The eight-plate engraved series of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, published in 1735 and currently on view at the Foundling Museum, tells the story of Tom Rakewell, a merchant’s son who arrives in London to remake himself as an aristocrat but whose vanity and profligacy land him in debtor’s prison and the madhouse.
“Progress” brings together responses to Hogarth’s series produced between 1961 and 2014 by four artists, three of whomDavid Hockney, Grayson Perry, and Yinka Shonibareenjoy near-Hogarthian status in Britain. (The museum also commissioned a set of drawings for the occasion by emerging artist Jessie Brennan.) While this may seem dully straightforward as curatorial structure, it proves wise given the multiwork, narrative complexity of the responses, particularly Perry’s six-tapestry series The Vanity of Small Differences, 2012.
With Perry’s tapestries in such close proximity to the Hogarth work, it is an absorbing game to follow Perry’s symbolic substitutionsthe French press for the gambler’s wine, L. S. Lowry for Titian, and the self-satisfaction of modern yuppies for the posturing of old-world aristocracy. In the eighteenth century Hogarth cannily exploited the Foundling Hospital, then a home for abandoned babies, as an exhibition site outside the typical channels of royal patronage. Perry, too, commits to expanding a public for art: His tapestries’ imagery resulted directly from “All in the Best Possible Taste,” the artist’s Channel 4 television exploration of consumption and identity in British households.
In contrast, Hockney’s A Rake’s Progress, 1961–63, transposes Hogarth’s morality tale into an abstruse private journal, in feverish etching and aquatint, of the artist’s arrival in America. As in the case of “Diary of a Victorian Dandy,” Shonibare’s 1998 series of photographs in which he casts himself as the rake surrounded by cheats and sycophants, Hockney identifies no less with Hogarth as master of ceremonies than with the vulnerable and vain arriviste.
“Ends Again,” features four emerging artists offering forms of networked memento mori for a world in which one’s data might be worth more than one’s body. In Cecile B. Evans’s video AGNES (The end is near), 2013–14, the artist’s flute-voiced, interactive algorithm AGNES—who lives, for now, on the Serpentine Galleries website—delivers a soliloquies on her own potential demise, which are accompanied by pop-funerary piano refrains from Rhianna’s Stay, 2012. Philomene Pirecki’s ongoing series “Reflecting,” begun 2008, includes prints that are rephotographed each time they are exhibited. They capture the artist figure, dissolving into the shadowy reflection of the C-prints—as the series continues to be exhibited, the human form will be completely eliminated, leaving just the object itself.
Eloise Hawser’s video Sample and Hold, 2013, depicts the artist’s father standing obediently still as red lasers of a 3-D scanner digest his body as data. Placed on the floor nearby are pale green rubber casts of his tasseled loafers. And the frailty of human bodies is most explicitly conveyed by Jesse Darling's Standing Sculptures, 2014, which consists of two frail steel stands reminiscent of those used to hold IV bags above hospital patients. Each is strung with exhibition support materials, such as air cushions used for packaging and fluorescent lighting. The sculptures’ electric cables snake across the space as though sucking at the walls for a life force more precious than air.
Combining modernism’s obsession with ritual and a bitingly humorous, but nevertheless intensely critical, cast of art-historical characters, Travis Jeppesen’s “16 Sculptures” exhibits a freshness that is largely absent in hyper-conceptual contemporary installation shows.
Each of the sixteen works on display consists of a chair, a vinyl record, headphones to listen to an mp3 recording, and blackout glasses, which together turn the gallery into a Blues Brothers convention. Artists as diverse as James Turrell, Isa Genzken, and Auguste Rodin have had their works transformed by Jeppesen into incantatory poems that, as the result of a sophisticated mixing process, reverberate and crackle like a priest giving a sermon through an unholy amplifier.
A special treat is Venus of Willendorf / Artist Unknown, 2014, a decidedly different take on Jeff Koons’s iteration of the famous statuette as a container for Dom Pérignon champagne. Jeppesen, speaking to us as the Venus of Willendorf herself, melancholically states, “Grazing on contradictions, I am skin without organs, worth more than diamonds, and yet nothing—female without sheen. The first phallus and the last to bleed. Touch without tactility.” Venus embodied by Jeppesen thinks of herself as “a fat bitch for the world to abuse with its eyes,” thereby addressing head-on the politics of neoprimitivism and misogyny by which the unfortunate Venus, and countless other representations of women, have been confined. Jeppesen leaves us wondering who speaks for artworks and, perhaps more important, how they speak.
This installation of “A. R. Hopwood: False Memory Archive” at two sites—the Carroll/Fletcher Project Space and the Freud Museum—is the most recent event in artist Alasdair Hopwood’s ongoing exploration of the malleability of memory. Hopwood has been particularly interested in the research of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who since the 1970s has conducted experiments showing that with narrative prompting, subjects will testify to memories of events that never occurred.
In the hands of A. R. Hopwood—Alasdair Hopwood’s alter ego, a dry mischief-maker who operates via faxed contracts—the unreliability of memory creates an absurd universe in which a hired clairvoyant writes a subject’s past, fictions might be facts, and at a satellite of the exhibition at the Freud Museum, the father of psychoanalysis plays an apt host to the mischief. The works in the show result from Hopwood’s collaborations with various people, including psychologists. In Hot Air, 2013, Hopwood displays the photographic prompts created by psychologist Kimberley Wade of Warwick University for an experiment. The photographs themselves are typical of the visual material in the exhibition in their accidental absurdity: Tiny, imperfectly cut out people, often out of scale, clearly taken from family portraits and miscellaneous snapshots, have been shoddily glued into identical postcard-sized pictures of a hot-air-balloon basket floating into the air. The silliness turns sinister when one realizes that even these crummy, doctored pictures successfully implanted false memories of something as extraordinary as a balloon ride in the experimental subjects who viewed them. As if to repair the damage done to faith in photographic evidence, Hopwood sent Wade on a real balloon ride, strapping around her neck a camera designed for amnesiacs that takes a picture every thirty seconds.
In Wade’s case, the psychologist comes out from behind the one-way mirror of the laboratory, and as Hopwood recedes behind his contract-faxing alter ego, the line between a psychologist’s props and an artist’s productions appears as thin as the one between recall and imagination.
“A Volatile Medium,” the title of this exhibition, is also how Keith Vaughan referred to gouache, the material and technique he employed increasingly in the last fifteen years of his life, following his 1962 retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery. He would often mix his gouaches with other materials, such as vinegar, to further increase the process’s volatility, finding a new sort of freedom in chaos and uncontrollability. As journal excerpts included in the exhibition reveal, Vaughan was something of an automatist, producing inspired studies of the male figure faster than his dealer could sell them.
In Warrior, 1960, a male figure is depicted with his back to the viewer. The background landscape is smudged with swaths of color, as is the figure himself, his body nearly becoming one with its surroundings. Often, Vaughan depicted myriad figures in a single image, the delirious thick black lines that form their bodies intersecting and merging, one on top of another, as in an untitled gouache on paper work from 1975.
That there is a certain degree of gloominess haunting these late works is fitting and understandable, given the circumstances under which they were created. Vaughan wrestled throughout most of his life with depression related to his homosexuality and difficulties in sustaining long-term relationships, although these struggles never depleted the prolific outpour of his work. Indeed, his melancholy may well have helped feed his work’s increasingly expressionistic and dreamlike qualities. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1975 and committed suicide two years later, documenting the process of dying by writing in his journal as the pills kicked in. Yet the joyful and desirous frenzy of the line emerging in drawings such as Man Feeding Birds, 1975, implies that art was also, for Vaughan, a zone of happiness, and perhaps the sole domain where the potentialities of hope could flourish.
With her characteristic font splashed across Modern Art Oxford, Barbara Kruger asks “IS THAT ALL THERE IS?” in her latest exhibition, which consists of a new installation, two video projects, and highlights of her early photocollages. This quandary is as pertinent to the level of critical discourse surrounding her career as it is to the fiber of that individual work. Despite her complicated output, Kruger’s practice often becomes buried under truisms of the Pictures generation—the male gaze, consumer culture, and appropriation. This exhibition of Kruger’s work adroitly proves that her output exceeds such truisms by allowing for an intimate and complex venue for viewing the breadth of her practice.
That Kruger has cited architecture as a major influence should not be disregarded when viewing these works. A variety of green and black words pointing to classes of people—intellectuals, survivors, artists, lovers—covers the gallery’s blistering brick walls from floor to ceiling. This massive spatial overload is followed by a presentation of Kruger’s photocollages. From time to time, pasted words might be slightly mismatched, some even coming over the paper’s edge, ¬creating embodied spaces rather than purely linguistic ones. Similarly, Kruger’s videos Twelve, 2004, and Plenty LA, 2008, comment on the absurdities of human interconnectivity by capitalizing on the gallery space as a medium. Kruger projects Plenty LA onto the corner of a wall, for example, so that the video appears to ebb and flow in space. As this exhibition makes clear, to look outside simplified postmodern frameworks is to approach innovative and unexpected analytical spaces.