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Ron Nagle

Modern Art
4-8 Helmet Row
June 2–July 8

Ron Nagle, Two sets of books, 2016, ceramic, catalyzed polyurethane, epoxy resin, 4 x 3 x 3".

The first artwork in outer space, the so-called Moon Museum, is a stamp-size ceramic panel on which four Minimalist designs have been etched alongside a Mickey Mouse head by Claes Oldenburg and rude graffiti by Andy Warhol. As a gesture of goodwill toward alien passersby, NASA should consider Ron Nagle’s trippy ceramics for future moon-monuments. They’re easily transportable, and there’s a chance a hitchhiking non-Tellurian might recognize, among the slabs, blobs, and prongs, some cheering reminder of home.

A rock musician as well as an artist, Nagle has been exhibiting since the mid 1960s. His work, like that of the late Ken Price, started from an engagement with near-functional vessels (cups, jugs) and gradually evolved into a psychedelic and occasionally scatological take on post-Brancusi object-making. This show features fourteen new works. Four pieces in the first room have been placed in vitrines set into walls, emphasizing the influence of painters, particularly Morandi, on the artist. A second room of objects features eleven vitrine-bound works on pedestals, viewable in the round. Works on paper occupy a room behind the desk.

Each sculpture contains several molded and glazed sections. Smooth, blob-like forms are set into larger, darkly iridescent blocks with rough textures. The glossy red tongue in Two sets of books, 2016, suggests a human presence in the way it slumps into its support. Squint, and you might also see a Martian conversation pit, a blasted tree stump, Dracula’s grave, or dueling narwhals. But nothing recognizable seems intended. Instead, it’s his consistent denial of any obvious formal affinity that makes Nagle’s protean oeuvre so compelling.

Patrick Price

Sigrid Holmwood

Annely Juda Fine Art
23 Dering Street, 4th Floor
May 24–July 8

Sigrid Holmwood, Rasphuis, 2017, Maya blue, ochre, aliaga, ink, and gesso on mordant-printed calico, dyed with madder, logwood, and cochineal on board, 48 x 61".

Sigrid Holmwood’s three rules for reinventing painting come from the Dark Ages: produce your own pigments, paint peasants, and paint like a peasant. She is the insurgent serf, even performing dressed like the characters in her paintings. As in works such as Peasants fighting with scythes (all works cited, 2017), these precapitalist scenes of bulbous-nosed, combative women resemble the roughly crafted depictions on medieval tiles and manuscripts. Initially, they do indeed look a bit revolting. Thick, brushy outlines sketch in the chunky figures and isometric forms that dispense with perspective, while patterned backgrounds of silk-screened cross-hatching emphasize the already flattened space of the paintings.

Her back-to-feudal-basics constitutes a kind of sustainable painting practice, with Holmwood’s weird colors deriving from pigments she cultivates and harvests herself. In Rasphuis, the forgotten color Maya blue, made from the artist’s homegrown woad, is used for the washed-out teal dresses of the imprisoned peasant women, feet chained together, working a two-handed saw through a wooden log. The chalky orange background is mordant-printed with plant-based madder and cochineal made from insects raised on her prickly pear cacti. Holmwood’s research into pigment histories suggests a postcolonial perspective—the Rasphuis was a seventeenth-century Dutch prison in which vagrants were forced to cut wood imported from Central America for the dye industry, which shipped in cochineal from the same region.

On all levels, Holmwood’s tableaux oppose the increasing sophistication of contemporary painting’s technologies, its photogenic marketability, and its embrace of neoliberal entrepreneurship. In combining a barmy pictorial inventiveness with the rejection of a mere thousand years of painting progress, her arcadian ideology has produced a crop of memorably unusual works.

Mark Harris

Ann Craven

Southard Reid
7 Royalty Mews
April 26, 2017–June 24, 2017

Ann Craven, Kitty, I Love You Do You Love Me, Yes, No?, 2002, 2002, oil on linen, 12 x 10".

Beware, if you’re not a big fan of cute animals: Ann Craven’s current exhibition is chock-full of them, nearly twenty years’ worth. Pandas, birds, cats, and deer, among other critters, are rendered with soft, clean, and precise strokes. The creatures appear regal, as if properly sitting for their portraits, calm and even aware of the viewer’s presence—to a rather unsettling degree. Craven’s gaze is like that of a proud owner or perhaps mother. The canvases, rich with buoyant pinks, greens, and blues, exude a kind of loving care. Their tenderly delineated backgrounds are full of trees, grass, and flowers.

Craven paints from an extensive photographic archive (she is an avid collector of animal pictures in all states of pretty), though the canvases only quietly allude to this. Paintings such as Deer in Emerald Field #4, 2008, 2008, and Rainy Day, 1999, 1999, retain some of the frigidness of an art-directed photo. But Craven disables all that—her subtle, painterly gestures supply movement and life to otherwise static subjects. One of the odder works in this show is a small painting from 2002 of a white, furry kitten with turquoise eyes and a pointy tail, framed with flowers and a text that reads, “I love you. Do you love me?” Craven created, well ahead of her time, what today could be understood as a meme. Without the need to go viral, the artist’s paintings of animals are, past and present, infused with the internet. And we all know how much the World Wide Web loves a kitty cat.

Eliel Jones

Lara Favaretto

Nottingham Contemporary
Weekday Cross
May 20–August 28

Lara Favaretto, Thinking Head, 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

“Absolutely Nothing,” Lara Favaretto’s current (and largest to date) UK exhibition, brings together significant pieces from the last two decades along with new works. The title, however, is misleading, as Favaretto has turned the museum space into a thinking machine. Thinking Head, 2017, a public commission by the gallery, is a sculpture composed of a hidden device emitting water vapor that slowly rises from the roof of the building, inspired by Alighiero Boetti’s last sculpture, My Brain is Smoking, 1993. The intensity of Favaretto’s steam will differ according to the levels of contemplation happening within. The project includes a second part that is yet to be revealed.

The deliberately perplexing nature of the show exemplifies Favaretto’s relationship with fragments, obliteration, and disappearance. The sound piece Doing, 1998, in which the artist recorded amateur stonecutters chipping away at marble, plays from behind an artificial wall. Concealment is also key to 7724-7716, 2016, a triptych of found paintings completely wrapped up by a single wool thread. Its color matches the noisily pirouetting pair of car-wash brushes in TABOO, 2017. Di Blasi R7, 2012, takes its name from a moped that was driven around the exhibition as a private performance during the show’s installation. The dents, scratches, and tire marks covering the walls remain as traces of the freewheeling act. Bulk, 2002, is a collection of plaster casts of carnival masks from a procession Favaretto led. The objects are arranged elegantly, as if for a grand hall of ancient ruins. Relic, 2015—nine concrete sculptures, cast from four hundred tons of collected scrap metal that Favaretto exhibited at Documenta 13—disorients the senses, and pushes the familiar into a strange new light.

Philomena Epps