Elective Affinities: London West End Art Exhibition Reviews August 2014

Art Exhibition Reviews

Blain/Southern – The Space Where I am

The West End’s Blain/Southern presents the group exhibition ‘The Space Where I Am’ exploring concepts of the void and emptiness seen in contemporary art from the 1960s to the present. The title of the exhibition is taken from French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 book ‘The Poetics of Space’. As Bachelard explored the dialectic between individual and space often intimate and domestic; the exhibition examines the relationship between absence and presence in the creation of the contemporary art object over a period of 50 years – and its changing dialectic with the viewer. With Artists Michael Joo, Donald Judd, Lucio Fontana, Carl Andre, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Bill Viola, Gerhard Richter, and Rachel Whiteread, among others – it is the late Gordon matta-clark’s 1977 print ‘Office Baroque’ – marking the artist’s site specific dissection of an Antwerp building that truly resonates with Bachelard’s philosophical imagination and aesthetic.

Blain/Southern – The Space Where I am – until 27 September.


Frith Street Gallery – Mirror

Frith Street’s summer exhibition ‘Mirror’ is comprised of four artists exploring philosopher Jacques Lacan’s hypothesis that the formation of identity arose from the recognition one’s own reflection. All the artists in the exhibition work within aspects of portraiture and the linear narrative structures of storytelling. ‘Mirror’ presents the subtle subversion of the portrait in art. With artists Mohamad Bourouissa presenting photographs of Brooklyn shoplifters as a portrait of the community, Victor Man’s deconstruction of the icon as layers of identity, and Margaux Williamson imagines the work of another artist through 15th century miniaturist Jean Fouquet’s interest in the painter’s eye – It is Fiona Banner’s hand created ISBN number in neon ‘The Vanity Press’ that is a self-portrait of her publishing imprint under the same name, highlighting our identities in biography, history, and the written word as existential narrative – and the artist’s video installation ‘Mirror’ in which Samantha Morton delivers a monologue of Banner’s intimate written portrait of her nude form while being painted by the artist – a recording created without the knowledge of Morton at the time – that both deliver intricate and multiple narratives on the reflexive forms of portraiture, with a hint of the self-conscious.

Frith Street Gallery – Mirror – until 16 August.

Simon Lee Gallery – Elective Affinities  (Top Photo)

Simon Lee’s ‘Elective Affinities’ group exhibition purports to propose ‘an alternative to the drive toward abstraction and the evacuation of content’. This could be seen to be achieved through each work having a duality and conceptual dialectic between form and material, or through parallel systems that are juxtaposed; creating a conceptual Raison d’être. The title of the exhibition is taken from an 18th century classification of scientific research to describe dissimilar substances that react and create a third. Goethe adopted the term as a metaphor for the laws of social bonds and interactions. Sherrie Levine’s ‘Cradle’2009, makes material the cradle missing from van Gogh’s painting ‘La Berceuse’ 1889, the permanent bronze fabrication of a missing element. While Allora & Calzadilla’s ‘2 Hose Petrol Pump’ 2012, a petrified pump for fossil fuel may be an overt pun on first reading, but also elicits the death of commodification. But it is Matias Faldbakken’s ‘Untitled (Salinger walking away from the interview with Betty Epps, June 13,1980)’ 2014, a hand cast concrete slab sculpture – as if cut from a New York street – with a page torn from a book glued to the upper right corner; that creates a clear poetic affinity between materiality and narrative, as JD walks away.

Simon Lee Gallery – Elective Affinities – until 27 August.

ICA – Journal

The Institute of Contemporary Art’s exhibition ‘Journal’ presents a loose coupling of four artists representing journeys through our contemporary world. The show is an attempt to be immersive and engage the viewer directly in a series of interactions with various media; this includes rather notably Rossella Biscotti’s floor based installation ‘Title One: The Tasks of the Community’ 2012, which takes its name from the treaty that created the European Atomic Energy Community in 1957. The material of the installation is lead from the decommissioned nuclear power plant Ignalina. The viewer is literally confronted with not only the material of the artist’s journey but the direct residue of a transformed material once bombarded with vast amounts of radiation. Not only is this emotive to the viewer but also a Beuysian conceptualisation of substance and material reflecting a knowing history of contemporary sculpture. French artist Cyprian Gaillard presents a conceptual video installation ‘Artefacts’ 2011; in which the artist films the streets of Iraq on his iPhone while being lead through the opposing landscapes of ancient Babylonian archaeology and post conflict debris by American soldiers – often seeming like tourists. The film was transferred to 35mm film and placed into a device that would degrade it slowly while it loops for the viewer. The piece is hypnotic and enthralling as it juxtaposes the redundant yet seeming permanence of ‘Babylon’ with the fragility and impermanence of a contemporary Iraq.

ICA – Journal – until 7 September.


The Skarstedt Gallery – In Homage.

The Skarstedt Gallery’s exhibition ‘In Homage’ is a collection of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century and brings together six paintings that were in turn influenced by their historical peers. The show explores how artists are influenced by their predecessors not only through formal comparison but also through technique; whether through Richard Prince’s ‘Untitled (de Koonig)’, 2008 an inkjet montage of appropriated de Koonig’s and vintage pornography, the work is simultaneously homage and a desecration, without the presence of Prince as an identity – which of course – is always the case. There is also a rarely seen Francis Bacon: ‘Study for a Pope III’ 1961 – the formal likeness of the original Velazquez lost to the artist’s painterly debasement of the flesh. The exhibition also includes George Condo, Martin Kippenberger, Andy Warhol, and finally Sigmar Polke with his ‘Prince-like appropriation’ through assimilation. The artist was heavily influenced by Goya as seen in his 1982 painting ‘This I How You Sit Correctly (After Goya and Max Ernst)’ with a superimposition of both artists imagery as a homage to Goya’s ‘Ya tienen asiento’ 1799, and Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de bonté. Polke uses the principal motif of the woman with  upside-down chair on her head; juxtaposing a light absurdest touch with Goya’s social concern. A collection of seminal artworks reminding the viewer of the unbreakable thread of influence; as Picasso said – the painter “has a father and a mother; he doesn’t emerge out of nothing”.

The Skarstedt Gallery – In Homage until 8 August

Words: Paul Black © Artlyst 2015 Photos Courtesy Various Galleries all rights reserved


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