Keith Coventry: Ontological Pictures at Vigo
16 June 2014 § Leave a comment
Keith Coventry seems destined to be one of the ‘nearly men’ of British art. Despite being championed by Saatchi and featuring in the Sensation exhibition that helped make the names of many of the YBA’s Coventry has remained stubbornly on the sidelines.
Perhaps his work is either not showy enough or too dry to catch on to popular taste. Nevertheless he has plenty of followers for his intelligent and interesting work.
He is most well known perhaps for his Estate Paintings. Here Coventry famously used the diagrammatic representations of the buildings themselves that, when denuded of the surrounding information, strangely recall the formal aesthetic language of Suprematism – that aimed at the creation of a new, pure, abstract visual language freed from the dull constraints of representation.
As art writer Matthew Collings said “These paintings capture the moment when modernist Utopian dreams — the well-meant belief that peoples’ lives would be bettered by living in clean, modern, high rise buildings, with lifts, way up above the street with plenty of fresh air—evaporated.”
Vigo is showing here his Ontological Pictures (1996 – 2004) – the first show dedicated to this important series – where Coventry has taken the arrow and location symbols that accompany the legend YOU ARE HERE frequently found on those same estate maps, and turning them into wooden models which are then scattered randomly onto the canvas to create the content of the paintings.
In both series the process of isolating and re-contextualizing these specific visual elements has allowed Coventry to, with an extreme economy of expression animated by a subtle, dry wit, throw the ideological and theoretical meanings within those symbols into stark relief. He mocks the utopian social hopes of certain strands of Modernism that conceived high-density urban housing as a solution to a raft of social ills of modern life.
Keith Coventry solo shows don’t come around too often – this is an excellent opportunity to see one the other YBA’s for a change.