Critics’ Picks

Richard Hamilton, Study for ‘Lux 50’—I, 1976, collage on photograph, 9 3/4 x 9 3/4".

Richard Hamilton, Study for ‘Lux 50’—I, 1976, collage on photograph, 9 3/4 x 9 3/4".


“New Order: Art, Product, Image 1976–1995”

Sprüth Magers | London
7A Grafton Street
July 24–September 14, 2019

“New Order: Art, Product, Image 1976–1995” surveys two seismic decades in British culture when style collided with substance and pop was art. The era was born from the two-fingered musical salute of punk. Karen Knorr and Olivier Richon’s photographic series “Punks,” 1976–77, captures the subculture in all its stylish spleen. Club promoter and style icon Philip Sallon grins in black lipstick next to a swastika-buttoned hellraiser; DIY outfits stitch together a silk-screened Karl Marx and the Union Jack. A few years later, in the spirit of English Warholism, graphic designer Peter Saville bridged the warm, glossy contours of Richard Hamilton’s technology-inspired collages (such as Study for ‘Lux 50’–1, 1976) and the stylized minimalism of advertising. The result was the sleeve for New Order’s pioneering single “Blue Monday,” a synecdoche for the bigger pop-cultural moment of “Madchester,” the Hacienda, and Factory Records.

With their bratty attitudinizing and zeal for publicity, the YBAs of the ’90s were punk’s rebellious heirs, emblems of the new “Cool Britannia,” a time when—to paraphrase the show’s organizer Michael Bracewell—surface was depth. In the 1993 video A Couple of Cannibals Eating A Clown (I Should Co-Co), Damien Hirst and Angus Fairhurst, dressed as clowns, banter glibly in a pub about grisly murders; Fairhurst’s A Cheap and Ill-Fitting Gorilla Suit, 1995, features the artist jumping around the drab enclosure of his studio, shedding his ape outfit until—finally—he moons us. It’s a metamorphosis both prankish and oddly vulnerable. In Dancing In Peckham, 1994, Gillian Wearing busts moves in a South London shopping center, headbanging and twirling while onlookers do their very English best to ignore her.

After the tabloid flash wore off, the YBAs mostly proved themselves to be Thatcher’s children: hustlers on art’s new production line. Here, Knorr’s “Belgravia” series, 1979–81—a photographic satire of the London district’s well-heeled residents—seems curiously prophetic. What “shock of the new” is possible in the twenty-first century when we’ve seen it all before?