It undermines the image of an expensive, glamorous and international contemporary art showcase when the first exhibit one’s eyes alight on is a garishly colourful children’s playground. Complete with children (it was a Saturday), who sensibly decided to overlook any ‘high art’ connotations and use it as it seemed to demand. The Gagosian’s thought process in commissioning Carsten Holler to produce such an aesthetic affront is hard to fathom; I put it down as usual to ‘shock tactics’ – which are harder than ever to pull off in this world of social media enhanced exhibitionism.
The White Cube stand was reassuringly populated by all the names one expected to see: Damien Hirst, playing with zips and razor blades, an Anthony Gormley robotic wire sculpture… And this rather beautiful porcelain mash-up of classical sculpture on a broken plinth by Rachel Kneebone (above & left), which may have been the only exhibit to win over my flitting attention span for whole minutes as I peered, trying to make out the tangle of contorted limbs. It was Ancient Greece by way of Louise Bourgeois, on a delicate Rococo scale.
And talking of Louise Bourgeois, there was an exquisitely sculpted life-size figure by the artist on Hauser & Wirth’s stand – emaciated, with back arched as if undergoing electro-therapy on the thin striped mattress (right). The stand, curated by Mark Wallinger, was entitled ‘A Study in Red and Green’, a take on Sigmund Freud’s study in Hampstead. Regardless of this fact (which I was unaware of at the time) the curatorial attention to detail – from the carpets and furnishings to the brightly painted walls and choice of closely packed works of art – made of the stand a superb mini-exhibition in its own right.
Other personal highlights included Pablo Bronstein’s Piranesian architectural fantasies (left), looking incongruously Baroque amidst all the avant-garde edginess. Bronstein’s work has been described as the application of historical veneers to contemporary feelings, a fusion of 18th century pomposity with Postmodernism. It is a pastiche that, in recalling European art and architectural history, is better placed than most to comment on its assimilation into today’s culture.
Elsewhere there was a pleasingly simple sculpture of a giant cowrie shell, which, should I ever live by the sea, I would like in my garden.
There were several entertaining mobile pieces, one with two gilded doves flirting on a nest made from shards of kindling (right), another by Tomas Saraceno constructed of intricate wire mesh and mirrored planes, taut and balanced as a space-age Barbara Hepworth sculpture, against a background of cherry blossom photographed by Thomas Demand (below).
In terms of photography big names such as Andreas Gursky, Wolfgang Tillmans, Francesca Woodman and Robert Mapplethorpe (below right) were all represented. Many focused on locations undergoing change or social upheaval such as Jerusalem, or more organic urban development – in one case a chequerboard of images bears witness to the architectural palimpsest of Barcelona’s streets (below left).
At the Stephen Friedman gallery they showed a single artist’s work – a refreshing focus compared to the sometimes haphazard juxtaposition of new works by a gallery’s whole stable of artists. The paintings of Andreas Eriksson (right & below) are semi-abstract landscapes inspired by the Swedish countryside surrounding his studio, and there is something about the layering of the richly coloured paint that suggests all the strata of earth and rock and vegetation that have gradually formed these scenes. It is the same sense of history literally built up layer by layer that you get when a billboard is stripped back so that you see the poster behind, and a glimpse of the one behind that, and so on…