Ian Davenport, Gary Hume, Michael Landy

Karsten Schubert

Ian Davenport, Gary Hume, and Michael Landy are three of the artists who took part in the recent “Freeze” exhibition in London’s Surrey Docks. The show was organized by the participating artists and housed in vacant warehouse space. Because the building was otherwise unoccupied and outside the normal art circuit, the artists were able to keep the show open for as long as it took to sell all the work and cajole the requisite dealers into taking a look. As is usual in London, no one was prepared to show much interest until Americans started making noises, at which point it seemed as though everyone fell over themselves to grab whatever morsel of the action they could. The work here displayed a renewed concern for the broader political issues within and around art practice. As such, the ’60s seemed to burst out all over the show, although not in any very coherent way. As a result of such inconclusiveness, the question arises regarding the extent to which the atavistic look of the work is important as a signal of meaning, rather than merely as an indication of wistful musings on history.

Ian Davenport produces vertical columns from successive loose dabs of a large brush. Paint dribbles out of the sides of these, merging with adjacent columns to produce an effect somewhere between Morris Louis’ “Unfurleds” and some of Richard Long’s gravity-aided mud-spatter drawings. Exactly where one would place the emphasis within this range is not at all clear; Davenport’s palette is dull, industrial, and gives no clue. Michael Landy’s wall pieces are fashioned from huge pieces of blue PVC sheeting, tucked and fastened with large crocodile clips. The sweeps and folds of the materials are extravagant; combined with titles such as Cavalier II and Astra (both 1988), the works become larger than life, nostalgically evoking expansive gestures and lofty aspirations. None of this is really thrown into question, as one suspects it ought to be, by the low-brow visual and tactile qualities of the materials. Gary Hume uses domestic gloss paint for his three versions of Mint White Doors, 1988. Gloss all but obliterates whatever it is laid over, a very important unpainterly quality. All that is visible in these visually resistant, monochrome surfaces (and then only when looking obliquely to catch the right kind of reflection) is a slight figuring in very low relief. A thin vertical line bisects each large rectangular canvas; circles reminiscent of porthole windows are on either side. Each canvas is built up with over 25 layers of paint, and is covered with sags and dribbles. The story goes that the more familiar Hume became with the gloss paint, the smoother his canvases became.

What such an anecdote suggests is that, if formal properties are the result of serendipity, then the relationships one sees existing in some of this work might be equally accidental. With Hume and possibly Landy, one suspects that once they get better acquainted with what it is they are doing, the work might become more interesting.

Michael Archer