ahmed alsoudani at the haunch of venison

21 October 2011 § 1 Comment

You have too give credit to Charles Saatchi. Three years ago the gallery snapped up half a dozen works by the New York based Iraqi painter, Ahmed Alsoudani, no doubt for peanuts. At the time an up and coming middle eastern artist ranked (if you take any notice of such things) by Artfacts way down below 30,000 in their scheme for world artists, he is now, after a near vertical climb, already rated under the 10,000 mark. Since appearing at auction last  year his works have exceeded £200,000 each whilst last week at Sothebys Baghdad I  – actually from the Saatchi collection – sold for an amazing £713,000 against an estimate of £250-350,000.

His first UK exhibition has just opened at the Haunch of Venison and you can bet that it has already been sold out. The works, mostly medium to large-scale, are certainly striking. Starting from energetic charcoal drawings, which often remain in unpainted areas, his figurative works feature distorted and intertwined bodies or body parts, in a more or less tangled mass together with assorted, barely identifiable objects like clothing, foam, tubes and pieces of concrete. Flashes of vivid, bright colour combine with more painterly sections and charcoal drawing.

The paintings naturally relate to his, and his compatriots, experience of conflict in his homeland. Without expressly depicting war they however clearly reflect the effect and experience of war upon the people who live under its shadow. Pain and suffering is clearly visible via the tortured and broken bodies. The wide spaces of the fine new Haunch of Venison Gallery allows a calm and reflective viewing. These are hugely impressive and very powerful paintings in a striking setting.

Haunch of Venison until 26 November 2011

marius bercea, adrian ghenie & the cluj school

14 September 2011 § 1 Comment

Well, what do I know? Rather unimpressed with Adrian Ghenie at Haunch of Venison the other day (see post) I went to see what the erstwhile owners of Haunch had to offer at Blain Southern. It turns out Marius Bercea is another Rumanian and also from the ‘Cluj School’ – a group of artists I was, up to that point, blissfully unaware of.

I should not have been. Apparently this particular school is sizzling hot in the contemporary art world (why did nobody tell me?) and both shows were completely sold out – so the galleries say – before they even opened. With the works selling for about £5 to £10k and up to about £50k this is no mean feat.

I felt the Ghenie exhibition was a little confused but to be fair I have discovered that the curator (see video at HoV site) actually sought to give an overview of some recent themes. His recent exhibitions have actually individually been much more cohesive and set around more specific ideas such as evolution/Darwin/eugenics and so forth.

Over at Blain Southern his fellow countryman Marius Bercea has only just joined the gallery roster. The similarity with Ghenie is immediately evident in respect of the way that he applies both rough and energetic as well as tight and controlled brush strokes across a canvas replete with complex imagery. Colours are often vivid. He also looks to make socio-political statements with for example derelict buildings and signs of poverty.

The works are probably more reflective than Ghenie’s with dreamlike and surrealist elements. One can gaze deeply in to the canvas where there is a feeling of drifting in and out of complex dreams. Disparate objects co-exist in a strange world which could be memories from past, a view of the present or a vision of the future – perhaps all three, perhaps none of them!

This is a very enjoyable and cohesive small show that gives perspective to the Cluj school. Try and see both together and find out what the fuss is all about.

Blain Southern until 1 October 2011

adrian ghenie at haunch of venison

10 September 2011 § 3 Comments

The privilege of holding the first show at Haunch of Venison‘s restored and revamped space goes to Adrian Ghenie, a Romanian artist. A modest group of new paintings is supplemented by less successful collage works that are pasted directly on to the gallery walls.

Ghenie takes found images of historical icons and overlaps them with an array of cultural references on moody paint splashed canvases. Often dark and brooding he reflects on good and evil introducing figures like Ceaucescu and Mengele before almost obliterating them behind smears and streaks of multicoloured paint.

He says ‘I am interested in the presence of evil, or more precisely how the possibility for evil is found in every endeavour, even in those scientific projects which set out to benefit mankind.’ In one large-scale work for example Charles Darwin is connected to the Nazis by their search for Aryan perfection. In another deformed dogs scrabble around in the shadow of a nuclear test (we are told) or perhaps it is a post-apocalypic vision.

The works are undeniably eye-catching and the technique impressive but I found the purported links tenuous or opportunistic. The execution did not really reflect what we were told of the thought-process or perhaps they did not engage. The collages I will ignore as a decorative afterthought in order to fill the airy gallery space. Personally I would prefer more clarity in execution and perhaps in the future we could see something rather more special? Not sure really. Opinions welcome.

Haunch of Venison until 8 October 2011

latest exhibition openings

8 September 2011 § 1 Comment

After the summer lull the Autumn ‘season’ is off with a bang. Here is a selection of my recommended new exhibitions, starting with those that have opened in the last few days.

Timothy Taylor. Lee Friedlander – America by Car & The New Cars 1964. Fresh from MoMA, breathtaking photographs from a master. Until 1 October 2011.

Hauser & Wirth. Phyllida Barlow – RIG. Urban structures reacting to the gallery space. Until 22 October 2011.

Wilkinson. Thoralf Knobloch – Wegkreuz & Matt Calderwood – Full Scale. Until 2 October 2011.

Stephen Friedman. Paul McDevitt – Running on Woollen Legs. Disney meets De Stijl – fascinating! Until 1 October 2011.

Blain Southern. Marius Bercea – Remains Of Tomorrow. Beautiful but complex landscapes of a fractured society. Until 1 October 2011.

Victoria Miro. Conrad Shawcross – Sequential. Geometrical, metaphysical and ambitious. Sure to be excellent. Until 1 October 2011.

Sumarria Lunn. Modern Frustrations. In particular check out Tim Phillips’ excellent Hyperion – a corporate logo for a new age. 8 to 30 September 2011, just around the corner from….

Haunch of Venison. Adrian Ghenie. Complex figurative paintings back in HoV’s restored original space. 8 September to 8 October 2011.

Alison Jacques. Dan Fischer. Immaculate pencil drawings that ask searching questions about modern icons. 9 September to 8 October 2011.

Gazelli Art House. Air I Breathe. Latest exhibition from an ambitious and innovative pop-up gallery. 9 September to 7 October 2011.

Josh Lilley. Christof Mascher – Urban Ornamental. Painting, ceramics and sculpture recounting mythological narratives. 9 September to 8 October 2011.

All in all it is a mouth-watering selection, I have seen most (will try to review in future blogs) and cannot wait for the rest. Go on, get downtown and create your own gallery tour….

suzanne kuhn at haunch

22 March 2011 § Leave a comment

There are still a few days left for you to catch to catch Suzanne Kuhn at the Haunch of Venison.  Her first exhibition with the gallery, this is a mightily impressive display of large-scale painting. Her obscure or open-ended narratives feature unexpected juxtapositions of, for example, traditional landscapes and domestic interiors. Sometimes figures inhabit these fantastic scenes, seemingly indifferent to the chaotic surroundings with their twisted perspectives they could almost be actors in the act of filming ‘green-screen’.

Artistic and cultural references abound. Similarities with Japanese art are clear, you will see Ansel Adams, the language of fantasy, hollywood film and an interest in the concept of the sublime and German romantic painting. Kuhn has commented that she ‘has become aware of the many thresholds which exist in nature. Usually these thresholds are borderlines between wild nature and urbanism. I like these areas because they offer friction and space for new thoughts and developments’.

Amazingly many of the larger works remain unsold, despite most of the smaller ones selling well. It may be symbolic of the loss of direction at HoV or could it be that these large-scale works are themselves out of kilter with the belt-tightening in the world at large – after all I imagine that there probably aren’t that many banking corporations still buying up works to decorate their lofty foyers!

For investors a work around 8 foot square – including the excellent Garden of Eden itself – seems to be very reasonably priced (just over £20k ). No doubt there is some discount negotiable and for anyone wanting a truly impressive work to wow their clients (or neighbours!) they could do a lot, lot worse. It could be a good time to buy!

The gallery is also showing the Korean artist Meekyoung Shin’s colourful installations of reinterpreted Oriental porcelain. Also well worth a look.

boring conferences and boring art

8 October 2010 § Leave a comment

I could not resist posting details of an upcoming conference. Entitled Boring 2010 it is being organised by James Ward – a DVD distribution manager from Kingston upon Thames. Upon hearing that the London Interesting conference – one of a series on obscure esoteric topics – was being cancelled James decided to go ahead and organise his own somewhat less interesting one. 

Being touted as the world’s least interesting conference is however one very good way to make everyone stand up and take note. The Independent for example decided that it was actually so interesting that it set aside two whole pages of the 7 October 2010 issue to report the earth-shattering event. Of subjects reported to be featured this year my personal favourite is on the history of dust, with the reasons for draws in cricket coming in a close second, although to be fair Mr Ward actually aims to put forward the topics as sounding boring but actually that ‘turn out to be really interesting’.

It made me think that one of the artists featured at yesterday’s suitably mediocre private view of Transmission at the Haunch of Venison would be an appropriate candidate for the Boring conference. Katie Paterson was trying rather too hard to be very dull – one of her works for example was a slide archive of the history of darkness over the ages; a box full of black transparencies. Paterson has broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier, mapped all the dead stars, custom-made a light bulb to simulate the experience of moonlight, and buried a nano-sized grain of sand within the Sahara desert. She also laser-beamed the Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back and played the resulting melody back to us. Broken and occasionally distorted it was a rather touching and emotional record of time, distance and loss. Damn it – she was actually quite interesting in the end.

Picking over mind-numbingly dull subjects or the seemingly unimportant minutiae of  life has always of course provided rich pickings for many artists. In no particular order and without much thought, time or deep analysis (that would be way too dull of course) here are a few artists that it occurs to me have looked at the plain, boring or mundane and, at least in their minds, made it a little more interesting.

Duchamp (of course he gets a mention again usual) took the ordinary – a urinal, shoe rack, shovel or phial of air, and told us it was art. Malevich meanwhile reduced representation to a plain black, red or white canvas – his ‘zero of form’ , a reduction of representation to the absolute minimum. Many other later artists have created similar monochromes for differing reasons, for example for Robert Rauschenberg with Erased De Kooning it was the symbolic erasure of what the previous drawing represented that was interesting. Yves Klein, being French, used his own home-made blue for his quite interesting monchromes and took over a New York gallery in order to leave it empty (Le Vide). The minimalists reduced everything to the simplest forms to expose the essential – Carl Andre’s infamous Tate ‘pile of bricks’ (Equivalent VIII) perhaps being one example which proved too dull for many.

John Cage’s 4′33″ of course created another big 1950’s landmark for ‘nothingness’ in art – a period of ‘silence’ where a solo pianist played asolutely nothing at all. Warhol was of course a master of repetition and the mundane – eight hours of someone sleeping, in the 1964 film Sleep, probably the most provocatively boring, whilst the pinnacle of his musical dullness was with the band Velvet Underground playing The Nothing Song whilst people did nothing much on film.

In the sixties Fluxus artists like Kaprow and, of course, Lennon (happy birthday) and Ono inspired by the Dadaists held happenings where nothing in particular actually really  happened or arranged gatherings where the actual act meeting was the art. Ed Ruscha produced photobooks featuring, for example, seemingly random gasoline stations or parking lots. From this period onwards there is almost too much to mention. Many photographers, like Nan Goldin, have recorded the most mundane aspects of peoples lives – and private lives. Gerhard Richter created paintings that were devoid of any colour, copying mundane photographs or composed of random sweeps of paint. Richard Long walked up and down making marks, Bruce Nauman walked in circles and filmed it or made casts of empty and uninteresting spaces,  Joseph Beuys did nothing much at all. Perhaps the ultimate boredom in art prize might go to Martin Creed who won the Turner Prize with a light turning on and off in an empty room.

As far as all of this dull, nothingness goes a lot of people have found it exceedingly interesting. There is actually much more to nothing than there first appears. Any artists will for example know that it is often best to draw the ‘spaces’ of ‘nothing’ than the object itself. Books have been written on it, galleries stuffed with it an even the Pompidou last year ‘filled’ a floor with empty rooms for a retrospective of ‘nothing’. I will quickly conclude, before I get too boring, with some very appropriate Tom Lubbock comments on the Pompidou show from The Independent last year:

Having arrived at emptiness, fill her up again – with meanings. Sometimes the emphasis is on absence, on contemplating nothingness. Sometimes it’s on noticing what you might have overlooked. Perhaps you should notice all the gallery background noises you ignore. Perhaps you should see that art has its environment, which crucially conditions our experience of it. Or perhaps you should be looking at the only exhibits that remain in your empty gallery – yourselves. The empties are always going to be full of something. The art consists of working out what.

Perhaps I will go to Boring 2010 after all….

london commercial galleries – top ten

23 September 2010 § 1 Comment

Continuing on from the public gallery top ten here are my commercial gallery selection. This was a much more difficult choice and reflects the fact that curating a commercial gallery is in many ways a harder task. The potential range of art is usually much broader – a good gallerist will need have an eye for the best of these new artists, be able to develop existing ones and at the same time, let us not forget, run a business to make money.  They have to curate interesting shows at close intervals in spaces that are often less than ideal. Many galleries can rarely exploit prime locations – with the cost of retail space in London at exorbitant levels – and they will often need to attract visitors to out-of-the-way locations.

There are however plenty of arty masochists willing to give it a go. A guideline figures for the number of London galleries is impossible to nail down – not least because they open and close faster than Wayne Rooneys flies – but it seems to be somewhere between 300 and 500.  Picking a random selection and dropping in may seem like one way to look at some art, but it will produce very mixed results. A recent trawl around a series of ‘first Thursday’ galleries in the East End nearly made me slit my wrists in frustration – I found nothing that was close to worthwhile looking at over a period of over three hours. Ultimately only a fine curry and a beer on Brick Lane saved the evening!

My advice? Try sticking to names that you may have heard of or those recommended to you. At the same time why not try popping in to their near neighbours – these galleries may be riding on their famous neighbours coat-tails but are often are looking at the same market and at least can afford similar rents. Many of the best galleries are in small clusters in key areas – Hoxton, Vyner Street and Cork Street for example although some are out on a limb and need extra effort. Some the best are big and international, some are small and inventive. Here is a brief and very flawed guide to my ten favourites:

10. Stephen Friedman. An interesting international roster of established contemporary artists that include Yinka Shonibare, Thomas Hirschhorn, Yoshimoto Nara, Catherine Opie and David Shrigley. An OK gallery space close to Cork Street.

9. Hauser & Wirth. An International giant. Represent the estates of Eva Hesse and Allan Kaprow as well as Henry Moore.  Founded in Zurich 1992, the London gallery is in a wonderful historic Sir Edwin Lutyens building on Piccadilly, another branch being on Old Bond Street and yet another opening in Savile Row on 15 October 2010. Important and impressive exhibitions by established artists but are they a little dull?

8. Maureen Paley. Ever black-clad Maureen was one of the first to present contemporary art in the East End. Promotes US and European artists as well as launching new talent from the UK. Gallery artists include Turner winners Tillmans and Wearing plus nominees Gillick and Warren.  Always interesting and worth watching her artists.

7. Gagosian. Another international monster founded by Larry Gagosian with seven galleries: four in the USA, two in London, one in Rome and one in Athens. Built on the legacy of the New York School, abstract expressionism and Pop Art it also showed then contemporary artists like Basquiat. Expect museum quality exhibitions that feature artists of the calibre of Twombly, Picasso, Bacon and Warhol.

6. White Cube was set up by Jay Jopling in 1993 and is arguably one of most influential galleries of the past twenty years. Many of the very biggest names in art have appeared here, Hirst and the YBA’s of course amongst others like Kiefer and Orozco. Has very impressive spaces in both Hoxton and St James’s.

5. Timothy Taylor. A lovely space, just next to the exclusive Connaught Hotel (drop in for tea!), they feature a fascinating mix of established names like Arad, Riley and Katz with an, always interesting, selection of contemporary artists like Martin Maloney and Philip Guston. A good place to watch recently emerged talent.

4. Lisson Gallery. An impressive history which it has continued to build upon. Founded in 1967 artists included the likes of  Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Art & Language with art that represented an ethos concerning art’s place in a wider cultural and social context. They have continued to feature those like Anish Kapoor and Julian Opie ‘identifying and supporting succeeding generations of artists, each with a radical and distinctive approach to the artistic possibilities  of their times.’ Always interesting.

3. 20 Hoxton Square. Facing White Cube across Hoxton Square this gallery ‘is a collaborative project space, operating as a platform for emerging contemporary artists, whilst also acting as a creative hub for independent projects.’ They also have resident artists, a bookshop, screenings, artists talks and performances. Great place to spot emerging artists.

2. Haunch of Venison. Formerly the Museum of Mankind this vast neo-classical space just off Piccadilly includes ten separate gallery spaces. Often featuring multiple exhibitions its artists are contemporary, cutting edge and top notch. The curation is excellent and the space spectacular. Sometimes the vast open areas can overwhelm the art but who can complain when it features wonderful shows like the recent Joana Vasconcelos. Sadly it is all owned by Christies and widely despised in the art world. It loses money hand over fist and may not be here long – enjoy it whilst it lasts!

1. Victoria Miro. A fabulous big white-cubey space,  a little out on a limb but near enough to Hoxton and East End galleries. Wonderful artist portfolio includes the likes of Eggleston, Neel, Doig, Ofili, Perry and Elmgreen & Dragset. The current Jacco Olivier is excellent too. Make the effort to get there and drop in to the excellent (charitable foundation) Parasol Unit gallery, next door.

Please suggest your own favourites or tell me who I should have included!

frieze – the bigger picture

19 August 2010 § Leave a comment

If you like this post please make a comment or like it. If you enjoy the blog please subscribe for regular updates (see right).Thanks! akuta 

There is litle need to introduce Frieze – now firmly established as the premier art fair in the London calendar – the 2010 Fair should be inked in to your calendar for the 13 – 16 October. However, year on year an increasing number of events are piggy-backing on the fair looking to take advantage of the temporary influx of potential buyers. Last year’s satellite Zoo Art Fair is not taking place this year clearing the field for these new entrants.  Here is what we know:

Club Nutz at Frame 09

Deep down in the bowels of the University of Westminster the subterranean Ambika P3 is hosting Sunday (14 – 16 October), a fair for young international galleries. It is being organised by London gallery Limoncello, the Brussels-based Tulips & Roses and Croy Nielsen from Berlin and will feature about twenty galleries, some of which appeared in the Frame section in last years Frieze which hosted galleries under six years old. Initially launched as a one-day event in Berlin it here seems to be a competitor to the Frieze ‘Frame’ section for solo shows from young galleries.  Henrikke Nielsen of co-organiser Croy Nielsen Gallery notes that “Frame does not have the capacity. The focus in London will be more international, with galleries from New York “. Participants are selected on an invite-only basis. The low-cost has parallels with the Independent fair held during the NY Armory Show. Nielsen says “There are similarities, such as having open stands, but Independent is a bigger project.”

A McAttee courtesy Eyestorm

Over at Christies in South Kensington they are taking advantage of the move of the October Contemporary sale’s move to King Street by launching Multiplied – ‘an exciting new fair in the field of contemporary art’. The fair will be held 15-18th October ‘providing a platform to promote emerging talent in two and three-dimensional contemporary editions’. According to Richard Lloyd, Head of Christie’s Print department, when he attended the Editions and Artist’s Book Fair in New York last winter: “I was inspired to stage something similar in London and help to create a buzz and a platform for the very best in contemporary publishing”. He states that Christie’s are not taking any percentage of the sales; stands are competitively priced and fair entry to is free.

To assuage worries that they are in true competetion to the dealers at Frieze he adds “Previous divisions between the primary and secondary market are no longer particularly relevant. There will be no direct competition between participating galleries and Christie’s. Only five to ten per cent of what will be on show at the fair would have come up for sale at a Christie’s auction.” He says that “We will benefit simply from people visiting South Kensington. It is now a great space in which to view contemporary art, and we want people to feel comfortable just dropping in to see what’s on.”

Despite his comments Christie’s action is sure to put the backs up of the dealers at Frieze who will feel that they are, since buying Haunch of Venison, further intruding on dealer’s traditional ground.

Meanwhile, way over east at Village Underground there is a new urban art event, the Moniker International Art Fair (14-17 October). The fair ‘highlights the work of a generation of artists often overlooked in British mainstream fairs. These artists, extensively collected transcend various genres, readily exploring high and low aspects of visual language.’

Their spokesman says “The event will consist of six international galleries and six project spaces showcasing individual artists that will reflect the finer side of urban art with artists who have shown in major institutions and galleries.” Participants include New Image Art of Los Angeles and Galleria Patricia Armocida of Milan and admission is free.

There will be other smaller events and gallery tie-ins. Last year the wonderful Museum of Everything had a great pop-up exhibition – no doubt there will be more initiatives from the galleries year yet to be anounced… I will keep my ear to the ground and letyou know in due course!

mark alexander at st paul’s cathedral

18 July 2010 § Leave a comment

St Paul’s Cathedral is not the usual location to be supping a glass of (rather nice) wine whilst attending an opening. However it is where I recently found myself whilst viewing Mark Alexander’s Red Mannheim after its transfer from its more conventional hang at the Haunch of Venison.

Queen Victoria famously complained in the mid 19th century that St Paul’s was ‘most dreary, dingy and undevotional’.  Indeed Wren’s baroque monument remains a sober environment, the largely grey interior only relieved by the occasional golden glow of gilt ceilings. For a while however, part of the nave will vibrate red with two works by Mark Alexander – transferred from The Haunch of Venison.

 Red Mannheim is Alexander’s re-interpretation of the Mannheim Altarpiece, an 18th century rococo masterwork, damaged in Allied bombing and removed by the Russians. Returned sans cross, Virgin Mary and other embellishments there remains uncertainty over their fate. This fragmentary piece of history intrigued Alexander, not only as wartime survivor but a monument to loss, a shadowy remnant.

Alexander is an enigmatic figure who looks at memory via his own likeness or re-imagined icons. In the photo-realist Baby Paintings (1966), he questions persistence of memory whilst lamenting the passing of time, whilst in Darker Gachet (2005) Van Gogh’s masterpiece is multiplied in black questioning collective memory and representing public absence. He works painstakingly only having produced twenty-two works since 1993, each immaculate, Red Mannheim no exception, being eight years in gestation and subject to repeated experiment. Ambitions for quality are only matched by breadth of ambition – with the Shield of Achilles (2003) he, quite seriously, aimed to paint the ‘greatest picture ever’. « Read the rest of this entry »

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