Critics’ Picks

View of “PAINTING,” 2021.

View of “PAINTING,” 2021.


Al Freeman

Carl Kostyál | London
12a Savile Row
October 15–October 24, 2021

How big can cuteness get? Al Freeman’s show “PAINTING” (all works 2021) comprises eight oversize replicas, in stuffed vinyl, of the tools necessary to hang an exhibition: Soft Tape Measure, Soft Box Cutter, Soft Spirit Level, even Soft Toothpaste (for the opening, I guess). Mounted on the walls, the objects span up to just over two meters in length. Vibrantly colored, poppy, and rotund, few artworks have ever so begged for a squeeze.

There’s a giddy allure to these sculptures. You’re tempted to touch them because you can’t: A snook is being cocked at the prissiness of private galleries. The frugality of stuffing leaves each piece only half-fattened, imparting to the objects the kind of welcoming slouchiness that dares you to hurl yourself into them. But more than just sensual frisson, Freeman prioritizes deadpan (and often self-deprecating) wit. For another recent series, “TOPS,” 2021, the artist created pillowlike male figures that were naked below the waist. Or as she put it in an interview last spring, “I made a bunch of dicks.”

“PAINTING” understands softness to be an equalizing force—an insurrectionist game in this neighborhood. Paintings in Mayfair famously sell for whatever the blue-chip men demand, while pizza can set you back £20. But Freeman’s Soft Pizza Box contains two uneaten crusts, while each Soft Back of Painting (there are two, subtitled Portrait and Landscape, respectively) conceals what presumably gives a canvas its value: the front. The works share not only a texture but a goofy, down-to-earth appeal. Cute as soft, and cute as shrewd: Freeman’s tools are a buoyant riposte to the serious business of art.