Adrian Searle

  • Turner Again

    THE VISUAL ARTISTS GET a rough ride from the British media. While books, music, and cinema are treated to respectful in-depth coverage, art is warily eyed, and the notion that contemporary work is rubbish or a con is endemic. In response, the art establishment is pumped up with missionary zeal to spread the word that art is accessible, fun, and, yes, even sexy, with younger artists dealing accessibly in the forms of the conceptual one-liner and the visual pun. Contemporary art may indeed be more popular now than ten years ago—Damien Hirst is something of a household name, and the idea has been

  • Tim Head

    Things are getting worse. If the Last Days are not actually upon us, they can at least be relied upon to arrive at any moment. The portents are everywhere. We each have our own inventory of the impending terribellum, our own sense of crisis; and even if the End isn’t Nigh, then the myth that it might be sustains us. Myths, as useful as they can be dangerous, serve as instruments of power and control by governments and lobby groups as subject matter for artists. Crisis is good copy.

    Tim Head’s paintings often look like enlargements of designs for the fashion trade. Organic motifs repeat in various

  • Bob Law

    Bob Law’s career sounds like the plot of a movie. The young artist, while living in a Cornish cottage, is befriended by Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, and other members of the St. Ives set. He reads Ouspensky and Gurdjieff. He spends long afternoons drawing in the fields, exploring his relationship to nature. In 1959 he travels to London,where he sees work by Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman at the Tate Gallery’s “New American Painting” show. His intuitions are confirmed. The next year he’s in a two-person show at the Institute of Contemporary Art and is included in the seminal “Situation” exhibition.

  • Godbold & Wood

    A cowboy takes aim but never fires, and the Indian’s arrow never leaves its bow. A pony girl rides on a diplodocus, chasing and being chased by a giant tortoise. Everything is out of scale. A man hang-glides from a pterodactyl, and perched on the back of a hippo, a blonde holds a hand grenade. Everything is out of time. Ostrich and zebra cavort before a backdrop of tenements. Everything is out of place. The Lamb of God sits atop a stone egg in front of the Seamans Institute. A fox lies dead in a road tunnel. An elephant takes rose hip tea from a china cup.

    The tea is real; the elephant is plastic,

  • Derek Jarman

    Interviewer: Do you see a future?

    Derek Jarman: No.

    For one who does not conceive of a future, and perhaps cannot, Jarman keeps remarkably busy. Within the last year he has directed his sixth full-length feature film, several rock videos, and one of the ten sections of the new film Aria (each of which is by a different director); had a book published; and mounted this show of 132 paintings from 1986 and ’87. His film The Last of England presents a broken vision of modern civilization, an invocation of a collapsing present by a would-be Blake or Swift. There are bits of family footage (shot by the

  • Mark Lancaster

    A small black-and-white reproduction of Duncan Grant’s 1917 portrait of Vanessa Bell, hangs alongside Mark Lancaster’s paintings in this show. Lancaster has used the portrait—which he owns—as the basis for a series of paintings, plus some drawings and watercolors, called, simply, “Vanessa Bell.”

    Lancaster clearly knows Grant’s painting well, and his series is almost a textbook instance of “abstracting from” a subject—a step-by-step sequence of excercises in transcription, variations on a theme. Although Lancaster runs Vanessa Bell through a number of stylistic shifts, certain elements remain

  • John Walker

    John Walker’s recent paintings prove that confronting the past can be rewarding. By virtue of scope alone, Walker’s new work makes a lot of contemporary painting look thin and tinny, materially as well as conceptually.

    In this show, Walker pays his dues to the Old Masters, principally to Goya and Velázquez. He is declaring sources and influences that he’s carried with him for a number of years. It is difficult not to make too much of this. The coupling of the names of great artists from the past with that of a contemporary painter can seem as much like bad art history as good public relations.

  • Colin Cina

    The demise of a credible avant-garde has led to a welcome relaxation of attitudes towards progress in art. There’s currently a more open exchange between the past and the present; not only is traditionalism respectable again (for many painters, at least, it was never suspect) but also, it seems, yesterday’s cliché all the more rapidly—and apparently—has become tomorrow’s new image. It ought to be said, though, that there’s a fine distinction between pedestrian reiteration of historical precedents whether of five or five hundred years standing, and a real inventiveness which stems from a less

  • Noel Forster

    The Grid and The Process have preoccupied artists for a number of years now and have accounted for both good and bad works—mostly bad. Conversationally, they once sounded good—as did talk of The Edge and Tonal Spread (mix The Grid with Tonal Spread and you come up with Tonal Waffles), and elevated talk of The Process, art which “displayed the history of its making” justified almost anything laboriously executed, and probably still continues to do so. Truth to process, like truth to materials, became not only a vague edict but a moral imperative for some artists during the ’70s. It must be said,

  • Michael Craig-Martin

    Michael Craig-Martin’s last comparable show of large-scale drawings (again, projected from slides onto the wall, and then drawn in directly with the black tape) looked like Al Held’s compiled with household articles instead of with plain geometric figures. The drawings were spatially ambiguous and relied heavily on the fact that everything was drawn openly on top of everything else with no regard for the relative scale of the objects depicted. The white of the wall (like white paper in linear drawing) accommodated both the internal forms of the objects and the spaces between them. Craig-Martin,

  • “The British Art Show”

    2. THE BRITISH ART SHOW. THE AVANT-GARDE:

    The British Art Show is a whistle-stop tour, lingering nowhere very long, an out-of-focus series of detours around current British art. The best that can be said of shows like this is that they give an inkling of what is happening in studios up and down the country. The show is dominated by safe, mundane choices. Even where Packer has picked good artists he often chooses substandard or old works. He could. for instance, have chosen far better paintings by John Hoyland than Wotan—a painting in which a large, greenish slab rides over splinters and shards

  • “Narrative Paintings”

    “It is the idea that painting might again bear more subject-matter, might accommodate more of human life, that this exhibition sets out partly to explore,” writes Timothy Hyman in the catalogue for “Narrative Paintings,” an exhibition of figurative paintings by 21 artists which he has selected, and which attempts to identify a particular strain in current British figurative painting. The show spans two decades, from the Pop paintings of David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj to the present, including works by well-known painters like Howard Hodgkin and Anthony Green as well as many virtual unknowns. The

  • John Hoyland

    John Hoyland’s paintings are as much physical confrontations as they are images. Given that he has said he wants to “blow people’s minds” with his paintings, and that they attest, through their often jarring dissonances to an affection for art which “overwhelms and mystifies,” his retrospective runs the risk of canceling itself out in a kind of theatrical overkill. It is a danger worth courting, even though the viewer might end up feeling like a Wagner fan who has sat through one too many Bayreuth Festivals.

    The show charts Hoyland’s course from 1967 to the present. It is a largely unwavering

  • “Open Attitudes”

    “Open Attitudes” was the title chosen to present a sample of new painting and sculpture by young artists at Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art. It is fashionable to talk of a resurgence of vitality and vigor in painting (sculpture, apparently, looks after itself), and of this new painting—especially that produced by an identifiable group of mostly young artists (aged around 30)—as being “alert,” “undogmatic,” “open” and “receptive.” Other adjectives have dubbed this trend “fertile,” “plenary” and “unashamedly eclectic.” The new painting is often more concerned with content than with formal niceties,

  • Tate Gallery Extension

    The fireworks on the first night, and the free chauffeur-driven limousine shuttle for prospective visitors from the Royal Academy during the first two weeks of opening, were no recompense for the disillusionment and betrayal felt by artists on seeing the Tate Gallery’s new extension and the newly rehung collection.

    Since the late 1960s the Tate has signally failed to support and account for the life-currents of contemporary work in Britain or abroad; it has consequently been ineffectual as a service either to artists or their public. Hamstrung by its dependence on government for its funding at