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

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About Me

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Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.