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Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer

23 Savile Row
March 14–May 3

Dieter Roth and Arnulf Rainer, Ge'e M'a, 1981–83, crayon, acrylic, watercolor, plastic tape on reproduction, 18 3/8 x 22 5/8".

Dieter Roth, Swiss-born but peripatetic, and Vienna-based Arnulf Rainer collaborated on the eighty-plus works on paper on view for over a decade beginning in 1972— sometimes during brief visits, sometimes via the post. In 2 Wrestlers, 1978, a few quick swipes of gray gouache on a nine-by-twelve-inch board obscure a background drawing in black crayon that just barely suggests a frenetic stick figure. Typical of the works in this show, the two wrestlers—if one can read such figures in these superimposed bursts of mark-making—resist interpretation as two heroic artists in a pitched battle: The drawing’s media (black crayon and ink on board), as well as its small format and blended authorship, upend artistic heroism. (Any psychological drama that might build in this stormy struggle is deflated by a cheerful little burp of yellow acrylic paint splattered just off-center.)

The collaboration, like any decade-long intimacy, ranges in tone. The early drawings are wiry squabbles of scribbling out and sallying back, with titles that hint at failure or triviality (e.g., Disguised as a Man Animal Standing in Cool Air—Bad Title, 1975). In a grouping of thirty drawings (fifteen of them making up one work) from 1981 to 1983 by Roth, Rainer, and Roth’s son Björn, mixed media, including felt pen and watercolor, swarm on top of ghostly black photocopies of sketches by Rainer. Many of these concentrated dark clouds bear a single hole torn in the paper, a release or puncturing of romantic charge.

Six monitors in the exhibition space play videos by Roth and Rainer of the two engaged in various activities with deadpan doggedness: drinking at a table, banging their heads on a lawn, drawing, or piling drawings into a trash bin. Their voices, often overlapping and indecipherable, emanate from the videos and fill the gallery, enhancing the sense that the collaboration recorded in the drawings remains open and alive.

Julia Langbein

Martin Creed

Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road
January 29–May 5

Martin Creed, Work No. 960, 2008, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Ostensibly, there is a multitude of ways to logically organize Martin Creed’s artwork from the past two and a half decades into a retrospective. One can do so chronologically, of course, but one can also just as easily arrange the works in numerical order, following the artist’s oblique system of logic in assigning a number to each work. Or it can be done alphabetically by concept, a good system as any and a tack taken in this exhibition titled “What’s the Point of It?”

Every floor and terrace, as well as the elevator, of the gallery is filled with more than 150 witty curiosities, sunny yet unsettling exercises in Conceptualism, and vague provocations such as MOTHERS, FEELINGS, and THINGS written in neon. Thousands of white balloons are enclosed in a small room in the installation Work No. 200, 1998, a buoyant scene that upon entry quickly turns into waves of isolation and claustrophobia. Creed also uses humor, whether optimistic or canny, to propose a bit of mischief into quotidian sculptural arrangements of cardboard boxes in Work No. 878 and Work No. 916, both 2008; tiles in a shower stall in Work No. 271, 2001; a horizontal line of nails in a wall in Work No. 701, 2007; and a row of cactus plants arranged from shortest to tallest in Work No. 629, 2007, and Work No. 960, 2008.

The oeuvre is not reductive or severe enough in its approach to alienate or impose existential crises, as Conceptual or Minimalist works often wish to do. Creed, instead, fully commits to executing an idea to its halfway point. As he says in the entry for the artistic concept “Half and half,” filed under H in his exhibition guide, “If I can half do it, and half not do it, that makes me feel all right about it.”

Jennifer Piejko

Benedict Drew

42-44 Copperfield Road
February 19–April 20

Benedict Drew, Heads May Roll, 2014, color video, TK minutes.

One could write an entire art history on hands. Machinic hands, articulating hands, hands that give life, hands that bring death. From El Lissitzky to Mary Kelly, Artemisia Gentileschi to John Baldessari, the hand mediates the intensive relation between gesture and speech, life and death. Benedict Drew’s latest film, the centerpiece of his current solo show at Matt’s Gallery, is titled Heads May Roll, 2014, and it arrests the hand as a convulsive undead appendage. Severed and digitally rendered, Drew’s hand emanates a mercurial affliction. Tuned to the feedback of decay and malfunction, this writhing object quivers and flits in the digital blips, skips, and echoes of historical calamity.

Drew’s film is propelled by a fictional conceit. A pure present is spelled out on the screen: LET’S IMAGINE / FOR A MOMENT / OUT THERE IS GONE / AND THERE IS ONLY HERE. Jump-cuts contrast crystalline structures with hairy joints and Pepto-Bismol ooze with rough mineral surfaces. Sporadically, Drew jumbles the commands of bureaucratic speech to an accelerated and indistinguishable sound: a sped-up blah, blah, blah. Elsewhere, minerals are steered to a siren’s song. Here and there, nature transits between the infirmary and the morgue, all composed in digitally exacting and ebullient detail.

For Drew, history saturates materials. History pulses through the cracks, pores, and fissures of our fallen world. In Esther Leslie’s Synthetic Worlds: Nature, Art and the Chemical Industry (2005), the London-based theorist meticulously weaves a portrait of our world forged in the furnace of profit and destruction, and underlines a historical relation with materials bred on catastrophe and dispossession. Drew’s Heads May Roll magnifies Leslie’s thesis. His film intuits a future condition of fungible slime, undead objects, and scrambled noise.

Andrew Witt

Richard Hawkins

Albert Dock
February 28–May 11

Richard Hawkins, Ankoku 9 (Index World Flower), 2012, mixed media, 19 3/4 x 13 1/2".

Not a contorted martial arts move or sex position, “Hijikata Twist,” the subtitle of Richard Hawkins’s debut UK museum exhibition, refers to the uses and abuses to which the Japanese artist and choreographer Tatsumi Hijikata subjected works by Western painters in his Butoh-fu scrapbooks of the 1960s and ’70s. These reveal the often overlooked Western influences, literary and artistic, behind butoh—a species of dance and performance art with dark, erotic overtones that Hijikata was elaborating at the time. Collaged with densely annotated reproductions of figurative abstract paintings, which Hawkins culled from Japanese monthly art magazines, a set of facsimiles of Hijikata’s scrapbooks are the show’s starting point and its kernel.

Confined to a single gallery, the entire show could be construed as a collage—Hawkins’s medium of choice—and is loosely built around five paintings from the Tate’s collection, the closest thing to the originals in the scrapbooks that the artist could lay his hands on. Works such as Jean Dubuffet’s The Tree of Fluids, 1950, a painting featuring a paper-thin female form, as if ironed into the ground; photographs of “Disbellmered” doll effigies by Hans Bellmer; and Willem de Kooning’s giant figures from the “Woman” series, which became “fat whores” when viewed through the distorting lens of butoh, are a pictorial equivalent of novels by Jean Genet, Marquis de Sade, and Comte de Lautréaumont, all of whom Hijikata read voraciously.

Mixing pictorial and textual elements—such as quotations from Genet and Japanese characters drawn with thick strokes against a uniformly blue background (some of which translate to “fester,” “decay,” “rotting jewels”)—Hawkins’s own variously complex and incongruous collages are guided by the spirit rather than the letter of Hijikata’s Butoh-fu. They have no method other than perhaps that of the “intuitive leaps” Hawkins attributes to his model in one of the statements, and they follow nothing but “an exquisite impulse to tell some quite perverse and gruesome little stories.”

Agnieszka Gratza