Thursday, 30 December 2010

2010: A recap

Here's my 2010 review of reviews.

Chris Ofili at Tate Britain. Read "Chris Ofili: A Mixtape" here.

Rebecca Nassauer at Josh Lilley. Read my review of 'Safekeepers' for Saatchi Online here.

John Gerrard in Canary Wharf Station. read "Barnstormer" here.

Angela de la Cruz at Camden Arts Centre. read "Paint, Misbehaving" here.

'Videodrome' at Autocenter, Berlin. read my interview with curator Aaron Moulton here.

Alice Neel at the Whitechapel and Hannah Wilke at Alison Jacques. Read "Young Americans" here.

Mark Wallinger at Anthony Reynolds and Rodney Graham at Lisson. Read "In the Loop" here.

Jeremy Deller at the Imperial War Museum. Read "Spoils of War" here.

Rene Daniels at Camden Arts Centre. Read "Dutch Treat" here.

Frieze Art Fair / Sunday Art Fair. Read "Frieze of Access" here.

Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' at White Cube. Read "The Time of Your Life" here.

'Fresh Hell' at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Read "Hell is Other People" here.

And here are some other things.

On the tuition fees fiasco and arts education funding. Read "Tuition and Hopin'" here.

On the 2011 Turner Prize. Read "Turner Blind Eye" here.

On Anish Kapoor's sex trumpet in Stratford. Read "Battlin' Tatlin'" here.

On the Saatchi 'gift'. Read "Tense Present" here.

On contemporary art's debt to Mannerism. Read "To the Manner Born" here.

On Tate Modern at Ten. Read "Tate at Ten" here.

Monday, 27 December 2010

On Daniel Rodriguez (Saatchi Online)

Daniel Rodriguez’s paintings of groups and grids of people and places are all about human systems of organisation: parking spaces, employee charts, school graduations and reunions. Each painting takes a distanced view on its subject, both in compositional and in formal terms. ‘Edificio’, a painting of a modernist apartment block complete with hanging laundry, bikes and pot plants, is shown in its entirety, as though at long range, and rendered in a characteristically washed-out and flattened brushstroke in chalky pinks and blues. That distancing (in one work, ’Marcha’, a large crowd is seen directly from above, as though through the eyes of a pigeon contemplating its next target) shouldn’t be mistaken for coldness, though, as it might be in the works of other painters working in a similarly tentative, faux-naive style. Rodriguez’s works are full of a kind of warm amusement, a sort of fascinated attention to the habits of human beings that is both empathetic and oddly alien.

In ‘Reunion’, a grid of headshots (evidently drawn, however loosely, from a photographic source) sits on a light grey ground, like a corporate advent calendar (Christmas Eve: Helen from HR; Boxing Day: Roger from Retailing). It’s one of many winks and nods in Rodriguez’s work towards the kind of hardcore asceticism of modernist painters like Agnes Martin or Sol LeWitt. You might say that the grid, paragon of hands-off seventies conceptual art, is the butt of the joke here, and Rodriguez’s aerial shots of car parks (complete with cack-handed alignments and nudging bumpers) work as sly parodies of that sort of high-minded practice. You could even see those blanched and stiffened faces as headshots of the upper eschalons of the contemporary art world, each one an uncomfortable bureaucrat with a bad tie.

However, Rodriguez’s works are more than mere in-jokes: each painting is a small celebration of the various real (as opposed to virtual) communities that form an ordinary life. Look at the painting ‘Amigos de la Tierra’. A gathering of studiously casual people (employees, it’s assumed, of the eponymous environmental charity; a blaring green background makes the point pretty clear) are seen from above. The source must be a photo taken from a balcony or second-floor window, perhaps to be displayed in the office’s reception area. The employees squint and rock on their heels while waiting for the signal to disperse and get back to work. Like a bisected anthill, the painting records an exposure of the realities of any corporate organisation: that it’s (horrifyingly) made up of people like you. And the title of ‘Empleados del Mes’ – ‘Employee of the Month’ – initially surprises: each face is rendered with gleeful satirical detail, so that the parade of boss-eyed and bad-haired heads looks more like a police line-up or sex offenders register. Yet as with all Rodriguez’s works, it’s ourselves we see reflected back, however painfully. As Demetri Martin says, “’Employee of the month’ is a good example of how someone can be a winner and a loser at the same time”.

Published on Saatchi Online, Dec 2010. View here.

Monday, 20 December 2010

On 'Fresh Hell' at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris

It is a truth universally acknowledged that artists make the best curators. Mark Wallinger’s exhibition, The Russian Linesman at the Hayward Gallery last March, was a proposal about what creative curatorship might actually mean – a bringing together of historically or aesthetically disparate objects which generate unexpected “sparks of poetry” (pace Max Ernst). Adam McEwen’s show, Fresh Hell at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, is a continuation in the same spirit. Drawing on the intellectual dilettantism of the way we collate and digest information these days, and the increasing anachronism of academic specialization, McEwen’s show is a wildly disparate generator of transhistorical energy, epitomized in its display of Walter de Maria’s 1967 High Energy Bar. Set into the wall in a brightly-lit vitrine, the work – a footlong steel bar, glowering with condensed power – is the fulcrum of the whole exhibition, an object whose aesthetic and actual density lodges it in place against the onrushing stream of history.

Read the whole article (at Art21) here.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

'Gifted' Installation Shots

L-R: Rebecca Nassauer. Nick Goss (Rebecca Nassauer). Belen Rodriguez Gonzalez (Clara S Rueprich).

L-R: Christof Mascher (Carla Busuttil). Vicky Wright (Analia Saban).

Above: Michael Huey (Nick Goss).

L-R: Sarah Dwyer (Benedetto Pietromarchi). Analia Saban (Matthew Musgrave). Clara S Rueprich (Michael Huey).

Great installation shots of 'Gifted' by Corrina Spencer

Monday, 13 December 2010

On Art and Tuition Fees

This week, Britain’s coalition government (narrowly) passed a proposal to dramatically hike university tuition fees, the results of which were a number of occasionally violent protests in central London. The Conservative party HQ, a modernist tower block at the edge of the Thames, was broken into and occupied by protesters, some of whom lobbed down fire extinguishers at the police below. Bottles were thrown at Prince Charles’s Rolls Royce as it sped through central London, smashing a window and leading to a proposal that he ditch the vehicle for his own safety (yes, that extreme). Protesters swung from the Union Jacks that hang from the Cenotaph, the war memorial near the Houses of Parliament. Graffitied cocks disfigured the public statues. In the frosty morning light, Parliament square looked like a cross between Helmand and Glastonbury.

The problem with protests of this sort is that it’s all too easy to take binary political positions that caricature the opposition or romanticize the nature of the thing. Plenty of the protesters weren’t, in fact, students, but it’s expedient for those who opposed the protests to describe them as such (thus, by lazy association, belittling the seriousness of their position). It’s also useful that there is a violent minority prepared to smash up police cars and spray genitalia on bus stops, so that resonant photographic images can be used as ballast for the opposition. On the other hand, many of the protesters seemed (judging by the slogans on banners ditched in bins or broken in the gutters) to see themselves as latter-day sans-culottes, for whom the issue of tuition fees was of a piece with the war in Iraq, the occupation of Palestine, and the creeping evils of capitalism, rather than being the misguided piece of legislation that it is. And yet the protests matter, and they matter for art and its future, and anyone with an interest in art ought to be taking a close interest.

Read the rest here.

'Gifted' opens at Josh Lilley

This Saturday's opening of 'Gifted' [image above] was very well attended and the show looks great, thanks to phenomenally talented artists (all of whom excelled within the premise of the show) and extremely supportive and able gallery staff. Thanks to all who attended and helped out.

'Gifted' is open until January 7th, 2011.

'Gifted' is dedicated to Rebecca Naussauer. [Read my piece on her work here]. A percentage of the sale of every work will be donated to a children's cancer charity.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

'Breaking Character': on William Kentridge (Art21)

Watching a William Kentridge animated film is like being read a meandering story that the teller only half-remembers. Some parts of the tale are repeated, some are ditched, some take an unforeseen turn, and others accrue meanings the teller himself couldn’t have planned. As with many artists working within the shadow of a brutal historical situation – be it the Dada artists creating absurdist “anti-art” as World War I began or the Surrealist Max Ernst subverting linear plotlines in his collage-novels made during the birth of Nazism – Kentridge tinkers with the tools of narrative to create pointedly absurdist satire. The long shadow cast over Kentridge’s work is the history of apartheid in his native South Africa, which informs both his subject matter and his approach to its articulation. Things appear to make sense, then don’t. In Ernst’s 1933 collage-novel, Une Semaine de Bonté, for example, repeated visual motifs and chapter headings point to a coherence that’s never actually fulfilled, in a parody of the societal reorganization proposed by the then-ascendant Nazi party. Similarly, the reappearance in a number of Kentridge’s works of two characters, Soho Eckstein and Felix Teitelbaum, suggests an episodic structure to his body of work as a whole, but as with his artistic predecessors, subverting expectations has political meaning. For Kentridge, character is the crucible by which he explores the history of a national trauma.

Read the rest of the essay at Art21's new Kentridge website here.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

'Gifted' Press Release

Curated by Ben Street
Dates: 14th December 2010 – 7th January 2011
Private View: 11th December 2010, 6-8pm

Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it. Jasper Johns

Gifted takes the premise of the seasonally popular tradition of the ‘Secret Santa’ to create a self-reflexive and playful assessment of the gallery and its roster. ‘Secret Santa’ is a way of unifying colleagues in a workplace by obliging them to buy each other Christmas presents with a particular price limitation. The recipient of your gift is randomly assigned, resulting in varying degrees of delight, relief, or anxiety for both parties. The preparation for this show has taken the same approach, with the geographically disparate gallery artists made to play office colleagues participating in a game of seasonal gifting. Each artist was asked to submit one work of art to be randomly assigned to another. Everyone gave, everyone received. These ‘gifted’ works were then altered to whatever extent the recipient wished. Some have undergone only minor changes or none at all – taking the inspiration of the received work as a gift in itself. Others have been transformed almost beyond recognition. In the final stage of the process, ownership of the work has passed to the recipient. As with all the best parlour games, the absurdity of the premise allows for a relaxation of formalities and the revelation of unexpected patterns, kinships and meanings.

A roster of gallery artists creates a kind of virtual community of individuals, united under common approaches and attitudes. Yet that community (like that of the art world as a whole, as well as online communities) is just that: virtual. Divided by geography, these individuals are being asked to think and operate as a corporate body. This exhibition is a way of thinking about the communities in which we all, in some way, participate. Each work in Gifted is a token of a real interaction between constituents of a nebulous community.

A gift is a small impingement into your world by another person. It’s something they’ve left in your life. Its strangeness – the way it doesn’t quite sit with the rest of your stuff – is a reminder of the strangeness of other people, their weird tastes and unusual smells. Making a received gift palatable to you means changing it to suit your world, just as accepting a new friend into your life requires a bit of amiable attrition. That alteration might be tiny (wearing your own smell into a new shirt) or large (dyeing that shirt bright blue). The works shown in this exhibition are a reminder of how objects passed between people accrue a provenance that transforms them into things of unexpected power. It’s through apparently minor personal interactions – playing games, giving gifts – that new meanings and ideas suddenly make themselves known.

Artists Analia Saban, Nick Goss, Sarah Dwyer, Belen Rodriguez Gonzalez, Carla Busuttil, Matthew Musgrave, Rebecca Nassauer, Vicky Wright, Clara S Rueprich, Benedetto Pietromarchi, Michael Huey, and Christof Mascher.

Ben Street is a teacher of Art History and a lecturer at the National Gallery. He is a former lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York. He writes on contemporary art for Art21, Artnet, Saatchi Online and He is currently working on a monograph on painter Andrew Sendor and a catalogue essay for the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Adam de Neige at Saatchi Online

Adam de Neige sets up extremely satisfying vertical arrangements of small objects: bottles, pins, feathers, pills. His photographs of these arrangements record a brief, sometimes precarious, configuration of ordinary things, like when you try and balance marker pens end-on-end in an idle moment. Yet the objects used don’t smack of a dreary divorce case or sluggish train ride. Familiar yet disparate, the components of each work dare you to tease logic from their placement in the image. Colour, initially, is the thing. So, in this one (‘003’: the titles aren’t much help), all the objects – a plastic lighter, a couple of plastic-topped pins (the kinds that look like miniature barbells, that leave a dent in your fingertips), and a squat, circular plastic stand (part of a pen lid?) – are different shades of greenish, undersea blue. Pronged into the top of the lighter is a metal screw (the blue-collar cousin of the plastic pins), which sends up a little leaf of part-blue flame.

Collectively, the arrangement of things has an architectural verticality, like a model of a mooted tower in Dubai. It’s a format, and a resonance, that de Neige carries through across a range of images. But the choice of objects – especially that screw, jimmying the ignition down – suggests the detritus of the hobbyist scientist, knocking together trouser presses out of pipe cleaners and empty shampoo bottles in his garden shed. Something else is happening too: the apparent uprightness of the objects is actually a sort of visual trick. The lighter seems to sit on the pins, but it’s the angle of the image that makes it seem that way. So the photograph corrects the arrangement. Like circus animals, things perform for the pleasure of the viewer, with the photograph acting as the ringmaster’s whip.

What about colour? In ‘G’, every object is green: pill bottles sit on top of a matchbox, flanked by a lime-green lighter and a parabola of green crystals. A sweet, wrapped in yellow-green cellophane, forms the apex, like a statue on a column in an old European city. The common colour nodded to in the title opens out to reveal the infinite diversity of, say, green, as opposed to the narrowness of the name. It’s a hoary old theme – let’s not say semiotics, I’ve just had lunch – but in de Neige’s hands it becomes an opportunity to explore the inexhaustible beauty of the man-made. Sometimes it takes a photographer to point out the obvious: that visual and formal beauty isn’t confined to the conventional fine arts, it’s there in every designed object we touch and use every day – lighters, water bottles, pill bottles, pins.

De Neige’s photographs perform the pre-linguistic action of comparison: this is like this, that is like that. That might explain the childlike joy in small things, seen in an intensely focused way, that gives his work its compelling charm. Yet they carry meaning beyond a surface whimsy, alluding to human preservation (warmth, hydration, sustenance, preservation) and becoming, casually, disarmingly, totems of modern existence, just like that.

Published on Saatchi Online, 16th Nov, here.

Monday, 15 November 2010

On the 2011 Turner Prize

The Otolith Group ought to win this year’s Turner Prize, if their installation at Tate Britain is anything to go by, which it isn’t. Tate Britain’s press department must really enjoy having to explain annually that the prize is not awarded on the installation at the Tate (it’s for any show they’ve done over that year), but it’s unavoidable that the public – or, at least, those members of the public not used to the art fair/biennial Wurlitzer (i.e, the sort of people who use the word ‘public’ as though it doesn’t apply to them) – won’t follow that the thing you’re looking at isn’t the thing that wins. That’s good news for Angela de la Cruz, though, whose room was guest curated by Stevie Wonder. Works that looked ballsy, rambunctious, and endearing at her Camden Arts Centre show this year (reviewed here), hung haphazardly, look like the underdone Steven Parrino bootlegs they’re always being accused of being. Decisive or not, the duff hang does a good painter a disservice, and if she wins it’ll look like willful pretension by the judges, because it’ll look like that particular installation won it for her, which it won’t have done. But the Tate press department won’t be in a position to explain by that point, having all emigrated to Latvia and had their names changed.

Read the whole article (at Art21) here.

'Gifted' at Josh Lilley Gallery [11.12.10 - 7.1.11]

'Gifted' at Josh Lilley Gallery, curated by Ben Street. Opens 11.12.10, 6pm - 8pm

Featuring Clara S Rueprich (above), Nick Goss, Rebecca Nassauer, Benedetto Pietromachi, Analia Saban, Belen Rodriguez Gonzalez, Christof Mascher, Sarah Dwyer, Vicky Wright, Matthew Musgrave

Monday, 1 November 2010

On Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' at Art21

Above: "You men aren't trying to kill my son, are you?"

Christian Marclay’s The Clock (now on show at White Cube, Mason’s Yard) is a twenty-four hour long film which, unlike other very long art films like Douglas Gordon’s Twenty-Four Hour Psycho, or Andy Warhol’s Empire, you might actually want to watch for more than ten minutes. This is one of Marclay’s great achievements as an artist: as with his work using avant-garde music and experimental DJ-ing, he takes something often associated with arid pretension and makes it not only interesting but actually fun. His work Video Quartet – four screens playing snippets from films simultaneously, each showing musical performances, sliced together to create a piece of odd, compelling sound/visual art – was for some time one of the most visited pieces in Tate Modern until, for some unknown reason, they decided to take it down. Maybe they should buy The Clock instead, unless there’s some budget cuts occurring at the moment that I haven’t been told about.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Poetry Corner (3): James Fenton

James Fenton, 'The Vapour Trail'
[above: Robert Gober]

Now through the grating of my cell
I look up at a strip of autumn sky
And often, chalked across the blue,
There’s a vapour trail,
A vapour trail…
And then, I don’t know why,
I start to think of you.

Dawn brings these planes from distant lands,
Red-eyed tycoons from far-flung ports of call.
Dawn lifts the luggage through the flaps
Onto the carrousel
The carrousel
And wakes the baggage hall.
Dawn will bring you, perhaps.

Perhaps that vapour trail is where
Your plane passed over me here in my jail.
That line is the trajectory
Of your breakfast tray,
Your breakfast tray.
Perhaps that is your trail
And you look down on me.

Look down on me, my friend, look down
And think of me now as I think of you
And think of us as we were then
From your vapour trail,
Your vapour trail…
Your line of chalk on blue.
Think well of me again,
My friend—
Whatever hurt I may have done,
For I intended none.
Forgive the hurt that I did not intend
And let it mend. Think well of me again.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

"The world knows it's a picture": Aubry Alan

What is it, exactly, about Aubry Alan’s photography that makes it so compulsively fascinating? Not his subject matter – or not initially. Building sites, shot in series, show nondescript housing developments undergoing small changes (gravel laid down, windows put in). Road signs indicate the entrance points to Rouen – all the entrance points to Rouen. Petrol pumps – lots of those. A shed in an air base. A grey shed in an air base. Each picture seems to dare you to look elsewhere, to push the limits of what you’ll tolerate. Boring enough for you?

Yet they’re not boring. In fact, Alan’s photographs, like those of his photographic heroes Atget, Adams and Shore, remake the visible world in a way that is both faithful – the product of a restless, restlessly independent creative eye – and discreetly subversive. His 2005 works entitled Citadelle (the title, redolent of medieval walled towns, is a clue to Alan’s mischievous cynicism) show the roofs of modern housing, side-on/gable-on, poking above walls of ferociously trimmed hedges. Each roof, shot dead centre, is made to sit upon the thick strip of hedge; sky and areas of grass or soil lock those elements together, as though that was always the plan. Flattened, their geometric strata recall the banded abstractions of a Rothko or Newman, but that’s incidental. Alan’s real subject here is a photograph’s ability to estrange and destabilise ordinary sight. See how the side-on roof in Citadelle 1 has a perceptually shifting relationship to the strip of hedge (you’re never quite sure of your spatial bearings) or how that grey shed in the air base seems strangely bound in place by the faded road markings. In Alan’s images, the world seems to reshuffle itself in accordance with the camera. The world seems to know it’s a picture.

Humans leave their traces (building, travelling, working) in Alan’s photographs, but never actually appear, and the insistent, subtle ordering of his compositions implies a world emptied of the need for human presence. There’s something Marie Celeste-like in his images of the slick/sad offices of the French Department of Culture, and something correspondingly moving about its abandoned objects: those ergonomic chairs, that stack of coloured folders. Human business is suspended, and the office reforms itself into a sympathetic geometry of parallels with the cathedral spire in the misty distance. You’re reminded of Larkin’s poem Home is So Sad: ‘It stays as it was left,/Shaped to the comfort of the last to go/As if to win them back.’

See the piece on Saatchi Online here (many more Alan images available)

Monday, 18 October 2010

Frieze of Access: Frieze 2010 review at Art21

Above: Jack Strange (Limoncello) at Sunday Art Fair.

As part of this year’s Frieze Art Fair, Simon Fujiwara, the winner of the 2010 Cartier award, has conjured up a faux-archaeological Roman site, bits of which are sometimes exposed in the main body of the fair. It’s all genial and non-threatening fun-poking (there’s the unearthed house of a female collector, full of coins and an archaic handbag; you get the picture) and makes enough winking references to make the cognoscenti feel good, so it’s not much of a surprise why he won. This, by and large, is the tone of a selling event that has transformed itself into a cultural one. Disingenuous self-deprecation abounds, aimed at both the skeptical outsider and the knowing insider.

Much funnier is Annika Ström’s Ten Embarrassed Men, a group of identically dressed middle-aged actors, who huddle around en masse looking awkward, organized by the artist as a response to the representation of women in art fairs. How it really works is by providing a welcome bum note to the atmosphere of overweening economic confidence (however hyperbolic) that surrounds it. David Shrigley’s stand at Stephen Friedman Gallery is, as you’d expect, properly LOL-funny, which makes his presence at the art fair a bit anachronistic, and his appropriation by the art mainstream an ongoing puzzle. The artist himself was in attendance, painting temporary tattoos on people’s arms. I watched him slowly paint a fly on a man’s forearm. Everyone looked on, looking serious, filming on their phones.

The rest is here.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Rene Daniels on Art21

René Daniëls is a really, really good painter, maybe even a great painter, who stopped painting twenty-three years ago and has only resumed in the last two years. In 1987, he suffered a brain aneurysm from which he still hasn’t fully recovered, and some of his recent work, shown alongside his ’80s painting in the current show at the Camden Arts Centre, has a tentativeness you might expect from someone gradually returning to a loved activity. What must it be like for Daniëls, seeing his earlier paintings – richly colored, exuberant, mischievous oils – laid out here, with his more recent pieces – small-scale, scrawly felt-tip revivals of earlier motifs – dotted among them? It’s a reminder, at least, that for an artist, the past is always present, like a rebuke.

What makes Daniëls’s sudden halt so moving – and his current return so heartening, and quietly triumphant – is the sheer blazing visual excitement his paintings release. Daniëls is, first and foremost, a whipper-upper of retinal delight. His 1987 painting, The Return of the Performance, is a case in point. A zoomingly recessive perspectival space (a sort of three-walled room, like a stage set, that sometimes detaches itself from illustration and becomes, in other works, a kind of levitating bow-tie) creates a setting for the display of primary colored boxes and planes, like a painting of a Donald Judd installation made in enthusiastic recall. Paint slips and slides across the surfaces of things, just describing enough, never telling everything. In the center, a microphone stand with seven protruberances stands in a pool of milky light, and a figure peers in shadow from behind a wall, as if preparing to make a speech. The theme of performance recurs in Daniëls’s work (when human presences appear, they’re theatrical, dandyish flaneurs, as in his Cocoanuts of 1982), and the paintings themselves feel psyched-up-for, generated by nervy energy and stage fright.

Read the whole article here.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Diana Taylor at Intervention Gallery

Above: Intervention Gallery at Kensal Green Cemetery (image via Park Life blog)

See Diana Taylor's show at Intervention Gallery. It's great. I wrote the press release (below), which probably isn't a dealbreaker, but anyway:

25 Sep - 25 Oct 2010
Preview Friday 24 September 6 - 9 pm

Intervention Gallery is proud to present Diana Taylor’s first solo exhibition in the unique context of the Anglican Chapel, Kensal Green Cemetery.

Taylor’s paintings all seem to refer to something being or having finished: ‘Slipping’, ‘Dropping’, ‘Fallen, Fallen’. The works themselves are littered with things caught in the process of creation, things never quite resolved. Recognisable objects – rocks, clouds, pairs of cartoon gloves – are neither here nor there, translucent sometimes, or half-described. Imagery is layered up, much of it apparently culled from the stuff of domestic cosiness: the frills of doilies, knitted letters, a crooked fence from a children’s book. Taylor’s works, then, are deeply embedded in a flawed recollection of childhood. They embody the movement of a tongue-tied mind.

Taylor’s works take time to reveal themselves, so take time. Antic marks – scuds and loops of muted colour – alternately reveal and obscure. Something is always interrupting something else: paint drools down, its descriptive purpose spent. Everything wants to be said, so nothing quite can. What makes Taylor’s paintings compelling is in their dramatisation of the push-and-pull of memory and its articulation. Bits of the past come to us at once, jumbled and imperfectly formed, a dream or truth that words can’t keep from slipping away.

The Exhibition preview features a specially commissioned musical interpretation of the works by the V&A’s resident DJ and independent music producer Alberto Miguel.

Intervention Gallery is also delighted to host as the book launch for Henji, a publication produced by art ‘zine IRP, commissioned for the Trace artist collective in conjunction with their exhibition in Hangzhou, China, earlier this year. This event coincides with the launch of Intervention’s own Reading Room of independent art and photography publications available for perusal and purchase.

Images here:

Monday, 20 September 2010

UPDATED: 'Spoils of War': Jeremy Deller at the IWM

There’s a new display at the Imperial War Museum, London, orchestrated by the artist Jeremy Deller, which consists of a burnt-out, red-brown car, mangled in an an explosion in Baghdad in 2007. Note that cagey indefiniteness, the tiptoeing choice of words. Deller’s project is as much an examination of the real cost of war, surrounded as it is by displays of warplanes and warheads, as it is of the language we use to describe it. It’s not an “installation,” it hasn’t been “curated,” and it’s not (according to the artist himself), even an “artwork.” It’s not, in other words, “by” someone, and what it’s about is, in part, the idea of authorship, and the meaning of authorship in a context of modern warfare. Deller’s disavowal of the word “art” to describe the car – which does have a title (5 March 2007), and was displayed in Deller’s show It Is What It Is at the New Museum, New York, last year, so has all the hallmarks of being a work of art – has parallels with the perhaps apocryphal story of the Gestapo officer stalking through Picasso’s studio, chancing across a postcard of Guernica, and asking the artist “Did you do that?” “No,” replies the artist, “you did.”

The rest of the piece is here.

Links and kind words from

Andrew Sullivan at The Atlantic

Luke Stacks at Provisions Library

Monday, 30 August 2010

Public Art is Rubbish. Read On.

Public art is rubbish. Starting from that premise is the best possible pre-emptive strike against disappointment. Don’t expect public art to be any good and you’ll be surprised when it actually is. Which it never is. Which it sometimes is. Public art needs its own completely separate language of appreciation from that conventionally used for contemporary art. In a sense, public art is the closest thing we have, in experiential terms, to western religious art of the Christian era: objects and images that form part of the fabric of nearly everyone’s daily experience, noticed or not. Public art might, at best, be a ladder to thought or a rethinking of urban space (although I’m not sure why urban space needs to be rethought; it’s just that you’re always told it should be). For the most part, though, it isn’t. It doesn’t do anything. It’s just there. At best, it may provide a momentary pause between dermatology appointments or a useful meeting spot for a blind date, but it’s rarely much more than that, simply (I’d suggest) because it’s just too embarrassing to be standing stroking your chin contemplatively in a public place. Public art knows this, and tries not to make too many demands on your brain, while making an immediate visual zing that’s useful when you’re giving directions. (Now that there’s SatNav, maybe we don’t need any more public art).

The most exemplary recent example in London was an invasion of squatting brightly coloured elephant sculptures that appeared across parks and plazas, made and sold for an elephant charity. While the charity no doubt does sterling and admirable work, as public art it was sadly symptomatic. Scant of imagination and artistic interest, it just looked a bit sad and wacky, the sort of thing Jerry Garcia might have in his downstairs toilet.

Read the whole article on Art21 here.

Michael Callaghan at Saatchi Online

The elephant in the room is, of course, the late Mondrian: those zinging strips of gridded tape as cool paeans to modernity. Michael Callaghan's work - like that of many contemporary neo-abstractionists, such as Tomma Abts, Mary Heilmann, and Mark Grotjahn - negotiates that great oxymoron, the modern past. This generation is by no means the first to tweak pre-war abstract utopias in its own terms (just think of the blaring neon of 80s Neo-Geo, not to be seen at a gallery near you), but there's a tentative, reticent approach to Callaghan's work that's very much of its own uncertain time. You could say that what Callaghan picks up on in Mondrian's work isn't the hard geometry of its reproducible aesthetic: it's the snicks and lumps of the real objects themselves. Run a hand across a slick, maths-textbook Mondrian (don't, actually) and you'd feel an unexpected, almost gnarly roughness. Callaghan's paintings make that contradiction - the neat and the messy, the flush and the relief - their principal subject.

Take 'Untitled Pink'. What at first glance resembles a monochrome abstraction slowly reveals layers of tape, like demented plumbing or the trails of a frantic game of 'Snake 2', laid over a faintly triangular abstract grid. Callaghan's work slows the eye by delaying resolution. Each layer doesn't quite say everything; each is held together by toned-down, organic colour, and pulled apart by its own zigzagging rhythm.

Callaghan's paintings make their own space through layering and gouging, but they're about space, too. Many of his works recall a kind of urban topography, fossilised in thick layers of tactile acrylic. 'Untitled White' has all the obsessive carving-out of human movement you'd find in urban planning schemes in the eighteenth century. Strata of geometric decisions obliterate each other, clamouring for authority. Callaghan's work toys with macrocosmic organisational schemes, undermining them through a knowingly rambunctious, dog-eared application: dreams described by a drunkard.

See more Michael Callaghan and see my top ten at Saatchi Online here

Monday, 16 August 2010

'Masterpiece Theatre' at Art21

On a single day this week I saw a clutch of paintings that would, by most reckonings, be referred to as “masterpieces”: Velazquez’ Las Meninas (1656), Goya’s Third of May 1808 (1814), Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights (1503-4), and Picasso’s Guernica (1937). I’m deliberately not linking to images of them, because you already know what they look like. Perhaps the images flicked into your mind on reading the titles. I thought I knew them too, but this prior knowledge made it almost impossible to look at the real object with any kind of immediacy. Anecdotal historical information, the stuff upon which wall labels and guided tours are built, deadens an immediate response to a work of art. It thickens the air; it slows down your reactions. This distancing from the physicality of the thing in front of you is made literal in the Louvre’s disastrous hang of the Mona Lisa, pinioned behind glass like an entomological specimen: dead.

The sort of contextual historical knowledge used to accompany a reproduction of a famous work like Las Meninas in an historical textbook seems pretty useless when employed in front of the actual object. The object can’t be explained away that easily, and the painting looks back, amused; both Las Meninas and the Mona Lisa seem, in their focal wry female smiles, to play out this bemusement themselves. Language swarms around the smiling object and most museum hangs and curatorial approaches — burdened with words: written, read, said — reduce the duration of actual looking. We talk because we don’t know how to look.

Read the complete article on Art21 here.

'Fine Things to be Seen': installation shots

Top: Edwina Ashton
Middle: Eleanor Morgan and Karl England
Bottom: Eleanor Morgan, Gabriel Hartley and Brian Sayers
Not pictured: Rose Wylie

Images courtesy of Corinna Spencer

Friday, 13 August 2010

'Fine Things to be Seen': Week Two

Some interesting reading and listening material on 'Fine Things to be Seen', so far:

- Rose Wylie interviewed on Radio 4 (at 14 mins) here

- Insightful write-up and great pictures on Corinna Spencer's blog here

- Great discussion of the show on NW London blog here

The show continues until 5th September and is open Saturdays and Sundays. All details here.

[Above: still of video work by Edwina Ashton, who has created her own 'interventions' in the space].

Monday, 9 August 2010

Graham/Wallinger at Art21

My favorite things in Pallant House, the excellent gallery of modern British art in Chichester on the south coast of England, are a couple of small models made before its reopening in 2006. Each model is a dramatically scaled-down version of one of the principal rooms of the gallery, about the scale of a train set or civil war diorama. Inevitably, one model is of the room you’re standing in as you stoop down to look, and hung on the mini-walls are mini-versions of the works of art around you (by artists like Peter Blake, Anthony Caro, and Patrick Caulfield). Sadly, there’s no succession of mini-yous and mini-models telescoping into infinity. But here’s the great thing: all of the works are mini-versions by the artists themselves! So, peering through the Plexiglass fourth wall, you get that God-looking-down-on-His-creation satisfaction that all curators must feel when they’ve finished shuffling the pieces around with long rods, Churchill-style, in low-lit backrooms thick with cigar smoke (note to self: may need to meet an actual curator one of these days). I’ve always loved the picture — Google Images doesn’t sympathize — of Bill Rubin in his curatorial wheelchair, jabbing at little images of Picassos as his minions scamper to rearrange their placement according to his magisterial will and booming baritone (see note to self, again). Curating as an idea is a kind of intellectual board game: metonymic tokens are pushed around an artificially sequential space. Think of the similarity between the Cluedo (Clue) board and the standard museum layout. See? Like a game (and like a mix-tape, now I think of it), curating imbues its players with an inflamed sense of personal agency usually denied in social settings (I should know).

Read the rest here.

Monday, 2 August 2010

'Fine Things to be Seen' at Intervention Gallery opens this week

Above: Eleanor Morgan, Tortoise God (2008)

Fine Things to be Seen > 6 Aug – 5 Sep 2010

Curated by Tom Juneau and Ben Street

Edwina Ashton, Karl England, Gabriel Hartley, Eleanor Morgan, Brian Sayers and Rose Wylie

The title has been taken from the GK Chesterton poem 'The Rolling English Road' which concludes:

'My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.'

The poem bends pragmatic spirituality to the ancient lyric of the balladeer, staggering pie-eyed towards ‘the decent inn of death’. The mythic drunkard sees harbingers of the next life in the merry, mazy pastoralia of this: there are fine things to be seen, gods in dregs of ale-mugs and monsters in the ditches. The crooked road’s the path to Paradise. Inspired by this vision of rambunctious energy, bowling through time to knit together our sense of ourselves, Fine Things to be Seen presents a bathetic pantheon built from the stuff of intoxication and obsession.

Eleanor Morgan finds cosmic order in the intricacies of arachnid sex organs, and channels Egyptian deity Set, god of trickery and impotence, in her tortoise-headed god. Brian Sayers and Karl England focus on the ordinary objects that mark our passage through life, and in that focus infuse the everyday with the clenched power of relics. Edwina Ashton’s gallery of wonky avatars look on mutely, trying to hold themselves together, while Rose Wylie’s protoplasmic sprites try to look casual in the face of their own dissolution. And Gabriel Hartley’s warped, encrusted loops and fractals look like talismans from a future faith constructed of ancient modernism and the guts of circuit boards.

The thing about gods and monsters is they’re so often interchangeable. We make our gods from the stuff around us, stuff whose ubiquity and more or less constant historical sameness – reptiles and receptacles, twigs and tables – generates a strange spiritual intensity. Things that don’t change now might never. And whether they’re benevolent or not depends on how, and who, you ask.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Alice Neel and Hannah Wilke on Art21

Above: Alice Neel's portrait of Joe Gould (1933). Now read this.

The “must-see show of the summer” is not, despite what the adverts on the buses might have you believe, the John Richardson-curated Picasso show at Gagosian Gallery. Not nearly as bedazzling as his last Picasso show, the 2009 Mosqueteros show at Gagosian New York, the show’s museum-like hush-hush installation is a smokescreen for quite a lot of churned-out joie-de-vivre stuff made after a boozy lunch with Cary Grant and the crown prince of Monaco. There’s more than enough great, charming work, especially the sculptures, to go around – after all, this isn’t the blue period – but after a while you get tired of being beaten about the head about how great the south of France is. The Picasso show is one of a few predictable offerings in London venues this summer – Surrealism at the Barbican, limp self-indulgence at the Hayward (Ernesto Neto), another dry-as-dust photography show at Tate Modern (Exposed), none of which should overshadow the fact that two of the most fascinating, prolific, and historically significant American artists are making their debuts in the city this summer. And they’re both dead.

Here's the rest.

Suzanne Bybee: Saatchi Critic's Choice

Rococo has a bad name. I mean that literally. It's a name apparently designed to force the mouth into absurd shapes. It's a shot in the foot for seriousness. You can imagine it being given to a widower's kitten. (I bet Sting has a child called Rococo).

Here's the remainder.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

New: The Saatchi Gift (Art21)

“To the nation,” “for the nation,” “by the nation.” In Britain, things are always being done to the nation, as though the nation were a vegetative octogenarian unable to make its own decisions about anything. “It’s for your own good,” say the national institutions, casting a simpering smile at the drooling, quivering figure strapped to the bed, while they fork out a billion of public money on a rare Raphael doodle. “The nation” is an undifferentiated mass of passive receivers, happy to gobble up whatever it’s thrown. The notion of national gifting becomes a questionable idea when the art itself has barely any foothold within the national imagination (it’s a bit more complex with, say, the Elgin Marbles – sorry, Parthenon Frieze), but when the gift is this enormous, this absolute (all costs will be covered by Saatchi himself, not the taxpayer), this tried-and-tested popular, it’s hard to remain septical, right?

Read the whole piece at Art21 here.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Interview with Aaron Moulton at Art21

"This show is about you and me. It is about our communicating right now through the Internet, maybe a webcam, the parallel universes we have, our being the lead in our own film with thousands of friends on Facebook who are our extras — no offense to my 1,198 “friends.” This is a world of learned posturing and imposturing whereby one can find himself acting like himself rather than simply being himself."

Read my interview with Berlin gallerist and curator Aaron Moulton on Art21 here

Monday, 14 June 2010

Gregorio Iglesias Mayo: Saatchi Online Critic's Choice

It's said that what drew Alfred Hitchcock to employ Salvador Dali to create his animated dream sequence in his film 'Spellbound' was the artist's instinctive understanding of the precision of the dream image. Dreams are, by nature, crisply drawn renderings of a transformed world, grammatically correct nonsense. Before Hitchcock's film (the director himself claimed this, so watch out), cinematic dream sequences were identified by a kind of hazy wash-effect, quite different to the way we actually experience them. Of course, Hitchcock's great advantage is that he was working in a temporal medium (you'd never 'see' a dream all at once, after all). Dream images in the stilled language of paint suffer from the problem of simultaneity - their all-at-once crystalline precision is too clear, too quickly. Anyone who says Dali's paintings actually look like dreams is either lying or writing a press release (or both).

Read the whole thing here.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Tate Modern at Ten: new Art21 post

Fischli and Weiss: 'Mick Jagger and Brian Jones going home satisfied after composing ‘I can’t get no satisfaction’'

There’s a display outside one of the shops in Tate Modern, showing visitors’ comments written on little cards. That visitors’ comments are encouraged at all, let alone actually displayed in the museum, is testament enough to the transformative effect that this institution, now in its tenth year, has had on the British cultural landscape. One comment, though, in bubbly, fourteen-year-old girl writing, catches the eye above the others. It reads (with spelling errors intact): “This museum rocks! It’s soooo AWSOME!” So far, so fourteen-year-old girl. But the next bit made me laugh, then think a bit: “I hope all the artists are going to be famous one day!!!”

You almost don’t want to disavow this young visitor’s enthusiasm: clearly the works she saw (Picassos, Bacons, Richters and Rothkos) had such an immediate impact on her that they obviously were by young, upcoming, anxious artists, rather than the hoary behemoths us jaded types have stopped really looking at. My first really transformative art experiences were at the Tate, too, though in its original incarnation across the river (what’s now Tate Britain), where I saw, as a teenager, works by Bacon, Miro, and Pollock that absolutely defined what I wanted from art: a kind of visual equivalent for the outsiderish obstinacy I sought and found in music. That’s not the case now – I subsequently found an interest in milder, older art, and milder, older music – but it’s worth, I think, remembering the immediacy of that initial lapel-grabbing, electrical charge when you can. Modern art – let’s face it – will always be cool in a way that contemporary art isn’t. At Tate Modern, it’s the modern displays – the salon-hung Surrealism room, the Bacon and Picasso face-offs – that remain permanently abuzz, while the huge Beuys installation, or Arte Povera room, are as forbiddingly depeopled as towns in Western movies with a creaky saloon sign and skittering tumbleweed. Maybe the museum’s disingenuous name says more than it realizes.

Read the rest of the post here.

Monday, 17 May 2010


Lanfranco, 'Mary Magdalene Raised by Angels' (1616)

John Gerrard at Art21

“Time-based art” is a great new contemporary art phrase to drop into conversations, with the redoubtable Orwellian tautology of “movement-based dancing” or “sound-based music.” It’s one of those phrases that sounds neat but falls apart when you try to grasp it, like a stale meringue. All cultural endeavor is, by its very nature, time-based. After all, the 400,000 year-old Moroccan “figurine” discovered in 2003 (nominally the world’s oldest extant sculptural object), which is about as far away from contemporary art discourse as you can get on this planet, is intrinsically time-based — it exists in time and cannot be experienced immediately. Nonsensical though the phrase might seem, it does represent the good intentions of curators and academics to discuss a strain of contemporary art not satisfactorily contained by the term “video art” (nor its painfully literal cousin, “lens-based art”). The urge to categorize and identify is one of those Enlightenment hangovers we thought we’d shaken off, like Corinthian columns and powdered pompadours.

A new installation by John Gerrard, an Irish artist whose work is most often described as “time-based” (there’s not a lot of precedent for what he does, and calling it “video art” or “virtual art” isn’t quite accurate), opened this week in the Canary Wharf underground station. The station is a cavernous raw-concrete and steel Norman Foster construction completed in the late 1990s, set in London’s principal financial district. Canary Wharf creates the city’s only homogenous skyline as well as a catch-all visual metaphor for the flow of international capitalism. Its spiky towers, like the busted teeth of old robots, formed a prominent backdrop to recent scenes of sacked workers scuttling for the tube, cacti under their arms. And with the installation of Gerrard’s work – commissioned by Art on the Underground, Transport for London’s excellent series of installations in and around tube stations – the subterranean becomes both literal and metaphorical.

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Beth Herzhaft at Saatchi Online

You've been kidnapped, and there's a little crack of light over there, so wriggle towards it (your hands are tied, too). You nudge open what feels like a curtain with your nose and see an ordinary street scene: shops, cars, trees. Notice how your eyes are taking everything in, feverishly. Thrumming with adrenaline, your brain is processing visual information in double time: where am I? What time is it? How far have I gone? Through the glass (there's glass) you can't hear or smell anything, either, so your eyes do all the work. That took about two seconds. (By the way: you weren't kidnapped, you fell asleep in the back of your mum's car).

Photography works like that sudden exposure of illuminated information - it literally does, and it's worth drawing back every time to those early, spectral appearances of the outside world, inverted, in camera obscuras. To paraphrase the great Eric Carmen, eyes attuned to look at photographs are hungry eyes. They need to be: every photograph is as much a no as a yes, as much a blocking-out as a revelation. Give a rat an orange and he'll gnaw every last fibre (trust me). Your eyes do the same with Beth Herzhaft's series she calls "area photographs". Each is a cropped sliver of information: life through a letterbox.

Read the whole thing (and see my top ten recommended artists) at Saatchi Online here.

Monday, 3 May 2010

New! 'Paint, Misbehaving' at Art21

Writing about painting isn’t easy, simply because painting isn’t built to be written about. So writers writing about painting tend to rely on a checklist of clichés: the one about everyone thinking painting was dead, then (like an inverted Weekend at Bernie’s) finding out it wasn’t. Or the one about painting lagging behind other forms of art because it isn’t brainy enough. Or the one about painting being challenged by photography, or besieged by video art, or troubled by conceptualism — all ideas that bespeak a kind of insecurity on the part of art writers who can’t quite believe that a form of creation much older than the novel (that other persistent hanger-on) and almost as old as fire and shelter (also still quite popular) continues to be made by otherwise perfectly nice, intelligent, and right-thinking human beings.

Carry on here.

Monday, 19 April 2010

New! 'Everything Must Go' at Art21

Read a long piece on art and corporate patronage, via Rothko, Rubens and Mehretu, here.

Poetry Corner (2): Rainer Maria Rilke

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Poetry Corner (1): Michael Robbins


Praise this world, Rilke says, the jerk.
We’d stay up all night. Every angel’s
berserk. Hell, if you slit monkeys
for a living, you’d pray to me, too.
I’m not so forgiving. I’m rubber, you’re glue.

That elk is such a dick. He’s a space tree
making a ski and a little foam chiropractor.
I set the controls, I pioneer
the seeding of the ionosphere.
I translate the Bible into velociraptor.

In front of Best Buy, the Tibetans are released,
but where’s the whale on stilts that we were promised?
I fight the comets, lick the moon,
pave its lonely streets.
The sandhill cranes make brains look easy.

I go by many names: Buju Banton,
Camel Light, the New York Times.
Point being, rickshaws in Scranton.
I have few legs. I sleep on meat.
I’d eat your bra—point being—in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Bhatman Forever

Above: the painter Venu Bhat, as seen by a bespectacled person exiting a sauna

If Joseph Albers did children's book illustration, he'd paint like Venu Bhat. In each of his works, a single figure, in or out of a car, is caught mid-flight, sometimes literally - in one, a police car sails calmly across the sky like a UFO - from a huddled-up cityscape that could be anywhere in the world. On the outskirts of a city built at the fringe of a desert landscape, a figure runs from a parked ambulance. Each painting is a carefully contrived setting for a miniature drama of escape. Each has its own little spiky moment that throws its apparent simplicity off-balance. They hold you.