Paul McCarthy – The Black & White Tapes at [space]

3 February 2014 § Leave a comment

Paul McCarthy is a heavyweight of the contemporary art world. represented by Hauser & Wirth his work can be found in the most important collections and most major public galleries worldwide. It is therefore somewhat of a surprise – and rather a coup for the gallery – to come across an exhibition of his work at [space] studios in Bethnal Green.


The most familiar pieces by McCarthy are probably the debauched, graphic and tragi-comic sculptures and installations (example ‘Bushed’ above) but he is also well known for working in a broad spectrum of media, and emphasis upon performance as a tool for breaching established boundaries between genres.

While McCarthy’s earliest work explored and disrupted the formal properties of minimalist art, in the early 70s, he began to document himself executing swift, psychologically taut performances.


In contrast to the spectacular ambition of his later installations and public sculptures, the Black and White Tapes (as these performances came to be known) feature the artist alone or lightly accompanied in his studio. Making use of whatever materials are in the room – emulsion paint, rags, a phone book, cotton wool and crucially, his own body, McCarthy undertakes single, repetitive or punitive acts for the camera.


[space] has dedicated its largest gallery space to a thirteen period video monitors, equally spaced across the darkened room, all playing consecutively. Immersive a cacophonous it is a fitting environment for a McCarthy ‘experience’.


In these grainy black and white video images we encounter the artist in action: drawing an emulsion line along the studio floor using only his face, tugging urgently at his testicles, whipping and swinging at the studio walls with a paint soaked rag and spitting directly into the lense of the fixed frame camera.

Adopting ritualistic repetition, making use of fluids and props and using his body to act out dysfunctional movements and traumatic narratives, the Black and White Tapes is essential to understand McCarthy’s later work and represent a vital document in the evolution of the artist’s practice.

Tip: Perhaps combine a visit here with a visit to galleries like Maureen Paley, Transition and Wilkinson Galleries in the local area. The Museum of Childhood is interesting and a few minutes walk down the road.

Until 16 March 2014

[space] 129—131 Mare Street, LONDON E8 3RH
tel020 8525 4330

mark alexander – ground & unground – at wilkinson

8 November 2012 § 1 Comment

Upstairs from the Sung Hwan Kim exhibition in the airy Vyner Street spaces of the Wilkinson Galleryis the first UK solo exhibition from Mark Alexander. For those familiar with his work you will realise how extraordinary to see more than a couple of pieces at a time. Prolific is not one of the words usually associated with Alexander’s output and the previous time I saw a work – a reworked Hieronymus Bosch pictured below entitled All Watched Over by Machines of Infinite Loving Grace – at Frieze 2012 – it was only two-thirds complete.It is a real treat then to be in a room with eight works at the same time. It is much easier to get a feeling of what he is trying to do with work that, viewed occasionally, may (falsely) seem to be disparate and unconnected.

Alexander’s most recent works have been in bright renaissance shades but here he switches to brown. This would normally be a colour that artists avoid, presumably on the basis that brighter colours catch the eye , but here every work has been carefully created in multiple shades of earthy browns. The inspiration here is the skin colour – and texture – of ‘bog bodies‘. Usually found in central and northern Europe the moisture preserves those unfortunates who met a swampy demise and were uniquely preserved. They have become almost timeless and represent a point somewhere between death and permanence, beauty and the grotesque.

The metaphor here is the bog – transforming bodies into artefact – which Alexander uses in his vision of reinventing icons of the past. He has effectively ‘buried’ and dug up from his own bog elements from works like Paul Egell’s Mannheim Alter Piece, 1739-41, Van Gogh’s Reaper with Sickle (after Millet), 1889, Jean-François Millet’s original The Sower, 1850, Caravaggio’s Narcissus, circa 1597-99, and Durer’s Praying Hands, circa 1508.

These paintings are given a strange new life – at the same time attractive and repellent. A striking body of work and well worth visiting before it closes. You may never again see as many Alexander works together!

Annoyingly my own photos also died a sad death on a deceased Blackberry so many thanks to Wilkinson again for use of their excellent  images.

The exhibition has just been extended until 18 November 2012. Wilkinson Gallery, Vyner Street.

The exhibition’s title alludes to the mystical writings of the sixteenth- century German thinker Jakob Boehme. “For I saw and knew the Being of all beings,” Boehme wrote, “the ground and the unground”.

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sun hwang kim – pages from ki-da rilke at wilkinson

25 October 2012 § 1 Comment

Having talked about the upsurge in Korean art in the review of Minhong Pyo at High House another artist on the way up Sun Hwan Kim. His show has recently opened at the Wilkinson Gallery in Vyner Street and he has recently appeared at such august Instititions as the Kunsthalle Basel and the Tanks at Tate Modern (where work related to this exhibition is shown).

The – rather awkward I feel – premise of this exhibition is from the phrase ‘ki da rilke‘ which in Korean means ‘I will wait’. He has then drawn an association with the Poet Rainer Marie Rilke and made transcripts of some poems and made drawings in response to them.

The results, for me, are mixed. The texture and mark making is delicate and interesting. Using a wide variety of products in each work – one example: Parchment paper, paper, acetate sheets, making tape, photo tape, artist tape, pencil, poster paint marker (water base), marker (xylene base) and gel pen – there is an ethereal and delicate quality to the works. Fantastical figures and flowing organic shapes that wouldn’t be out of place in a Glastonbury shop window – or a modernists sketch pad for that matter – drift in and out of focus amongst the layers of paper and acetate. He draws on Rilke’ for a poetical approach and where the metamorphosis of person and object is the theme.

They are interesting to look at but there doesn’t seem to be much substance and although this is largely deliberate the drawings don’t amount to much. The most interesting part here is the adventurous approach to framing – where the wooden frames are sometimes folded back upon themselves, stretched up the wall or absent altogether – and hanging where they are may be propped up against the wall or hung at different levels. Both reflect Kim’s experimental approach to 

Playful, wistful, experimental and spiritual are other words to attach to this show that will appeal to many, if not to me on that day. Maybe I should go and read some more Rilke and try again?

Sung Hwan Kim – pages from Ka-di Rilke until 11 November 2012

Images courtesy of Wilkinson Gallery

phoebe unwin at the corridor reykjavik

20 October 2012 § 1 Comment

“It isn’t in London” I hear you cry. Well, I know but I just could not resist and in any case there are plenty of London connections which I’ll come on to later on.

Recently nipped up to Reykjavik – one of my favourite cities – for a short break to watch Yoko Ono flick the switch for the dramatic Lennon Peace Tower. A narrow beam of laser light that shines infinitely in to space the Tower is Yoko’s contribution to Lennon’s memory as well as a bold statement on World Peace.

A few days before departure the excellent Wilkinson Gallery, quite coincidentally, sent me an invitation to visit the Phoebe Unwin exhibition at The Corridor (or its equivalent in Icelandic). The opportunity seemed too good to miss. For those not familiar with this particular gallery – everyone I would guess – you need to negotiate a convenient time to visit when the owner is home, drive to an apartment block on the outskirts of town, discover from a friendly local which buzzer is the right one and climb a few flights of stairs to Helgi Fridjonsson’s modest apartment.

Corridor is slightly inaccurate since the gallery space occupies a hallway and front room where works hang variously amongst rampant spider plants, behind sofas and over a desk. Helgi is himself an artist and has been running this modest space for some thirty years and seems to enjoy the experience. His exhibitor list over the years is very impressive: Ceal Floyer, Fischli & Weiss and Per Kirkeby are amongst those many artists who have exhibited here, often before they became more well-known.

I have always been a fan of Phoebe’s dreamy acrylics that cleverly express a variety of emotions and feelings as much as person or place and the selection of works here are a good representation of her work.

A lovely little show – no end date is noted on the Wilkinson or Galleri Gangur (thats Corridor to you) websites – so who knows/ It may still be running the next time you’re in Iceland!

The Corridor (Galleri Gangur), Rekagrandi 8, Reykjavik 15, Iceland

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….

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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