the pavement and the beach at paradise row

30 July 2011 § Leave a comment

Sous les paves, la plage’ were the words scrawled on a Parisian shop front during the Paris student riots of May 1968. This exhibition tries to draw on the fact that earlier this year the same phrase was scrawled on to a wall at UCL during the student riots. An idea that quite rightly should have been considered but perhaps put aside for, as the press release from the Paradise Row gallery correctly points out, ‘the slogan seemed strangely second-hand, insubstantial and inert’.

Shazeed Dawood & Peter Lewis

A strange starting point for an exhibition that I feel inevitably does not work very well. The original slogan inspired by the Situationist movement of Guy Debord alluded to a utopian world of imagination, freedom and liberty that lay below – or beyond – the consumerist manufactured world.  Paradise Row seeks to reflect on the fact that this beach has ‘long since been colonised by capital’  and ‘explores the debris and flotsam that have washed up on the receding shores’.

Jeremy Hutchison

There is certainly plenty of debris and flotsam around (what about the jetsam for jetsam fans!?) and it is hard therefore to make out any real theme here and draw any meaningful connections between the visual clutter around the gallery. There are some interesting works – I quite liked the two Clunie Reid offerings as well as Diann Bauer’s Mural  and Peter Lewis’s Project for a Film. I particularly enjoyed Jeremy Hutchison’s Incorrect Product contacting manufacturers around the world he asked them to make their product with a design fault – of their own choosing – that rendered it useless. We therefore have glasses that cannot be worn, a hat with no hole for the head, a trombone without a blowpiece, a stepladder with legs of varying lengths and so on. The communications, often unintentionally humorous, are available to read. A nice variation perhaps on Oscar Wilde’s famous assertion that ‘all art is useless’.

Am I being too picky? Perhaps there was more to unify the exhibition with more time taken to examine and explore, but it is a minor criticism as Paradise Row are an excellent small gallery and I will inevitably be back to see what they do next.

Paradise Row 74 Newman St, London W1T 3DB until 13 August 2011


thomas struth: photographs 1978 – 2010 – the whitechapel gallery

20 July 2011 § Leave a comment

Thomas Struth seems to photograph structures – cultural, natural, artificial, historical and probably lots more I’ve not even noticed. Except he does not always. You could also say his work is about relationships. And its also about the nature of looking. And… well, the thing is, just when you think you have put your finger on exactly what you believe Struth is doing it slips away from you. There is always just a litttle bit more than meets the eye.

This retrotrospective at the Whitechapel looks at his work from 1978 to the present day – effectively his whole working career. Given the 30 years or so covered and the vast scale of many of his works the show barely skims over the surface but despite this you do not feel short-changed – this is a well curated and wide-ranging overview of his work.

Learning his trade under the influential tutelage of Berndt and Hilla Becher Struth began taking small scale city shots, absent of people in places like Dusseldorf and New York and by photographing similar scenes he emphasies their differences. Soon the images become monumental and large scale. In one series he captures both museum visitors and artworks examining not just one but both of them as well as their relationships to each other. The curve-ball he throws in is our position as observers – what are we doing, what are we looking at and why?

Back to the structures. There are cathedrals and places or worship, tangles of wires and industrial scenes, jungles and forests. All in immaculate detail, verticals miraculously straight (how does he do it?). They are often beautiful, impressive and aesthetically pleasing, but there are always more questions being asked – what are we being asked about the nature of religion or the role of technology?

Even when Struth takes what appear to be straight-forward family snapshots they are not quite what they seem.  It turns out that the subjects arrange themselves in a location also chosen by themselves. These shots are more then about family structures and personal relationships than a simple photographic record.

An impressively curated show about a very important artist. Do not miss. Another recommendation? The little curry house on the corner does a great lunch….

Until 16 September 2011 at the Whitechapel Gallery

the shape of things to come – new sculpture at the saatchi gallery

19 July 2011 § 1 Comment

Is this Saatchi sculptural review really the Shape of Things to Come? One of the first things you notice is that it may well be a better picture of ‘How Things are Now’ or perhaps ‘Have Been Recently’ with only a handful of works less than about four years old. There also seem to be fewer new names than there are well known or long-established ones.

Amongst the latter is John Baldessari his Beethoven’s Trumpet  probably, neatly adding sound to the visual puzzle. Roger Hiorns was a Turner nominee, here using trademark copper sulphate crystal growths growing over church maquettes to experiment with natural sculptural forms. The German Anselm Reyle examines influences of modernism and here has appropriated a kitsch African sculpture and blown it up with a shiny purple finish. Deep in the basement Richard Wilson’s 20:50 – a pool of sump oil which reflects and expands on the architectural space – still beats the lot.

The big spaces of the gallery work best for the larger works and in the first gallery the monolithic blocks of Kris Martin’s Summit work well. Each has a tiny paper cross at the summit – death, hope or achievement? Moving on ‘New Sculpture’ still seems to have plenty of the figurative. Rebecca Warren‘s rough representations of the female form take aim at sculptural cliches and fill another gallery nicely. David Altmejd large-scale figures seem to dissolve and change form as you walk around them. Non-traditional elements are woven in to the figures such as endless staircases and strange geometric forms whilst materials include, foam, wood, epoxy, resin and paint. Folkert de Jongh’s tableaux feature macabre figures and hint at the ghosts of colonialism and imperialism. Thomas Houseago is a recent auction favourite – filling another gallery his impressive works absorb a variety of styles with rough, flat painted planes building up 3D forms and sshowing a definite debt to cubism.

Elsewhere Bjorn Dahlem‘s room-sized Milky Way is an impressive neon which surely owes a big debt to Dan Flavin whilst David Batchelor appropriates found boxes for his strangely alluring installations of vivid coloured panels. Matthew Bannon, Matthew Monahan, Joanna Malinkowsa and other assemble various multiple objects with varying degrees of success.

Sculpture has certainly come a long way in the last hundred years – from wood, metal and stone there is a now a vast post-modern array of materials and influences to confuse us.  So do we get any sort of hint here as to what is the Shape of Things to Come? This show certainly does not show us – but hints at the reality – that we simply dont know.

The Shape of Things To Come: New Sculpture at the Saatchi Gallery 10-6 daily until 17 October 2011

jake or dinos chapman – white cube

18 July 2011 § Leave a comment

Correct – Jake or Dinos. Each of the infamous brothers has supposedly worked separately for around a year to each produce their own White Cube exhibition – one at Masons Yard and one at Hoxton. Having only collaborated since graduating from the RCA in 1990 this show is an experimental diversion – Dinos recently said ‘We’re not interested in our similarities between our interests, but the divergencies. This show will be an exemplar of that.’

What you get here is not really a surprise – the brothers have rarely, if at all, moved from their disturbing moral takes on politics, religion and morality and again we see few divergencies. It all starts comfortably enough upstairs at Masons Yard with a deliberately cramped display of forty-seven roughly hewn sculptural works, constructed of thick cardboard and roughly painted in dark shades. Each sits on its own white pedestal. Think Picasso or Schwitters assemblages as made by primary school children, a rethink of modernist sculpture.

Downstairs Dinos (I think, but it really doesn’t matter) really gets going. Uniformed Nazis, flesh stripped off and charred black, sporting deathly grins admire an exhibition of similar, but more monumental works in painted steel whilst randomly buggering or being shat upon by stuffed birds. A reversed and nightmarish version of Entartete Kunst – the Nazis exhibition of forbidden art – but here being enjoyed by the degenerate gurning guards. On the wall original Goya Disasters of War etchings are symbolically drawn over and blackened.

In a separate darkened room a work by Pieter Bruegel (his nickname ‘Hell-Breugel’) has been distorted and defaced with trademark Chapman figures. Breughel was presumably a Chapman influence – filling his paintings with hellish medieval grotesques of his own – so much so that Adrian Searle (in the only review I have read so far – Guardian) hilariously missed the Chapman’s additions!

Over at Hoxton disturbing animal-faced children huddle and admire the paintings – large, brooding Chapmanesque takes on fairy-stories. Childhood stolen and distorted. Upstairs are tableaux of household Catholic shrines, the tacky, gothic statuettes of religious figures in painted plaster are similarly deformed – baby Jesus with swirling tentacles instead of a face, Madonna with stitched-on patches of skin. These are sinister Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ Icons and more wonderful digs at the fakery of religion.

Some hard-boiled art critics have taken to criticising the brothers on the basis that their art no longer shocks. This is just not true – we may have seen it before or suspect what the Chapmans are going to show us but they miss the fact that this is art which gets you on a visceral level. It also pushes and prods us and intellectually challenges us whilst examining the history of art. Some find the Chapmans an easy target and, although I would love them to try something new, I prefer to side with Waldemar Januszczak who finds them amongst the most important artists working today. Love ’em or hate ’em it is a show you should see.

pordenone who? a year of akickupthearts

11 July 2011 § 2 Comments

Amazingly I have now been blogging my way through the London art scene for a whole year now. I thank all those of you – some 20,000 – who have bothered to read my assorted ramblings.

Meanwhile, thanks to the nice people at WordPress, there are all sorts of reports and analyses to discover what the great British public (clearly in this case a notch above the average!) really are interested in.  Which blogs were most read, the search terms you used to find the site and what you had for breakfast? I shall reveal all….

OK, not your breakfasts, but you get my drift – there is an awful lot of analysis available and there are all sorts of statistical traps to tumble in to, the chief one being that any ‘visitor’ analysis reflects what I have actually written about eg: Marc Quinn would not be on the list because I did not write about him. Another problem is that even if I wrote about ‘Picasso’ daily who who click my blog amongst the zillions of Picasso search results?  Treat the ‘charts’ below with caution but you never know they may actually reveal something?

1. Most visited and searched of the year, by a mile, was Pordenone Montenari, an unfortunate recluse who was rocketed in to the news by an Indian fund manager who thought that he could make a quick buck by promoting him as a newly discovered genius – he isn’t (image above).

2. I spent a couple of spare hours compiling a brief list of art-related humorous quotes and jokes. Sadly it trounced many deeply considered blogs of serious critical analysis and was second most searched. Oh well…

3. Amazingly Wolf Vostell came in third. I wrote just one feature about him and commented that he was sadly ignored in the annals of post-war art. Obviously not by many hundreds of you! Exhibition curators take note…

4. Ah, then comes the first contemporary artist – clearly it will be Emin, Hirst or Banksy perhaps? No, it is Eugenie Scrase, the oft- ridiculed winner of TV’s School of Saatchi. Ignore the power of TV at your peril. Worth a flutter if she ever gets a solo gallery show.

5 & 6. Perhaps we shall now get on to some serious art? Nope. Next is Ben Wilson the ‘chewing gum artist’. Well, he is quite interesting. Picasso slips meaninglessly in at 6th before the next half-dozen places. These are taken by contemporary artists of which I have featured literally hundreds, many of them mentioned numerous times. I have covered all the emerging artists championed for example by Saatchi and the top commercial galleries. Are these the ‘cream’ of those featured? Is too little being written about them? Should we take more notice of them in the future?

7. Hannah Wilke – thanks, at least in part, to a great review of the Alison Jacques Gallery exhibition written by Sue Hall.

8. Jacco Olivier. Mesmeric fusing of painting and the moving images at Victoria Miro.

9. Alison Jackson. Hilarious and sometimes disturbing photos that ‘depict our suspicions’. Wry comments on our relationship with celebrity.

10. Wangechi Mutu. Striking paintings and collages referencing cultural identity.

11. Michael Fullerton. A brilliant show at Chisenhale and with work in British Art Now 7, his star is rising fast.

12. Following closely behind was Ida Ekblad, young and inventive Danish multi-media artist.

13. Clare Woods paints the strange, dark world of urban undergrowth.

Following close behind are Littlewhitehead and Toby Ziegler. A little farther back is Damien Hirst – perhaps surprising he’s not higher, but then again he does get rather a lot of column inches written about him.

Littlewhitehead - It Happened in the Corner

Biggest surprise? Perhaps the fact that Tracey Emin is not on the list – or in fact even in the top 50 artists – despite the fact that my Love is What You Want Hayward review appears on the first couple of pages on a Google search and that I have featured her regularly when in contrast eg: Olivier and Ekblad I featured just once. Emin perhaps is not what you want?

So there we have it. After a year of careful and deep intellectual musing on the complexities of the contemporary art scene what you really were most interested in were an Italian recluse and a few jokes. Now where did I hear about that one legged, reclusive, dwarf, artist?

bold tendencies – in a peckham car park

7 July 2011 § Leave a comment

In Peckham for George Shaw’s Sly and Unseen Day (see previous post) I decided to make the most of the trip and drop in to Bold Tendencies , the 5th annual showcase held here for young sculptors and installation artists. Located on the top two floors of a 1960’s concrete multi-storey car park it is the brainchild of Hannah Barry of the eponymous gallery with the, dare I say futile, aim of positioning Peckham as the new Hoxton.

Impossible to find and virtually unsignposted it is a relief to exit a squalid stairwell (no lift) and discover a temporary booth marking the entrace of the exhibition. About fifteen works are scattered through the open spaces and were created ‘in response to’ the space and each with the help of a £3000 grant. James Capper’s Ripper Teeth has poised half a dozen of these roughly polished industrial objects on illuminated stands. They are interesting objects in a Duchamp Fountain  sort of way, but multiplying them by six doesn’t make them six times better.Kitty Kraus’s Untitled spins a shopping trolley handle meaninglessly on the ceiling whilst cleverly pocketing £2990 and two thousand paperbacks have been scattered randomly by Michael Dean (Untitled) who also no doubt turned a good profit.

Better is a series of polished steel bollards, bent and distorted, which are fixed in to a ramp. They elegantly separate the two (parking) levels of the exhibition. Entitled Ahead Only by Bettina Pousttchi it is the first striking work. Once in the open air on the top level soul music booms out from inflatable rats for no reason. David Brooks’ Adaptable Boardwalk uses forklifts to lift and distort a wooden boardwalk – which is Ok I guess. Elsewhere there were a few metal hoops, a high level hammock, some discarded metal plates and a plastic container in some mud and undergrowth. All rather disappointing.

The stand-out work for me was a caged area with abandoned rubbish, industrial wiring atmospherically covered in dust – an abandoned scene for some once-worthy enterprise. Sadly it turned out to be part of the car park structure. Any installation artist worth their salt should have imediately appropriated it and popped their name on the fence. Watch out for it next year!

Perhaps it was a worthy and interesting exercise – any efforts to bring art to the (largely ignoring) masses of Peckham has to be admired I suppose and I am sure the students found the cash useful. Furthermore if you want a beer with a view and a bit of a party on a rooftop I would recommend it to any local students but as for me – well, I know not to to go again – probably.

Bold Tendencies at Peckham Car Park, 11am – 10pm Thursday to Sunday until 30 September 2011

george shaw – the sly and unseen day at the south london gallery

6 July 2011 § 1 Comment

My schedule for visiting exhibitions tends to follow one of two scenarios. First is to visit at the very earliest opportunity – usually on the opening day or two. The other, equally frequently, is to realise the closing is approaching fast and make some panicky last minute plans. That was indeed the case with George Shaw. Not greatly attracted to the hike out to Peckham I delayed several times only to realise it was the closing weekend.

The Sly and Unseen Day turned out to be well worth the expedition in to the wilderness (only joking Peckham residents). The show featured Shaw’s trademark works – scenes from the urban lansdcape of his childhood – the dreary postwar Tile Hill Estate in the West Midlands. From this source the subjects chosen are removed a further stage – we see the remote, unnoticed and ‘unseen’; old metal fences, graffiti-ridden garage doors, park fences, workmens sheds and muddy puddles. The sky is almost invariably a dull grey, it looks like it has just rained – or is just about to. Nobody is present.

Painted in Humbrol enamel, a paint more familiar for those making airfix planes than fine art, the colours are muted. The scenes become strangely detached, the gloss finish also emphasising the depressing damp. The absence of people creating a sense of displacement and dream.

As with many of the best artists there is no need here to read the artists statment or the gallery notes – the message is clear. There is a sense of overwhelming nostalgia which seems to almost seep from the canvas. These are fragments of memory within which there is comes a pervasive sense of the post-war history upon which modern-day Britain is built. Is this the present or the past? It could be either or both, the art hovers in its own space.

Another artist from the Wilkinson Gallery stable, to which Shaw belongs, commented to me that it was very English. It is, but the themes addressed are so universal that I cant imagine even, say, a Japanese tourist, not getting the implied messages. This art – good art – is universal as a Hopper diner or a Ruscha landscape; one instinctively gets the idea.

George Shaw is one of the  selected artists for this years Turner Prize. Can a painter be a favourite to win? Probably not, but he should certainly be a strong contender. Pity the exhibition is now closed – but keep your eyes peeled for his work!

George Shaw at the South London Gallery until 3 July 2011 (now closed).

Represented by the Wilkinson Gallery. Their next show Where Language Stops opens on the 15 July 2011.

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