Monday, 11 March 2019

Group Show

Alex Michon encounters a Divine-arama collection of work by artists with more than one string to their creative bows at 'Group Show', an exhibition curated by Pippa Brooks at M Goldstein Gallery in East London.

Bereft of a cleverdicky art-speak title into whose service the original artists intentions are often superficially corralled, Group Show refreshingly presents a visually seductive selection of work chosen by curator Pippa Brooks. Explaining her selective modus-operandi Brooks tells me that she 'likes to chase people whose works I am interested in. Either I know them or I have seen their work on Instagram’.

Ah! Instagram, that finger swiping mothership of look-see artistic promotion which brought me to this show after seeing John Maybury’s daubs, as he called them, on there.

John Maybury, Lost Boys

If there is a unifying feature to the show,  Brooks says that it is that; ‘most of the artists are known for other things’. John Maybury is primarily known as a film maker famous for his award winning Francis Bacon biopic, Love is the Devil

Interviewed in Wylde magazine Brooks explains that ‘What a lot of people don’t know about John Maybury is that he studied film and painting at art school. He started painting his Lost Boys in acrylic paint on top of pages of porn magazines in the late 1970s.’ Unlike most people maybe, I ostensibly knew Maybury as a painter. Back in the day I shared a flat with a student who studied with him at North East London Polytechnic. She would ecstatically talk about his amazing paintings of butch men, and about the writings of Jean Genet which they were both into. Highly influenced by her charismatic college friend, my flat-mate began making large scale paintings of male nudes on grey prison issue blankets. I was totally fascinated by the imagery and her stories of this iconoclastic painter and immersed myself in a lifelong love of Genet’s writings. Although I never saw Maybury’s paintings at that time, when I encountered them recently on Instagram I immediately recognised an affinity with  Genet’s hinterland of ‘toughs’. A previously illicit beefcake beauty gloriously re-imagined through paint.

John Maybury, Lost Boys

At Group Show, Maybury’s Lost Boys are shown mounted in a grid where each painting can be lifted up to reveal the page of the (original 70s /80s) pornographic magazine on which they have been painted. This inclusion of old school porno along with my own quaint referencing of the term beefcake lends an endearing element, which mirrors Genet’s own fascination with tearing out images of criminals from newspapers and mounting them on the back of a regulations sheet on his prison cell wall as a masturbatory aide.

The newspapers are tattered by the time they reach my cell, and the finest pages have been looted of their finest flowers, those pimps, like gardens in May. The big inflexible, strict pimps, their members in full bloom - I no longer know whether they are lillies or whether lillies and members are not totally they, so much so that in the evening, on my knees in thought I encircle their legs with my arms all that rigidity floors me…I have made star shaped frames for the most purely criminal.  In the evening…I turn the back of the regulations sheet towards me. Smiles and sneers, alike inexorable enter me by all the holes I offer, their vigour erects me and penetrates me.   
Jean Genet, Our Lady of the Flowers 

Aside from their erotic charge, Maybury’s boys are stunningly rendered with sweepingly sure brush strokes, luscious sweeps of chunky fleshy paint daubs add to the paintings’ charged atmosphere; recalling a kind of pre-internet porn seductive virile beauty.

Princess Julia x Noki, Backstreet Girls (1 of series)

Princess Julia’s 'day job' is as an influential DJ, writer and as Wikipedia asserts; ‘first lady of London’s fashion scene’. Known for her DJ slots at iconic 1980s club  Kinky Gerlinky where pre-Ru Paul clubbing culture met outrageous drag. For Group Show, Princess Julia has collaborated with Noki a subversive fashion designer and customiser who believes that cutting, stitching or embellishing a garment makes an assault on the homogeneity of mass produced globalised fashion design. Here Noki embellishes Princess Julia’s celebrity portraits of Rihanna, Celine Dion, Grace Jones and Madonna with eyes and smiles which he has cut from a Back Street Boys tour t-shirt. These stitched additions to the paintings are funny but they also comment more deeply on the fleeting nature of celebrity and the prevailing obsessions with contouring, cutting, pasting and plastic surgery perfection seeking.

Louise Grey, Leg It

Other refugees from fashion are the designer Louise Gray who has contributed a limited poster called Leg It specifically for the show and  Liza Keane whose fashion illustrations Brooks came across on Instagram. Keane’s Vol 11: Woman in Love which shows a woman holding a lamb seemingly pierced with arrow tipped branches seems to be a female take on  the iconic (homoerotic) Renaissance paintings of St Sebastian. A sacrificial lamb to the slings and arrows of broken-up-love pain perhaps?

Liza Keane, Love Series vol ll

Elsewhere photographer William Selden contributes two digital prints which lend a quiet and fluid serenity to the proceedings, whilst humour is introduced in the politically tinged illustrations of sometime set designer Millree Hughes one of which shows Harold Wilson in drag and has ‘central casting Welshman’ written in Welsh. As recounted to me by Brooks this is a reference to the Welsh being shafted by various Labour Governments.

William Selden,  Composition in Yellow 

Shiori Takahshi’s Head Piece is perhaps the most indicative of the artist’s other job, that of hairdresser, although as Brooks says ‘she’s seriously inventive with her manipulation of real hair. I’ve watched her weave discarded ring-pulls into hair creating such beauty from trash - something I love.’

Shiori Takahashi, Rodding Road E5

Rachael Robb’s intricate realistically painting entitled Skull seems something of an anomaly here yet if you look closely at this apparently traditional still life, the memento mori orb is incongruously painted next to banal items such as a mug with a little cowboy like figure and a ubiquitous bottle of Kikoman soy sauce. The painting’s inclusion in the show is a curve ball which Brooks intended, ‘yes' she says ‘it is a very different sort of painting style and it sort of doesn’t fit but I liked it and I don’t like rules so I put it in!’

Rachael Robb, Skull

Brooks’s individual chasing down of artists for Group Show along with her steadfast aim of not playing by the accepted art world rules has resulted in an interesting eclectic mix of artists whose work speaks for itself. As the curator herself says ‘It either works or it doesn’t’ and here for me at least it certainly did.

Alex Michon 

Group Show
John Maybury, Princess Julia x Noki, Shiori Takahashi,
Millree Hughes, William Selden, Rachael Robb, Louise Gray, Liza Keane
Curated by Pippa Brooks.

1- 14 March 2019

M Goldstein Gallery
67 Hackney Road, London E2

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Refracted Through a Pool of Pink Noise

Toby Upson visits Ghislaine Leung's solo show Constitution at the Chisenhale Gallery in East London.

‘Everything in the exhibition [is] contingent, to foreground its relations and its reliances’ Ghislaine Leung, 2019

Taking her cue from semiotics, Ghislaine Leung approaches art production in the same way an author or film maker might: weaving together a rich set of signs to make tactile the relational structures that underpin our collective social body.

Ghislaine Leung, Constitution, Chisenhale Gallery

Walking in to Constitution I am greeted by the succulent smell of gloss paint and the soft sound of sun-kissed waves. Just like a conch shell pressed to the ear, the static echo of Kiss Magic Heart captivates and entertains in equal measure. Consisting of a ‘double mono channel audio file’ and two speakers exuding pink noise – a specific type of active noise cancelling technology, Kiss Magic Heart's sonic structure is based on the broadcasts from three popular music radio stations (Kiss, Magic and Heart). Not recognisable sounds, nor ‘music’, but a tranquil hum, the evocative track conjures memories of the aughts of an idealistic childhood, a Blue Peter ‘one I made earlier’ moment. This pink noise technology is normally used in headphones, to improve the listening experience by reducing interferences from the outside world. Kiss Magic Heart flips this closed technology making the closed open. By flooding Chisenhale’s space with pink noise, Leung amplifies not only the architecture and the other works in the show, but also our role as the listener. As we manoeuvre through the space Kiss Magic Heart's sonic structure alters, bending around the other works, and around our fellow listeners to make obvious the legislative structures which control our relationships to external interference.

An efficient output created through a complex, techno-sociological / conceptual, layering of construction (and conception) processes is a common thread running through the exhibition. More than just mere evocative layering however, the melancholic atmosphere produces a holding experience - akin to the childhood sensation of being mesmerised by a TV show - echoing the hidden processes, social systems and structures that compose the domestic conditions we are contained by. 

Scoping the gallery three sets of metal panels contain Constitution’s narrative; much like an aughts sitcom each set can be read individually, or as part of Constitution’s whole, a work in its own right. Parents, Children and Lovers all consist of clean white corrugated panelling framed and locked in place with powder-coated metal brackets and industrial bolts. A single power socket – made safe with rubber stoppers - provides each with its own charge. Much like workers in a factory or modern office block, each panel is simultaneously the same - locked into the concrete structure of the gallery, drawing power from the overarching electricity supply - and an individual, with the possibility of using this charge to their own ends. This paradoxical co-dependency is another theme running throughout the exhibition.

As artworks we see this individuality in action: the unifying panels that form the base of Parents are adorned with a set of perfectly glazed windows and a single monitor screen playing a looped stuff-a-loons video tutorial. Viewing this work, I am hit by a fussy nostalgia for childhood balloon filled excitement. Locked to the wall at knee height, to see the video one has to back up against the gallery’s newly glossed white walls (Toons). To experience the work, one has to participate in a somewhat uncomfortable performance. Like an instructional based artwork (without readable instructions), at its heart Parents is an ironic play, a sardonic experience, where didactic directions take the form of kitsch film fun.

Ghislaine Leung, Constitution, Chisenhale Gallery

Children and Family feature similar occulted layers of media, affect, and critical irony. Children’s narrative is provided by a portable battery, a nightlight, heater and stickers. In a disheartening move - one akin to my experience with most technology - Leung’s battery has only three hours of power and takes over 18 hours to charge. By stipulating that the work only physically exists when the heater and nightlight are on Leung adds a layer of irony to the work. Family is perhaps the most technical set of panels, in terms of media performativity. A suburban house light has been added to each panel, one, fitted with a security sensor, flickers to life when it senses movement in its vicinity. Described as ‘winking’, this light soon switches off when it is rejected. Similarly, the second light, fitted with a heat sensor, switches on when the gallery’s space is 16C - the ideal temperature for working conditions. Again, as a sardonic gesture Leung makes clear that Family is only a work when both lights are switched on. These stipulations and the paradoxical use of media, highlight a co-dependency on the other and indeed, a more concrete dependency on the system to provide us a with legislative body and social meaning.

Our relationship to, and co-dependency on, others and our constitutional system are explored further in Bosses. A caricatured vein bringing life to Constitution’slimbs, Bosses consists of 20 flamboyantly wrapped gifts - a pair of oversized 'The Boss' mugs (Bosses II), engulfed in transparent cellophane and adorned with extravagant red ribbons. Arranged in a systematic row the gifts are overlooked by the three sets of panels, as if they are anticipating a dramatic breach of the cellophaned skin. As a work composed of smaller editions, Bosses is only alive when all 20 limbs are collected together and reconstituted. In stipulating this, Leung immediately questions ideas of distribution and ownership. More than this however, by antagonising the gallerist, curator and collector, Leung uses the artworld system (one full of occulted layers) to question ideas of identity-dependency and individual value. 

Leung’s interest in constitutional structures and the systems we live through extend from the workplace to the home. Often blurred and transactional, Leung’s practice gives the conditions and dependencies which structure our attachments a cartoonish character: everyday dramas are foregrounded through refinement and emotive theatricality.

As with all sitcoms, the credits come at the end of the show. Photographed by Leung over the development of this commissionLoads, a touchscreen tablet consisting of 272 photos, provides an overview to the everyday tat which has shaped Constitution’s complex storyline, the work which Leung describes as 'the exhibition consisting of the following works: BossesChildrenCloserFlagsKiss Magic Heart, Loads, Lovers, Parents and Toons.’ In this final flourish Leung uses these credits (a somewhat creative reference to her past in structuralist film) to question the unstable position and open/closed relationships in flux, which underpin contemporary western society. 

Ghislaine Leung, Constitution, Chisenhale Gallery

In 2019 we seem to be in a state of constant negotiation, without a concrete constitution – much like the UK its self. We are looking for a descriptive route to follow. Instead of legislative assurances however, we are comforted by the safety of a tranquil fiction, we sit back and laugh at the quasi-Netflix sitcom, but only to realise we are actually looking in an oversized kitsch mirror.

Toby Upson

Ghislaine Leung
Chisenhale Gallery
25 January – 24 March 2019

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The Skin I'm In

In the third of our reports from Frieze 2018, Sarah Cleaver curates a semi nude collection.

Every year I walk around Frieze with headphones on to exclude myself from the crowd, at the pace of an irritable father trying to speed through the Saturday family activity. I stop when I see something I love, and this year it was these 3D works by Martin Soto Climent that seemed like flesh coloured tights, the ugliest thing in the world made beautiful. My mini curation is #sendnudes, works that are reminiscent, not of real skin, but skin on the internet - re-coloured, re-molded - made better. 

Martin Soto Climent

Peter Vermeersch

Dinh Q Le, All the Boys in the World

Dinh Q Le, All the Boys in the World (detail)

Michael Borremans, Lily, 2017

Walter Pfeiffer

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Point of View

Social Work, a curated section at Frieze London 2018, featured politically engaged female artists of the 1980s and 90s. Following this strong female focus, and to coincide with our next issue of Garageland, themed (Difficult) Women (to be published on 28.10.18) Alli Sharma picks out some works with a female perspective.

Mounira Al Solh, Two shooting grandmothers, 2016, oil on canvas, 145x114cm
Sfeir-Semier Gallery, Beirut

Sophie von Hellermann, With Pierrot, 2018 acrylic on canvas 180x230cm
Greene Naftali, New York

Rose Wylie, Black Rescue Horse with White Bird of Truth, 2018, oil on canvas in two parts, 334x183cm
David Zwirner

Lisa Yuskavage, Couple in Bed, 2017, oil on linen, 195x178cm
David Zwirner

Elizabeth Macintosh, Parts, 2018, flashe and oil on canvas, 134x227cm
CANADA, New York

Ipek Duben, Sherife III, 1981, oil on canvas, 110x80cm
Pi Artworks, London

Raphael Simon, Kragen, 2018, oil on canvas, 160x200cm
Galerie Max Hetzler

Food for Frieze

Cathy Lomax visits Frieze London and Frieze Masters and devises a visual feast

Every year when I visit Frieze London and Frieze Masters I start to curate my own mega exhibition, gathering work from galleries from across the globe, and including cutting edge contemporary artists with grand masters. But this game only works with a theme. The theme is not  preconceived - it is decided upon spontaneously, derived from the work that I see on display.

This year my theme was food. I can't pretend that this is the ultimate food exhibition curated from Frieze London and Frieze Masters 2018, because maybe I missed things (I always miss things at Frieze - a friend will say 'wow did you see the Diebenkorns?' and I'll have to admit that I didn't). So please feel free to suggest things that I may have missed.

Marcel Van Eeden at Sprüth Magers

Maria Farrar, Brioche con Gelato, 2018, 180x130cm at Mother's Tankstation

Avigdor Arikha, Figs, 1974 at Blain Southern (Frieze Masters)

Elizabeth McIntosh, Split Strawberry, 2018 at Canada, New York

John Baldessari, Fake Carrot, 2016 at Marian Goodman Gallery

Euan Uglow, Loaf, 1981-83 at Marlborough (Frieze Masters)

Karen Kilimnik, Dinner at Liberaces or one of Liberaces beloved pets eating dinner without him enquirer photo back entrance LA Club, 1987, pastel on paper at 303 Gallery, New York

Maria Farrar, Marzipan, 2018, 180x130cm at Mothers TankStation

Matt Mullican, Untitled (Yellow Monster 21), 2017 at Mai 36 Callerie, Zurich

Zilla Leutenegger, Vincenz, 2018 at Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich

Peter Doig, Contemplating Culture, 1985, 195x241cm at Michael Werner Gallery

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Spike Island in the summer

Fountains and blown glass chandeliers at Spike Island, Bristol.

Zoë Paul, Land of the Lotus Eaters, 2018

It’s an uncomfortably humid day in Bristol when I set off for Spike Island, and as I heave myself across the harbour-front through throngs of clammy city-dwellers and tourists it’s hard not to dismiss the idea that this might be a day better suited to ice cream than contemporary art.

Nonetheless, Spike Island’s redbrick facade emerges from the haze, and its high warehouse-like ceilings always offer respite from the heavy air.

Zoë Paul, Sebil, 2018

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Life in Motion: Francesca Woodman / Egon Schiele at Tate Liverpool

Kirsty Buchanan finds a compelling sense of urgency connecting these two very different artists.

I was very excited to see this exhibition as I love an unusual pairing of artists. Sometimes it takes just one other artist to completely transform the context of another, it is like watching an 'in conversation' but more ambiguous. I also love the serenity of Tate Liverpool, maybe because of all the windows looking out over the water. Sadly they decided to board up the windows for this exhibition, which is a shame as the other exhibitions I’ve seen on the top floor are only enriched by the diffused light.

I like the work of both artists and although it might be tempting to look for visual or biographical similarities, I feel that it is irrelevant when you see how visually complementary the works are together. 

Egon Schiele, Standing Male Nude, 1908

The exhibition has clusters of work by both artists in a loose chronology and begins with Schiele’s drawings. My favourite was Standing Male Nude, 1908. I love the sincerity of all of his drawings yet this one seems less stylised and as an ardent advocate for life drawing I find this drawing brilliant. His drawings confidently exclaim what he clearly finds most interesting such as, hair, fingers, nipples and pink cheeks.

A focus on the domestic emanates from both of their work, Woodman is quite explicit about this but with Schiele it is more subtle, the intensity of how the figures are depicted only draws attention to the absence of background which makes me think of bed sheets or white walls. One outstanding similarity is a focus on point of view, each makes use of domestic objects such as mirrors and ladders to find a particular perspective.

The subject of self portrait is prominent but not overtly so, it seems that urgency is most important. In Woodman’s words 'It’s a matter of convenience, I’m always available', there is a clear need to take a photograph or make a drawing but with limited resources. Both artists' works have that sense of speedy depiction about them. In Schiele’s self portraits it is clear that with use of a mirror he is trying to discover something about the human body. Woodman places mirrors as props in her set-ups, possibly alluding to the self-portrait. 

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait in Crouching Position, 1913, 
Gouache and graphite on paper, 323 x 475 mm, Moderna Museet / Stockholm

In one portrait of a woman by Schiele, he draws her nipple as a spiral, affirmation that there was such a tight connection between his eye and the end of his pencil and how felt his line is. I noticed a similar interest in curved lines with Woodman and a connection with the beautiful eel photograph, which is also 'felt' in the way she uses the slippery and curved form of the eel to draw parallels to the curves of her own body. Both artists were prolific and their drawings and photographs were made up of speedy actions. That urgency has a melancholy significance, when with hindsight we know that their lives ended prematurely.

Francesca Woodman, Eel Series, Roma, May 1977- August 1978

Life in Motion: Francesca Woodman / Egon Schiele is at Tate Liverpool until 23 September 2018