Over the past twenty years, gentrification has been slowly but surely consuming East London. Local communities are often forced to relocate due to increasing rent. Augustas Serapinas’s current exhibition highlights this problem. The artist uses the story of a former locksmith evicted from the very site that the gallery temporarily occupies, before it is converted into high-end apartments.
Serapinas creates a kind of mise en abyme, a smaller replica of the building—with identical windows and door. Peering inside, you discover a functioning sauna, complete with hot coals, towels, hanging chairs, and more. The work’s title, Housewarming, 2016, is multilayered, obviously alluding to the sweltering steam room itself and to this venue’s celebratory inaugural exhibition, as well as to the financial pressure cooker that frequently causes low-income tenants of East London to be evicted.
For this work, the artist appropriated the locksmith’s abandoned items and transformed them: He converted a safe into a stove, made some file drawers into a locker for personal belongings, and melted down hundreds of keys to create the sauna door’s handle, in addition to its water bucket and ladle. Serapinas links past and present by exploring the social relations that art engenders—he even based all the cast metalwork designs on a neighborhood local’s drawings. Some arguments suggest that politicized practices such as Serapinas’s simply raise awareness of social injustices while the art world continues to sip champagne at private viewings attended by the 1 percent. But, after a while, the artist’s work becomes too sultry to handle, and you want to flee the building—just don’t forget your stashed valuables in the locker on the way out.
Ecstasy is a state that can push you outside of yourself. The eighty-five-year-old artist Marisa Merz offers up large- and small-scale drawings, paintings, and sculptures, all Untitled, of figures seemingly on the edge of such an experience. In one painting from 2016, disembodied hands swirl around a being in a chaotic spiral of energy. Merz uses color to channel its polymorphic magical properties (to paraphrase Michael Taussig), so that she may allude to, or even take us to the brink of, something rapturous. This experience—frenetic, stupor inducing—separates the psyche from the body, forcing one beyond the confines of flesh. And certainly, Merz takes us there, as her use of color is premised on movement and transformation. The artist unravels the solidity of the figures she depicts.
Another work, from 2014, more subdued and drawn on a simple wooden support, presents an innocent, angelic face, its eyes closed off to the world in front of it. It appears transfixed, frozen in deep anguish. This celestial creature, however, is distinctly material—hard. It is as though its numinous condition were some kind of curse. One sees this again in a 2014 sculpture of a bodiless, deformed head, made from a stone smothered in wax, unfired clay, and gold paint. Perhaps Merz’s otherworldly spirits are indeed fallen souls, calcified and condemned for eternity.
Indrė Šerpytytė’s current body of work here is made up of photocollages and sculptures, exhibited on the gallery’s ground floor and in its basement, respectively. Her “Pedestal” collages (all works cited, 2016) depict statues of Lenin and Stalin in Lithuania’s Grūtas Park, a sculpture garden filled with decrepit Soviet-era monuments. Šerpytytė’s photographs of these dead symbols offer up an uncanny beauty, as we try making sense of these proud and pompous figures standing against backdrops that are lush and verdant. The artist juxtaposes her color photographs with archival black-and-white images of these works—being celebrated by cadets, politicians, and ordinary citizens—when they appeared in public squares all throughout the USSR. These compositions are accompanied by a recording, Toppled, 2016, which describes how the statues were pulled down after the fall of the USSR. The passage of time in these works—so strange, so haunting—is heightened by the narration.
Downstairs, the sculpture series titled “Orders” is composed of small, black, and mostly rectangular granite blocks, set on ready-made plinths executed in the same material. The works are seductive, with their polished surfaces, sharp geometric forms, and historical nods to Constructivism or Suprematism. But they are queasy things, too, as they also call to mind headstones and other kinds of memorial sculpture . . . markers of ideologies and horrors that still haven’t been entirely put to rest.
To call Petra Cortright an internet or post-internet artist would be similar to calling Matisse and Monet paint artists. They were painters all right, but that’s not really saying much, is it? There is, in Cortright’s work, a mesmerizing core of formalism, a newly relevant medium specificity for the cognitive gluttonous distraction of the brazenly immaterial.
“ORANGE BLOSSOM PRINCESS FUCKING BUTTERCUP,” Cortright’s first solo exhibition at this gallery’s London location, brings the manifold beguilements of her digital steamrolling into a tightly delightful showcase of canvases and flat-screen videos. And “flat-screen” is the operative word here. Cortright composes her pieces by layering their copious constituent files into final pancake of Photoshop “mother files.” Such works flatten the layered and immersive aspects of the digital economy, simultaneously parading and exacerbating its manipulative properties. Cortright’s mother files are built up from the endless iteration of what are profoundly private visual, temporal, and spatial entities. They are the wet-dream actors of adolescent sexual rehearsals, solipsistic webcam posturing, and distracted-browsing self-indulgence. Would you ever act out a real-life equivalent to an emoji in a conversation? Of course not. Cortright’s works disrupt the comforting stability that would confine the digital to the servilely personal, and make a frantically gorgeous show of it.
Where Impressionism’s heyday hypnotized us with its dynamic vibrancy in indulging the wondrous relish of the ordinary, Cortright’s new digital formalism unmoors the cognitive comforts of the private in a seductive sumptuousness of pageantry and inexhaustible possibilities.
Artist Simeon Barclay’s current solo exhibition is his first in London. This multidisciplinary offering explores the subtleties of gender and memory through a diverse range of references derived from sports journalism, fashion, Afro-Caribbean culture, and British working-class history.
The quietly embedded symbolism and cultural signposting within Barclay’s works—“semiotically charged” things, as the curator Morgan Quaintance notes—are gently highlighted by the artist’s clever use of various media. Sculpture, printmaking, video, and audio all coexist comfortably within the space, initiating a common language through a familiar set of associations. Coded references to power and gender fluidity via notable English pop-cultural figures, such as Princess Diana and the actress Maxine Peake, crop up, as does a nod to the cartoon character Andy Capp (Handicap, all works cited, 2016), rendered in strips of neon. Clips from Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980) and Curtis Clark’s British Hustle (1978)—a documentary about Britain’s soul-disco scene, filmed inside the nightclub Clouds in London’s Brixton neighborhood—allude to the kinds of freedom that nightlife offers to anyone who feels burned by the drudgery of daylight and the nine-to-five life. The seductive materiality of Winner Takes All and The Physical Weight, with their polished aluminum surfaces, encourages one to consider the relationship between subjectivity and shared experience. By seeing our reflections in the work, we understand that individuality is a somewhat fraudulent concept, as we are so often shaped by the world and the unyielding streams of media bleeding out of it.
“What language do you speak stranger? . . . Tell me where are you from? It does not matter, here everyone is an outsider. Sit down please, and join my circle of listeners.” We read these words upon entering the space and are invited to take a seat within a re-creation of an al-halqa, the traditional Arab storyteller’s circle. A wooden structure with soft cushions forms the installation accompanying Katia Kameli’s 2012 film The Storyteller, originally commissioned for the Marrakech Biennale of that year. In her first UK solo exhibition, Kameli has crafted a journey through recent works that investigate the power of stories, national identity, their intersections with the archive, and questions of historical authenticity. Part of her ongoing engagement with the reshaping of narratives and the voices who tell them, the source in The Storyteller is atypical—instead of a traditional oral legend, Kameli has chosen the 1964 Bollywood movie Dosti (Friendship), a movie that focuses on the relationship between two young men: one who is blind, the other, disabled.
Nearby, Kameli’s Stream of Stories, 2015–16, uses collage, facsimiles of old texts, animal-mask sculptures, and interviews with translators and other experts to locate the origins of Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables (1668–94). This work examines the politics of translation—the social and cultural ramifications of the transformation of language. Downstairs, The Algerian Novel, 2016, documents a street stall in Algiers where a father and son sell postcards and reproductions of old photographs, ranging from a portrait of Franz Fanon to scenic tourist images and more solemn colonial montages. Following the independence of Algeria in 1962, France took important cultural materials from the country into its own repositories. In Kameli’s film, customers, alongside students, writers, Algerians, and others, reflect on the significance of the images and on notions of selfhood. The documentary, like the exhibition as a whole, offers a poignant and timely insight into how the past, present, and future can be constructed within society.
You’re adrift on a sea of sound. Long, sinuous strands of seaweed curl around you, drawing you in. “The Infinite Mix,” comprising ten moving-image works, is a heady temporal—rather than spatial—audiovisual experience. Martin Creed’s uplifting and bittersweet Work No. 1701, 2013, depicts people of all stripes—young, old, disabled, hurt—crossing a street on New York City’s Lower East Side to an upbeat track by the artist. Ugo Rondinone’s THANX 4 NOTHING, 2015, a multiscreen performance by poet John Giorno (who is Rondinone’s boyfriend), reflects upon themes of life and death. Rachel Rose’s Everything and More, 2015, narrates the experiences of an astronaut who traverses the sublime vastness of space. Jeremy Deller and Cecilia Bengolea mine gleeful absurdity in Bom Bom’s Dream, 2016, a love letter to Bom Bom, a Japanese dance-hall diva; Kahlil Joseph takes us to the streets of Compton for m.A.A.d., 2014; and Cameron Jamie records a series of erotic, unsettling dances in Massage the History, 2007–2009.
It’s two works here, however, that really shine: One of them is Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s apparitional OPERA (QM.15), 2016, a hologram of the artist as the midcentury soprano Maria Callas. Callas was famous for walking out on her own performances, so it’s strange to witness her hovering instead, singing her arias through an eternal darkness. And then there’s Cyprien Gaillard’s Nightlife, 2015. With its poignant sound track (consisting of two versions of Alton Ellis’s song “Black Man’s World”), it explores notions of trauma and history. Gaillard puts you under, buffeted by waves, as you pass from the story of Rodin’s The Thinker, 1880, a cast of which sat outside the Cleveland Museum of Art and was damaged by an explosive laid by the Weather Underground, the extremist group, in 1970, to the sinuous dancing of trees in the wind, moving like an enchanted Hydra. You do more than watch and listen—you inhabit, sliding into a space of unnamable sensations.
This exhibition is a sucker punch to the gut. You can leave its sensory universe behind at the door, but its power remains, penetrating your heart’s most tender and vulnerable places.
A giant spider is trapped under a glass, its legs feeling around for a way out; someone talks about a nest of baby pigeons, bleached and discarded in a black garbage bag. These are two of the disturbing images from Patrick Goddard’s mockumentary-style film, Looking for the Ocean Estate, 2016, a looping video that you settle down to watch on something akin to your parent’s sofa. Goddard’s narrative focuses on a self-conscious artist—a fictionalized version of himself—seeking “authenticity.” He returns to a poorer area of London where he briefly lived, only to find it gentrifying. The artist worries that “off-piste” London is dying and becoming sanitized. He interviews a number of characters about this. One denizen responds that for him, these areas were never off-piste. At a PFC (Perfect Fried Chicken), the artist eats a veggie burger, and his interviewee comments on this choice, “Being snobby about food is a devious way of being snobby about the people who eat it.” Goddard’s film simultaneously critiques urban renewal, social alienation, and the hipster fetishization of poverty and decay.
Nearby, Goddard’s series “Seascapes,” 2010–, assemblages made from perforated security shutters, recalls the horizon line between sky and sea. A blue monochrome, The Mediterranean (View to the North), 2016, carries a ripped warning sticker that states, “This property is alarmed.” Early pieces from “Seascapes” were made with window grilles that Goddard found while squatting in abandoned buildings.
This show draws attention to the social issues arising from the current UK Conservative government’s policy on affordable housing, which is steeped in classism, as well as to the sometimes problematic role artists take on in critiquing sociopolitical subjects, as they often sit within the same insidious social hierarchies that they protest.
Central to Candice Lin’s current exhibition, “A Body Reduced to Brilliant Colour,” is System for a Stain (all works cited, 2016), a distillation apparatus where popular colonial commodities, such as tea and cochineal, form a dark-red liquid in a shallow wooden tank. Slim plastic tubing emerges, snaking its way to a neighboring room, where it coils onto a floor covered with white marble laminate. As the red fluid gathers in puddles, an audio work, A Memory Blushing with Innocence, reveals the physiological and psychological effects of colonialism for both master and slave, as told through the macabre memories of a plantation owner’s daughter. On the fate of Indians working in the mines, for example, she recalls their skin turning white, their veins silver, and their eyes blue. “They believed they finally understood what it was to be European,” she notes, “as they crawled out of the earth . . . sick and slowly dying.”
But the critique of the capitalist system that facilitated this history does not remain in the realm of abstract representation. A Warner for Survivalists: White Gold presents a small fish tank in which about fifteen giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches are offered only candied fruit and a Chinese vase made of sugar to feed on—sugar being a colonial commodity that some breeds have evolved to avoid, given its use in traps and its detrimental health effects. Horrifically, this controlled environment thus offers a limited set of choices to its inhabitants—submit, starve, or cannibalize. (When I visited, the majority appeared either dead or comatose.) In this microcosm of violence, the viewer is implicated in the cruelty: guilty of seeing something wrong within a locked structure and incapable of breaking it.
Italian artist Rodolfo Aricň resisted the primary aesthetic trend of his milieu—Arte Povera—and instead took to the developments in painting happening across the Atlantic. Indeed, his shaped canvases call to mind Frank Stella, Robert Mangold. But this former student of architecture didn’t entirely fall in line with the kind of pictorial logic espoused by those Americans. In the pieces on display here, dating from 1966 to 1974, Aricň turned to history—specifically, the arches of ecclesiastical painting and the fundamentals of perspective—to generate his geometric structures.
For example, the deep-blue triptych Prospettiva (Perspective), 1970, the exhibition’s centerpiece, is a hexagonal canvas depicting three isometric shafts converging in an off-center vanishing point. This Renaissance method of creating illusionistic space implied notions of rationality. Yet Prospettiva, with its painted lines in white and blue, delineating all this dimensional form, is not an entirely rational thing. The imagery, while quite static, also suggests a kind of speed—as if what we’re looking at is somehow booming forth.
Part of Aricň’s appeal is in the contradictory nature of his objects. His paintings flip-flop between flat, abstract spatial representations and chunky physical entities that are, in his words, “object paintings.” Whether they’re rhomboids, hexagons, or notched rectangles, his works yield almost nothing conceptually. But they are odd images that deserve to be pondered—and therein lies their endless charm.
Light up a cigarette and enjoy the party—the title of France-Lise McGurn’s solo exhibition here, “Mondo Throb,” signifies a rhythmic, vibrating, and discotheque-style environment. Mondo, which means “world” in Italian, is highlighted through the visceral connotations produced by the strong sound of something throbbing.
Utilizing a mix of gesso, oil, acrylic, markers, and spray paint, McGurn constructed much of the show in situ, producing Soft, psychic, sweet surprise (all works cited, 2016) a wall mural, and several untitled floor drawings. They cavort and intersect with a number of (mostly) studio-made paintings, two of which are Aerobics gives you herpes and Puttanesca, where we take in the soft lines of hair, naked limbs, and genitals intersecting and fusing with one another. The artist’s renderings of freedom and licentiousness create an immersive, eroticized environment. The consistency of McGurn’s repeated imagery and palette, alongside the evocation of a time-based and performative practice, intersects with her club-night residency called DAISIES at Jim Lambie’s Poetry Club in Glasgow. Co-run with Katie Shannon, they invite associated artists and DJs to add to the establishment’s ever-evolving decor.
The predominant sensation explored in McGurn’s disobedient, sensuous, and unruly exhibition is ecstasy, in all of its marvelous and multifarious guises—carnal, divine, euphoric. By eschewing didacticism or formal interpretation, McGurn has created an evocative and extended sense of time and place that appeals to a common sense of vital force.
The German painter Richard Oelze spent part of the 1930s in Paris, where he first encountered the Surrealists. His eccentric personality (he lived in squalor, rarely left his apartment, and destroyed much of his work) inspired the title character in Mina Loy’s novel Insel—published posthumously in 1991 then republished in 2014—contributing to a revival of interest in this neglected artist.
On first encounter, it’s tempting to see Oelze as an epigone of Max Ernst. Ernst’s use of decalcomania, where paint is pressed between surfaces to create random patterns, out of which the artist then elicits forms through a process of free association, inspired Oelze to adopt a somewhat similar process. But while Ernst, like the majority of canonical Surrealists, was essentially a picture-maker, Oelze’s commitment to a little varied painterly process aligns him with Yves Tanguy or with such abstract Surrealists as Roberto Matta. The eighteen paintings on display all evoke the experience of pareidolia—the perception of familiar shapes in random textures. But incipient biomorphism is constantly regressing into a kind of studied formlessness, creating a sense of intense ambivalence. We are confronted, to borrow a thought from Insel, with the “procreational chaotic vapor in which all things may begin to grow.”
Twenty-four untitled figurative scrapbook drawings, ca. 1956–78, reveal a preoccupation with eyes, most of which are rendered over-large and oddly empty. Oelze compared himself to a character out of Franz Kafka, but in his attachment to gray abjection and a depopulated world of ash and mud, the more obvious affinity is with Samuel Beckett.
Bedwyr Williams’s installation The Gulch, 2016, transforms this institution’s Curve gallery with a path that unfolds in stages, recalling the experience of traversing a theme park. Each environment is a chapter in a narrative that disorients the viewer, annulling the previous segment and simultaneously presaging the next one. Every passage is a reversal of perspective, a transfiguration of the glance. The mise-en-scčne of a full moon over the sea—with the noise of breaking waves, the nearly imperceptible sounds of gently rippling water, reassuring background music, the crackling of a bonfire, and an abandoned running shoe—pulls us into Williams’s grand illusion.
As we proceed into the shadows, we come upon an assortment of sculptural tableaux: a self-portrait statuette of Williams standing on a rock with a heap of wooden pallets at his feet; a broken wooden spoon; and the upper half of a mannequin wearing a jacket emblazoned with the title of this immersive work. In another area, we encounter a nonfunctional beverage-vending machine. Cushions and bongo drums nearby encourage audience participation. Suddenly, there’s a conference room with a video on a screen and an invitation to talk through a microphone connected to a speaker on a taxidermied goat. A glittering curtain opens onto the journey’s end, where we locate the second discarded sneaker, lying along the edge of a running track. Japanese maneki-neko—beckoning cat figures—on floating Ikea bookcases greet us as we are ushered out beneath an enormous group portrait.
Williams has constructed an engaging and audacious story—a “process-based” artwork that is also deeply theatrical. It infects the Curve with a high-minded cheekiness and rich poetry.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
We live in interesting times—something Giorgio de Chirico signaled to us long ago when he painted Revolt of the Sage, 1916. In this exhibition, that painting’s metaphysical interior is explored through the works of sixteen artists who probe the old T.S. Eliotism of “time present and time past,” mortality, and transcendentalism. One can feel a dark spirit in front of Michael Simpson’s large oil on canvas Squint 33, 2016. At first it appears serene, a pared-back altar, a road to enlightenment. It is, however, the view from a leper’s squint—an aperture built into the wall of a church so that the sick or other “undesirables” wouldn’t come into physical proximity with parishioners. Paloma Varga Weisz’s icon-like Woman, boarded, 2016, carries on this disturbing holy dynamic before we encounter a profusion of images, via John Stezaker’s collages and Sigmar Polke’s manipulated photocopies, that seem to hint at obscure, unreliable truths. Hanne Darboven’s Ohne Titel Monate mit Postkarten (Januar 1990) (Untitled Months with Postcards [January 1990]), 1990, as well as Horst Ademeit’s inscribed Polaroids, play with writing—the information is out of reach, difficult to decipher.
The Night Gallery, 2014, one of three digital projections by Mark Lewis, depicts ancient marble statues tinged with an eerie, alchemical green. David Noonan’s monochromatic silkscreen, Untitled, 2013, is full of James Whale flair, calling to mind the laboratory of a demented inventor. Facing it, Weisz’s Still Life, 2016, presents a body in repose beneath a glass chemistry set. It resembles the morbid double-decker tombs of the Middle Ages. Is he our sage, resplendent in death? Is his final revolt to lie in silence, keeping his secrets from those hungry for wisdom in this time of precariousness? Or has he simply gone to some higher, otherworldly realm? Lewis’s filmic statues smirk silently nearby—they know, but they won’t tell you.
John Currin’s sixth solo show here sees him revisiting old territory. Five paintings each depict a woman or a couple. Two of the couples are elderly and heterosexual (Newspaper Couple and Pistachio, all works 2016); one consists of two middle-aged women taking a break while housepainting (Happy House Painters). The figures all inhabit more or less undefined beige space.
There should no longer be controversy over whether Currin can paint as well as he wants us to think he can. While his work from the 1990s occupied an uncomfortable position between self-conscious badness and an approximation of sumptuous painterliness, since about 2003 the interplay between the aesthetic and emotional registers in his work (beauty and vulgarity, empathy and cruelty) has often been very effective.
Michael Fried observed that the stylistic self-involvement of modernist painting was foreshadowed by the eighteenth-century French taste for scenes depicting figures in various states of absorption. The two elderly couples’ absorption is offset by a device Currin first employed in the late 1990s, whereby objects from traditional still-life paintings, such as candlesticks and porcelain jugs, are piled on top of the figures’ heads. The couples seem unaware of their burdens or have learned to live with them. (The upturned ice-cream cone on the gentleman blissfully ensconced in his wife’s embrace is a poignant touch.) Perhaps they speak to Currin’s feelings about premodernist European painting, a historical burden American art supposedly rejected or overcame decades ago but which Currin has happily, perversely embraced—or learned to live with.
“Love Life: Act 1,” Jonathan Baldock and Emma Hart’s new commission for PEER in conjunction with Grundy Art Gallery and the De La Warr Pavilion, will play out in three parts, the first beginning here. For this exhibition, the artists have refashioned the gallery as a surreal Punch-and-Judy set littered with bizarre handcrafted objects. The two conjoined rooms of the candy-striped space become a gigantic theater for Mr. Punch’s family to perform their cheerfully violent hijinks. Everything is suffused with an air of menace, as though Punch could pop out at any time and brutally beat you with his stick.
In the first room, Baldock has constructed a baby’s high chair out of sickly pink felt and thin metal rods (A Guiding Hand, all works 2016). In the chair sits a grotesque stuffed head, perhaps a child’s, carrying a digital screen that displays a single eye. The eye just stares, occasionally blinking and tearing up, as though it’s witnessed something terrible. On a nearby wall is Hart’s ceramic breasts with bright-red nipples, which seem to have been squeezed to resemble used-up tubes of toothpaste (BooHoo Boob Tube). Jon and Emma is a collaborative recording of the artists shrieking out each other’s names hysterically, orgasmically—a sound track for their sexually aggressive tableau. In the adjoining room, Hart’s trio of ceramic comic-book speech bubbles protrudes from a wall, their silhouettes imitating the aquiline profile of Punch (“You two-faced lying motherfucker”). Their texts yell out phrases such as “the way you use a knife” and “cross your legs”—evoking a feeling not too unlike like that of being trapped in the crossfire of a lovers’ quarrel. Through black humor and innuendo, Hart and Baldock create an engrossingly sad tale where the viewer can decide the finale.
Titled “Early Paintings and Drawings,” this sizable collection of almost fifty two-dimensional works by the recently deceased starchitect Zaha Hadid is a celebration of her noteworthy contributions at the crossover of fine art and design. Housed in a building that Hadid expanded and remodeled with Patrik Schumacher in 2013, the exhibition highlights drawings, paintings, and notebook sketches initially created prior to the construction of her first building in 1993. Citing Kazimir Malevich as her main influence, Hadid’s output does take its cues from Suprematism. Constructivism, however, with its hybridity of form and function, would seem more fitting.
The knockout large-scale canvas Metropolis, 1988/2014, is made up of abstract shapes in a limited palette with sinuous white lines hovering over a vast red field that could be read as a landscape. It greets viewers upon entry and sets a utopian tone, where fluid forms create adaptable habitats for humans. Hommage ŕ Verner Panton and Blue and Green Scrapers, both 1990, are arranged vertically. The works create a rhythmic interplay between colorful, undulating shapes on a black ground: The forms exist in a nebulous expanse in Hommage, and they drift through a subterranean plaza in Blue and Green. An even more traditional ink-on-Mylar drawing such as The Ambulatory and its Connection, 1991, which was a proposal for an extension of the Dutch Parliament in the Hague, resembles a heroic space station or a tricked-out Erector Set, of which mere mortals are unworthy. Donning goggles and headphones, visitors are also given a chance to see Hadid’s paintings in an immersive environmentwith an accompanying atmospheric electronic sound trackas an alluring virtual-reality experience. You stare at a white dot on one of four floating works, only to have it plunge you into an animated realm where flying shapes above and below the surface allow you to live out a fantasy of actually being in the future, if only for a few minutes.
The air has a slightly metallic scent in the dimly lit corridor that is Anselm Kiefer’s Walhalla, 1992–2016, named for what is known in Norse mythology as the “hall of the slain.” It is nostalgic, elemental, and hauntingly beautiful. Oxidized lead lines the walls, encasing wrecked camp beds arranged in a haphazard dormitory fashion. The beds are labeled with the names of figures significant to Kiefer, as well as Valkyries—women who, according to lore, determined the fate of soldiers in battle and escorted the dead to Valhalla. The leaden sheets retain the imprints of bodies, and the casual disarray of a sudden departure, perhaps moments ago, perhaps centuries. The far wall bears the image of a soldier walking toward a stark horizon.
Galleries lead off of the hall in both directions. To the right, they are somber and archival. Arsenal, 1983–2016, is a trove of artifacts, unspooled reams of photographs, disheveled files, and charred stacks of paper spilling from corroded safes. To the left, there is light and color that glows with a heightened intensity after emerging from the shadowed hall. Enormous paintings render the forgotten architecture of Valhalla under billowing, saturated skies. Immaculate glass vitrines house assemblages of objects like reliquaries: bleached clothing, small trees, broken bicycles, and sections of earth.
The poetry of Kiefer’s work lies in his alchemical ability to strike a balance between the intimate and the universal, the moment at hand and the vast, cyclical expanse of history. Often exposing his work to the elements, he allows his materials to speak for themselves. Together, they sound a chord of melancholic and peculiar beauty, impermanent yet somehow resounding beyond the bounds of time.
The years 1966 to 1970, which formed and devastated much of a generation, marked a definitive cultural break during the postwar period in Europe and the United States. The widespread counterculture movement that united London and San Francisco generated a revolution in music, graphic design, fashion, and social behavior. In a lively, multifaceted setting, there was youthful rebellion, lots of great recreational drugs, sexual freedom, feminism, underground publications, anti–Vietnam War protests, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Woodstock.
This exhibition deftly illustrates those five years, without nostalgia, to reconstruct an exemplary historical path via album covers, musical instruments, costumes, song lyrics, books, posters, comics; a spacesuit worn by astronaut William Anders, who orbited the moon; outfits worn by the Beatles, a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1964), and dresses by designers such as Mary Quant and Foale and Tuffin, originally modeled by Twiggy. An extraordinary sound track accompanies the show as well, overwhelming visitors with music that is not only sonorously exceptional but in its time expressed a desire to dismantle mainstream thinking. Everything was consumed quickly, as pop always is, but it was nourishing, replete. And the legacy of that era—aesthetically, politically, poetically—is still fascinating and influential.
But then reality intervened, smashing everything. I saw the show in London the day after Donald Trump won the election. I was dealt a cruel blow in the last room of the exhibition, where the now-iconic Woodstock festival was projected, diorama-like, onto three walls. The gallery space was completely full, with people of all ages. I entered while Jimi Hendrix was playing the “Star-Spangled Banner”—everyone was crying. Hendrix’s distorted rendition, and my wistfulness for this bygone age, concretized something quite terrible for our collective future.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Andrew Kerr’s exhibition is situated in the Modern Institute’s new Bricks Space, a single-room venue on Aird’s Lane which, unlike the gallery’s other white spaces, exists in a semi-dilapidated state, made up of a patchwork of painted walls, wooden flooring, exposed concrete, and tiling.
The atmosphere of the show is sober and scholastic, with the room’s contents resembling the trappings of an art-school classroom or a studio past its prime. Each of Kerr’s five installations is composed of a variety of recycled materials and often hosts the artist’s paintings in muted hues. The works play on and extend the collage-like qualities of their environment. Towamba v St George’s (all works 2016) consists of a board standing haphazardly on black metal table legs. Painted on one side is a caricatured screenshot from the British television program University Challenge, in which teams of four from two universities answer questions on various academic topics.
The television reference lends the other works a particular British flavor. Pasmova comprises a paper saw resembling a cricket bat, on which the word “pasmova” is printed, lying on a cut divan base. A large wall-mounted sea of blue fabric with a small island-like painting pinned centrally to it provides a backdrop to this. Elsewhere, a series of paintings on paper lie at floor level on a cardboard and wooden structure with a white paper fin, as if being shown in a critique.
“Wyndham School of Dancing,” as the show is titled, is an objection to slickness or finish, and the finality and authority they suggest. Bricks Space (a former glass factory) is the perfect complement to Kerr’s installations, as it too comes with a material history to acknowledge and employ. The exhibition’s enigmatic title itself alludes to a space for practice, development, and gestation. The works are obscure and often sad, speaking to both traditional British pastimes and an odd post-Brexit sense of isolation.
Like a nightmarish excrescence, an eight-foot-high oak chest of drawers, with twenty-foot sides, is crammed into one half of an ornately paneled boardroom lined with carved crests and lit by a resplendent chandelier. A cluster of brass organ pipes protrudes from the top of the chest, which supports a six-legged platform for an octagonal windmill that brushes the ceiling some twenty feet up. Most bizarrely, the cabinet seems operated by levers jutting out on one side and is connected by elephantine tubes to three hooped barrels that sit on the floor.
Meticulously fabricated, Rod Dickinson’s Air Loom, 2002, is a re-creation of the paranoid vision of James Tilly Matthews, who in the early nineteenth century was a patient at Bedlam, the infamous psychiatric hospital now converted into the museum where this work currently stands. Many schizophrenics imagine that their delusions are externally manipulated. In Matthews’s case, it was French spies—determined to lead Britain into war with Napoleon—who were poisoning his mind, and those of politicians, by pumping vapors through “air looms” hidden in basements across London. In a corner of the gallery, Dickinson has installed twelve glass flasks labeled with substances including “Putrid Effluvia” and “Seminal Fluid (Male),” the base ingredients from which Matthews’s fictitious operatives concocted their pestilential recipes.
Dickinson’s installation is timely given Edward Snowden’s revelations, the sudden accusations of rigged elections, and shock referendum results. The absurd mother lode for spook fantasists and conspiracy theorists, Matthews’s contraption, brought to vivid life by Dickinson, suits a time when we might wonder anew at voters’ susceptibilities to mind control.
Michelangelo Pistoletto describes his newest work as coming to him like a mirage. And indeed, the half-submerged golden car, Miraggio (Mirage), 2016, serenely located in a fountain of Blenheim Palace, pops out like a surreal prop from a Fellini movie. For Pistoletto, this work sits at the juncture of the natural and man-made—much like Blenheim’s manicured gardens. But it also points to another clash: Arte Povera. Or rather, the collision of blue-chip status with an art that valued the humble and quotidian. One palpably feels this irony in the octogenarian artist’s unusual retrospective, distributed throughout Winston Churchill’s birthplace.
Starting with his mica paintings, 100 Mostre nel mese di Ottobre (100 Exhibitions in the Month of October), 1976—found antique paintings covered with the silicate mineral, situated among the Churchill family’s art collection—to his famous Venere degli stracci (Venus of the Rags), 1967–2013, a large statue of the titular goddess gazing into a mountain of tatters in the manor’s chapel, Pistoletto’s art stuns with its juxtapositions of antiquity and modern waste. But these pieces do fit quite beautifully with their lavish surroundings, suggesting that time—and success—have somewhat softened the artist’s original vision.
Miraggio’s watery reflection also connects to Pistoletto’s mirror paintings, a selection of which fills the palace’s vast library. Thirty-two pieces, collectively titled Self-Portraits (Il Presente/The Present) to Quadri specchianti/Mirror Paintings, 1961–2016, are installed back to back and face to face, creating a veritable hall of mirrors ŕ la Versailles. Here, Pistoletto creates a melancholy sense of time unfolding, where his images meet and merge into one another, seeping forever into our present.