Ben Austin’s January Roundup Of London Art Exhibitions

Roundup Of London Art Exhibitions

Well, this has certainly been a busy week for the London art scene with galleries all over town kicking off the year with a series of inspiring shows.

Last Thursday, I attended the opening of ‘A Sense of Things’ at the Zabludowicz Collection. (Top Photo) A bright young things show, with objects a plenty in keeping the aesthetic of the Collection, which has a strong emphasis on concept and artistic essence. This is all very worthy and high minded, indeed much of the work I have had the pleasure of seeing here over the years falls into this ‘intellect art’ category.  The Zabludowicz Collection housed in a stunning former Methodist Chapel somewhere between Chalk Farm and Kentish Town, feels like the high church of contemporary art. A place of worship for the faithful, the followers of cutting edge work, with its’ own language and rituals. This is a divine experience for those familiar with the inner workings of contemporary practice, the devotees of the avant-garde.

The Zabludowicz Collection presents young artists work, the unknown art stars of the future and therefore will sometimes be challenging. I’m not saying the Collection needs to ‘dumb down’ to attract interest, actually far from it. The curators do a fantastic job and I see the Collection as a vital addition to London’s non-commercial spaces and a crucial platform for emerging artists.  The slightly off the beaten track location and a fascinating program of lectures and talks makes the Collection a destination gallery and not everyone is going to ‘get it’, but I guess that is ok too.

The artwork on show is strong, with work from semi-established artists such as Matthew Darbyshire, Jack Strange and Jim Lambie complimenting the relative new and emerging. A special mention to the video artist, Hannah Perry who appears to be the darling of the moment, with her powerful ‘mash up’ piece shown during Frieze at the Moving Museum and more recently at The Saatchi Gallery ‘New Order II’ show (more on that later).

Whilst on the subject of video work, as part of the ‘Invites’ section is the two pieces by Rachel Maclean, like many gallery goers I normally do not have much patience for video pieces, seeking out the instant gratification of the object or painting. But here I was captivated for 40 minutes with Rachel’s  ‘Over the Rainbow’ piece. It is a remarkable achievement featuring several characters within the film all played by the artist, including a baby-blue dog, faceless clones and a talent show judge in 18th Century dress. The film uses an array of found audio taken from a variety of sources: horror films, children’s television, Hollywood movies and several covers of the song ‘ Over the Rainbow’ from the Wizard of Oz.

The piece is drenched with references from popular culture; a baroque setting provides the backdrop for this dark comedy based around a Faustian pact. Rachel cites Cindy Sherman and Paul McCarthy as influences for their use of masquerade and the grotesque. The satirical element stems from an interest in Hogarth and 18th caricature.

This is a super saturated piece, rich and dense, by turns funny and disturbing.  This a real tour de force by a young artist.

Another show I popped into last week was Franz Ackerman at White Cube – Bermondsey. I rather liked these cartographic urban maps, set into a site-specific installation of painted walls, all very vibrant and bold. Darren Almond’s grand and beautifully presented photographic landscapes and sculptural elements occupied the main gallery, really quite stunning.

Finally I went to the opening of ‘New Order II’ at The Saatchi Gallery on Thursday night. Now, I am really not interested in the salacious gossip columns, even though the nation was fascinated by the whole sorry affair. My interest here is in the art on show not the private lives of certain protagonists, although having said that, a ‘cage fight’ between Charles Saatchi and Taki could well be worth seeing as some of comical performance piece.

‘New Order II’ delivers a second round survey of young contemporary British practice and a very commendable selection it is too.  I particularly liked the sculpture by Virgile Ittah, these wax figures seem to be decaying and decomposing before our eyes, almost as if the forces of nature are too much to bear with the skin and tissue being drawn off, revealing the grotesque.

I was also taken by Dan Rees’ plasticine covered panels, which create playful abstraction with an adulating surface. Finbar Ward’s paintings blur the line between the 2D and installation as these pieces are stacked up on the floor making for a minimalist sculpture.

On the subject of minimalism, as special mention goes to Mary Ramsden, I adore her paired down colour plan abstractions, I am perhaps a little biased as I recently showed her beautiful work in the ‘Art Britannia’ show in Miami.

Hannah Perry as I previously mentioned pops up here too, with a more complete installation, incorporating old-fashioned speakers and coloured gels attached to scaffolding poles, this creates an interesting dialogue between these elements and the raw, in your face video montage.  This work a distinctly urban feel, not in a street art context, but in terms of visceral snap shots of British estate dwellers. Text and images are mixed up with thumping bass line soundtrack.  This is a world of ‘hoodies’ and would-be ‘gangstas’, the street kids who ‘ave it large’ and are ‘up for laff’.  This is powerful and uncompromising stuff, although it must be said that we have seen this type of work before, but still Perry’s work has a vitally of now, which can not be ignored.

One last word on The Saatchi Gallery, although not part of the ‘New Order II’ show, the room devoted to the work of Chantal Joffe (photo above) is tremendous, large scale vertical canvases with monuemental painterly figures dominate one wall and opposite a series of smaller work, some very graphic in content. Also I am admirer of Eddie Martinez’ work and the vast ‘last supper’ piece is very impressive on the ground floor of the gallery.

The art at The Saatchi Gallery may not always be on the mark, but it is consistently damn close to it.
Words/ Photos © Ben Austin for Artlyst.

Eddie Martinez ‘last supper’ 2013

Virgile Ittah 2013