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.