated by public processes of commemoration. In essence, her works are private monuments which take on a public aspect through standing in for the anonymous mass, generating a circular movement between the public and the private.

In both respects the individual is rooted in the social, and that’s what prevents Neelova slipping into self-indulgence. She shows how our collective and public pasts feed into and out of our individual and private pasts, and in that sense her spaces stand reciprocally for ours.

What’s more, for all that it’s time, not life, which has been lost in them, Neelova’s places remain literally and metaphorically dark. Partly that’s because one kind of loss inevitably bleeds into another. Partly it’s because there’s only way to move on from the frozen state her spaces have reached. And partly it’s because they physically enact the closing off of possibilities. The staircase doesn’t just reach towards space, it’s blocked by the ceiling. The pseudo-railway runs into the walls of the room. The flags of ash jut out on banister poles to impede our natural path through the gallery.

A Freudian might jump on that combination of childhood, memory and blockage. The blockages could be the ego’s defence mechanism, its way of resolving the conflict between the impulses of the id (who knows what the young Neelova wanted to do deep down?) and the more socially-determined beliefs of the superego (how did she think she ought to act?). Yet I don’t think you have to be a Freudian to pick up the sense that darker subconscious forces may lie behind the conscious scenes…

That, perhaps, returns us to atmosphere after all, albeit one enriched by the geometry and gravity, public combinations and private elisions, degradations and blockages which go to make up Nika Neelova’s memories of now.

Paul Carey-Kent: March 2011

Nika Neelova talks to Paul Carey-Kent

Your installations resemble architectural ruins. What draws you in that direction?

The evocation of architectural ruins is indeed very important in my work, as ruins signal simultaneously an absence and a presence. As fragmented and decayed structures they point to a lost and invisible whole, whilst their still visible presence also points to durability and survival. I’m interested in representing spaces which capture the transience of time and contain a sense of lost experiences.

Is that a reference to death or destruction?

No, I don’t see that as representing death. The work is not driven by the tragedy of human loss of the mere brutality of destruction. There is however strong allusion to the fear of mortality, a certain fear of the end, which is so inherent to human nature and perhaps in other metaphorical ways to objects and spaces... That way the sculptures are often shown in the very state before fully collapsing, at the moment when the end is predictable but isn’t there yet.

Though black is the dominant colour…

In this show black mainly refers to the ‘last state’ of materials, wood is charred and burnt, becoming ash and charcoal dust.

These aren’t ruins as found, are they, or as ruined by you, but are constructed out of separately discovered elements?

Yes, I attempt to shift histories using objects that belong to one history and putting them into another context. I like the idea that those other lives bring along a cultural or historical displacement. And though I work with things which are likely to fall apart, I wouldn’t make something broken. It’s always natural decay – due to gravity or age – I don’t force things. I see the decay as something beautiful, but from which you cannot retrieve the original state. It all obeys the law of entropy, which is so persistent in life: you cannot turn back.

Do you have strong visual memories of places?

Most of the works are based on visual memories. I relate to how memories are preserved through places, and how memories preserve corners of places, like floorboards of a once inhabited house or a particular light in the window. I have memories of rooms which I want to recreate – albeit in an exaggerated manner – because articulating the past does not necessarily mean recognizing it the way it really was. Past is the concern of history, and to relive a situation belonging to this history it is necessary to forget everything about the later course of events.

So they are collages of various histories but also make up your own history?

Well, yes, my work incorporates much of my personal history, but I don’t want it to be purely personal – that’s why I try to find objects which belong to a larger history, so it becomes a combination of personal and collective and adopted histories. That is why I often use objects that belong to other histories, that are the real traces of the past. They are the true material witnesses or evidence of the events that have happened. They are the residues of certain histories that are then woven into scenarios which come from my past that I have lived or imagined.

That said, how has your specific personal history informed the work?

I’ve moved around a lot: I was born in the Soviet Union then lived in France, Russia again and the Netherlands before coming to London. That’s why many of my works are inspired by places I have lived in and lost – in the sense of missing something which you can’t get back to, which lives in your memory and is exaggerated or distorted by the years which have passed. That’s how I’ve lived my whole life – raised for a while in a particular place, but knowing I must move on to a completely different beginning. You create or adopt a history which you’re going to have to give up, and that failure to get attached and be grounded somewhere originates this idea in my work.

Are you directly influenced by Russia?

I feel the very different Russian culture is still strong in me, though I have adapted to the West. I find I have both roughness and polish in the work, both the overwhelming baroque exuberance of Russia together with the more minimal, condensed and refined culture here. Both are somewhat distorted in my interpretations, but nevertheless very present and important.

Is London also a particular influence?

I was influenced by the extent to which London commemorates its history. The idea of how people replace memories of people with stones, creating rituals around it. I think this invocation of ritual and heritage creates an interesting meshing of the present and the past. The flag came first from wanting to use the ash which comes from the burning in making previous installations: that tries to preserve a line of continuity in my work. I’m very attracted to the coats of arms and heraldry and dissolving the idea that it should carry an emblem – it carries nothing but decayed material from previous works. The rubber is there just to hold the ash – I would have wanted it to just be ash! Maybe I’m commemorating my work, maybe something else. I was inspired by similar flags in stone at Westminster Cathedral, of which these are fragile versions…

You used performance in some of your earlier work, for example covering a floor with thousands of eggshells to be walked on. Does that remain an aspect of your sculpture now?

I prefer to leave the performance element to be implied now. My work has become more permanent – it is caught in the moment before collapse but can be frozen. It can collapse easily but there is a tension – it has a potential to survive, though it might not. But the relation between the human and the architectural remains important. I keep the scale to natural proportions so the viewer inhabits the work as they would the architecture, so it does have a physical conversation with the viewer, and is also a fragment which refers to being part of something bigger.

This isn’t the first time a staircase has featured in your work…

That’s true… I relate strongly to the gestures of going up and down. The staircases always go nowhere and have some inaccessibility, but they are still reminiscent of the attempt to make the movements. It’s not only about hopelessness, though: the spiral in the staircase is something which never comes back to where it started.

Richard Moon: Plastic time
At Madder 139, 4 Feb - 20 March, 2011

The British artist Richard Moon makes paintings which, without being photorealist, set out to exploit their origins in found photography. He does so through two main streams of work: portraits and fantastical conjunctions. So what distinguishes Moon’s work from the evidently related work of Richter, Polke, Tuymans, Borremans or Currin – all artists whom he admires? I think there are two particularly interesting differentiating characteristics in Moon’s work: first, his treatment of time; second, the way in which he uses ‘plastic rhyme’.

Combinations of Time

Moon is a painter who is equally inspired by history and photography. That is apparent in the diversity and historical precision of his photographic sources: nineteenth century daguerreotype portraits with the artificiality born of long poses; post-mortem images of Victorian children; 1920’s film stills; 1950’s photographs to illustrate knitting patterns. It can also be seen in the unorthodox way in which he mixes methods within a painting – such as flat photo-style areas with expressive backgrounds – as if styles are like colours waiting to be used.
Even his relatively straightforward portrait paintings use two or more different sources, contributing to an unsettling atmosphere which Moon emphasises by introducing his own distortions such as bizarre hairstyles, odd noses and blank eyes. The emotional register is hard to pin down, and Moon’s teasing titles are not designed to help. But there is a feeling that the portraits are staged, as if in front of a photographic backdrop, with a touch of music hall and caricature. We are drawn into speculating on their characters at the same time as we are reminded that they are not real people. It’s almost as if, says Moon, these people know that they don’t exist.

The more fantastical works combine their sources by shape and rhythm, leaving the viewer to puzzle out the possible underlying narratives. They often flirt with the corny and clichéd, only to step uncomfortably beyond. Again, ambiguity abounds: is the boy in ‘Icarus’ having fun with his bizarre aeroplane hat and curious instrument? Or is he the subject of some disturbing medical treatment?
Moon’s use of colour worlds is particularly original. He can date photographs by their colours, from the various tones of black and white, to the earliest hand-tinted methods, to the intensely artificial colours of the 1950s. His paintings follow those choices, ranging from straight black and white, to black and white images which are then colour-tinted, to full colour paintings using whatever colour range may suit – sometimes from the same date as the image’s source, sometimes not.
Thus Moon’s paintings use time to drive their subjects, colour and emotional tone. And their overall effects result from combining different times in complex ways: perhaps the dead eyes of a nineteenth century post-mortem photograph with a pose from the 1930’s and the colour of a 1970’s advert, all through the prism of 2010. In a digital age in which we have routinely come to query the claims of the photograph to give us reality direct, we do still trust old photographs to make an immediate connection with the past, with how a particular person was there and then. Moon colludes with that and captures the sense of an arrested moment with its implications of loss and nostalgia – but just as we start to go along with him, he pulls the rug from under and we realise just how slippery all those pasts can be.

The Uses of Plastic Rhyme

Picasso used the term ‘plastic rhyme’ to refer to the way in which some forms chime with and summon up others in a parallel to the way aural rhyme links words. Richard Moon finds that such rhymes lie behind many of the combinations made in his paintings, even if he discovers them only when analysing afterwards what he has done. Interestingly, this can apply – for the form of its letters as much as their meaning – to the text which has recently reappeared in his paintings, as well as to images. Moon himself gives a fascinating account of how ‘A / X’ developed:
‘For a long time I had been thinking about making a painting that related to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. I wasn’t sure why but had a feeling that it had something to do with wanting to paint a cliché, to purposely make a painting that was already flawed through overuse and popularity. And to make it even kitschier, I had intended to replace the flower heads with children’s heads. A truly awful idea, but that was why I wanted to do it. Nevertheless, anxiety over how such a picture would be received resulted in the idea being shelved indefinitely. But without my truly being aware of it the idea still tormented me, as I discovered when I made a drawing of a skyscraper that I wanted to make a painting of with huge megaphone horns coming out of the top of the building. The painting itself never materialized, but after having made the drawing I was fascinated to discover that I had in fact made a visual pun on the sunflowers idea. The shapes all corresponded so perfectly that I was in no doubt that this was what I had in fact created. Finally a painting did emerge called A/X that again mirrored the shapes of the original idea, yet at the time of making it I was in ignorance to its relationship to the previous two images. So in fact, though it might not immediately seem apparent, the painting A/X has a direct reference to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

I suppose this is why when I was initially working on the idea I was driven by instinct to include the letters A and X on either side of the windmill. Again I wasn’t aware of it at the time (as at that stage I wasn’t aware that I was working from the sunflowers idea), but after having discovered it’s relationship to the previous concept the additional letters corresponded to the flowers that would have appeared on either side of the stem. This much was clear, but then why especially did I want to use the letters A and X? There was some reason why it had to be those letters and not any others, and when I began to think about it the answer to that question became clear. Just as the overall composition rhymed plastically with the sunflowers idea and the skyscraper, the letters A and X contain shapes that themselves are mirrored in the rest of the image. The letter A can clearly be seen in the shape of the windmill on stilts, and X’s are seen all over the image, from the obvious X in the sails of the windmill to the many X’s seen underneath the platform on which the windmill rests’.

Where whole words are used, there is the potential for both visual rhyme between the letter forms and the image (in ‘Kink’ the letters imitate the boy’s clothing) and associations between a word’s meanings and what the painting depicts. Moon himself provides a full account of how that works in ‘Kink’, saying that all its definitions ‘could be valid in some way or another with connection to the image’. He lists those as (1) A slight twist or coil in an otherwise straight section of something such as a rope. (2) A slight difficulty or hold up in the progress of something. (3) A sudden spasm in a muscle, especially a crick in the neck. (4) Something that is eccentric or peculiar in somebody’s personality or behaviour. (5) A quirky, odd idea or impulse. (6) An unusual sexual practice, especially one that might be considered deviant. Moon goes on to say:

‘The fact that we don’t know exactly what is occurring in the image leads one to any number of different readings of the work. The tube in the painting might draw one to the conclusion that something is wrong with the apparatus – that there is a kink in the tube, which in turn leads one to the second dictionary definition of the word. Ambiguity as to whether the boy is being forcibly held down or whether it is an experiment that he himself is conducting adheres to the third, fourth and fifth definitions, and yet it is the sixth definition, that of kink as in ‘kinky’ that I believe the largest proportion of the audience would read from the image and word together. This was certainly not intentional, and I believe that it says more about society’s obsession with sex than it does about the image itself, which was sourced from a magazine article on medical practice in the 1950’s, and contained no reference to sexual practice whatsoever’.

Overall, then, the repetition of shapes and suggestions of meanings – both visual and semantic - changes the meanings of what Moon depicts, and heightens the ambiguity of the images.

Someone coming fresh to one of Moon’s paintings is unlikely to pick up on all the combinations of time nor all the plastic rhymes which Moon himself locates in them. However, their presence does help to explain what creates the peculiar atmosphere of his work, and also give viewers ample scope to bring their own associations to bear. Those two aspects of Moon’s paintings, moreover, work effectively together within individual paintings, setting off complementary associations which might be characterised as chronological and formal. They amount, to invent a term, to Moon’s particular vision of plastic time.

Jacques Villeglé: Trajectoire Urbaine @ Alexia Goethe Gallery, London

11 Feb – 25 March 2011

Since 1949, the veteran French artist Jacques Villeglé has made ‘décollages’ (‘un-stickings’) in which he takes layered street posters, already partly torn away and sometimes defaced by passers by, and rips off further pieces before re-presenting them as art. He has outlived fellow practioners Raymond Hains, Mimmo Rotella and Francois Dufrene, and this lively show featured a dozen relatively recent examples. That meant all were new to London, where Villeglé has shown rarely, but there was little sense of the variety his work has generated by reflecting its times: language fragmented into abstraction in the 1950’s; more figurative deconstruction of adverts in proto-pop style in the early 60’s; an increasingly political edge in the late 60’s to 70’s; and a ‘decentralisation’ away from Paris from the 1990’s onwards, as tough regulation of poster advertising restricted his opportunities in the capital.

This then, was essentially a non-Parisian show, and – political media having largely left the world’s streets – adverts for rock concerts loomed large. They suit the sense of voices vying for attention in the cacophony of different layers. Villeglé has spoken of his excitement as he tears away strips to see what lies beneath, and that sense of discovery keeps the work fresh. Its conceptual richness derives from two main sources: first, the scope for surreal conjunctions, puns and visual echoes between posters; second, the way in which the community of the city takes part in the production. Those underpinnings have enabled the work to remain open to contemporary interpretation: thus the décollages may now be seen to prefigure both the entry of graffiti painting into gallery systems and the trend towards building social interaction into works of art.

The show also included spry profiles of the artist made out of the posters which have defined him; and graphical work drawn from modifications of graffiti lettering. Villeglé began these ‘socio-political alphabets’ in the 1970’s, and turned to them more fully as his age made it too physically demanding to handle stacks of posters – but they remained subsidiary in the presence of the ‘lacerated anonymous’.

Henk Peeters: Work from the 1960’s @ Mayor Gallery, London: 12 Jan – 25 Feb 2011

This attractive and historically interesting show presented a dozen works on canvas by Henk Peeters. He was – and remains – the most active member of the Dutch group Nul (formally constituted only from1962-65), the name of which signaled an affiliation with the Düsseldorf-based Zero group, which in turn shared approaches with the Nouveau Realists in France and minimalists in the USA. The exhibited works were simple abstracts and nearly all white, which brought Manzoni’s ‘Achromes’ to mind. All of that may make Nul sound like a backwater, but the exhibition felt far from stagnant or insignificant.

Peeters, like those peers, reacted against the expressionist and existentialist trends of the 1950’s by aiming to show reality as art, using everyday and typically modern materials in such a way that the viewer related to their particular qualities, with the prevalence of white emphasising the effects of light and shadow. That said, Peeters doesn’t present his materials wholly straight: they may be distanced, semi-hidden, orchestrated, or altered. His take on pyrography for example, sees him scorch plastic in grid patterns which feel more aesthetically measured than Burri, Piene and Klein’s contemporaneous burnings; while in the surprisingly beautiful ‘Two Strips of Cotton Wool’, that humble material is presented behind mesh and bleeds at the edges in a manner reminiscent, a little ironically, of Rothko.

Such materials don’t necessarily age well, but this selection was in pristine condition. That arises from Peeters’ decision to restore his work on an ongoing basis: he always wanted his materials to look as if they had just been bought from a shop, and evidently sees that as more important then the mere physical continuity of original substances. Here three delicate feather works, one moving mechanically, two just trembling courtesy of a well-placed ventilation unit, benefitted particularly from that philosophy.

Peeters is not especially well-known outside continental Europe, but this show suggested that his combination of sensitivity and rigour will continue to find new followers.

Terry Rodgers: The Fluid Geometries of Illusion @ Torch, Amsterdam: April-May 2011

This fourth Amsterdam solo show for the American artist Terry Rodgers included five of his big, lush trademark paintings of theatrically hedonistic groups in dishabille alongside drawings and a wide range of works in recently adopted media including videos, light-box constructions, digital collages, and photography.

Rodgers’s paintings have changed little in the last decade: complex groupings of attractive young people, more decorated than dressed, in nightclub settings luxurious beyond cliché. As viewer-voyeurs we’re drawn in but kept at a distance. The figures are united by detailed yet curvaceously rhythmic paintwork and by intricately intersecting compositions, yet avoid eye contact with one another. They seem bored, possibly arrogant, and isolated. Indeed, the models are unaware of each other, as they are drawn and photographed separately by Rodgers before being digitally combined to form the basis for the paintings.

Perhaps, then, it’s natural that the artist’s videos portray solitary subjects smoking, drinking, and lounging around, emphasizing the continuity between the vacancy of their individual and communal modes of being. His drawings are loose dances around the poses of his models, far removed from the surface realism of the paintings. Consequently, there’s a sharp contrast when such drawings are digitally superimposed onto photographs of typical Rodgers content, as in the collages and light-box constructions, so that the freedom of the line emphasizes that the freedom of the subjects may be an illusion.

Rodgers project as a whole still stands or falls by his paintings. Are they voyeuristic titillation in the guise of art or a cunning exploitation of kitsch and fantasy to expose the emptiness of excess? Rodgers has said he aims “to touch the most essential problem of our society: the inability to get in touch with each other." Yet the engaging provocation remains: should he be linked to Hefner and Guccione; or to Picabia and Koons?

Rupert Goldsworthy & Mark Stewart: ‘I AM THE LAW’ at Ritter/Zamet, London: 18 Jan – 31 March 2012

This show brings together two naturally collaborative counter-cultural figures with records of provocation in London, Berlin and New York: painter, writer and curator Rupert Goldsworthy and sound artist Mark Stewart, known as a collagist and pioneer of industrial hip hop.

‘I AM THE LAW’ is a total installation in two rooms: Stewart’s scrawled texts, some of them seeming to annotate various symbols which Goldsworthy monoprinted onto wallpaper-like hangings; a cuboid structure painted in Islamic-style patterning; two wall paintings, one of which Goldsworthy made at the opening; several grids of found images and texts linked by such themes as devil-worship, bathhouse logos and sub-cultures; and some items of Stewart’s which looked to have been left scattered after a ritual rather than arranged - from signs promoting ‘GOD’ as a trademark to records and personal items. At first the look of the show seems mainly down to Goldsworthy, but Stewart is more than a catalyst and means of adding another layer to the pile-up of references, as the words are all his and he helped pick the two images that Goldsworthy then rendered as large murals.

So what does it all mean? If one theme holds things together, it’s probably Goldsworthy’s interest in the way symbols operate to represent what might be called ‘radical brands’ in a broad sense – from the Hells Angels to Islam to the National Front. It’s obvious that both men are fascinated by a wide range of objects, expressions and designs, not excluding the criminal, fascist and otherwise unsavoury, and some of the show’s energy comes from their investigation into how these signs and logos clash together. That leads Goldsworthy to collect labels and stickers and take photographs of signs and monuments, combining them to emphasise the co-existence of opposing cultures in the same space: Prussian military history with new Moslem designs from Berlin, for example... Similarly, Stewart's dystopian texts, hacked collages and ritual objects juxtapose charged subject matter: pentagrams and prison gates.

Such matters are explored more fully in Goldsworthy’s recently published “CONSUMING//TERROR: Images of the Baader-Meinhof”, a book on which he worked closely with Stewart, and which traces the visual history of the Red Army Faction (the West German terror group) and their logo. One of the main themes of the book is, Goldsworthy says, to ask how ‘outlaw’ or terrorist signs ‘establish themselves and operate as a heretical category amid a closely administered, legitimated, forest of signs’. This was the focus of his solo show at Ritter/Zamet last year, which featured large paintings combining incongruous categories – Nazi, gay and Chinese, for example.

Goldsworthy, then, focuses on the associative power of representation and how identities of "the forbidden" are constructed. Indeed, the symbols of seventies radicalism have much the same look as their racist counterparts, and the crude agitprop style of many of the underlying designs was emphasised by Stewart leaving behind a rudimentary hand-made printing block which was used to make the wallpaper works. One effect of this is to play on the semiotic point that word and object are not linked by logic but by convention, posing the question: are the linkages just as arbitrary in the world of visual signs? Here’s where I feel a connection to Stewart’s words, which give the impression of being plucked at random for their sound and emotional effect, rather than for any conventional narrative purpose: thus do ‘frozen angels’, ‘cluster fuck of visions’, and ‘institutional deviance’ swim out the dense melange of his sheets of lyrics.

Elsewhere, two slogan-like phrases are particularly prominent: Stewart’s song title ‘As the Veneer of Democracy Starts to Fade’, as written across a painting of two menacingly carnivalesque figures appropriated by Goldsworthy; and ‘Obedience to the Law is Freedom’ on a sign across the top of a fenced-in prison on one of the wall paintings. That brings to mind both the Auschwitz slogan ‘Work Sets You Free’ and the use of language in Orwell’s ‘1984’. It’s power, not reality, which decides what words and images mean – though on the other hand, if ‘I am the Law’, as the show’s title would have it, then the obedience could be rendered benign through being founded on such subjectivity. The show turns around language's role in the construction of power.

Visually, the most effective work was the second wall painting. It shows a rioting crowd, sourced from a photograph taken during the Irish civil war: another context in which belief may be thought to have trumped truth in the construction of meaning, and also drawing ambivalent associations with recent events in London and the Arab world. Goldsworthy combines a peculiar dark–green-over-lemon palette with astutely vague brushwork so that what is depicted seems out of register in the manner of a 3D photograph viewed with the naked eye. This makes the dense rear section of the crowd look like a dappled landscape until one reads back to it from the individual figures in the foreground, who’ve broken free. They feel like reasonable stand-ins for Goldsworthy and Stewart themselves, separating out long enough to provide a sense of how we’re manipulated before being reabsorbed into the protesting mass.

The exhibition ‘I AM THE LAW’ runs until March 31st, when a closing party will double as a release event for Stewart's forthcoming album ‘The Politics of Envy.’

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.