London Gallery Wrap Up: Bank and Sandback

This gallery wrap-up is driven by the BANK exhibition at MOT INTERNATIONAL (so many caps!), taking in the David Jablonowski show at Max Wigram and a Fred Sandback show at David Zwirner along the way.


Although not a London native, I first heard of BANK  in relation to Melbourne’s own cheeky anonymous collective, DAMP and also as provocateurs in the YBA era of UK art. I have always admired what MOT are doing as a gallery, so it felt right that the two seemed to meet up.

The exhibition is a collection of images, ephemera and original FAX BAK words, as well as a sculpture, a painting and a beautiful light box. It does all seem to be flirting with the exact commerce of art that the collective jabbed at for so long, but I’m sick of artists not being allowed to bite the hands that feed them, so I’d prefer to embrace this particular quirk.

If i had a medium-sized pile of money sitting around that I could invest in art, I would promptly buy all the FAX BAK originals. Not only because they are brilliant, but because I thoroughly enjoyed laughing maniacally at their content.

I didn’t enjoy having to stifle said laughter because nobody else was laughing, but goddamn the works are hilarious. Not just for straight-up wit, but for the sheer embarrassing close-to-home-ness of it all. All that artspeak that I have been super guilty of using in press releases and blurbs about my work, all ripped to shreds.

I enjoyed looking through the table of ephemera (if slightly overwhelming) and the lightbox was quite a beautiful object, as was the large-format black’n’white photograph. I can honestly say that I really didn’t like the sculpture of the BANK team – it was a little too Devo without being Devo enough. But to not like one thing in a whole gallery of works – their not bad percentages.

David Jablonowski and Pavel Büchler at Max Wigram Gallery

I was intrigued by this show. The installations featured a lot of synthetic display-type, media-influenced materials, loads of silver powder coating and plastic shapes, combined with moving image and/or light. I’m still not sure if it was to my particular taste, although I wasn’t completely repulsed. I am a little bored with install-on-floor trend in galleries, and would have liked to see the work get up a little – but there was a bit of 80s Patrick Bateman feeling about the show, which was interesting to me.

To be honest, I actually preferred the Pavel Büchler series of acid and nicotine drawings in the back – something about the simplicity of form and oxidisation process had me. I enjoyed looking at the studies of hands and the survey of the ways in which people hold cigarettes. And I usually can’t stand work that glorifies smoking, drugs or alcohol (I think we deserve better art than that).

Fred Sandback at David Zwirner

The highlight of the afternoon was easily the Fred Sandback show.

His works are site-specific installations of wool/thread lines and geometric shapes that play with perspective, triangulation, linear planes and dimensions. He uses simple colours, often black, red and blue, to outline and alter the relationship between the viewer and the space.

I first saw his work in Vienna at MAQ years ago and it was so great to see work like this installed in a commercial gallery; to play with the space through perspective and simple movement, to have my sense of vision and spatial assumptions messed with in such a delicate and concise way – voilà.

The spiral staircase was the perfect place to install a floor-to-ceiling work and the variety of works and spaces created in the gallery was perfect, and the gallery was packed. So deserved.

objects in mirror are closer than they appear: Project Space Tate Modern

I think the River Entrance Project Space at the Tate Modern is one of the most undervalued spaces in London.  I still think about the delicious Nicholas Hlobo show I saw there 4 years ago and the rest of their shows are consistently great.

Their current show  Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear,  is curated by Contemporary Image Collective Cairo and the gallery is drenched in darkness. The show’s premise is to reduce the privilege of the visual perception and reality –  the catalogue opening with a quote from Jean-Luc Goddard’s Le Gai Savoir, 1969.

“If you want to see the world, close your eyes”

Although mostly video works (which is quite the paradox), they’re all interesting ways of dealing with the theme.

There’s one work which is particularly hilarious to watch other people watching: A Middle Aged Woman by Ján Mančuška.  It’s a text piece – a slowly changing script of a narrative – that is presented on a screen and people sit down on the floor to watch it, like it’s a TV show. The ‘action’ they’re reading on the screen is enthralling and the reactions from the audience are fascinating – a cross between watching moving picture and reading a book. But together, in public. Like a group twitter session or old fashion ticker tape views.

Another ‘text versus image’ work,  Morrissey Foretelling the Death of Diana, is based on the conspiracy theory that the Miserable One predicted Diana’s death through his lyrics. It’s an amusing mash-up of Morissey lyrics, images and pop references connecting music-based poetry with the pastiche of the current Monarchy to create a history that isn’t necessarily real..

Dissonant is a  video installation by Manon de Boer that I came in half way through, so I didn’t get the whole of the work, but I’m going to tell you about the work from my experience.

It began in darkness – you hear puffing and grunting, moving and squeaks of flesh. You get the sense that it’s a woman, exerting herself and because it’s in the dark and I’m a perve, it’s get’s pretty sexual, pretty quickly. I stick with it, wondering what it felt like to listen to someone else having sex and whether, because it’s art, I’m not really prying.

This huffing and puffing sound piece shifts half way through and the video comes (back) into view. It’s not a couple having sex AT ALL, but a dancer rehearsing a contemporary dance work – squeaking and moving, huffing and puffing all over the studio, you perve.

I found that ‘big reveal’ so thrilling! I loved that my first thoughts were sexual, that men left the room all uncomfortable, only to see miss seeing what the true picture was. It also says something about contemporary dance: its sensuality and yet highly visual form.

Reading the catalogue afterwards, I can see that de Boer’s work actually starts with the image of the dancer and her music, with the darkness being half way through. But I don’t think it matters too much – the work is about the darkness, the black gaps that fix our memory of a film and perhaps the intense power of the auditory in a story.

Double is the retelling of a story about parallel universes, by Mančuška. Although in-jokes and meta narrative in art is getting tiresome, what with meme culture knotting us all sideways, this work is enjoyable nonetheless. Probably because, above all else, I love the work of Franz Kafka and this could easily have been made by him.

On a screen, there is an image of a man standing in front of the image of a man on a screen. The second man is sitting, telling a story to someone off screen. It looks like he’s in an institution somewhere, an interrogation room of sorts. The first man is standing, lit as though on stage, telling the same story to an audience off screen, although we only hear his voice narrating. The story itself is one of the first man coming home drunk one night to let himself into his appartment in Praha and faced with a stranger who attacks him. It turns out to not be his appartment, but an exact replica of it in Bratislava  – same section of the city, same looking block, same layout and same key access. A parallel.

Layer upon layer, truth over art over truth, replication and storytelling are all elements to this work. Its simple form allowed for all those themes and ideas to come through.

Yet, honestly, I’m not sure i would have stood and observed the work for as long as I did, if i wasn’t trying to get 3G reception near the door. It’s the first work in the entrance and a little intimidating to stand right in front of the door to view this work. I watched loads of people (friends included) walk right past it. So if you’re reading this before you’ve seen the show, keep that in mind and make sure you stop a while.

image credits:
Double film still, by Ján Mančuška from his site.
Dissonant film still, by Manon de Boer from the Galerie Jan Mot site.

Gallery wrap-up: Judy Chicago and Situations

This week’s art theme is pretty much all about vaginas. It’s odd what trends arise in a city like LondonJudy Chicago is showing at Riflemaker, featuring her early works. Given her particular place in feminist art history, the show was slightly disappointing. The works on  car hoods – specifically the diagrams for them were interesting, but not much of the other works. It coincided with a packed-out session at Whitechapel Gallery, focusing on Judy Chicago’s career, her focus for art as activism and the longevity of her Dinner Party work.

Sarah lucas project space, situation at Sadie Coles gallery featured impressive floor-to-ceiling meat genetalia wallpaper in your face as you walked in the door, including the image of two massive decorated vulva. It was quite spectacular.

The Situation series, run over a month-long period was a courageous show, allowing for a rotating exhibition of works, installations, experimentation and development – works in the ‘kitchen’, on a sink, sitting on tables, hanging from the ceiling and projected onto the wall. It was the welcome antithesis of the ultra-sanitised work of the decidedly boring Richard Prince show downstairs.

Collectors also respond well to works in a space like that. Not every work has to be shrouded in whiteness in order to give it the right space to be.

justin mortimer

I really like the Haunch of Venison’s Eastcastle Gallery.

Each time I’ve been in there, there’s a really great show on, and I can just enjoy the work. I’ve also always felt the staff to be friendly and open (not always a given in Central London galleries).

The show on there at the moment by Justin Mortimer is quite a beautiful show. Mortimer is a painter and, although I have a dysfunctional relationship with painting, this work (and other work of his I’ve seen recently) reminds me why the love exists in that love-hate relationship.
I also feel like Mortimer is addressing a new aesthetic in painting that I haven’t really noticed until now. That aesthetic is something that was actually brought in by photography – something that I call the Vice Mag/Richardson aesthetic. It’s one that, within the context of photography and media arts, I loathe. I cannot stand it and friends know not to mention Terry Richardson in my company if they don’t have 10 minutes to listen to me rant violently.
However, the translation of that harsh, party-party-fuck-me-i’m young-and-sinister look – its framing, lighting and composition – translates really well into painting. Especially in the hands of Mortimer. 
The slightly-detached position that painting affords a dark subject, using contemporary settings, naked youth, stark lighting allows these symbols and meaning of the work to filter through. The wasted youth aspect of the characters in Mortimers paintings are not People I Might Know as they are in Vice mag photo shoots (which is part of my problem with them). In these paintings, they become figures doing actions that i need to pay attention to. They aren’t as directly accessible anymore, so provoke me as a viewer to pay attention.
And yet these scenarios are those that are very much occurring right now. The inbuilt-camera-flash type of lighting contrast (different to actual chiaroscuro), the RGB monitor skin-tones, the urban backgrounds and ‘no pics it didn’t happen‘ style of framing are all those I’ve seen online for the last 5 years. 
This is not the 20th Century I’m looking at, here.
What I also like about these works is that they’re not trying to portray a life I might aspire to, but are not sanctimonious or baroque in codemnation. They’re gritty – possibly depraved – without taking themselves too seriously, and light without being glib (criticisms I have of other media using similar treatment). They’re symbolic, but not so overloaded that they’re confusing; realistic without being self-centered or mind-numbingly autobiographical.
And the great thing is that they don’t look as good in the book. They’re made to be paintings. They’re intended to be experienced as a discreet object, not just an image or a shorthand version of them.
I have issues with paintings that become photographs far too easily – they lose the essence of why using goopy, messy, expensive materials matter. Mortimers works, although drawing from photomedia, are not photos. They’re not even potential photos. They’re solid pieces of shimmering oil that have depth and movement and firmness all at once.
I’m going to go back several times for this one.
image credit: Haunch of Venison’s website
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systems and depravity: sarah sze, the white room, grayson perry and candice tripp.

i’ve been quite ingrained in the residency – not really leaving the ‘compound’ of hackney wick much. but i have tried to at least check out a couple of exhibitions every couple of days – get out of my head a bit.
systems: sarah sze and crystal world

i’m a sucker for a moving system in artwork. 
hany armanious’ worm castings piece bubble jet earth work was the first time i discovered the beauty of watching organic and mechanic process come together in an art gallery.
of course fischli and weiss’ der lauf der dinge is a seminal systemic work that is beautiful and progressive and subtly performative that has become my desert island piece for this kind art.
i recently loved pip stafford’s crystal workall my world is a scaffold in hatched at PICA. i thought i wrote about it here, but it turns out i was too busy getting busy in perth to bother actually blogging about it.
and in the last week or so, i’ve seen two more works that really tickled my fancy, making me think that there’s some of spooky connect happening at the moment:
crystal world at [space] in the white building. it’s across the road from performance space, so i could literally pop in and check it out, watching it grow and change. 
based on JG Ballard’s novel of the same name, it is an exhibition that is the result of an open lab reconfiguring old circuit boards and apple power macs. using rock ores, water pumps and baths, acid solutions, high voltage and electrolysis, the work is developing new forms and chemical muckery. there is a section using the live culture from natural yoghurt (to do what, i’m not sure yet) and mimesis of neuroscientific circuits using natural and commercial electronic elements.
it’s quite intriguing to watch and i always like work that has me looking and analysing the way of things in a beautiful way.

sarah sze is someone who does this super well. i’ve always liked her work and i was quite excited to see her show at victoria miro – especially as i usually only see painting in that gallery. she took over the whole of the ground and first floor galleries with a series of systemic installations.
the ground floor contained about 5 smaller works – from simple linear extensions, to complex and tenuous balancing pieces, some with movement, most with light. they are so exquisite and beautiful.
the whole gallery upstairs is darkened to host a large-scale work in the round that reminded me of a solar system, but also of the camp map of burning man (and image that went around a while ago). a pendulum swings around and across the installation, tracking form, light, connection and space. as well as her sticks and clips and string and paper – there are replicas of contemporary and natural objects, which is something that i noticed (wondering why she didn’t use a real show and/or mice).
you could get lost in following each overlapping track and path that the works make.
depravity: grayson perry and candice tripp

grayson perry is famous here.

i only know that because when i walked into the gallery to see the sarah sze show, it was crowded – full of old women and couples checking out the show. not that sze isn’t entitled to that kind of crowd, but it’s not what i usually see when i go to a show at that gallery. turns out grayson perry is on the telly and now draws massive crowds.

which is great. he has some important things to say about class  – a particularly white english thing that still really exists. and his tapestries in this show are quite amazing. based on rake’s progress, vanity of small differences documents the social mobility of contemporary life – made possible through the technological revolution (following on from the last movement made possible by the industrial revolution). it follows tim rakewell, a kid raised by a single mum and his grandmother, who marries into more money, makes it big as a geek, becomes a classic middle class smartypants, rich nouveau riche twat then ends up in the gutter. grayson’s style is garish and graphic, perfect for tapestry and ceramic vases. he uses symbols, codes and behaviours of contemporary life, so the works are easy to ‘read’.
whilst he doesn’t go into intense depravity, he scratches at the facile and unpalatable pursuit of ‘progress’ and our vapid desires. the courseness of human motivation and relationships vibrates in all those pinks, yellows, bright blues and clashed combinations of colour. they’re quite fabulous.

as a compliment, candice tripp‘s painting show at black rat projects is a stark and dark exhibition of humanity’s fight for survival with similarly depraved means. actually, both shows reveal humans’ mean-ness and shallowness.
children, masked in animals and tribal symbols appear to ‘play’, yet leave each other ostracised, dying, diseased, scarred and discarded. the competition and territorial nature of humanity, especially faced with scarcity comes through.
and maybe because i’m doing a bit of research towards HIV in southern africa, but the dynamics between the young girls in these works and the creepy beautiful titles reminded me of the social messages coming out around the disease: promiscuity, judgement, privilege and ignorance.
all of these shows had a nice balance between the way of things and the way of being. i like it when that happens.
thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx

pink bits (NSFW)

oh hai!

apologies for the big gap in my writing there. i haven’t really felt like writing much in the last couple of weeks – i barely opened my laptop.

having landed in london and started to check out quite a bit of art and a bit of space to myself for a few days (thanks age!), i’ve got the inclination to write again. a bit.

for those who’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll probably remember when i was living here, i went to a gallery every day for 6 months. i think i’ll start that up again.

even in just the few days i’ve been here, there have been some interesting themes popping up in the works i’ve seen.

one of those is erotic, explicit or visceral imagery.

pink bits

i’m not afraid of seeing pink bits in art, but it’s kind of unusual in london for me to see a lot of it. i imagine the english in prime awkwardness getting all hot under the collar when they view it. perhaps because of that, there’s also an amazing contemporary custom of art that pushes sex and viscera (think gilbert and george, cosey fanni tutti, chapman bros, sue webster and tim noble, trace, leigh bowery). perhaps there’s another cycle of art and artists that are sick of being all nicey nicey between the sheets.

**naughty bits coming up **

patricia picinini at haunch of venison

she’s part of a group show, observer, in the eastcastle gallery (which is a great show, by the way) and is presenting two works that are the kind of work i like about this australian artist – the creepy, hairy, orificial, cronenberg-esque, fleshy silicone.

these two relief works are hairy and contain two quite different images – one with obvious orifices, boobs, foreskin, parted human hair. it’s primal. animal. engorged and wet in so many ways;

the other an apparent floral arrangement that william morris might be proud of – if he was, in fact, into arseholes and body hair.

the gallery staff said that most people are grossed out by the works. which delighted me no end. of course.

the back room (female beauty), curators’ series #5 (bouvard and pécuchet’s compendious quest for beauty) at david roberts foundation

this show is really great – featuring the works of some excellent artists (shrigley, turk, demand – to name a few). and there’s also a naughty back room, featuring works by sarah lucas, valie export, john currin and man ray. (images: the spectator by susan meiselas and napoli by john currin)

there are ladies’ spread legs, muffs, images of cunnilingus and fellatio, prostitues, fucking and a beautiful  painting of a girl getting a lovely fingering in naples.

mary reid kelly at dublicowicz collection*
not that this was super racy, but there was a slightly macabre, naked grotesqueness about the play/video accompanied by sexual overtones in the text and dialogue. word images of a uterus, muff and some more boobs for good measure.
family jules NNN (no naked niggahs) by barkley j. hendricks at tate modern

a beautiful black man odalisque painting – leg up, showing off his penis, gaze straight at the viewer, white couch and decorative background. the style of painting is quite like some of the americans – eric fishl and ewan uglow, but the pose is all lucien freud and the tone is all chris offili. it’s brilliant.
in a room full of portraits of white men and women, it was so powerful and sexy.

telephone box calling cards
i forgot that this is what the phone boxes are still hanging around for. i know, not art per se, but still london arousal. they’re such an arresting sight – all those boobs, stars, posturing and phone numbers in a physically contained, but very exposed space. a welcome reminder that londoners are actually a whole lot more public about their titillation than i give them credit for.

i’m loving this mini ‘trend’ to my viewing. there really wasn’t enough sexy art i was seeing back home and it’s the perfect time and i’m in the right frame of mind to enjoy it. i’m craving something not-so-vanilla, provocative, uncomfortable, illicit. and relishing the space and anonymity for it that big cities like london can provide.

*i’ll be writing about the show at this gallery later (because it rocked my socks, yo).

thanks for subscribing to she sees red by lauren brown. xx