Sunday, 19 October 2014


Art, typically, is useless. Otherwise, we suspect it’s design, though there is of course an art to that. Among the trends at this year’s Frieze (dance, work for children, smiley faces, spaciousness…) there were plenty of works which rubbed this commonplace in: they were explicitly useless.

Roger Hiorns: Untitled, 2014 at Corvi Mora (London)

Roger Hiorns famously filled a flat with blue copper sulphate crystals, and has grown them onto other objects, notably  engines. Those examples are explicit about uncontrollable aspects of the chemical reaction set in motion. His dazzlingly hidden clock is a more measured, but that’s simply how it worked out. Just so, even if we think we control time, it’s actually the other way around. And it proceeds without us: perhaps the hands are still turning in there. 

Cornelia Parker: Decoy, 2013 at Frith Street Gallery (London)

Cornelia Parker is an unusually clear explicator of her own work, so let me piece together some quotes: ‘I prefer things when they’re fractured for some reason. A very recognisable object can become mysterious and more open to interpretation when it’s in pieces…  And brokenness is very much a part of society. Civilisations fall, for instance.  The premonition that this fragile material will break is the inspiration behind the glass drum I call Decoy, as it lures people in to want to beat the drum, whereupon it will shatter. The drumroll will be falling glass.’


José Damosceno: Erasure Sculpture, 2013 at  Galeria Fortes Vilaça, São Paulo. 

The playful Brazilian artist   José Damasceno has a high London profile with the opening of his Art Angel project at Holborn Library. That’s more haunted by than revelatory of its eponymous Plot, making one suspect that this elegantly minimalist  sculpture is meant to go beyond its jocular ‘unsuitable materials’ gambit. Marble is the stone of memorials, and the obvious memorialisation from recent South American history would be of those ‘disappeared’ under dictatorships. But can the past really be erased?   


Yang Zhenzhong: Pleasant Sensation Passing Through the Flesh – 2, 2012 at ShanghART (Shanghai)

 This is the working mechanism of a massage chair stripped of its upholstery: you could watch the pressure pads ease themselves down then shudder their way up, with a compelling whirr, against the back of the wall – and wonder how pleasant the uncushioned sensation would be. Shanghai-based Yang Zhenzhong often brings foreboding into his wide range of work, for example his 2007 film of people saying 'I will die' - so perhaps it's no surprise that this skeletal form resembles an electric chair.

Alexandra Bircken: Storm (assault) at BQ (Berlin)

Cologne-based Alexandra Bircken - best-known for incorporating knitting with found items – is a motorcycling enthusiast. At Frieze, she re-purposed sets of racing leathers as paintings of sorts, complete with the sculptural protectors of knees and elbows. Her intervention is to slit the leathers open, ending its usefulness, then play like a carcass bearing the traces of competitive action.


 Vija Celmins: Saturn Stamps, 1995 @ McKee Gallery (New York)

Celmins’ ability to conjure intensity on a small scale makes her a natural choice to design stamps. She should be asked, but meantime took it on herself to make a lithographic edition of 200 sheets of 42 stamps showing Saturn. Though complete with perforations, they’re not accepted by any postal system. Mind you, though cheap by Frieze standards at around £50 per stamp, they would - even by current standards - make for expensive letters.

Christoph Büchel: Sleeping Guard, 2009 at Hauser & Wirth (Zurich / London, New York). 

 The stand-out booth was curated by Mark Wallinger from the artists of his new gallery, Hauser & Wirth, a two part stand recreating Freud’s study through 75 works with backgrounds of red (rational / conscious) or green (intuitive / unfixed thinking). The stand’s architecture formed one of Wallinger’s characteristic ‘I’ forms across both camps. The green section included Swiss maverick Christoph Büchel’s particularly useless ‘Sleeping Guard’, seen here in front of work by Chiyu Uemae and Ellen Gallagher. Here was a man  who could be sacked for appearing alert on the job.


Pedro Reyes: Swiss Army Knife XII (Explorador Series), 2014 at Galeria Luisa Strina (Sao Paulo)  

Pedro Reyes is best-known, perhaps, for melting down guns to make musical instruments in a critique of Mexican weapon culture.  He he scoured Mexican flea markets for sound-making items to mount on a custom-made base. His novel form of Swiss Army Knife lacks cutting capability and is anyway many times too big to be pocketed, but the elements can be moved around rather satisfyingly to find new sculptural arrangements.  That’s Mexico I guess: much bigger than the Switzerland, with plenty of interest and potential for change – but far from as efficiently set up.

Richard Prince  Untitled, 2013 at 303 Gallery (New York)

Prince is an artist of many streams, from jokes to nurses to photo-appropriation to car bonnets to  de Kooningesque nudes to various series of abstract paintings. In the group he calls 'Band', underlying information – here a text and a record – is rendered inaccessible by white paint, on top of which angular abstract shapes are made by stapling the rather impermanent medium of rubber bands to the canvas. ‘Normality as a special effect might be another form of hysteria’, said Prince by way of several explanations when he first showed in this mode in 2011. ‘These paintings are like an unrecognized dinosaur... a beautifully feathered tyrant’.  I trust that clarifies the intent.

Walid Raad: Letters to the reader by Suha Traboulsi, 1943, 2014 at Sfeir-Semler (Beirut)

Lebanese media artist Walid Raad merges contrasting languages in these 27 prints, for which he fed the computer the many business cards he has been given over the years. They are said to mimic the formal approaches of the cool proto-Minimalist abstract 1940's paintings of the Palestinian Suha Traboulsi (born 1923). Presumably Waad has invented her as a paradigm case of how any such woman’s art would have been overridden by corporate male cultures.
Gizela Mickiewicz: Rolling Back Ahead, 2013, at Galeria Stereo (Warsaw)

You might think of the Pole as making things less useful, though her practice is more about separating objects out from our normal view of them, so that they acquire individuality on their terms: she says she's interested in 'the ontolgical status of objects'. Here she reverses the production process by unpicking things towards the point before they become what they are. How far back is that point?

Morgan Fisher Ilford Selochrome 120 September 1954, 2014 at Maureen Paley (London)

This, on the other hand, is a case of arrested development.  Experimental filmmaker Morgan Fisher has bought undeveloped rolls from all the major 1950’s film manufacturers, and resisted temptation by photographing them rather than attempting to access their contents. He was born in 1942, so they stand in for the possibility of revisiting his own years of development as well as constituting a tribute to the days when photography provided a direct physical link to the past.  

Jesse Wine Boyfriend’s classics II, 2014 at Mary Mary (Glasgow)

Chester man Jesse Wine likes it if ‘artists understand how to apply a method and purposefully do it wrong; they are in control of knowing they are doing it wrong, but not in control of the outcome'. Accordingly, he pushes clay forms towards mis-shapen breaking points. Ceramic trainers may be wrong for the feet, but they do share a containing functionality with vases. Indeed, given what his vases are like, these shoes might be a better place in which to put flowers. Also available for a girlfriend.

Taro Izumi: Untitled, 2012 at  Take Ninagawa (Tokyo)

It’s difficult to generate uselessness in quite the same way in film, but Fluxus-influenced Japanese artist Taro Izumi pursues a related path in a set of videos for each of which he produced a cumbersome white ‘anti-social’  abstract sculpture (seen on top of the monitors), and asked participants to integrate  them into their everyday lives. We see various shapes being washed, fed and put to bed…  So just what is the connection between art and reality?

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


Yes, the big institutions and the established galleries bring out their big shots this week, from Tuttle at Tate Modern and Whitechapel to Polke at the Tate to Serra at Gagosian to Keifer at the RA to Ligon at Camden to Friedman at Friedman to Barney at Coles to Emin at White Cube... But why not warm up for Frieze with these less obvious choices? Starting, paradoxically, with blank paper snow...

Another Life, Another World – Paul Nash Works on Paper, 1910-1946 at Piano Nobile, 129 Portland Road - Holland Park

                          Paul Nash: Hampstead Gardens under Snow , c.1938/9

Not the trendiest gallery, nor the most accessible, but if there’s a better – or better documented – new show than these 35 watercolours, what is it? OK, I suppose, Late Turner, Late Rembrandt but  you get my drift...

A Very Short History of Contemporary Sculpture - curated by Francesco Bonami at Phillips, 30 Berkeley Square - Mayfair

                                                       Maurizio Cattelan Untitled, 2007
A comparatively small auction house emerges from the shadow of Sothebys and Christie with an amazing, super-visible new statement space with a star-filled show to match.  Actually Bonham’s new set-up is pretty impressive, too...

The House of St Barnabas, 1 Greek Street - Soho

      Karen Knorr: The Flight to Freedom, Durbar Hall, Juna Mahal, Dungarpur

Several private clubs have art collections which non-members can arrange to visit, and the commendably charitable St Barnabas currently has an impressive range, including Keith Amatt, John Baldesarri, Friedrich Kunath, Franz Ackermann, Kendell Geers and a selection of Karen Knorr's FABLES and INDIA SONG series - as well as its own extensive permanent collection.                  

Aidan McNeill: Borders Between at the Canadian High Commission, Grosvenor Square – Mayfair

                                 Aidan McNeill: Core Crop 342, Giclée print, 2014

Not just a rare chance to see a grand and interesting buidling, but also to experience the double take of photographs of roses so transformed you’ll think they’re abstract charcoal drawings.

Paradigm Store @ HS Projects, 5 Howick Place – Victoria

                                           Installation view with Simon Bedwell

Five vast floors spaciously present 17 artists examining the interface between design and society: highlights include Ulla von Brandenburg, Beatrice Milhazes, Kendell Geers and Yukata Sone.

Sunday Art Fair Oct 17–20, 2013. Ambika P3 35 Marylebone Road - Baker Street

        Zurich's Bolte Lang may bring Bejamin Senior's work: here's Ball Games III, 2013

I guess - this being Year Five - everyone knows about the Sunday Art Fair, though not, judged by its roundup of eight other fairs to see, Time Out. Anyway, it's free, manageably-sized, easy-going fun with main fair quality.


         Marlow Moss at Tate Britain

                              Marlow Moss: Composition in Yellow, Black and White, 1949

Last stop for an inspired but little-publicised touring show of the maverick's  geometries, and as close as London seems likely to get to the Mondrian double feature at Liverpool and Margate. 


Oreet Ashery at Swedenborg House,  20-21 Bloomsbury Way - Bloomsbury

Performance is on the up, and my choice for the week is 21st Century Carpet Sale:A Legendary Collection by Oreet Ashery and various collaborators on 16 Oct, described as 'part catwalk, part punk-rock concert, part emancipated choreograph' as well as a carpet sale! Plus catch the show at Waterside Contemporary.


White Rainbow, 47 Mortimer St - Fitzrovia, and Rodeo, 123 Charing Cross Rd

At White Rainbow, Aiko Miyanaga shows an ever-evolving series of objects made from Napthalene

More galleries are launching than closing after the reverse in 2013, the highest profile being  Marian Goodman and Dominique Levy.  But I reckon Turkey's Rodeo and the Japanese specialists White Rainbow will prove just as interesting.



The latest in my rolling top ten, together with previous choices which you can still see


Piano Nobile, 129 Portland Road - Holland Park

To 22 Nov:
Ruined Country: Old Battlefield, Vimy, near La Folle Wood , 1917-18

Paul Nash has no rival as an artist who captured both world wars, and there’s no doubt about what his art owes to the experience of conflict.  Yet the landscape, modernised and psychologised (wounded ground, erotic trees) is what drives Nash’s uniquely persuasive combination of English and modern, and what better way to show that than through the immediacy of his watercolours?  Piano Nobile has somehow gathered 35 of the highest quality, and commissioned David Boyd Hancock to write the exemplary catalogue. Quite possibly the best value show in London: £50,000 would secure you what I suspect is the passing fad of a David Ostrowski, or the perky ambiguities of ‘Comment on Leda’, 1935… 

Comment on Leda, 1935


John McAllister: stellar crush the sea @ Carl Freedman Gallery, 29 Charlotte Rd & Nogah Engler and Ori Gersht: On Reflection @ Mummery + Schnelle, 44A Charlotte Rd - Shoreditch

To 8 Nov -   / 29 Nov -
John McAllister: botanic ocean, 2014

There are four reasons to visit Charlotte Road now. On one side, John McAllister’s hotly-coloured paintings play with pattern, borders and pictures within pictures as he luxuriates in gardens like an American Bonnard (it's also worth checking the prints and collage downstairs). On the other, husband and wife Ori Gersht and Nogah Engler team up to turn buttterflies into Venetian masks in a wing-light adjunct to their separate practices - as well as showing her painterly fracturing of memory in landscape, his photographic fragmentation of apparent flowers in mirrors.

Nogah Engler & Ori Gersht: Virgin Parade 02, 2014

London is having a something of a Japanese moment:  Yoshimoto Nara at the Dairy and Shinro Ohtake at Parasol unit probably need little introduction, but there’s also Aiko Miyanaga at the newly opened Japanese-run White Rainbow, and,  at Berloni, the fruit of Carl Randall’s ten years of living in Tokyo.

Aiko Miyanaga - Strata: Origins @ White Rainbow, 47 Mortimer St – Fitzrovia
AIko Miyanaga’s interest in origins, in whether one can pin down the decisive moment at which one thing becomes another, feeds into some gently impressive work for White Rainbow’s inaugural show. Items - notably keys set to unlock the knowledge in resin books - are cast in the volatile compound of naphthalene, better known from moth balls, which evaporates and resolidifies according to conditions. That leads to frost the glass of enclosed items. In the back room is a subtle in which you can - no, really - hear the sound of ceramic pots.



Carl Randall: Shōzō / 肖像 @ Berloni, 63 Margaret St – Fitzrovia
To 15 Nov:

Tokyo Portrait 2, 2011
Carl Randall’s practice all stems from observation of people, but leads to very varied results from individual portraits (sometimes knowingly kitsch) to orientally-styled ink drawings to storyboard triptychs putting faces into their life contexts to the combination of many individuals into serried and meticulous multi-portraits which suggest isolation in the midst of overcrowding. Those last are Randall’s signature and strongest works, along with a grid of 68 instant hand-sized sketches by which he notes characters seen on the underground.


Blue Curry & Karen Tang at Vitrine, Bermondsey Square - Bermondsey

To 25 Oct (Curry) / 15 March 2015 (Tang) :

Blue Curry: details from 'Souvenir'

Vitrine runs parallel programmes in the gallery (Jonathan Bladock's lively orifice-themed soft sculptures at present) and - round the clock - on nearby Bermondsey Square. The latter currently features an inspired pairing which works especially well by night. From a distance it looks as if some sort of blobby monster has just emerged from a sea littered with distant ships. Get close and the monster is revealed as Karen Tang’s colourful firebreglass sci-fi meets Franz West sculpture. The sea is in an aquamarine window frontage, and each of the dozen  ships is actually four identical combs, the quartets alternating between those of one colour  (monocombs, I suppose) and those of many. A Brazilian sensibility, I’d say, informs Bahaman Blue Curry’s ‘Souvenir’. So if you’re in Bermondsey to see Tracey’s show (can I stop you?) be sure to pop along.

Karen Tang: Synapsid, 2014


Sigalit Landau: Knafeh @ Marlborough Contemporary, 6 Albemarle St - Central

The titular Knafeh refers to a video in which the preparation and division of the sweetmeat, which is equally popular in Palestine and Israel, takes on a mutating spin-painterly quality in what Landau calls a ‘composition in motion’ over 15 minutes. That cues us in to the surrounding works: photographs of games in which demarcations are made in the sand, Tapies-like ‘sand works’ which set that into a more directly artistic context, marble sculptures of breastfeeding pillows which reinforce the body references and allude to Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois and Sarah Lucas. Add some of Landau’s well-known stream of salt encrustations, and you have a resonant meditation on themes of nurture and conflict.

Azkelon, Freeze-Frame #2, 2011. Inkjet print


Korakrit Arunanondchai 2557 (Painting with history in a room filled with men with funny names 2) (with Korapat Arunanondchai) @ Carlos Ishikawa, Unit 4, 88 Mile End Road – Whitechapel - also in 'Beware Wet Paint; at the ICA to 16 Nov

The summary here might be interesting exhibition, great chairs! The show combines mannequins, cushions and video which both form Part 3 (2557 is the year 2014 in the Buddhist Calendar) of an ongoing account of New York based Bangkok born Korakrit Arunanondchai’s life and performances, and lead to the paintings shown. The whole merge Thai and Western media and art: a kitschy temple, burnt denim, body painting inspired by a TV game show, and Manchester United all play. The paintings are just one aspect, but striking enough in themselves that Gregor Muir has included one in the ICA’s punchy survey of current trends. All the same, visitors may remember the show mainly for the invitation to view it from much the most pleasurable massage chairs I have encountered.



Paradigm Store @ HS Projects, 5 Howick Place – Victoria and Kendell Geers: Crossing the Line @ Stephen Friedman Gallery, 25-28 Old Burlington Street - Central

To 5 Nov: by appointment via / 4 Oct

Kendell Geers: Monument to the F-Word, 2010

If you saw the seven floors of HS Projects' Interchange Junctions in the as-yet-unlet areas of this sparkling new office block, you might ask why only five floors? But of course, this seventeen artist examination of the interface between design and society is still huge. The highlights include and a face-off between Pilar Corrias (Elizabeth Neel, Tobias Rehberger, Ulla von Brandenburg) and Stephen Friedman (Beatrice Milhazes, Claire Barclay, David Shrigley, Kendell Geers). When the Belgian-based Africaans artist makes political work, it carries an authentic backstory, as he left his native South Africa when faced with spending six years in gaol for treasonable actions against apartheid.  Here and in Geers’ concurrent solo show, that gives extra heft to his use of ideologically-charged readymade materials (such as razor wire), language (such as the four letter word, the negative shapes from which are insinuated into his Monuments to the F-Word) and his striking new use of plaster soaked in rust-saturated water to make skulls in which his own handmarks are prominent, as if clawing at death.

Kendel Geers: Kaput Mortuum XXXII, 2012


Mela Yerka: And the — the surface is fine and powdery @ Maria Stenfors, Unit 10, 21 Wren St - near Kings Cross

Mela Yerka with 'Rachel Felix', 2014

Polish painter Mela Yerka's show is titled from was Neil Armstrong's second sentence on the moon, neatly introducing a painterly exploration of the overlooked. Five portraits of talented women - but whose lack of fame contrasts with that of their male lovers - are rendered in fluid mixtures of fresco, graphic and gestural abstract styles. A separate room holds a blindingly lit and apparently empty canvas: only as the light - by which we normally expect paintings to be revealed - fades away in a three minute cycle does a landscape appear. It's of Mars, and looks very ordinary - suggesting that location is all: were it here on earth, it would be totally overlooked.

Installation view with Mars II, 2014 - acrylic and fluorescent paint on linen, dark mode

Pangaea: New Art From Africa and Latin America @ the Saatchi Gallery - Sloan Square

To Nov:

Rafael Gómezbarros:  'Casa Tomada' (Seized House)

There are plenty of big shows which it hardly seems necessary to mention: such brilliance as  Matisse at the Tate Modern; Veronese, all theatre and colour at the National Gallery, any lack of depth well-aligned to modern tastes – or at any rate to mine; Phyllida Barlow in ramshackle glory at Tate Britain; and Giuseppe Penone at Gagosian. And the less convincing: Schnabel at The Dairy, for example, or Herman Bas's two sites for Victoria Miro. Then there are mixtures like Chris Marker at the Whitechapel, and Saatchi’s new ragbag of South America and Africa… if you’ve never been to the excellent Jack Bell Gallery, there’s a crash course here as three rooms are given over entirely to expanded versions of four of the African explorer’s lively shows. Still, Pangaea’s signature room is its first: Rafael Gómezbarros' 440 giant ants swarm the walls, each made of two cast human skulls with branches for legs, and held together by dirty bandaging. 

 Images courtesy the relevant artists and galleries + Mary Boone Gallery, New York (Cotton)