16th June 2016

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© Jessie Makinson

Four artists stood out above the rest this week. First, the paintings and drawings of Jessie Makinson – on show at Roman Road. Makinson is the sort of artist whose influences evidently are many while her own hand is singular. The work is figurative – particularly images of women; it is gestural, employing motifs in a manner that most recently recalls to me the George Blacklock paintings I mentioned here on 5th May. Playful and thoughtful, they depict figurative scenes as they appear in a reasoning mind. See this Roman Road exhibition while you can – and if you are more West than East London, a fine example of Makinson’s work is currently on display until Thursday in a group show at the Dot Project. (ends 15th July)

‘…the “self” is a fraud. Mine, Ours. It’s nothing more than a delusion, a virtual machine, a network, a mere proof of concept’, writes the artist Rubén Grilo in the notes to his exhibition Proof of Concept at Union Pacific. The effect of this warning is to emphasise the distance-making strategies that are anyway present in the installations. There is surprise, structural ingenuity and contemporary resonance on display across the gallery’s two floors. Grilo (or the proof of concept named Grilo) incorporates everyday items – often corporate detritus with familiar brand names – into these sculptures. Materials are combined, repositioned and re-evaluated in bizarre set pieces. If Grilo is genuine in his avowal of his own absence, the invisible entity that has created this show has a forceful character – wilful, precise, absurd, demotic and somehow righteous. (ends 2nd July)

Pace has an exhibition of Louise Nevelson’s big and heavy sculptures assembled from furniture parts and fly-tipped objects given a matt black coat of paint. These assemblages are forbidding and fantastical; though made between sixty and thirty years ago, their strangeness renders them contemporary. At the same time, identifying – or attempting to identify – the objects and fragments of objects from their outlines is an archaeological way of seeing that seeks to return Nevelson’s materials to their original time and place. (ends 16th July)

What’s 194cm by 194cm and infinite? A Yayoi Kusama painting. Both Victoria Miro’s galleries are showing works by Kusama at present. This week I entered the Mayfair gallery via its fancy sliding wall to be met by 12 uniformly sized Kusama paintings within (a further two are on display in the gallery’s Maddox Street windows). To many, Kusama is known as ‘the polka dot artist’, a recurring motif across her sculptures, costumes, installations and photographs. Here the dots are smaller and take on an atomic role in compositions that intersperse toy-coloured cellular forms with human faces. The style fuses folk art references with post-abstract colour blocks and more illustrative techniques. Kusama often emphasises the field of vision by painting a thick border around the image. The overall sense is a celebration of various kind of human observation in the living universe: the microscope eye, the satellite eye, the organic eye and the eye of the artist. (ends 20th July)

9th June 2016

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© Mary Ramsden

This week I had a look round the free displays at the Tate Britain.

Vanilla and Concrete is a group exhibition by Marie Lund, Rallou Panagiotou and Mary Ramsden, described by Tate as ‘emerging artists’. The exhibition has the feel of a show you might see in a smaller gallery, but here the work of the three shares a fairly big space. Although Marie Lund’s distorted copper sheets command attention first, it is the other two artists who seem more timely. Panagiotou’s gentle palette and smooth execution conspire to winning effect in immaculate visual jokes. Ramsden’s work is harder to like but more memorable for that. Apparently innocuous sculpture-pictures are arranged in a fashionably haphazard manner. The exhibition text encourages us to notice visual references to the traces made by fingertips on touch-screens. Ramsden is reflecting a particularly modern anxiety felt by users of touch-screen devices, namely the discord between spotless perfection, as transmitted in the block colours favoured by software designers, versus the interference of greasy marks and accidental scratches. (ends 19th June)

What is Pablo Bronstein doing in Historical Dances in an Antique Setting? Angular patterns on the floor guide the movements of dancers who gesture baroquely as they glide across the Tate Britain’s big hallways, known as the Duveen galleries. There is a non-binary vibe, as performers are uniformly attired in simple colours and giant ‘pearls’ regardless of assumed gender. At either end, large temporary walls present stylised photographs of the building’s exterior. Spectators are free to move through the space, although many stand to the sides respectfully until they are ready to cross to another gallery in a polite dash. In 2016 there is still a small thrill in seeing live performers in an exhibition space like this. The piece fits its surroundings, it is semi-ironically ‘pleasant’ and perhaps that is enough. (ends 25th June)

At present Tate Britain is also showing some historically interesting artist films. Bruce McLean’s sardonic In the Shadow of Your Smile Bob (1970) is a teasing tribute to a photograph of the sculptor Robert Morris. McLean turns the (film) camera on himself silently singing Tony Bennett’s minor hit ‘The Shadow of Your Smile’ accompanied by an overdub of the artist in conversation with someone else – they are evidently watching the same footage we are, which is interspersed with a sequence of McLean posing with a cigarette. The title of the film is frequently repeated by McLean in the audio. On the opposite wall of the gallery is displayed the picture of Morris. The film is a playful example of young cats of the day looking at kings of the art establishment and taking the piss using proto-punk methods.

The D.I.Y filmmaking trend of the 60s and 70s is further in evidence in Shoot Shoot Shoot: The London Film-Makers’ Co-operative 1966-1976. There is an hour-long loop of experimental films including John Smith’s The Girl Chewing Gum, comparable to the aforementioned McLean film in its use of overdubbed commentary, its black and white aesthetic and its documentation of 70s hairstyles. Smith’s narration is more intriguing than McLean’s in its deployment of language and its relation to the scene in view, managing to be at once materially experimental and a skewed form of social commentary. Archive materials from the Co-Operative build a picture of its irreverent and energetic collectivism. (ends 17th July)

2nd June 2016

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© Adrienne Hunter

No report on London exhibitions this week as I’m in Hastings, but I’m looking forward to the private view of an exhibition at Hastings Art Forum tomorrow evening, featuring paintings by Susan Miller and Adrienne Hunter.

Many of the London exhibitions I mentioned last week are still on – scroll down from homepage to view. Ciao for now!

26th May 2016

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© Dawit L. Petros

Originally from Lebanon, Rasha Kahil’s second solo show at Art First, Anatomy of a Scandal, is a documentation of the online storm created by her first. Her covert and spontaneous nude self-portraits went viral after an Arabic news station posted them to social media, prompting their followers to take a view on how the photographer uses her body in her work. Kahil rises above the melee with precision and grace. (ends 11th June)

TJ Boulting is showing a couple of the photographs featured in Kahil’s original show in Now You See Me, along with other artists who push the boundaries of the form. There are a few striking examples here, including Thomas Mailaender’s images burnt onto the skin of his models using UV sun lamps. (ends 2nd July)

Getty Images have collected archive photographs from a single year for 1926: Britain Through the Lens. This is more than a merry jaunt through our national photo album. Pictures from the General Strike give a fascinating insight into the political climate of the time, while a number of images – a girl attending to a primitive electric toaster – are startlingly fresh. (ends 2nd July)

Dawit L. Petros’ travelogue The Stranger’s Notebook at Tiwani Contemporary presents brightly clothed male figures often partially, in intense closeup in video and, particularly effectively, as part of a fragmented pattern with an airline insignia in a set of photographs. (ends 25th June)

I found an instant appeal in Duncan MacAskill’s DNA paintings at Vigo. Black horizontal lines control colours over a large field of play in this series from the 1990s. (ends 11th June)

Massimo Vitali’s huge vistas at Ronchini are in some ways a photographic version of Jules de Balincourt’s paintings of tourists in commanding surroundings (see 28th April). The intensely high definition of Vitali’s images reveals all kinds of detail in the movements of tiny figures wandering classical ruins and a beautiful beach. (ends 18th June)

Roelof Louw is the subject of the first of four-part exhibition Some Dimensions of My Lunch: Conceptual Art in Britain (1956-1979) at Richard Saltoun. Louw’s work is an interesting snapshot of a particular period in art history, his concepts esoteric and deadpan. His rope piece fits the gallery context very well. I am looking forward to the next three parts of this series. (ends 17th June)

The art stars of the 1960s and 70s are out for Shigeo Anzaï’s Index II at White Rainbow. Elegant and modestly sized, these black and white photographs catch them at work, setting up exhibitions, performing and posing. Some faces are very familiar, some less familiar than their names. (ends 18th June)

Conceptual Poetics is a genre that fits the Poetry Library’s exhibition series well. The poem-objects of ZimZalla – lines of text among takeaway ‘chips’ for example – were destined for a display like this. Elsewhere, Information as Material have repurposed a Charles Bernstein sound recording to make a hilarious duet between Bernstein and Jasper Morris, who is a child. Who counts to 100 first? (ends 3rd July)

My brother accompanied me to Jeff Koons: Now at Newport Street. We stood in awe of the big, blue balloon dog and left with a nice selfie. Thanks, Jeff! (ends 16th October)

19th May 2016

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© Michelle Dovey

Enter Through the Headset at Gazelli presents various artists who work with virtual reality. Skullmapping, a duo comprising Antoon Verbeeck and Filip Sterckx, have constructed a hypnotic vision of the Styx river featuring interference and subliminal ‘real world’ images. Ian Nicholls and Tom Szirtes’s site specific work is more like taking a ride in the Epcot Centre under the influence of psychedelics. (ends 25th June)

Speaking of psychedelics, Michelle Dovey’s Colourful Sausage Trees at Gimpel Fils are a mellow trip. A study of the same oak tree in her garden, the series conjures in bright oils a multicoloured grove. (ends 27th May)

Fans of Twin Peaks might appreciate the reference to Catherine E. Coulson’s Log Lady character in Margaret by Thomas Grünfeld at Massimo De Carlo. The assembled works do justice to Lynchian sensibilities while advertising Grünfeld’s own brand of strange. (ends 28th May)

Skarstedt has a compact Spring Group Exhibition featuring three recent works by George Condo, all betraying an evident debt to Picasso. A galactic interval bisects the two subjects of Condo’s ‘Artist and Muse’ while a painting by Albert Oehlen held my interest in its deceptively rudimentary relationship between two figures, namely ‘Titanium Cat with Laboratory Tested Animal’. (ends 25th June)

The Fine Art Society has an exhibition of Laura Knight’s work in various media. Her aquatint etchings are sublime little glimpses of public life, in particular the dream worlds of the ballet, the theatre and the circus. (ends 26th May)

After his uncharacteristically po-faced (or was it just really, really deadpan?) illustrated Book of Genesis, R. Crumb’s Art and Beauty exhibition at David Zwirner sees the cartoonist getting his teenage kicks. Crumb’s pastiche of an early 20th Century catalogue of soft porn (dressed up as a respectable artist’s resource) allows him to display his virtuosity with an ink pen, his lust for curvaceous and muscular women (Serena Williams is one of his paragons of anatomical beauty) and his self-deprecating sense of humour. (ends 2nd June)

The Op Art of François Morellet features in Les Règles du Jeu at The Mayor on Cork Street. Paintings from the 60s and 70s are strong examples of the genre, and the effect produced by a canvas overlaid in wire mesh shows Morellet’s simple ingenuity. (ends 27th May)

Dark Adaptation at Seen Fifteen and South Kiosk presents together the photographs of Ciarán Óg Arnold and Ryan L. Moule. Arnold’s images of Irish nocturnal activity are rough and red-eyed portraits of people on a night out; Moule’s sepulchral monochromes are deliberately eroded and underdeveloped to create images that resist inspection. (ends 29th May)

12th May 2016

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© Bea McMahon (Flat Time House)

Sharon Hayes’s commission for Studio Voltaire in Clapham is a triumph. In My Little Corner of the World, Anyone Would Love You is a multi-screen film installation presenting rooms of a seemingly blissful communal house inhabited by trans and queer folk. The serenity is balanced by the reading aloud of heartfelt letters featured in ‘feminist, lesbian and effemenist’ publications from the 50s, 60s and 70s. (ends 5th June)

Andrew Sutherland has reconstituted canvases from stitched strips of material in a lively variation on a theme at Edel Assanti while in the basement Pim Blokker has created a playfully idiotic scene from buckets, water flagons, lengths of wood and rudimentary paintings in an ode to the life aquatic. (ends 28th May)

The pretty photographs of concrete architecture on display in Modern Forms: A Subjective Atlas of Twentieth-Century Architecture at Architectural Association are rather small and the collection is begging to made into a coffee table book. Visitors can make do with a booklet featuring even smaller versions of this simple (though ‘subjective’) overview. (ends 28th May)

The late Brian Sewell would probably have hated Hany Armanious’ Frequently Asked Questions at Southard Reid. Indeed, it’s hard to look at (spoiler alert) blobs of Blu-Tak, a cluster of candles and a couple of pieces of stained carpet without feeling self conscious as A Viewer of Contemporary Art. However, I appreciated Armanious’ light provocation and the use of the confined space. (ends 21st May)

Marian Goodman is a beautiful gallery in Soho, and in a way Ettore Spalletti’s show (Every dawn, is first / Ogni alba, è la prima) makes excellent use of it. Spalletti’s pastel quadrilaterals lend the gallery the feel of a cool, agnostic temple. The minimalism would be overbearing were it not for little saving details and the addition of a side room flush with a suspended floor – in the centre of which sits an imperious egg. (ends 4th June)

I went to see the second part of Bloody Life at Herald St’s Golden Square gallery (see 5th May post). Athena Papadopoulous’ tottery, bumless legs are propped against the gallery window – they are a nice counterpoint to her vomiting snake in East London. Both pieces are stuffed fabric shapes anointed with various everyday substances and adorned with transfers. Centre stage are Franziska Lantz’ bone hangings, which make up a thoughtfully constructed set. (ends 21st May)

The obvious subtitle for Laboratory 12 at Fashion Space would be ‘killer heels’ – this is an exhibition of shoes inspired by espionage. The deadly footwear is impressively constructed, well exhibited and delightfully eccentric. Heels conceal DNA swabs, phoned in messages and – watch out! – explosives. (ends 16th July)

Deptford photography gallery MMX is showing Harry Conway: Stolen Souls and Katie Eleanor: Saint Wanderer’s Hospital. Conway makes a brash point with his papping of non-celebrity subjects: his victims stare indignantly down the lens. A noisy film loop explaining the project fits the mood neatly. Eleanor’s opulent and macabre portraits of fanciful ailments are similarly matched with a film, this one suitably occultish. (ends 28th May)

If you haven’t yet visited Flat Time House, this is a good time to go. This unique art space, the former home of poet and artist John Latham, is exhibiting its greatest hits for The Shift: Eight Years of Flat Time House – and the future of the building is uncertain. The work of many hands over the years, this show is given unity by its domestic setting and by a common sensibility that interrogates language, gestures and the commonplace. (ends 29th May)

Of the ‘Six Somerset Artists’ (all men) on show at Art Hub, for me the quiet discovery was the work of former graffiti artist Jason Caplan: four colourful abstract paintings, roughly grid-like yet softly expressive. (ends 15th May)

5th May 2016

5 May
© George Blacklock

Herald St is an East London gallery that still knows how to have fun; group show Bloody Life is certainly that. I enjoyed Cary Kwok’s historically informed miniatures of ejaculating penises complete with tiny locks of hair. A crumpled pair of sporty shorts fills out the shape of one of Lindsay Lawson’s varnished plaster pots. (ends 22nd May)

Cesare Tacchi’s quilted panels paying homage to The Beatles and Botticelli were the most interesting examples of Italian Pop in Tornabuoni’s group show. Tacchi’s 1965 work loosely borrowing from The Beatles’ artwork for their album Revolver was well composed. (ends 18th June)

Yusuke Asai creates folklore fantasies seething with animal presences for Horizon That Appears Out of the Sleepy Woods, a show of four Japanese artists at Stephen Friedman. I also had fun watching a gently trippy animated music video by Syozo Taniguchi. (ends 1st June)

Lucy Jones’ The Cycle of Life at Flowers, Cork Street presents landscapes alongside portraits of loved ones. Both genres of painting use a vivid palate but I was really grabbed by the landscapes, which were unfussy and semi-abstract. (ends 21st May)

Barry Flanagan is a sculptor famous for his leaping bronze hares, but in Animal, Vegetable, Mineral at Waddington Custot, a different side of Flanagan is on show. These sculptures are more tactile and less elevated. A peaceful heap of multi coloured fabric sausages is a lovely find. (ends 14th May)

The obsessively crafted paintings of Paul Wager are on display for The Mask of Anarchy at Dadiani. Stencil-style lettering pronounces political autonomy among images of weaponry, swastikas and stars of David. The messages are at once provocative and cryptic and the works tap into the desperation of our conspiracy-crazed era. (ends 31st May)

I loved George Blacklock’s paintings for Slipping Glimpsers at Flowers, Kingsland Road. A repeated set of shapes painted in big sweeps are versatile enough to suggest lips, hands, commas or inflated motion lines. Distractingly, the paintings are hung opposite photographs of film sets by Blacklock’s friend, the actor Gary Oldman. (ends 14th May)

Another odd visual pairing is on show at Gagosian. Alberto Giacometti’s sculptures share space with Yves Klein’s quite boring, though historically noteworthy body paintings for In Search of the Absolute. By compressing his figures into wisps of bronze, Giacometti somehow finds the monumental in the delicate. (ends 11th June)

John Smith has four films at Kate MacGarry and each of them is a little treat. Interested in the slippages of language, Smith winningly exploits the visual overlay of a translation app, the dry text of a linguistic essay, memories of his travels in Poland and photographs of objects that reveal his late father’s obsession with painting things. (ends 28th May)

Jivya Soma Mashe and Ramesh Hengadi are among the artists keeping alive the remarkably consistent visual language employed in the Indian Warli Painting on display in The Tales we Tell
at V&A Museum of Childhood. In these intricate works, simple shapes multiply into beautifully detailed scenes on an entirely flat plane. (ends 6th Nov)