The Summer Exhibition 2016

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Usually the sheer quantity and diversity of work in the Summer Exhibition is something of a poisoned chalice for curator-RAs who want to impose any order or theme.  This year, however, Richard Wilson seems to have been fairly successful.  The theme quickly became obvious: Artistic Duos (see Eva & Adele’s ‘Transformer-Performer Double-Act VIII’, above).  Even as we climbed the stairs to the vestibule, 3810Jane and Louise Wilson’s ‘Atomgrad’ photographs (left) filled the panels to either side with scenes of derelict interiors, fallout from the Chernobyl disaster (this theme of urban wasteland and empty interiors was another that reappeared later on).  By the time we entered the central hall – the first gallery, in an interesting break from tradition – we were left in no doubt: from the petrified petrol pump, a forlorn centrepiece by Allora & Calzadilla, to the twinkling lights of (literally) ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble & Sue Webster, almost all the disparate works were double acts.

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And this playful approach continued in Room II where Gilbert & George’s ‘Beard Aware’ (above), a entire-wall-sized multi-panel photographic work that looks very much like most Gilbert & George works loomed over a sorry pile of charred bones on a low white plinth.  Self-portrait-BGThe only thing that bothered me about Zatorski + Zatorski’s work (right) – which I really rather enjoyed as a typically unsubtle post-modern momento mori – was that it’s title, ‘Self Portrait as Charcoal on Paper’, suggested that the bones belonged to the artists, which could not be true as they must still be alive to have arranged said bones so beautifully.  Perhaps in this case the title was not meant to be taken so literally.

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The Small Weston Room, usually given over the the small and charming public entries, was this year the showcase for one of the twentieth century’s original Artistic Duos, Bernd & Hilla Becher.  They were represented by five of their classic series of photographs documenting water towers, gas cylinders, cooling towers and stone works in Germany’s industrial Ruhr and beyond.  The apparently abandoned structures stand as monuments to a declining industrial powerhouse, similar to the ‘Atomgrad’ pictures in their haunting and melancholy stillness.

David-Nash---Big-Black-xlarge_trans++Cca9BU0TuyHkZJzHTSJqzg57EFzlVrO-V_kNyX87nOkJock Mcfadyen’s Room IV was something to do with nature.  In fact what struck me was the repetition of charred remains (of nature).  David Mach’s ‘Dark Matter’ and David Nash’s ‘Big Black’ (right) dominated the room, the one charred wood punctuated with screws (in the voluptuously sculptural form of a Henry Moore reclining nude crossed by a morbid Yayoi Kusama), the other a monolithic charred redwood fragment, still imposing even post-cremation.   These were in curiously apt juxtaposition with Colin Watson’s lovely little oils of Great Tits, recently expired.

As ever, I enjoyed the print rooms; though more subtle than many other works the range of technical experimentation is fabulous.  I was less impressed that the ‘featured’ exhibit here was a potato print.  Yes, it harks back to a primitive childish urge to creativity, but the Royal Academy is supposed to represent the highest achievements in artistic endeavour, not primary school play-time.

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mediumFurther on, Jock McFadyen’s ‘Pink Flats’ (above) and Paul Crook’s ‘Yellow Flats’ were a colourful counterpoint to Aono Fumiaki’s ‘Mending, Restoration-‘ and ‘Mending, Substitution, Consolidation, Coupling-‘, a series of fragmented objects rescued from the East Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2012 and combined with other materials such as plywood, books and acrylic to form a new, complete sculptural object (left).  Both spoke in different ways of destruction and reconstruction in an urban context, and were accompanied by other comments on similar theme: Adam Fowler’s editions_tim_shaw_27‘Demolition Sequence’, Idris Khan’s multi-layered prints of London landmarks which evoke the fast-changing nature of the city, or Christopher Hughes’ bird’s eye carbon drawings of Homs, Syria and Nagasaki 1945, both cities rapidly imploding.

The Lecture Room made a superb Sculpture Gallery, the walls lined with shelves to show the smaller works like a bizarre curiosity shop.  It was a relief for the eyes to rest on Anish Kapoor’s smooth pale alabaster sculpture amidst all the confusion.  Also Tim Shaw’s sprightly little bronze Dancers on Balls (no.VI above).

Unfortunately, out in the courtyard Ron Arad’s ‘Spyre’ (below), which had promised ‘unpredictable acrobatic postures’, did not seem to have shifted an inch.  Perhaps we had missed the show.

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Frieze Week Art Fairs

So after four days and five art fairs, here are a few selected highlights…

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First up was Multiplied at Christie’s South Kensington (left) – ‘the UK’s only fair dedicated to contemporary art in editions’, which I have written about for Candid Magazine here (http://www.candidmagazine.com/multiplied-2015-contemporary-editions-fair-christies-16-18-october/).  I was fascinated by the manifold techniques used to reproduce works in multiple – from traditional printmaking practices to modern digital and 3D printing, as well as many combinations of the two.  At TAG Fine Arts, beautiful materials were used to elevate trivial subject matter – Chris Mitton’s crumpled tin can in Carrara marble (right) or David Shrigley’s polished brass tooth.  unnamed-5C&C Gallery in contrast were showing a selection of 3D printed pieces that looked like sculpture (one was based on a large bronze owned by Damien Hirst, another on a hand-painted disposable coffee cup by Paul Wescombe, below left) but were at one remove from the hand of the artist, raising questions about the relative input of artist and machine in the digital printing process.

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Many works were deceptive, appearing to be drawings or paintings but in fact printed – for example, Emma Stibbon’s intaglio prints at Rabley Contemporary (‘Broken Lead’, below right) were created by painting onto a negative which was then exposed onto a light sensitive plate and printed in the traditional way – except that the expressive, painted brushstrokes are still visible so that the precision technique is subverted.  itemsfs_4450Equally deceptive is Susan Collis’ ‘Something’s Gone’ portfolio shown by Used Paper (below left); the effect of spontaneity – a white paint splash – is produced by a time-consuming method of dense cross-hatching in biro, the image then transferred to a plate and printed.2TC_19_06_14-0099_440_599_s

The Made in Arts London stand showing student and graduate work was particularly impressive, more than standing up to the Royal Academy stand opposite.  Anastasia Pudane’s screen prints such as ‘Three Spririts from the Past’ showed her roots in illustration with a nod to Edward Gorey, while Joseph Jackson’s photographic prints of the locations of past crimes on small glass panels reflected his interest in photojournalism and documentary.  Pablo_Bronstein_Chatsworth_GElsewhere I admired Georgie Hopton’s photo-gravure prints – interior scenes with reflections of a nude in a mirror that reminded me of Francesca Woodman – at Galerie Simpson. Meanwhile, Nottingham Contemporary had several Pablo Bronstein hand-coloured etchings from their recent exhibition ‘The Grand Tour: Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth’ which celebrate the architecture in his humorous baroque pastiche style (‘Chatsworth Sauce Tureen in Gold’, above).

unnamedFurther East, at the Old Truman Brewery, there was more innovation – and since stands were dedicated to artists rather than galleries, there was all the more opportunity to find out directly about the techniques used and the ideas behind the work.  Making a bee-line for the tea stand, I realised it was surrounded by an installation piece by IMA Studio, comprised of fluttering pages climbing the walls and gathering in corners like erudite swarms of butterflies (above left).  Numerous times I noted a tendency towards the reinvention of traditional materials: Alex McIntyre’s landscapes (below) are created from a gesso ground – like very fine porcelain plaster which can be rubbed or incised to create textural effects – with the colour infused by a layer of ink washed over the surface and pushed into the marks made.

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Sarah Kudirka’s ‘City Skies: Paint + Polaroids’ used polaroids as the ground for painting little abstract oil studies, the cube format lending a tiled effect when displayed en masse, a mosaic of the ever-evolving city’s rooftops.  ThumbnailKirsten Baskett creates heliogravure prints in Prussian blue on delicate Japanese Kozo paper; ‘Blueprints’ (right) echoes the cyanotype prints of early 19th century photography, capturing obsolete objects such as typewriters so that they appear like a fading memory.  These fragile documents are then encased in clear resin, frozen in time.  unnamed-2There are some really entertaining stands: Elle Kaye’s is packed full of extraordinary taxidermy including several peacocks and a full size zebra (left); meanwhile Carolina Mizrahi presents an entirely putty-pink coloured stand, from her fashion style photographs to the carpet and interior furnishings (below right).

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And so to Frieze…  I will gloss over Mark Leckey’s giant inflatable Felix the Cat at Buchholz Gallery and a giant ostrich/ aubergine sculpture by Darren Bader at Sadie Coles – remnants of the children’s playground approach that seemed to dominate last year (thanks to Carsten Holler).  This year Gagosian’s stand was far more impressive, dedicated to Glenn Brown who investigated the religious across art history with detailed pen and ink drawings of the Virgin and unnamed-1Child after Murillo and a riff on Durer’s drawing of feet with stigmata (left); among these were placed sculptures that appeared to be pure pigment – a 3D painting – some engulfing traditional bronze figures of putti (below right).unnamed

While the motifs used are religious, the colours were inspired by German Expressionists such as Kirchner; of the concept, Brown (quoted in The Art Newspaper) says ‘The idea of the floating form, a figure breaking apart, rotting and decaying, has a spiritual element.  Decay is just a form of change … nothing is ever really lost in this world.’

unnamed-22White Cube showed their usual roster of artists – a predictably Hirst-ian colour chart, an Emin-ified strip of neon amid a bed of barbed wire – within, yes, a white cube space.  Hauser & Wirth presented a forest of small scale sculpture on plinths.  Victoria Miro had some Conrad Shawcross sculptures (left) which would have looked more impressive outside; within a marquee overcrowded by ‘look at me’ canvases and installations, they hardly stood out.  Next door at the Lisson Gallery was one of Anish Kapoor’s dark circular concave voids which I remembered seeing on a larger scale at his RA show.  unnamed-2Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac was showing several Rauschenbergs – acrylic colour over black and white photographic prints on aluminium – and a Tony Cragg sculpture, ‘Runner’, as well as a sculptural painting (there was a definite theme for using paint to create three dimensional effects) by Jason Martin in a piercing Yves Klein blue (right). The Sunday Painter, a Peckham-based gallery, was a welcome addition to the established contemporary scene: they showed just one piece, Samara Scott’s ‘liquid sculpture’, a unnamed-27shallow pool full of colourful rubbish embedded in the floor of the marquee (left).  Scott has described her work as ‘trembling, putrid glitter … like the sewers of a tranny club. Or that horrible festering crustiness of putting eyeliner on in a festival portaloo.”  The new Tracey Emin? More fun than the bed, I thought, although there was a very real danger of my phone becoming part of the art as I avidly instragrammed.

The Frith Street Gallery presented an interesting CP-237-13_72array of work with Tacita Dean’s series of photographs, ‘Blue Line’, and Cornelia Parker’s ‘Black Path’ (right), a grid-like floor sculpture in etiolated black bronze that traces broken paving stones in Giacometti-esque style (this was raised just off the floor, possibly following an ‘accident’ at the Whitworth Gallery opening in which a visitor tripped and hurt her hand).  rimbaud4Other impressive photography appeared courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery with Paul Graham’s photographs from the series ‘A1: The Great North Road’ (1982), and P.P.O.W. Gallery with Carolee Schneeman’s feminist, performative ‘Eye Body Series’ and David Wojnarowicz’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York’ portfolio (above).

unnamed-11Over at Frieze Masters a trend for ‘crossover displays’ combining ancient and modern art on one stand was noticeable.  Axel Vervoordt exhibited a stunning pairing of a Roman bronze torso (left) with abstract Korean paintings such as Kazuo Shiraga’s ‘Seiku (Sacred Dog)’ of 1964, while Hauser & Wirth joined up with Moretti Fine Art to present an enthralling mixture of stand-out pieces from Renaissance memento mori to modern and contemporary art (Henry Moore, Agnes Martin).  The calibre of Frieze Masters is very high; most stands are museum quality in terms of works and presentation.  unnamed-12I particularly enjoyed the combination, at The Fine Art Society, of a small bronze cast of ‘The Sluggard’ by Lord Leighton below a red lustre charger by William de Morgan (right), accompanied by the impressive canvases of Sickert (whose ‘Facade of Saint-Jacques, Dieppe’ has come straight from the brilliant exhibition at Pallant House Gallery), Henry Scott Tuke and others.  There were some stunning drawings and paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele at both Richard Nagy and W&K – Wienerroither & Kohlbacher (below left).

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Galleries were clearly making the most of the recent retrospective of Agnes Martin’s work (for instance at Peter Freeman/Georg Laue, where a wall of her small watercolour studies for the pale striped abstracts hung) – and the current Auerbach show at Tate Britain too, with a mini-retrospecive at Marlborough Fine Art.

Photography was again a highlight with Colnaghi/Bernheimer showing a selection of some of the greatest images of Jeanloup Sieff, Horst P. Horst and Norman Parkinson.  Meanwhile, over on the other side of the marquee in the Spotlight section were some noteworthy small displays –Unknown of Boris Mikhailov at Sprovieri, David Goldblatt’s Johannesburg at the Goodman Gallery and Allan Sekula at Christopher Grimes Gallery.  Mikhailov’s ‘Yesterday’s Sandwich’ series (right) of double exposed images from the late 1960s layers the human body with landscapes and objects in colourfully surreal compositions that lie somewhere between the conceptual and documentary – in the artist’s words ‘the montage is an assemblage of elements with conflicting meanings, reflecting the dualism and contradiction of society’.

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The highlight of the fair, however, has to be Helly Nahmad’s stand which recreated the interiors of lunatic asylums (above) such as those that inspired Jean Dubuffet in 1945 as he developed the Art Brut style.  Art Brut, the gallery asserts, ’embraced the outsider, including the primitive, the eccentric, and the untrained’; but the stand’s juxtaposition also questions the moral position of such appropriation – and by extension the position of us as spectators or buyers.  Dubuffet’s works hang opposite, their ‘madness’ neatly contained within canvases on a clean white wall.

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Sluice_ is an art fair for emerging and artist-led projects staged in the Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf; it is an ideal, unrestored venue and the best of the exhibits use this aesthetic dilapidation or are complemented by it.  Up at the top, under the eaves (left), Vacuous presents ‘Unspecified’, loosely grouped around the use of miscellaneous discarded objects, reinterpreted and transformed into ‘art’; so appropriate is this to the space that the work looks site-specific.  unnamed-9Helen McGhie’s ‘Corner(ed)’ (right) layers photographs of crumbling plaster walls and wrinkled skin, musing on ideas of aging and decay.

unnamed-16One floor down, Keran James (at Studio 1.1, left) uses a combination of mirrors and opaque forms to play with space, reiterating imagery of the space itself and reflecting (on) its innate though decaying beauty.  Further along at The Florence Trust William Martin’s ceramic cups – ‘Babel’ – are stacked in precarious towers, their artisan, earthy quality resonating with the worn floorboards on which they stand, throwing long shadows in the afternoon light.  But this is not simply a sculptural exhibit to stare at; the visitor is encouraged to take a cup (with Jenga-like care) and fill it with water from a dispenser, a work usefully entitled ‘Help Yourself’. Audience participation that serves a purpose.

unnamed-10Ceramics reappear downstairs at MADE, where Beth Dary’s porcelain barnacles (right) cling to a steel column as if they had been there for ever, as if the building exists on the edge of the ocean.  Dary also uses materials such as glass, beeswax/encaustic and egg tempera, creating natural forms that, in remaining vulnerable, question the human impact on the environment, a ‘powerful symbol of our fragile yet potent interplay with nature.’

After such a lot of high culture it’s back to nature for me too; having managed to kill a hydrangea in London I have retreated to back to the countryside where the plants thrive and mental struggle goes no further than selecting which vegetable to dig up.