Monday, 31 December 2012


Chamberlain’s Confluences

I thought I'd post this article written for ArtUS to mark my favourite show of last year...

John Chamberlain (1927-2011) lived just long enough to help plan his retrospective at the Guggenheim, New York (Feb 24 – May 13, 2012) and it proved exemplary. First, it looked good spiralling up the ramps, where its chronological ascent made sense. Second, the ‘Choices’ – a title designed to emphasise that Chamberlain selected his materials, rather than simply finding them - were broad and strong. Third, it demonstrated a wider range and clearer narrative of development than less structured encounters with the work tend to suggest.

Chamberlain’s most obvious strength is to achieve a seemingly effortless and natural fusion of the major movements of the 50s and 60s. The first automotive works (1958) arose against the personal and temperamental background of abstract expressionism:   Chamberlain, a Cedar Bar regular, was inspired by de Kooning in particular and has been seen (by Donald Judd, most famously) as his sculptural equivalent.

One can equally point up the minimalist in Chamberlain. A comparison with Dan Flavin, for example, makes some sense. Flavin summarised his own practice as ‘decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture in architecture with acts of electric light defining space’[1], used found colour, and was insistently opposed to any symbolic or transcendental reading. Chamberlain shared those tastes, and one might characterise his practice as ‘decisions to combine traditions of painting and sculpture through acts to fit chosen elements together in space’.

Then again, the use of cars – and the less often noticed bits of planes, fridges and home décor - chimes with Pop Art’s focus on consumer items, a reading which was encouraged by Leo Castelli’s representation of Chamberlain in the sixties.  He didn’t like where that led, especially if a crass equation was made between his work and Warhol’s car crash series (to see where car crushing with that agenda might take you, better to look at Cesar). Chamberlain consistently resisted any suggestion that the junked automobiles might stand in for economic problems, social conflict (at the time of the civil rights movement) or a negative view of the booming consumer society in which automobiles were central. Indeed, it’s been suggested that’s why he turned away from his signature material during 1966-72.   “Do you ask a painter about the kind of paint he uses?” [2] he railed, saying also that he switched  “in order to find out if I was going to be relegated to one kind of material”[3]. Chamberlain protests too much here: meanings need not be intentional, and if an artist chooses an unusual material, then that choice becomes a part of the work in a way in which the use of paint need not. The sculptures can’t help referring to cars and the role they play, however little Chamberlain may mean them to signify that.

Chamberlain’s work chimed less problematically with the process-based art emerging in the late sixties. The wrestling, hammering and crushing of shapes into form make up a large part of the sculptures’ dangerous glamour, and it’s easy to put that in the context of, say, Richard Serra’s early use of splashed lead and videos of sculptural actions.

Peaudesoiemusic, 2010
By the mid-sixties Chamberlain had established his core vocabulary: fitting together chosen car parts, using the colour as was. He returned to that core often enough that similar works can be found from across his career, but there is more variation than would superficially appear. Quite apart from forays into painting, film and photography, little of which was shown here, the sculptural objects at the Guggenheim changed as one climbed the ramp. What Chamberlain was able to do with these variations, given a starting point which includes aspects of these different movements, was to tweak his practice in directions which point up one or other of these possible readings.

Quida, 1985

Thus, his instinctual addition of colour to the found automotive elements from 1972 onwards emphasises the abstract expressionist aspect as well as making graffiti references. The adoption of chrome and white palette provides a degree of minimalist restraint. The occasional inclusion of found imagery (as in ‘Quida’, 1985), feels like a pop move, though he goes that way least often. Alternatives to automotive components tend to foreground the process. And the titles, collaged from favourite words thrown together by chance, have a surrealist tinge.

Ultima Thule, 1967
Chamberlain’s first move away from car parts was his use of steel boxes in the late sixties, which he mechanically crushed into shape analogously to his party trick of squashing cigarette packets into surprising forms. He explored a range of non-metallic materials in 1966-72, including resin-covered paper, plastics and most notably foam. The Guggenheim showed one of his ‘barges’ – adventurously-shaped sofas with loose coverings, proposing communal experiences – and several of the ‘instant sculptures’ in which the form is defined largely by how cord is tied around foam (several of which were notoriously ruined post-transit some years ago when the cords were cut, having been mistaken for a means of packing).  

Balzanian, 1988, 

From the 1980’s Chamberlain often worked with selected parts of cars only, for example the bumpers and fenders of 'Balzanian', 1988 or ‘Talkshowamble’, 2009. The patterning from that repeated use reduces the works’ internal variation and makes them more intricate and less brutal. That chrome often features, and that it has become anachronistic in terms of car production, adds a nostalgic element which contributes to these works seeming less edgy.

C'estzesty, 2011

Much of the late work becomes very big – the persuasiveC’estzesty’ (2011) towered 18 feet outside the gallery – but Chamberlain also created his effects successfully on a smaller scale in the early 80’s ‘Tonk’ series, by using toy cars which he bought en masse from a disused Tonka Toy factory. He worked with twisted tin foil, too; though only at the end of his life did he find a way to monumentalise the somewhat doodle-like results.  They’re interesting, but perhaps inevitably seem a little fussy up against the vigorous melding of cars – as indeed can some of the later automotive sculptures, which became increasingly convoluted. What is apparent, though, is the restless variation in means built into what might superficially be mistaken for a uni-directional oeuvre.

Rosetuxedo Two, 1986 / 2009
That account might suggest that Chamberlain was very much a formalist, exploring new materials for their own sake, seeing any symbolic resonances or figurative echoes as purely coincidental. Yet Chamberlain himself did make comparisons, including – not to take himself too seriously – with lasagna, used toilet paper and especially with sex: he often made explanations along the lines that ‘the assembly is a fit, and the fit is sexual’, and compared the ‘articulate wadding’ technique of his paper and resin works with the twisted bedsheets resulting from a night of passion[4]. He thought the foam works, too, were “pretty erotic” and complained in 2005 that people had taken forty years to catch on to how “they’ve got all these folds and everything, you know? Like, when you squeeze here, it opens there. I mean, what can you say?” [5]

Mannabend Ra, 1966
The straightforward matter of ‘fit’ aside, critics have tended to pass over the sex references as knock-about stuff consistent with Chamberlain’s theatrical and teasing personality (though David Getsy[6] uses them to derive  a somewhat eccentric account of the work as exemplifying an exploration of transgender issues). It’s true that there’s humour here, and one could take Chamberlain to be parodying the virile self-image of the prototypically macho abstract expressionist – which would make it a simultaneous self-parody.

Kiss #12, 1979 

Yet taking the coupling more seriously might also attribute phenomenological intent to the work, leading to a fuller sense in which a sexual encounter is represented (not that there’s a restriction to the two bodies implied by ‘coupling’: the more baroque later work such as ‘Divine Ricochet’, 1991, might be seen as orgiastic). There’s an analogy with sculptural thought, too, the combination of car bodies paralleling one act of creation through another. That sits well with the coupling of alluring colour with menacing sharpness, and the sense that the work is hot whilst remaining in other ways cool. It also suits Chamberlain’s most characteristic and convincing conjunctions: violent and tender, serious and playful, selective and spontaneous. 

Divine Ricochet, 1991
Furthermore, the formal qualities of the coupling are mirrored in Chamberlain’s titling process. That, consistent with his Black Mountain School background, typically jams together two disparate words with the idea that something beyond the sum of their individual senses will emerge, so they  verbally enact what the sculptures achieve at their best. ‘Blonde Day’ is an example which Chamberlain discusses, saying “I’d never thought of a day being blonde. I still haven’t, but I liked the way that connection functioned”[7].

It seems reasonable, then, if one is looking for content in Chamberlain’s work, to take him at his word and look fairly straightforwardly at the nature of coupling. The term I’ve been trying to avoid to catch all that, and maybe still should, is ‘abstract sexpressionism’ – but it does seem, as Chamberlain would say, to fit.

[1] Dan Flavin. "' daylight or cool white': an autobiographical sketch,"
Artforum December 1965

[2] Quoted by Randy Kennedy in ‘A Crusher of Cars, A Moulder of Metal’, New York Times 2011

[3] John Chamberlain in conversation with Klaus Kertess, Chinati Foundation 2005
[4] In Julie Sylvester: ‘Auto/Bio: Conversations with John Chamberlain’, 1986
[5] John Chamberlain in conversation with Klaus Kertess, Chinati Foundation 2005
[6] David J Getsy:  ‘Immoderate Couplings: Transformation and Genders in John Chamberlain’s Work’, 2009

[7] In Julie Sylvester: ‘Auto/Bio: Conversations with John Chamberlain’, 1986

Sunday, 9 December 2012


I'm no great fan of Christmas (wouldn't once every two years be enough?) but here all the same is a fairly arbitrary box of not entirely festive goodies for the festive season: a candle, cards, a film, a show with gifts, a Tate selection, a trip, a book... and my 'Best of 2012' retrospective selection.


Giorgio Sadotti: ‘THIS CAN’ @ Studio 1.1, 57a Redchurch St  

To 30 Dec

The arch-mischievous Giorgio Sadotti has brought darkness to the evening front of studio1.1: the plug sockets trail leads, but all you can see by is a flame flickering from the floor. Sadotti has – perhaps in a parody of nostalgia for yuletides past? - reinstated a demolished dividing wall, the better to hide what the leads lead to: the electric lights which normally light the gallery have been moved, simply by extending the electrical wires which normally power them, to form a battery aimed at the wall of the newly recreated back room. Thus is the true light of the season hidden and - apart from lighting a magazine work featuring Amy Winehouse (and maybe that's a big 'apart from') - wasted…


A Pack of Cards Designed by William Nicholson

I’m reasonably aware of Ben’s Dad (1872-1949), but didn’t realise he’d made a fascinating and lively set of high value playing cards at the turn of the 20th century. A recently discovered full set of designs (they never reached commercial production) at Ben Elwes Fine Art was among the many splendid discoveries to be made in the limelight-seizing Frieze Masters. They’re based on historical characters themed around the English Reformation: thus the queens include Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots; while the conspiratorial knaves are Colonel Thomas Blood, Guy Fawkes, Mary’s supposed lover David Rizzio and Titus Oates.

Karla Black: ‘Untitled’ Edition for Studio Voltaire, 2011

This rather small (5 x 3 inches unfolded) but fairly big (150) series of slightly different card sculptures by Karla Black capture the essence of her barely-there practice for a bargain £100. Or should that be: who’d stump up £100 for a scrap of sugar paper finger-smeared with body paint, primary school style? I reckon it’s that tension which dynamises Black’s work, so putting me in the first camp...


Tereza Buskova: ‘Baked Woman of Doubice’

Screening on 10 Dec as part of 'QUEERING TRADITIONS: an evening of performances, screening and discussion' at St George's Tavern, 373 Commercial Rd, London E1- and viewable online at

The London-based Czech Tereza Buskova has previously made four short films presenting living tableaux in which traditional Bohemian rituals are seamlessly reinvented as contemporary art. They’re wordless and mysterious, their heady atmosphere heightened by Bela Emerson's haunting, cello-heavy soundtracks. The four season cycle gave us her take on ‘Wedding Rituals’ (2007), which seem more foreboding than celebratory; the logical follow-up of a ‘Forgotten Marriage’ (2008); ‘Spring Equinox’ (2009), her version of Easter rituals in the oldest village in Moravia; and ‘Masopust’ (2010), in which villagers deal with their cold winter through a combination of drink, meat, processions, brass bands and grotesque behaviour. 

Buskova’s new nine minute film, ‘Baked Woman of Doubice’ (2012) is set in the northern Czech village  in which she spent much of her teens. It invents an annual ‘baking ritual’, symbolising sisterhood, fertility and motherhood, for the women of Doubice, who include the artist’s mother. The focus is on wheat, which, as Buskova says, ‘has pervaded European culture for as long as the folk traditions that I am typically drawn to’.  The combination of female labour and a logic of absurdity, incidentally, reminded me of another favourite of mine: Mika Rottenberg.
The central action is the baking of shaped breads which are placed on the naked, supine body of the striking Zoë Simon – a frequent collaborator of Buskova, who works in an inclusive manner to bring together the contributions of performers, composer and fellow-artists. The baked woman is carried on the shoulders of the baking women, echoing a funeral procession just as her body, once she is laid down, could be a corpse. Yet the film is uplifting, not dark.  Typically of Buskova, it contains striking images apart from that main ceremonial stream, notably a figure dressed entirely in the paradoxical combination of flowers and boxing gloves (made by Matthew Cowan), and a concluding passage in which the theme of shaped bread on the body becomes the basis for an all-over suit, in which the dead woman appears to rise again and present a village woman with risen bread.


Buskova’s earlier films assert the resilience of local cultures – these rituals have seen off communism – and ask two interesting questions.  First, what role should traditions play in the modern world?  Best, Buskova implies, not to let them ossify in conservation, but to change them to suit the present.  Second, what is the boundary between life and art? The melding of the two shows that the division is not such a simple one, and speaks for the art of living.

Those questions continue to be activated by ‘Baked Woman of Doubice’, but another strand is added by the interesting point that cereal produces a uniformity of landscape and associated means of production which might easily come across as negative in the context of valuing diversity. But a monoculture is also a ground for unity, and here specifically for bonds between women. 

In finding positives in monoculture while celebrating regionalism, the film raises a very broad question: what’s the right balance between local variety – whether purely contemporary or historically preserved – and the uniformity of scale which may bring efficiency, reliability and more widely-based recognition? It’s the same question as lies behind: How many cottages should be demolished to make way for a high speed railway line?  Should Starbucks be given planning permission to move into a market town?  How much effort should we put into preserving minority languages?

Thus Buskova gives us the fun of the fair, the intrepid anthropologist’s televised adventures and the quick grab of a pop video – all with interesting questions for us to ponder. 


Incorrectly manufactured object, designed and fabricated by factory worker Mr King at Wenzhou Yidao Optical Co., Ltd., Wenzhou, China. 2012. Photo Jonathan Minster
Jeremy Hutchison: ERRATUM @ Paradise Row, 74a Newman St - Fitzrovia

To 21 Dec - is a website complete with associated campaign

Jeremy Hutchison spent five years writing adverts for Coca-Cola, so this luxury shop spotlighting a few select goods speaks the language of sales fluently, including diagrams to link what we see to the theory. But things are not what they seem: the cabinets are versions of Haim Steinbach’s iconic means of presenting readymade items, an art tradition which Hutchison tweaks sharply, as the items are made at his request to be deliberately dysfunctional. The cheese graters have no holes; tennis racquets are double-headed; a violin has bow hair for strings, leaving one to suppose that a stringed bow will be designed to play it; and the sunglasses only look like a plausible design until you wonder how you’d wear them.  On the other hand, hanging slatted rubber-curtain-like sculptures which might fit into several artists’ practices really are dividers from the factory floor through which forklift trucks more often push.  

Installation view
Buy something, then, as a tribute to the anonymous assembly line workers who became designers of a newly democratised type in their choice of which error to make; as a gift to epitomise the futility of creating desires merely to fulfil them; or just browse for fun and the provocation of thought. I guess this recommendation is a spoiler for deception, but Hutchison told me that several casual passers by have taken ‘Erratum’ for a straight shop (of course, it’s another layer that it is a shop of sorts). His favourite question, though, is from a visitor who – having been to previous shows – asked: ‘Didn’t this use to be an art gallery?’ 


I wonder if London gets too complacent about having the Tate -  commonly reckoned to lie behind the boom as a result of which there's so much else to see (though not so much that's open at Christmas). So here's an appreciation of some of what's there now, when many other galleries are closed...

Daido Moriyama - from 'Another Country in New York'

William Klein + Daido Moriyama - Tate Modern

To 20 Jan

These effectively contrasted yet linked shows give us Daido Moriyama (born Osaka, 1938) as the dark, war-clouded mirror of American culture in Japan, and in particular of Paris-based American William Klein (born New York, 1928). Both are best known for collections of black and white photographs of cities - but where Klein is extrovert, exuberant, humane, Moriyama is introvert, alienated, nihilistic - and pushes further to explore the formal limits of the photograph as an analogue for troubled states of mind and culture. Even his cherry blossom looks beautifully disturbed.

Web Ladder, 2010
Vija Celmins & Celmins selects Turner  - Tate Britain

To April

You could easily visit Tate Britain and miss perhaps its best current display. At the  far end of the Clore Galleries, maximum distance from the Pre-Raphaelites and the Turner Prize, you’ll find two rooms: one of  Via Celmins’  exactingly resonant universes expanded and contracted in stars, seas and webs (including  the recent variants of  shooting stars and ladder webs); and one with her choice of the most minimalist of  late Turner sketches. The pairing contrasts the density of charcoal and mezzotint with the airiness of watercolour, and deeply meditated end products with sheets Turner himself would have dismissed - but both revel in their materials.

Installation view of Jutta Koether room

Jutta Koether in 'A Bigger Splash' - Tate Modern

To  1 April

An eccentric show, yoking all sorts of stuff together at some remove from its apparent theme of performance through painting… but no matter: I was pleased to come across two rooms in which paintings interact with their surrounding spaces and people. Jutta Koether, once in Martin Kippenberger’s circle,  takes forward his seriously unserious approach to painting through an all-over jungle of sketchy explorations, seen here in a large centrally-suspended work which becomes the subject of a sort of viewers’ diary which tuns into  the reason for the painting. There are also ‘Wild Garlands’: deliciously glossy-dark plank-fetishes which become the unlikely props in a dance collaboration with Ei Arakawa. That then bleeds into a room of Ei’s winningly sociable, cheerfully ritualistic  performances with other painters’ works. 
Terror. Virtue - bronze medal, 1984

Ian Hamilton Finlay - Tate Britain

To 17 Feb

I don't much care for the installation of  Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006) in the Duveen Gallery, but there's no doubting his posthumous influence, and the work shown gives a good sample of how language and history directly inhabits his world.  It includes plenty of  pointed 'visual rhymes' such the flute / machine gun, fountain / warship and grove / tank - as well as this rhyme between classical columns and guillotine. The 'terror' of state oppression relates specifically to the actions of Strathclyde Council in the 'First Battle of Little Sparta', fought over a refusal to treat Hamilton's garden as non-commercial for rating purposes. 


Jaring Lokhorst: Lush

Amsterdam is a good choice to bring together shopping and art. Pre-Christmas you can see the newly-expanded Stedelijk Museum showing off its Tate-batingly superb permanent collection to advantage; catch the Mike Kelley retrospective which has become a memorial; amble round the 50-odd canalside spaces and get to grips with the challengingly caustic worlds of both Atelier van Lieshout (at Grimm and on Museum Square) and Erik van Lieshout (Annet Gelink) and the new-to-me but excellent Nelleke Beltjens (musically obsessive abstract drawings at Roger Katwijk) and Jaring Lokhorst (oil on metal paintings of landscapes with metal at AdK Actuele Kunst); explore a 200 photo survey of Diane Arbus, complete with well-judged biographical and technical overviews, at Foam; and visit Vincent in the exile of The Hermitage while his own museum, like the Rijksmuseum, is renovated..

Bram Bogart installation view
 Having said all which my favourite spot was the CoBrA museum for modern art at   Amstelveen in the south of the city, an architecturally striking museum currently housing the biggest survey yet expressionistically minimalist paintings of the Dutch-Belgian Bram Bogart (1921-2012), superbly installed around a central light well in a persuasive non-chronological order. Many are shown in the round, so one can appreciate the solidly sculptural construction of metal armature and matchingly-painted wooden box backing which are integral and necessary to Bogart’s biggest paintings, which can weigh over 50 stone. 

Bram Bogart installation view


At the Crosswalk VIII, 2011

Ian Wallace: At the Intersection of Painting and Photography

Black dog publishing 2012, £39.95 - linked to show at Vancouver Art Gallery with an impressive site at

This weighty survey provides a very thorough treatment of a photographer and teacher – Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall were among his students – who influenced the emergence of a distinctive conceptual approach to photography in 1970’s Vancouver.  Ian Wallace isn’t terribly well-known in Europe but here he gets 300 illustrations, an overview, a chronology and six thematic chapters each with two substantial articles: one broad and one work-specific; one with Wallace’s own words, one by another writer. Is he worthy of such sustained attention?

Wallace is certainly a cogent and persistent thinker and researcher, feeding the literary and philosophical roots of a practice in which Mallarmé, Barthes and Adorno loom large. He began with monochrome paintings and documentary-style (but staged) photography. Those strands come together in his most characteristic work, which uses painted canvas as a literal and metaphorical ground for photographs.  Wallace also ranges into cinema, performance, language and institutional contexts to provide a wider intersectional practice than this book’s title suggests. Furthermore, he proposes that three locations, which can be seen as making up ‘the architecture of the economy’, can be identified with the recurring themes in his work: the studio, being the private place of production; the museum, being the public space of presentation of the work; and the street, being the scene of public politics. That then provides an effective means of structuring this book. 

Untitled (Crossing the Street II), 1989
Wallace’s themes come together most persuasively in the series ‘At the Crosswalk’, in which life-sized photographs of figures ready to cross the road in downtown Vancouver (and, later, elsewhere) are imposed over and interrupted by sections of bright monochrome painting.  Thus, as Wallace puts it, ‘slabs of reality’ are mounted onto the ‘ideality of the abstract field’ to unify what Wallace cites as the ‘three fundamental technical innovations of twentieth century avant garde art: abstraction (the monochrome being the most radical example); the ready-made (in which any object of the world can be appropriated to function as an aesthetic reference point), and collage (the montage of heterogeneous objects or images into a unified image)’.

However, as Wallace himself recognises, the resulting images aren’t always terribly interesting in themselves: ‘by depicting the most banal events of everyday life, such as people crossing the street, I realised I would probably limit the audience for my work’. That said, the point at which pedestrians are ready to cross is both characteristic of interactions in a city and a reference to the inevitability of change and the need to move on in life. Wallace also mentions the parallel between asphalt of the road and his earlier monochrome paintings. Add the acknowledgement of the economic and political forces beyond our control, and the richness of the subject is apparent, despite initial appearances. Is there, then, a suggestion that art might offer some sort of redemption? Perhaps, in an ambiguous way: as Jeff Derksen puts it in his focus piece ‘Wallace's cityscapes are overwhelmed by the spatial divisions of capitalism (work and leisure, public and private)’ and, though they also draw attention to ‘the banality of the moment’, there is in the conception of these works ‘a beautiful oscillation between the limits of urban space/urban experience and the limits of art’.
In The Street (The Cologne Series), 1989
There is of course a long tradition of seeking out the paradoxical attractions of the banal. What’s distinctive about Wallace is that he sets about this not by uncovering an overlooked aesthetic – as, say, do Ian Breakwell or Fischli & Weiss  – but by enriching its theoretical content. That’s enough to make me wish I could get to Vancouver to see the non-touring retrospective which this book documents. Meantime, this excellent production feel as good as a substitute for that could get.

3 x TOP 10 SHOWS 2012 

UK: Public Galleries 

Mika Rottenberg
Alighiero Boetti – Tate Modern; Charline von Heyl – Tate Liverpool; Klein / Moriyama – Tate Modern; Mel Bochner – Whitechapel; Picasso Prints – British Museum; Clare Woods – City Gallery, Southampton; Andy Holden – Stanley Picker Gallery, Kingston; Sanja Iveković – Calvert 22 / South London Gallery; Mondrian Nicholson In Parallel - Courtauld; Mika Rottenberg - Nottingham Contemporary

UK: Commercial / Private 

Rosa Loy
Guillermo Kuitca – Hauser & Wirth; Sarah Lucas: Situation – all year at Sadie Coles; Brian Griffiths – Vilma Gold; Rosa Loy – Pippy Houldsworth; Stan Douglas – Victoria Miro; Kaari Upson – Carlson; David Claerbout – Parasol Unit; Jamie Shovlin – Haunch of Venison; Shana Moulton - Gimpel Fils; White: Marbles and Paintings from Antiquity to Now – Robilant + Voena 

Rest of the World (obviously fairly arbitrary, depending where I happened to go)

Sarah Anne Johnson
Documenta 13 – Kassel, Germany; Jeff Koons – Bayeler Foundation, Basel; Jorinde Voigt – David Nolan, New York; Winnipeg Now – Winnipeg, Canada; Art Unlimited - Basel; Jean-Luc Moulène - Dia:Beacon; Ancestral Figure – Gagosian, Paris; Louise Bourgeois late works - Kunsthalle, Hamburg;  John Chamberlain – Guggenheim, New York;  Diane Arbus – Foam, Amsterdam

Tuesday, 27 November 2012


What would you sooner, solo show or group? This month I feature three solos varied enough to look like groups, tightly-themed and more disparate group shows and a solo (or is it?) with multiple guests…  not to mention an artist with three substantial London shows at once – would that be a group solo? And even though I've included forteen, there are plenty of other high quality shows on now or up soon: Bernard Jacobson, The Barbican, Pyms Gallery, Paradise Row, the Approach, Maria Stenfors, Spruth Magers, Hauser & Wirth, Piper, The Composing Rooms, Bischoff/Weiss, Osborne Samuel, Cubbitt and Purdy Hicks were among those who tempted me, too – along with the new Saatchi show reviewed separately.  Unusually, I start with a few artists who are no longer of this art world…

Lines in Space No. 44, 1964 

Paule Vézelay: Abstraction-Création and Le Groupe Espace 

 To 8 Dec (film event 29 Nov):

 It’s good to see that Jane England has moved her gallery from Notting Hill into the thick of the Fitrovian action – and equally good to see her put on a wide-ranging 30-item show of Marjorie Watson-Williams (or Paule Vézelay as she styled herself on moving to Paris in the 1930’s, more appropriately to her continentally surreal tendencies). These included two of her rather rarely-seen thread and wire in box constructions of ‘Lines in Space’, which bring an original poise to the apparent influences of her lover (from 1929-32) André Masson and friend Hans Arp.

The Passage of the Bride, 1998-99

Richard Hamilton: The Late Works @ The National Gallery

Setting aside a still-clunky unfinished triptych, Richard Hamilton’s late paintings are eerily crystalline meditations on pictorial artifice which might be summarised as ‘the Duchampian Bride in various computerised interiors’. Like Duchamp’s posthumously-revealed ‘Etant Donnés’, they make the male artist’s desire for beauty take a somewhat uncomfortable centre stage as nude women do the housework, wander round the National Gallery, or pass directly before the bachelors, as here.  I take this to be a double provocation: a use of the classical tradition guaranteed to have Brian Sewell types foaming at the mouth, while at the same time rubbing up against political incorrectness in more progressive circles. 
Sydney Webster Fish on a dark bay
Nicholson / Hepworth / Moore and Sir Alfred Munnings: An Artist’s Life &  @ Richard Green, 33 & 147 New Bond St – Mayfair

To 14 Dec:

The Richard Green galleries either side of New Bond Street are well worth visiting before Christmas. On the eastern side is a representative and high quality selection of Nicholson, Moore and Hepworth, including a couple of 1930s geometric gouaches from Nicholson which blaze more brightly than his contemporaneous oils. On the west is an extensive survey of Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), often seen as the best painter of horses since Stubbs - Brian Sewell is a fan -  yet also dismissed as reactionary and formulaic. I’d say there’s a dash of radicalism and plenty of flair in, for instance. what might have been routine commissioned portraits of rich Americans on horseback. Witness the energy of the dogs and flushed sky-echoing flanks of the horse above.

Lothar Götz: Untitled

Lothar Götz: The Line of Beauty + Special Guests @ DomoBaal, 3 John St - Holborn

To 22 Dec:

This is four shows in one, and they’re all good! ‘The Line of Beauty’ itself is what he German artist is known for: a space-sensitive colour-geometric wall painting covering a special room; the guests – in the adjoining room - are artists associated with or admired by Götz, whose works are shown alongside objects from his personal collection of ceramics; aspects of those 14 guest items are echoed in 14 drawings hung against The Line of Beauty, allowing for a diverting game of match-across. Enough? No, the larger room also contains Götz’s new stream of stand-alone paintings – five shimmering accumulations of line, the secret of which is the layers of metallic pencil beneath the paint.

Dr Lakra @ Kate MacGarry, 27 Old Nichol St - Shoreditch

This installation is a chance to enter the decidedly gothic brain of Mexican artist Dr Lakra, best known for tattoo-inspired work which plays up to his drug dealerish name (literally ‘Doctor Scar’, a nickname from Jeronimo Lopez Ramirez’s habit of carrying a medical case). So: weird record covers, found scrapbooks of medical diagrams, sexual kitsch and sculptural primitivism; box-framed collections of consonant ephemera; silhouettes of grotesque characters; a giant wall-painted osprey and fish. Nonetheless, the star item is surely the closest to his core work: an Japanese Shuga book to which Dr L has added hyper-delicate tattoos.

Saad Qureshi: Other Crescents Other Moons @ The Gazelli Art House, 39 Dover St - Central

To 22 Dec:           

Adventurous British Asian artist Saad Qureshi has found a way to merge collective memory with his own personal vision. He bases the look and feel of the landscapes in his first solo show on verbal recollections obtained by advertising in places he visits – as if he can inhabit them as a local. These translate into filigree carvings on carbon paper, hung at an angle from the wall so that the back can be seen as a memory-trace of the front; brooding half-burnt, half-painted landscape tableaux, set in cupboardless drawers mounted on a spookily illogical mixture of wheels and legs; and thelarge title  installation, which has a more communal aspect.  

Untitled (Junk Painting) 2012
Keith Coventry: Junk Paintings : Pace, 6-10 Lexington Street - Soho

Keith Coventry (who has solo shows at both Pace, as here, and Peer and a substantal presence at David Roberts) collects McDonalds packaging to inform his decade-long series of paintings which blows them up to a scale to dwarf the biggest burger. The latest set have almost coalesced with his well-known estate paintings (which turn reveal the supremacism in housing maps), so abstract have they become.  Look closely and you’ll see that the white areas aren’t painted constructivistly flat but with very evident geometric brushstrokes, recalling his other well-known stream of white on white paintings. … 


Berndt Ribbeck @ Alison Jacques, 16-18 Berners St - Fitzrovia

To 20 Dec:

This is primarily 'as you were' for the German artist: small, intense paintings which channel the temptation to strive for the spiritual through abstraction, yet but bring that up against the material reality from which they are very visibly made. There's also a harder-edged influence from 20th century religious architecture, which Ribbeck calls 'bastard hybrids of modern rationalism and the spiritual role these buildings were meant to play'. Yet the one main technical difference from his first London solo show in 2009 has more aesthetic impact than you might guess:  'pigmented marker' - felt tip of some sort - has replaced the previously characteristic use of ballpoint pen in building up the scumbled, scratched and smeared surfaces which animate Ribbeck's geometry.

Galactic Parade
Louis Maqhubela: Transformational Discourse @ Art First, 21 Eastcastle St – Fitzrovia

To 20 Dec:

South African Louis Maqhubela has been London-based since 1978, but these recent paintings integrate his homeland with an evident love of Klee and Kandinsky as they flicker back and forth between abstraction and representation. ‘Galactic Parade’ sets three bad men against two good figures who have freed the bird to fly towards the moon as ideal triangle… but what hits you first is how abstractly patterned these figures are – that and how the paint, applied on a rollered white ground over enough years to build up an unusually rough texture, achieves a burning luminosity.  

text(ure) @ Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, 11 Church St – Marylebone

To 22 Dec:

This intricate show explores the space in which texts go beyond simple legibility to become line and pattern. Its all good, expectedly so with Carl Andre, Alighiero Boetti, Károly Keserü and Michael Landy, but the stand-out piece is Katherine Murphy’s performative path to beauty through inordinate labour and systematised chance:  she salvaged 3,000 UCLA library index cards from a skip and has set about arranging them in different formations. The geographical sort recorded here across four panels combines some analogue wistfulness and mental travel with an accidental Agnes Martin look titivated by the cards’ differential typefaces, colour bands, dirt from being handled and cancellation marks.

Mel Bochner: If The Colour Changes @ the Whitechapel Gallery – Aldgate East
There are plenty more words in Mel Bochner’s compellingly repulsive Thesaurus paintings, the culmination of a 40 year investigation of the relationships between medium (‘delivery mode’ in Bochner-speak), language and colour – and yet one which Bochner himself reduces to Blah Blah Blah in the biggest and dirtiest work on show.  There’s plenty more escalating negativity – ‘No Way’ moves on to ‘Never’ and ‘Drop Dead’ – contrasted with an almost pathologically cheerful palette  as Bochner rails against the limits and conditions of painting, language and the world - rather like  doomsayer relishing having  been right. The (sarcastically?) upbeat ‘Amazing’ has bands of colour as well as coloured letters to maximise the dose.

David Adamo @ IBID, 35 Hoxton Square – Hoxton

To 12 Jan:

David Adamo’s most consistent stream of a practice typically themed around removal - of material and / or functionality - sees him chop away at wooden objects until what they were is in visible tension with what they have become. The latest phase is here, but this hugely inventive show spread across three floors has much more: erasers made from clay which were then used to attempt a rubbing out, so shaping the clay appropriately; a shuttlecock made functionless through an amazingly filigree rendition in bronze; silent metronomes; an equally useless wooden bicycle frame; miniaturised radiators; and tiny wooden birds cute enough (sorry!) to tread on by mistake.

From 'Bridges'

Tim Davies: In and Amongst @ the FOLD Gallery, 15 Clerkenwell Close – Clerkenwell

To 22 Dec:

FOLD latest show in its spacious new Clerkenwell location, another very varied solo with removal at its heart, surveys Tim Davies' work both before and after he represented Wales at the last Venice Biennale . Erasure succeeds here in the removal of the background from postcards of bridges to leave the crossings abstracted and purposeless. Other disruptors include fire, fear and trembling: burnt boards from an elaborate performance using scattered nails as a template; videos of psychologically charged movement through buildings; a hand rippling architectural reflections in the Grand Canal; and the deconstruction of more modern buildings to quake-like effect by selectively rotating collaged elements.  

Jean-Luc Moulene @ the Thomas Dane Gallery, 3 &11 Duke St – Central

To 26 Jan:

As I write you can (and I have!) see significant shows by Jean-Luc Moulene in London, Oxford and New York. They all show him expanding from his photographic base in any number of interesting and diverse directions, most often united, perhaps, by themes of how geometry relates to the body. Thomas Dane has the rememakable feat of glass-blowing which makes up triple-coloured mathematically-based ‘knots’; glass lungs in bird cages; square mirrors aligned with squares of lycra put under sufficient stress to appear quite other; exploations of the geometry of clocks; monochromes in biro; a neat-as-simple collage of eye and finger etc etc.

Juliette Losq: The Ploutonion
Another Room @ ROOM London, 30 Manchester St – Baker Street

Close to the long-standing and respected photography gallery Atlas (which is currently showing a broader-than-you-usually-see range of Floris Neususs’s photograms), the East End’s ROOM has moved into a whole Georgian house in the West End – albeit for a one year let of a partly burnt-out property which retains plenty of East End grit. Six artists have been given the chance to respond to it, and two are exceptional. Juliette Losq installs a fireplace and vernal drawings as theatrically peeling wallpaper to make a clearing which is as Freudian as it is Gothic. Hoxton visitors may recall Tom Wolseley’s caravan projects in the park behind the former ROOM: his ingeniously filmed socio-architectural analysis of this site is eloquently discussed by Vici Macdonald at

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.