Saturday, 25 February 2012


There's a trend towards double shows of a single artist: David Shrigley at the Hayward and Stephen Friedman; Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern and Victoria Miro; Lucien Freud at the NPG and Blain / Southern and Alighiero e Boetti soon at Tate Modern and Spruth Magers, advance guard for which is Gavin Turk’s entertaining homage at Brown Fine Arts. No room here for those, though, nor for Thomas Zipp’s charged Freudian installation at Alison Jacques;  the Hauser & Wirth pairing of Michael Raedecker’s cut and re-sew with Mary Heilmann’s happy-pink hippy-punk; Goncalo Mabunda’s haunting masks of decommissioned weaponry at Jack Bell’s new space in Mason’s Yard; Ori Gersht's equally war-haunted films at the Imperial War Museum; and Iain Hales' sleek sculpture-painting propositions at Cole – but you’re advised to see those too! So there's plenty on: that’s a dozen shows already before I start…

'Der Bienenkorb' (The Straw Hive) 
Rosa Loy: Tautropfen @ Pippy Houldsworth, 6 Heddon St - Central

To 15 March:

Leipzig-based painter Rosa Loy shows 18 quirkily characterful watercolour sketches, made at the time of Tautropfen (dewdrops) before she leaves the house for her studio, and travelling ahead of her towards her paintings (of which we see three). The images have the atmosphere of an alternative world, some of which may be down to them featuring thirty-odd women and no men. Loy told me it isn’t a strategy – as in Gilbert & George’s opposite tendency – but just how the drawings spontaneously turn out; there again, she's also said it's part of a vision for strengthening the role of women in society...  Either way, one man definitely at the opening was her husband Neo Rauch – and they’re among the couples who’ll collaborate on a work for Pippy Houldsworth’s innovative next show, Sweethearts.

Expedition Interior

Dolly Thompsett: The Torch in the Cave @ Vigo, First Floor, 22 Old Bond St - Central
To 23 March:

Seven ‘dizzying landscapes of the mind’, as the punchy press release puts it, see Dolly Thompsett’s fourth London solo show effect a double layering. Physically, by being painted on linen textiles, patterns from which show through; by the paint sitting under and over resin layers; and by the application of surface effects such as glitter. Then an equivalent layering of content, as a wide range of sources - historical, geographical and cinematic – come together to intricate yet dramatic effect. See for my conversation with Dolly, which includes an explanation of the evocative title.

Self-portraits from the series 'I Am Not I'
 Boris Mikhailov: Tryptichs @ Sprovieri, 23 Heddon St - Central

To 5 April

Sprovieri makes good use of its recently-expanded space to show a 50 year retrospective with a twist: a dozen triptychs each chosen from a different project by the hard-hitting Ukranian photographer Boris Mikhailov. Set up to echo religious themes and imply a series of beginnings, middles and ends, they include early examples of the ironically critical anti-Soviet work which could be defended as merely pursuing beauty; fully-fledged narratives taken from curious news reports; pseudo-edenic groupings of the poor; several from his disturbingly explicit yet humanely accepting cycles depicting the poor and homeless; and the artist himself, naked in the biggest prints, playing with a fake phallus.

Rasha Kahil: from the series 'In Your Home'

Photo Opportunity @ Maddox Arts, 52 Brooks Mews – Mayfair

To 31 March:

In a show concentrating on somewhat polite geometric interventions in photographs to create alternate perspectives, young London-based Lebanese photographer Rasha Kahil has a corner which stands out. She shows photographs, from a series of 36 taken opportunistically over three years, which innovatively skewer the boundary between private and public. Whenever friends left her alone in their houses, she rapidly photographed herself naked. Their reactions when she told them later are an implied aspect of the work, which combines a subversive invasion of space with an assertive use of the body: aspects of Vito Acconci, VALIE EXPORT and Larry Sultan came to mind, which can’t be bad…

Christine 10 Hollywood
Lise Sarfati – She @ Brancolini Grimaldi, 43-44 Albemarle St - Central

To 17 March:

Calfornia-based French photographer Lise Sarfati’s 2005-09 series ‘She’ arguably takes off from classic Cindy Sherman more persuasively than Sherman’s own recent work. Every shot features one of the same four similar women - two sisters, their mother and her sister. They’re drained of normal identifiers by appearing in unfamiliar cities and in wigs, so it becomes unclear who’s who and to what extent they’re acting. The focus is thrown onto their faces – which give little away – and on the older women’s distinctive tattoos, which read as marks of life. Sarfati has called the result ‘a woman with four heads’: a confusing play across identities which draws you in as it pushes you away.

Plant Life of the Pacific World Uncatalogued Species 8

Carlos Noronha Feio: Plant Life of the Pacific World @ IMT, Unit 2/210 Cambridge Heath Road - Canbridge Heath

To 1 April:

Carlos Noronha Feio is a wide-ranging Portuguese experimentalist whose rigorously perverse videos of self-set tasks and richly conceptual rugs I have previously enjoyed. This show takes the rigorous perversion in a new direction, as it consists purely of collages of plant forms made from photographs of nuclear explosions. They’re classified according to the system used by botanist E.D. Merrill in his 1945 guide – for US military use – to the plant life of the Pacific World (do ask to see the book). It’s a neat way of yoking military and domestic, horror and beauty, creation and destruction etc, but the key is how the collages take on an unpredictable life of their own, as if the backstory is merely a pretext.

Alberto Burri: Form and Matter @ the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Cannonbury Square – Islington

To 7 April:

Alberto Burri (1915-95) is a plausible challenger to Eduardo Chillida for the title ‘best footballer to become a famous artist’, but neither that nor his foreshadowing of Arte Povera and Nouveaux Realistes approaches have been enough to make him a big name in Britain. This three room 50 work overview goes beyond the relatively well-known works incorporating sacking or burnt elements to include early figuration; his late 1950s ‘paintings’ with iron and tar; the move to insulation Cellotex in his last decade; and the Cretti, which set up a process of cracking. Land and bodies often come to mind, though Burri denied such references, let alone the existential readings they can trigger – and, radical and violent as his methods were, the results do now seem mainly to be eerily beautiful and beautifully judged.

'Composition with Double Lines and Yellow', 1935 as bought by Winifred Nicholson, Mondrian's first British sale 
Mondrian║Nicholson:  In Parallel @ The Courtald Gallery,

To 20 May:

The most serene and yet assertive room in London must be at the Courtauld, which provides a more balanced face-off than Tate Britain’s Picasso-trounces-Brits. You get eight classic Mondrians (only two of them normally on show in London) set off against five of Nicholson’s white reliefs. So flat colour-delimiting lines of paint meet spatially-generated lines of shadow, both aiming to find the spiritual in abstraction. They’re all from the 1930’s, during which Nicholson championed Mondrian and facilitated his move to London (1938-40). There’s archive material, too: you can see that Ben didn’t plan to stay long when he visited Piet’s Paris studio on 21 October 1936, as his appointment diary says ‘2.00 Mondrian, 3.00 Skiing lesson’!

Video still from 'Night and Day'

John Wood and Paul Harrison: Things That Happen @ Carroll / Fletcher, 56-57 Eastcastle St – Fitzrovia

To 30 March:

Carroll / Fletcher has quite a wow factor for a new start-up, featuring six purpose-designed spaces which allow for a very full chance to catch up with what Wood & Harrison have been up to since their last London show in 2005. They still tend to apply the tropes of minimalist repetition to push wittily against the boundaries of absurdity, but with a less straightforward reliance on their own performative actions to do so. Many of the new works seem to relish futility: I particularly like the elaborate construction of successively raised blinds which amount to no more than a ‘Blind Spot’; and the hundred quirky glimpses into imagined office lives which suggest such work is no more than a diversionary activity.

Cardinal SE SE
 Danny Rolph: Kissing Balloons in the Jungle @ Poppy Sebire, 6 Copperfield St – Southwark

To 24 March:

Danny Rolph’s multiple artistic, scientific and cultural references from Tiepolo to particle physics, from children’s clothes to architecture play into abstract games without frontiers (with a twist: Peter Gabriel was kissing baboons in the song). He uses three modes which feed each other: the small collages through which ideas take form; the ‘triplewall’ which layers collage and painted elements across and within semi-transparent building plastic; and large acrylic canvases which pick up on the spatial complexity and divert it in more painterly directions. All three are featured here, but the paintings, bursting with contrasting visual languages, take centre stage.

Images courtesy of the relevant artists and galleries

Sunday, 19 February 2012


Here I focus on a dozen works – rather than reviews of whole shows – which I’ve found of interest recently. We start with pre-history and end with the eternal. The middle has a genital tendency, though here too the infinite sneaks in.

Peter Coffin: Untitled (Prelapsarian), 2012 at Carl Kostyal & Herald St to 31 March

An oak-panelled room with real fire blazing on the first floor of Savile Row makes an appropriate setting for Peter Coffin’s figure awaiting a massage. From you? Well, his hairiness might give you pause, and the divergent big toes and elongated palms indicate that he’s a pre-human – representing, perhaps, the pre-linguistic instincts which still inform our behaviour. Has he had a hard day rioting? He also made me check whether gorillas have such naked soles... 

Kelly Richardson: Leviathan, 2011 at Edel Assanti to 17 March

Gordon Cheung has made the best of the rare chance to use three floors to theme his curation ‘Immortal Nature’ around the underworld, earth and afterlife on ascending levels. The most spectacular work is a 20 minute loop by another Canadian, environmentally-focused video artist Kelly Richardson, of the swampy Caddo Lake in Texas. It’s given an ominously drone of a soundtrack and digitally altered to toxify the colours and enhance the post-apocalyptic mood. The title’s allusions to Hobbs (“the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”) and the sea monster that guarded the gates of Hell fit right in…

Toby Ziegler: Metaplasmus, 2011 at Simon Lee to 25 Feb

This, from Ziegler’s most persuasive show to date, is one of his sculptures which play off the degradation of images by making 3D computer renditions from pictures of ancient art objects sourced from the internet, then realising them using oxidised aluminium panels. Approximation is built in, so that they tempt yet frustrate any attempt to deduce their origins, and the title ‘Metaplasmus’ suits, being the alteration of a word to create a rhetorical effect (such as calling a God a ‘goldlet’ to suggest limited powers). I also like the way the frame-come-plinth stands in for limbs.

Mel Ramos: H. Upmann, 1844, 2006 (from edition of 8) - sold for £97,250 at Phillips on 17 Feb

The auction houses have made for diverting viewing of late. Here the cigar ( a Cuban Corona Imperiales with a rich, oily flavor and long-lasting finish) accounts for the odd title . You might think it a comically phallic way to equate sexual and consumer desire, but Ramos protests – perhaps too much – that “people make references to my work as sex, which is simply not true. Sex is an activity and nudity is a condition. When I do a painting, everybody calls them pin-ups. When Picasso or Matisse did nude paintings, people called them nudes… Jesus.”

Bernhard Martin: Docks, 2012 at Union to 17 March

Bernhard Martin paints in many modes, but tends to push them all to extremes. Certainly the German's recent cycle of six pencil and wash drawings on canvas delivers in that respect, as most body parts become genital in a Genet-inspired romp through the territory of Freud, Bellmer and Dali. Others in the series, which gallerist Jari Lager says features 36 penises, see a cock-fingered hand wield a knife but also get stamped on. If this represents Martin’s search for his own ‘alien abysses and desires’, as the press release has it, that’s a refreshingly weird inner life he has there....

Yayoi Kusama: Accumulation Room at Tate Modern to 5 June

Martin’s cockery has nothing, though, on Yayoi Kusama’s retrospective, which gives rooms over to each of her attempts to reach infinity – through nets, aggregation, mirroring, obliteration, free love and collage as well as her Hirst-trumping spots. She says says ‘obsessional neurosis’ produces the hallucinations which her work represents. The aggregation room sees thousands of stuffed fabric phalli encrusting shoes, clothes, furniture,  accessories and even a boat she co-sourced with Donald Judd. Kusama liked to lie among them, and they seem to be friendly appendages, caught mid-wave in the manner of molluscs as the tide comes in.

Installation view of 'Situation' with 'Nice Tits' and  'Prière de Toucher'
Sarah Lucas: Nice Tits, 2011 at Sadie Coles New Burlington to 19 May

Sadie Coles has rented a sizable space over her newest gallery for a year, and handed it over to Sarah Lucas to do what she will. Lucas starts with her own work, and there’s surely a Kusama reference in ‘Nice Tits’, which actually mixes 'male’ and ‘female’ forms of her signature stuffed tights, ie those tied into a nipple end vs those completed with a seam which looks like a meatus urethrae externus, to get a bit medical! Sort of like + and – batteries, but funnier. So the male is sneaked in to the swipe, too jocular to be bitter, at the reduction of a woman to her boots and breasts.

Paradise Painting 3

Gary Hume: Paradise Paintings, 2011 at White Cube to 25 Feb

Gary Hume it was who opened a can of beer in suggestive manner for Lucas’s ‘Got a Salmon On (Prawn)’, 1994…  I’m not sure if I like the Paradise Paintings in the Mason’s Yard half of his two-site painting show ‘The Indifferent Owl’ , but they do combine courage and logic: the courage comes in choosing to paint birds in such a way that they also represent, in Hume’s words ‘pubescent girls, naked’ – the background forms are splayed legs, the beaks ‘are their pussies’ and the eyes are drops of menstrual blood, all in the manner of the duck / rabbit illusion. That makes the paintings doubly queasy: for content and for the sickly colour combinations, which does seem a logical way of upping the ante of Hume’s way of being too slick ‘n’ sickly to be joyful.

Donald Judd: ‘Untitled’, 1968 at Spruth Magers to 18 Feb

Ex-Judd fabricator Peter Ballantine chose 33 drawings from four different types for this behind-the-scenes show: some preparatory studies from the days (1962-64) when the future lover of Yayoi Kusma made his own sculptures; later ones giving instructions to his fabricators; more formal ‘portraits’ of sculptures as an alternative to photographic records; and drawings made by his fabricators to clarify the brief. The instructions – as above – are minimal enough to give plenty of license, or to ‘gain control by ceding control’, as Ballantine has it. And wasn’t there something Platonic and eternal about the results?

David Shrigley: Untitled, 2012 at Stephen Friedman to 10 March

This cute sort-of-picture of the unpicturable has – like many of David Shrigley’s zeit-jests – a Beckettian backdrop of boredom and death. London’s the board for a hail of his absurdist darts at the moment: both the Hayward’s career survey and Stephen Friedman’s show of new work represent his increasingly full range admirably – sculpture, ceramics, installation, taxidermy, sort-of-songs, animation, photography, books, sort-of-paintings – but it’s still the wonkily simple ironies of Shrigley’s drawings which hit the most bullseyes. And the text is much of the charm, as in ‘I Wrote These Words to Fill This Space’ and ‘It Is Possible To Get Lost In Your Own Brain’.

Installation view of 'The Curator's Egg'
Ruth Ewan: From ‘We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted To Be’, 2011 in ‘The Curator’s Egg’ at Anthony Reynolds to 3 March

Your antennae should already be attuned to the absurd when you find that the kind of double-sided clock you expect to top a town hall’s tower is down on the floor. And indeed, Ruth Ewan has converted one side to the decimal, dividing the 24 hour day into ten hundred minute periods of a hundred seconds each, so that noon is five o’clock and midnight ten o’clock. This echoes, says Ewan, 5 October, 1793 ‘when the recently formed Republic of France abandoned the widely used Gregorian Calendar in favour of the French Republican Calendar, carrying the ideals of the new republic directly into the lives of every citizen.’ One of ten such clocks, of course, and one of many good bits in this ovum.

Steve Bishop: As If You Could Only Kill Time Without Injuring Eternity IV, 2011 at Supplement to 17 March

Upcoming London-based Steve Bishop’s solo show at Supplement, ‘Buildings are Heavy’, entertainingly exposes the history of the space, but the stand out works are a series of T-shirts, printed with images rendered illegible by how they are forced-fed into a box frame, around which mercury swims to produce an abstract effect somewhere between brain and mountain. Turn the frame around, and the mercury swims into a new formation, making for a potential eternity of process-derived ‘paintings without paint’.

All images courtesy of the relevant artists and galleries

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.