Gabo, Burgert, Merz, And Bochner – London West End Exhibition Reviews November 2014

Jonas Burgert

STÜCK HIRN BLIND – Jonas Burgert At Blain/Southern

Blain/Southern presents the exhibition ‘STÜCK HIRN BLIND’; this is a new body of work by German artist Jonas Burgert – his first solo show in London in over five years. The exhibition includes his largest painting to date, a monumental work spanning eight metres, together with two figurative sculptures, each modelled from clay, cast in bronze and hand-painted by the artist.

Burgert’s paintings present a menagerie of contorted fantastical sights in the artist’s trademark fluorescent colours –  a collection of acid yellows, electric blues, purples, pinks and reds. The work is a paradigm of frozen moments from a deranged Grimm Brothers’ fairytale.

The effect on the viewer is more absurdest and engaging than actually unsettling, with a vibrancy of colour that insinuates the unreality of the image before us; nightmare returns to dream-scape; then lapses back to nightmare. The artist’s work brings to mind the British painter Justin Mortimer’s Baconian nightmares in fetishistic flesh; a psychological mise en scene of necrotic hues, frail bodies, victims of some amoral goya-esque performance; but on some sort of hallucinogenic compound administered with candy.

The paintings each display a narrative of frozen temporal conundrums; in the exhibition’s largest canvas which is described by Burgert as ‘an abstract mountain of trash’ the surface image becomes distorted through the accumulation of multiple layers of paint. It is as if the detritus of humankind has suddenly fallen from the sky, or burst out of the earth, leaving the surviving humans to contemplate what sequence of events led to the disaster that has befallen them.

Burgert is like a drug-fuelled Hieronymus Bosch through a magnifying glass; the paintings are works as spectacle; akin to immersive Baconian ‘cartoons’.

STÜCK HIRN BLIND | JONAS BURGERT – Blain/Southern, London Hanover Square – until 22 November 2014

Alan Green Selected Works 1972 to 2003 At Annely Juda Fine Art

Annely Juda Fine art Presents the late artist Alan Green’s selected works from 1972 to 2003, exhibiting the artist body of ‘experiential abstracts’. Green wanted to create “ordinary paintings as ordinary as the real world”. This came from his belief that, in the second half of the twentieth century, artists carried too much baggage to be able to experience “things”.

Green was considered one of the great British abstract artists whose formative years were spent in London in the 1960s. The artist originally trained as an illustrator and graphic designer which freed Green from the theoretical constraints of his peers.

The show includes paintings and drawings, some over three meters in length, exploring concealment and transparency. The texture and method of application is ever-present; as the artist variously used multiple layers of his own paint that was mixed from raw pigment and applied with the use of stencils, combs and brushes. This oeuvre encourages the viewer to analyse tone, and plane. But the works also have a resounding physical presence.

The exhibition is a reflective musing on the artist’s intricate juxtaposition of colour and form; elegiac in tempo and precise in use of colour to pitch a precise opinion on the ‘Abstract’. Greens show is quietly reflexive and yet thoroughly enjoyable. It is, as Green himself said, as if the “painting can become like a symbol of a painting”.

Alan Green Selected Works 1972 to 2003 – Annely Juda Fine Art London – until 17 December 2014

Naum Gabo – Gabo’s Stones At Annely Juda Fine Art

Annely Juda Fine Art is actually presenting two for the price of one it seems; with an exhibition of works by Naum Gabo, on the floor beneath Alan Green’s abstracts – which focus on his series of stone sculptures and drawings.

Gabo conceived his first stone sculpture in 1933 and went onto make stone sculptures over some thirty-seven years with 13 of these in the exhibition, alongside drawings and mono-prints by the artist directly related to his stone sculptures – expressing a life-long endeavour that expresses a true patience and persistence of vision regarding ‘the abstract in nature’; not to mention the use of difficult material in the production of his art.

The artist also explained how he looked for that abstract presence in nature: “in the bends of waves on the sea between the openwork of foaming crests.”

Often juxtaposing modern materiality in experiment with stone, he encircled it with white plastic and a halo of black plastic, which gave the heavy mass of stone a dynamic appearance. The artist called it ‘Construction: Stone with a Collar’. Gabo would take his primary material from nature – yet the resulting works; as seen on display are not a direct response to that environment but instead a juxtaposition with the Modernist abstraction of the period; forming a balanced dialectic, in a discussion with the viewer concerning what they have become, as well as where they have come from.

Naum Gabo – Gabo’s Stones – Annely Juda Fine Art London – until 17 December 2014

Mario Merz At Pace Gallery London

The Pace Gallery London, in collaboration with Fondazione Merz, presents the large scale exhibition of the late Italian artist Mario Merz. The show features works from the 1960s to 2003, this retrospective marks the first major UK gallery staging of the artist’s work in more than twenty years and also the gallery’s first exhibition of Merz’s work.

The artist reacted against the dominant trends in art from the 1950s and 1960s, as so many great artist of the period did – rejecting the mythic aspirations of movements like Abstract Expressionism in favour of a more grounded art practice which prompted the artist’s inclusion in Italy’s loosely organised Arte Povera movement. The Exhibition at Pace is a large installation that mixes material and substance in a quite Beuysian fashion that insinuates that certain shamanistic bent when juxtaposing the man-made with nature.

Merz’s presiding interest throughout his career was the transformation of materials by placing them in contact with alternate forces of energy, a similar response to ideas of nature and art; material and energy reflected by Joseph Beuys around the same period.

The artist stated: “I work from the emotions I get from the archetypal structure that cancels the material. Then, once I have procured the object I try to take possession of its structure with my hands, arranging it in various positions till I feel it is in unison with me physically…,” Merz said. “In fact the point of my work is to regain possession of ‘things’, by avoiding filling them out with projections, and to keep their limited but individual primary presence alive in myself.”

Whether balancing forms including igloo structures with the artist’s centrepiece; Spostamenti della Terra e della Luna su un Asse (Movements of the Earth and the Moon on an Axis) 2003 – the final igloo by Merz – or tables, vegetation, and neon lighting, or even incorporating the Fibonacci sequence, Merz’s is always engaging with a particular energy that is highly reminiscent of those aforementioned shamanistic trends; but the exhibition is certainly engaging, illuminating the artist’s fascination with light and energy.

Mario Merz – Pace Gallery, Burlington Gardens – until 8 November 2014

Mel Bochner GOING OUT OF BUSINESS! (and other recent paintings on velvet) – At Simon Lee Gallery

Simon Lee Gallery presents an exhibition of new paintings by Mel Bochner. This is the artist’s first solo exhibition with the Gallery, and the first presentation of his paintings in London since the exhibition ‘Mel Bochner: If the Colour Changes’ at The Whitechapel Gallery in 2012. The exhibition consists of a new body of word paintings on velvet.

This was a practice that began with the artist’s impulse to print directly on various kinds of unprimed textiles like linen, cotton, and silk. Unfortunately, without primer, the paint was absorbed into their porous surfaces. Velvet, much to the artist’s surprise, was the only material that kept the paint up; with the kitschy aura of paintings-on-velvet an unexpected but not unwelcome bonus.

With a Pollock-esque interest in paint the artist wishes to highlight the ‘paintness of paint’ with a similar expressiveness of the material itself. Bochner attempts to exploit the nature of the material with a similar understanding as Pollock; there is an desire for the paint to settle in it’s response to physics, action, and energy – it is the surrender of control allowing for the painting to become ‘authentic’. This is juxtaposed with the amusing rectilinear forming of word groups creating ‘meaning’.

This is 21st century action painting juxtaposed with Banner-esque text – as the work uses a computer-controlled laser to engrave the text into a thick acrylic sheet, which serves as a printing matrix before the painting begins. Bochner presents a body of work that at first viewing is reflective of our modern obsession with language; yet it soon becomes apparent that the works are also deeply concerned with the history of painting, and honour a bygone age of the Abstract-Expressionists – with a deliberately contemporary stance.

Mel Bochner GOING OUT OF BUSINESS! (and other recent paintings on velvet) – At Simon Lee Gallery until 14 November 2014

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


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