Sunday, 24 February 2013


Kelly Richardson: The Erudition (detail of video still)   
London’s art scene is too rich to take in at the moment: you can go historically for high quality surveys of the Ice Age (British Museum) to Barocci (National Gallery), Murillo (Dulwich & the Wallace Collection),  Manet (Royal Academy), the Newlyn School (Two Temple Place), early Picasso (Courtald), Schwitters (Tate Britain), Morandi (Estorick), Man Ray (NPG), Ansel Adams (Greenwich), Elizabeth Frink (pretty comprehensive even if Outer London, you might say, in Woking), Bruce Nauman (Hauser & Wirth), Rosemary Trockel (Serpentine) and Gerard Byrne (Whitechapel), not to mention the big shows I’ve picked below. I'd add Byrne to Kelly Richardson (Edel Assanti and the Towner, Eastbourne), Shaun Gladwell (de la warr Bexhill - how big can London get?), Lichtenstein, Kolářová and The Barbican as my must-see retrospectives, the first three of which I'm writing about elsewhere - for Border Crossings, Photomonitor and Art Monthly.  But there is as ever plenty worth seeing in smaller galleries, too, several of which explore space to considerable effect…  Richardson's half-real half-virtual spaces are at one with that theme.

Candida Höfer : A Return to Italy @ Ben Brown Fine Arts, 12 Brook's Mews - Mayfair

To 12 April:

Teatro Scientifico Bibiena Mantova 
Thirteen new large format photographs of interiors body best-known female representative of the Düsseldorf School see her in central and southern Italy. I was inclined to carp: why always the same approach? Does she do enough to transform her material? But in practice, the way which Höfer captures space - physical historical and social – carries an ongoing charge. You might call that spatial volume the negative outcome of the constructions which surround it – and here those definitional surrounds, as in the theatre in Mantua above, are of celebratory magnificence and call up the drama of the Renaissance.

Tommy Støckel : Ten Transports That Shaped The Work @ Jacob's Island

To 27 April:

The Berlin based Dane Tommy Støckel (say Stir-kle) has come up with a  curiously satisfying chance driven means of engaging with this specific, somewhat unusual, docklands space and the international space to be traversed between him and it. He made 10 models of polystyrene forms, placed them uniformly in packing cases, and courriered them to London. We can see the 10 cases with their travel-jumbled contents at the back of the gallery - and pick out the one arrangement chosen to be made big enough to fill whole room and apparently wish to escape through one wall. 


Paul Chiappe: Series 2012 @ Carslaw St Luke's, 137 Whitecross Street - St Luke's / Barbican

To 31 March www. 

In contrast to Støckel's space invasion, this whole show takes up about two square feet of the three large walls it is spread around. Edinburgh-based Paul Chiappe is known for his fantastically detailed spray gun and pencil versions of found photographs, and this show gives you that. Or rather, it gives you just the one photograph of a school's line-up, in four paired versions, all of them both editing from and adding to the original. The figures included vary from 11 to 27, and within each pair one can search for subtler differences in, say, socks or eyebrows: a kind of memory game to slow the photographic passage of time. 


Rosemary Trockel: A cosmos @ The Serpentine Gallery - Kensington

Untitled, 2006 - vitrified ceramic and platinum
This bracingly unegotistical and superbly organised show of over 200 items takes us from Cabinet of curiosities to library to white cube space to Natural History Museum to design display. It brings the protean German Rosemarie Trockel into dialogue with self-taught artists: for example, Judith Scott's way of wrapping objects in wool resonates with Trockel's own best-known stream of work, her knitted "paintings". One can also trace such themes as chimpanzees, the independent leg, or the unusual use of ceramics; or note the move from a spider which replaces the pubic hair on a version of Courbet’s ‘Origin of the World’ to fly on the face of a baby...


Mike Nelson @ Matt’s Gallery, 42-44 Copperfield Road – Mile End

To 14 April:

Just when he seemed to be boxed into a never-ending sequence of rooms,  In what amounts to a reversal was established practice, Mike Nelson's fourth solo show at Matt's Gallery seizing move away from constrained spaces full of empty menace to an open spread of a Trockelesque number of rudimentary and abject sculptural formations: you wander among figures out of branches and garden forks; bin accumulations; flopped costume bodies; tripod votives; giant plaster heads; campfire stick patterns; ram's horns etc. The atmospheric results mixes folk magic with outsider camp with a sense of memorial. 


Rob Chavasse: Off Season @ The Sunday Painter, 12-16 Blenheim Grove - Peckham

To 17 March:

cowboy casino
Ascending to Rob Chavasse’s impressively varied yet coherent first London solo show, you fear the worst from an auto-tuned sound installation of wind – but are soon drawn to a sleek black abstract which turns out to be a high tech and rather welcome radiator posing as a painting. Chavasse continues the weather theme by covering a window with the results of allowing rain to fall onto a scanner, and complements that with an indoor version of sorts: a monotype made by unrolling a canvas over the floor after a party in which many drinks were spilt. Add an abandoned petrol station and a cloudy Bigfoot captured in a mirror, and ponder.


Keith Coventry: Twentieth Century Estates @ Modern Collections, 89 Mount St – Mayfair

To 22 March: (discussion Wed 27 Feb, 7 pm, South London Gallery)

Stonebridge Estate
The newish secondary market space Modern Collections has done well to bring no fewer than 19 of Keith Coventry’s iconic 1990’s ‘Estate Paintings’ together. They’re deft flip-flops between the gritty reality of  council estates (the signage maps from which they depict)  and the modernist idealism of Malevich (whose Suprematist visual language they adopt). But is it that simple? The white backgrounds (or are they foregrounds?) swirl with more painterly affectation than one would expect, whereas the buildings are flat and inert. Most striking are two which merge the series with Coventry’s equally characteristic white-on-white paintings. The reason? One step on from Chavasse's petrol station, the Stonebridge Estate and Naseby Tower had been demolished.


Běla Kolářová @ Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane - Liverpool Street

To 7 April:

Slalom, 1985
Cosmetics as art? The affixment of razors? Documentation of children's games? Not Karla Black, Damien Hirst or Francis Alÿs, but the fascinating Czech artist  Běla Kolářová (1923 - 2010) ahead of them all. Not only does this 150 work retrospective introduce her to British audiences, it comes with the most handsome free exhibition guide I can recall. The domestically-scaled works range from photographs made from artificial negatives to direct arrangements of such signature materials as paperclips, pen nibs and snap fasteners. Kolářová's underlying themes are movement between part and whole, and a focus on the marginalised - both of which it's possible to read as quiet protests given her political context. 


Roy Lichtenstein: a retrospective @ Tate Modern

To 27 May (plus 'Three Landscapes' film in The Tanks 9-12 & 14-24 March)

Step-on Can with Leg, 1961
This brilliant presentation of Lichtenstein's explorations of the nature of representation gives us the classics: cartoons, brush strokes, riffs on the masters, mirrors, this hinged cartoon sequence of hinged bins. But its themed rooms prove that Lichtenstein's lesser-known series are also shot through with jazzy imagination and wit: the black and white still lives; art deco sculptures; Chinese landscapes; see-through two-dimensional faces; entablatures; theatrical studios with self appropriation; perfect and imperfect abstracts. Plus, of course, plenty of dots - but including those that aren't round / vary in size within the painting / escape the logic of outline / are magnified / get mixed up with stripes.…..


Robert Rauschenberg: Jammers @ Gagosian Gallery, 6 to 24 Britannia Street - Kings Cross and in 'The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns' at the Barbican 

To 28 March (Gagosian) / 9 June (Barbican)

Quaterhouse (Jammer), 1975
It’s good to see plenty of Rauschenberg in the Barbican's atmospherically interdisciplinary Duchamp-themed show plus an expansive overview of his airy 1970s series which take easeful pleasure in coloured fabrics hung from rattan poles. The Jammers emerged from visits to India and take their name from a type sailing boat. Everyone knows Rauschenberg's early white Cage-influencing paintings, his combines and his transfer image collages but substantial other bodies of work keep emerging: the cardboards, the gluts, the paintings on metal, the Moroccan collages, the sound pieces, the stage sets, the photographs.... He's been dead for five years, but I still find myself wondering: what next?

Tommy Støckel : models for 'Ten Transports That Shaped The Work'

Photos courtesy of the relevant galleries and artists plus Coventry 'Courtesy Private Collection, London via Modern Collections'

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


Charl van Ark: Company 1994-2013 (detail)
Rotterdam makes a sensible alternative to Amsterdam as a base for seeing Dutch art: Schiedam and The Hague, which lie at two of the end points of the straightforward underground system, both have vibrant galleries of their own; and Amsterdam itself is only 35 minutes away by surprisingly affordable high speed train (oddly enough, although house prices are probably only half in Rotterdam, I was told that commuting from there to Amsterdam remains rare). And the Dutch speak such good English that I stopped checking they could after a couple said they couldn’t – they were, of course, joking.

Moreover, having been obliterated in World War II, Rotterdam seized the chance to become a wholly modern architectural experience. That gives it a radical and distinctive atmosphere – just what you want to feed into its increasingly well-regarded Art Rotterdam Week (7-10 February).

Fashion and design are very much part of the scene too, with the first European stop of a major Jean Paul Gaultier show opening at the impressive Kunsthalle. The city’s trunks were bound in blue and white striped corsets, like fetish version of tree rings, in recognition of that. The most striking feature of the exhibition wasn't so much the clothes as the use of video-projected faces on the mannequins wearing them. Gaultier himself was in affable form, though the fashion journalists I met were unimpressed by his own choice  – below jeans and what was thought a rather fetching leather skirt – of black Uggs...  Small wonder, perhaps, that I was drawn among the following to several works which echoed aspects of architecture, design and fashion in the increasingly open-ended field of art… 

The Art Rotterdam fair itself is of manageable size (75 galleries) and has a relaxed atmosphere, a coherent aesthetic (emphasising Dutch minimalist traditions) and doesn’t go in for many ‘wow factor’ signature works – that was left to the city’s buildings and Art Warehouse – one of several patchy satellites, but bigger than the main fair!  The moving image was mostly restricted to the separate, but linked, ‘Projections’ fair in a hotel opposite: 19 films shown on cinematic screens with headphones for sound in an concertina arrangement which made very effective use of space. So here are some highlights from Art Rotterdam, two imaginative interventions from the Warehouse, a choice from the significant amount of activity parallel to the fairs, and my impressions from quick trips to Schiedam and The Hague. Throw in a couple of parties, and there’s certainly enough for a busy weekend!

Stephen Balkenhol: Tripod Man at Akinci (Amsterdam) in Art Rotterdam

German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol has been rough-hewing people out of fissure-friendly wood for decades now, but he keeps chipping his way to new directions. The more than life-size Tripod Man feels very fresh, introducing a third leg as a sort of flying buttress which somehow avoids being as silly as that sounds in its radical play between two and three dimensions. Is this, then, where we’ve arrived, rendered flat in essence however much we try to present a rounded whole?

Gareth Moore: Bouvard and Pécuchet’s Invented Desk for Copying at Torri (Paris) in Art Rotterdam

My favourite piece of gallerists’ furniture was this desk: Flaubert meets Judd in the ninth in New York based Canadian artist Gareth Long’s ongoing series of imagined designs of a desk to suit the copy clerks Bouvard and Pécuchet. The first half of the novel ends with their preparations to construct a two-seated desk at which to make copies: the second half was to consist of what they copied, but Flaubert suffered the unrepeatable fate before he could write it. The desk itself was copied from plans locally rather than shipped to Rotterdam, as suited the straightforward pine construction of conceptual furniture.

Folkert de Jong: Act of Despair at Galerie Fons Welters (Amsterdam) in Art Rotterdam

Whereby the Dutch artist known for sardonic historical figure groups made from the ethically and practically challenging material of Styrofoam switches to a still life in traditional bronze, albeit some of it’s painted to look like disposable foam cups. The title suggests a self-deprecating self-portrait of sorts: the circus balls read across to the juggling required to make art decisions, and the teetering architecture of the cups making the likelihood of failure clear enough.  . 

Navid Nuur: When doubt turns into destiny, 1993-2010 at Martin von Zomereren (Amsterdam) in Projections

You might say there are two main ways to go with video art: an instant idea with the resonance to carry rich interpretation, or narrative invention and deconstruction. The ‘Projections’ fair fielded a powerful example of the former in the trenchantly artificial form of Erkka Nissinen’s ‘Polis X’, but its easier to transmit the impact of Navid Nuur’s ‘When doubt turns into destiny’, even though it runs for twenty five minutes across three screens simultaneously. In each, we see the artist in Eindhoven’s back alleys by night, attempting to move slowly enough that he doesn’t trigger the security lights. Every now again he does, and freezes.  Quite apart from proving a succinct metaphor for Nuur’s general desire to ‘mediate between thoughts and their materialisation’, it’s rather funny. Will you be able to see it in the Teheran-born Dutchman’s overdue first major British show (Parasol Unit, 13 March – 26 May)? Maybe, but he’s so productive every which way I won’t be surprised if he’s moved on by then…’

Bettina Buck: Interlude at Rokeby Gallery (London) in Art Rotterdam

Were Nuur brings conceptualism to the city, Bettina Buck brings minimalism to the countryside with equal economy, resonance and wit. In the five minute Interlude, we follow the German sculptor labouring across the somewhat ominous cliff-top grassland of the notorious suicide spot Beachy Head. She’s carrying, in various uncomfortable wind-buffeted ways, a coffin-sized block of foam which weighs about what she does. At least it’s good to rest on when she tires…

Charl van Ark: Company 1994-2013 at Phoebus (Rotterdam) in Art Rotterdam

Made in parallel with his primary stream of  abstracts, Dutch painter Charl van Ark’s take on the cabinet is essentially a twenty year 3-D scrapbook of memories and inspirations. That’s not particularly novel in itself, though the fashionable Geoffrey Farmer’s similar aesthetic came later. Van Ark, however, has a winning light touch in how he selects and juxtaposes the personal, the art historical and the mainstream to keep the viewer moving across its teeming contents: potatoes and heads, art uses of sticks, a photographed trapezist given a real rope in an echo of Joseph Kosuth, Nauman as fountain matched with a pisseur etc...

Salvatore Arancio at Frederico Schiavo Gallery (Rome) in Art Rotterdam (New Art Section)

The taller of these curious ceramics with some of Rotterdam’s architectural thrust are psychedelic version of a ‘lava trees’ from Hawaii – created by a volcanic eruption which took on some of the form of the trees it burned and yet preserved. Named for  Hawaiian gods, they continues London-based Italian Salvatore Arancio’s  interest in combining nature, science and myth.  That has often flowed into the subject of volcanoes, particularly as they appear in i9th century prints which frame them as opportunities for daring explorations of the romantic sublime – and which Arancio digitally alters for an age more aware of its own subjectivity. On the right, though, the approach is applied to the unusual geological formation of the Mushroom rock.

Kim de Ruysscher at Art Warehouse

Young Belgian artist Kim de Ruysscher was a significant presence on both floors of the Art Warehouse with work which yet pushed further in the well-explored territory of material transformation.  Downstairs, he himself – having won the right to  a stand - was revealing to all comers that the canvases, tubes of paint, packaging, rusting iron implements and plenty else displayed on contrastingly light polystyrene stands were actually made from various stones, cunningly  chosen to maximise particular effects. Upstairs, he showed giant nuts and bolts made principally of coffee – the useful rendered dysfunctional, and oddly olfactory, by scale and substance.

Mitsy Groenendijk at Art Warehouse

I suspect most visitors will have missed Mitsy Groenendijk’s installation, which was visible only through a small window into an ante-room halfway up the stairs. That, of course, made it all the more startling if you did discover three monkeys hidden away in the manner of illegal immigrants, of which they could be the ultimate example – appropriately enough in Europe’s largest port. They were child-sized, semi-anthropoid, covered in human hair. Amsterdam-based Groenendijk specialises in such primate figures, which tread a provocative line between sweet and repulsive, endearing and mawkish while implying some sort of challenge to our evaluation of the merits of evolution.

Paola Pivi: Tulkus 1880 to 2018 at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art
The oddest - and perhaps most ambitious - show of the weekend may well have been Alaskan-based Italian Paola Pivi’s attempt to document all the recognised reincarnations of the Buddha (ie Tulkus) in photographed  Tibetan history –  she’s found 1,100 so far.   It certainly featured two of the more unusual words in a press release, 'tulku' being joined by the claim that it’s ‘a mastodontic exhibition’ (ie one size step up from elephantine). That said, I found myself unmoved and the aesthetic uninvolving: the fault was probably mine, but for all Pivi’s monumental efforts, this seemed to fall into the category of exhibitions as interesting to read about as to see:.. 


Jan Maarten Voskuil: 'Pointing Inside' at the Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam

The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam is highly distinctive: four floors spread across two wings and accessible - prior to a forthcoming redevelopment - only via the basement in somewhat jocular style. The several current shows include highlights from its own astutely-purchased collection of early COBRA works; the large, meditative charcoal on coloured paper drawings of Rotterdam-based Indian Aji V.N; and an extensive presentation of the radical work of Jan Maarten Voskuil, who paints on linen which is applied around bent frames so that circular image appears as a square of sorts. He hasn't painted 'flat' since 2001, and has explored the vast range of constructions from this initial idea, including - in Painting Inside II - the deepest painting I've ever seen.

Bridget Riley: Two Yellows Composition with Cricles 4, 2011
Bridget Riley at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag

The Hague, famous for its international courts, is an historic town with several museums, including the extensive Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Its highlights included a thematic display demonstrating an imaginative policy of recent acquisitions (eg major installations of Kari Upson and Charles Avery), and solo shows by two British artists:  Karla Black's first such in the Netherlands - a vast cellophane construction alongside work as insubstantial as smears on the windows and powder on the walls; and a room of Bridget Riley in the context of a thorough survey of  De Stijl, which  pivots around the world's largest collection of Mondrian paintings. This recent use of circular yellows was neatly paired with the classic 'White Discs 2' from 1964.

Images courtesy of relevant galleries and artists and Aatjan Renders (de Jong)

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.