London Art Exhibitions November 2017 Explored By Paul Carey-Kent

Ai Weiwei at the Vinyl Factory London

London is awash with more must see international exhibitions than perhaps any other city in the world. Paul Carey-Kent is out and about visiting many of the great shows on offer. 

Chaim Soutine: Pastry Cook of Cagnes, 1922

The place to be at the moment is  Somerset House  and surrounds: there’s a wonderful 21-work Soutine portrait show at the Courtauld, Hassan Hajjaj has an innovative presentation in the Terrace Rooms, and Lisson (with twenty major installations), Vinyl Factory and the Koenig Gallery have projects a few yards away on the Strand…


Richard Long’s Avon mud painting for the Lisson show is, well, long – 60 metres…
Top Photo: Ai Weiwei at the Vinyl Factory London

And then there’s this…

Melancholia. A Sebald Variation @ Inigo Rooms, King’s College London, Somerset House East Wing
To 10 Dec:

Still from Guido van de Werve: Nummer Veertien: Home, 2012

With so many big shows having opened for Frieze week it would be easy to omit the basement galleries under Somerset House’s East Wing, but that would be a mistake. Rather, you should take two hours out of the  hurly-burly for this paradoxically uplifting exploration of melancholy. Inspired by WG Sebald, especially ‘On The Natural History of Destruction’, it starts with Durer, incorporates the WW2 bombing of Germany and unseen work by Tacita Dean and Anselm Kiefer among others, and pivots on a cinematic presentation of Guido Van der Werve’s hypnotic 54 minute film Number Twelve, Home, which starts on the hour and demands to be seen in full. Then you can ponder whether ‘in the description of the disaster’, as Sebald claimed, ‘lies the possibility of overcoming it’.


Jeremy Wood: My Ghost, 2015 – a GPS track of his movements around London over 15 years


Herman de Vries: The Return of Beauty @ Cortesi Gallery, 41 & 43 Maddox St – Mayfair

To 18 Nov:
Herman de Vries (born 1931) was part of the zero movement in the early 60’s, from which material minimalism he has progressively infused the natural, its relation to man, and – as flagged by the title here – the potential return to beauty through the man-made’s reintegration with nature. He represented the Netherlands in the 2015 Venice Biennale, but has shown little here, so this impressive retrospective is most welcome. By way of a taster, it includes thousands of rose buds; various shades of ashes; all the leaves from a given branch; meadowland pressed behind glass; newspaper in systematically varied stages of deterioration; and a text work which enjoins us to ‘be happy’ – as de Vries does at the end of his phone calls – but repeats the word ‘happy’ thousands of times in a rainbow of colours. You’ll be happier if you see it.

Light in Motion: Balla, Dorazio, Zappettini @ Mazzoleni, 27 Albemarle St – Central

To 9 Dec:

Giacomo Balla, Compenetrazione iridiscente N. 15 , c. 1912

The Turin / London gallery uses its newly-expanded exhibition spaces effectively to set up a series of cross-generational trialogues revealing the affinities between the Italians Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), Piero Dorazio (1927-2005) and Gianfranco Zappettini (born 1939). Balla’s ‘iridescent interfaces’ in particular shimmer in the manner of work made 50 years later, but the less directly futurist works seen here were largely forgotten until championed by his much-younger friend Dorazio in the late 50’s. Dorazio himself feeds the other key influences of Mondrian and Delaunay into explorations of colour and wave which, judged by Frieze Masters, are increasingly sought after. Zappettini draws the viewer into the optical and structural syncopation simply by applying plastic – sometimes coloured – over black and white drawings.

Gianfranco Zappettini, Strutture in BX 2 , 1965-1967 , 80 x 80 cm


Martin Puryear @ Parasol unit, Wharf Road – Hoxton

To 6 Dec:

A storied fifty year career lies behind Martin Puryear’s overdue first UK retrospective, which nods to his original training as a print maker but concentrates on a substantial grouping of sculptures. They succeed by combining subtlety – in the hand-honed use of wood in particular, in how undidactically the history of the African diaspora is invoked –  with a frequently large scale and clarity of forms which achieve a human yet mysterious ‘rightness’ which is easy to recognise but hard to pin down. There’s plenty of ambiguity too: is Night Watch a field of corn, a hair transplant writ large, a broom to sweep away or bristle to enumerate the anxieties of insomnia, or a reference to Rembrandt?

‘Big Phrygian’,  2010–2014. Painted red cedar, 147 x 102 x 193 cm
Mediengruppe Bitnik: Are You Online Now? @ Annka Kultys Gallery, 472 Hackney Rd – Cambridge Heath

To 11 Nov:

The Swiss collective (read the odd name as ‘not mediengruppe bitnik’) imaginatively subverts the online world, here with a striking installation which operates in appropriation and exposure mode, but also metaphysically. When the ‘adultery arranging’ site Ashley Madison was hacked in 2015, it became clear that almost all the subscribers were men talking – expensively – to an army of 75,000 female chatbots.  Ashley Madison Angels At Work in London allows us to screen test five of the 436 fembots ‘entertaining’ some 200,000 London-based users through various chat-up lines. Do they pass the Turing test? You’ll think not, which just goes to show how fully – perhaps desperately – their interlocutors must have suspended disbelief *.  And yet this could be the future…

* Though not all of them: see the full story here


Laurent Grasso: The Panoptes Project @ Olivier Malingue, 143 New Bond Street – Central

To  9 Dec:

Laurent Grasso, The Panoptes Project at Olivier Malingue, London. Photo: Marcus Peel

This unusual, dramatically lit, dark-walled show comes from inviting Laurent Grasso (well-known in France as winner of the Turner-equivalent Marcel Duchamp prize in 2008) to combine his own work with choices from the gallery’s secondary market collection: Ernst, Picabia, Picasso, Magritte, Brauner… Grasso immerses us in gazes echoing the myth of Argos Panoptes, a giant covered with a myriad of eyes. His own additions of floating eyes onto found landscapes, and eyes-only copies of historical portraits, act as recurring motifs as surveillance, astrological observation and voyeurism come into play…

Laurent Grasso, The Panoptes Project at Olivier Malingue, London. Photo: Marcus Peel


Giorgio de Chirico: Getafisica da Giardino @ Nahmad Projects, 2 Cork St and  Reading de Chirico @ Tornabuoni Art, 46 Albemarle St – Central

To 15 Dec (Nahmad) / 10 Jan (Tornabuoni)

Sun and Moon, 1972
Happy times if , like me,you like all phases of de Chirico. Nahmad has the odder of two substantial shows, for which Francesco Vezzoli installs paintings against a wallpaper background of de Chirico motifs, complete with astroturf floor. There are 18 de Chirico’s: first run 1920’s classics, later ‘self-copies’ of the same subjects, some misdated by the artist (can you forge yourself? Discuss), self-portraits in his ‘old master’ style… and an ante-room full of the little-known late motif of the sun as a character which can, for example, sit on a chair. Vezzoli contributes three works: paintings which vary de Chrico’s originals in appropriate spirit, and a classical torso to which he has added a de Chirico head à la tailor’s dummy.  Great fun, and well complemented by the more scholarly presentation of 25 de Chirico’s at Tornabuoni.

Installation view at Nahmad Projects



Tom Wesselmann: Bedroom Paintings @ Gagosian Davies Street & Tom Wesselmann @ Almine Rech, Grosvenor Hill – Mayfair

To Dec 16

Bedroom Painting #21, 1969-1975

I guess one thinks of breasts  for Tom Wesselmann’s pictures of body elements, but hands and feet star in the Gagosian half of this double-bill. In the oval Bedroom Painting #21, you might think they are set against abstract elements, but that radical black centre is a curtain, overlapping a green blind, allowing a slither of landscape; and we see yellow flowers, a section of purple wall and a light switch. And if you find it a little cold in its rigorous, formal, implicitly sexual organisation – what are these, adverts for parts of women? – then there’s a warmer, more intimate feel to the complementary show of later work in Almine Rech’s newly-opened basement space, All include the face, such as this mother and baby study, which flowed into a shaped canvas of 1979-91.

Study for Barbara and Baby, 1979
Robert Longo: Let the Frame of Things Disjoint at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Ely House, 37 Dover Street – Central

To 11 Nov:

Study of Eagle, 2017 – 92 x 107 cm
This, Robert Longo’s  most substantial show yet in Britain, features 30 works, many of them enormous charcoals in  his signature, darkly radiant, technique.    True, Longo makes images because he loves them, but he looks for subjects which resonate both personally and publicly and come together to form an engaged account of the world with seduction and power at its centre. Here the overview, under a title taken from the doomed Macbeth, incorporates Ely House’s former life as the home of the Abelmarle Club, terrorism, resonances from art history, and a unsurprisingly jaundiced view of America now. The backstory and interconnections ratchet up the power of individual works, which include a friend in a Burka, X-rays of famous paintings, a redacted Guernica, bullet holes in glass, a ravaged stars and stripes, and the ‘paths of the mind’ which merges tree and brain images in the wake of his stroke in 2013.

Untitled (Copenhagen, February 14, 2015), 2017 – 260 x 3015 cm


Leonardo Ulian: Real Reality @ Beers London, 1 Baldwin St – Old Street

To 11 Nov:

Fireworks (2017), copper and concrete on steel plinth, 210x30x30cm


London-based Italian Leonardo Ulian, who has degrees in micro-electronics and fine art, has become associated with intricate ‘mandalas’ built out of computer components. He moves those on in his new show, focusing on the hippy aspect of their ‘tech meets spirit’ vibe by integrating backgrounds of graphic colour blocks such as a mystic-looking sun and mountain. More radically, ‘Fireworks’ takes the looped copper wires further into 3D as another transformative experience is summoned, with economically surprising use of coloured sands on the wire ends to imitate sparklers, flowers and nerve ends. And ‘Labor Intra 1001’ lays out a complex but theoretically solvable maze to suggest both the brain’s circuitry and the thinking going on in ours should we attempt it.

Labor Intra 1001 (2017), copper wire on canvas


Nature Morte @ Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard – city of London

To 2 April 2018, £8:

Caroline McCarthy: Vanitas, 2007

The large but little known Guildhall Art Gallery has a significant collection of Victorian paintings, currently complemented by and integrated with over 100 contemporary still lives. They provide new spins on flora, vanitas, food and domestic objects in a show – organised by Peckham’s MOCA – which toured the world three years before arriving in London. You’ll find, Andro Semeiko’s 1.5m square  “Very big chocolate cake”, a tribute to potential excess, more healthily topped by a 2 m high painting of cherries by Martin Gustavsson; and library of woodland books by Conrad Bakker; a Fright Wig made from household dust by Paul Hazelton; Caroline McCarthy’s image of a skull made from Ben-Day dots punched out of a binbag hung next to it, waste to waste; and two classic Fantin-Latour florals – while both Philip Pirolo and Michael Petry (also the lead curator) make striking works which equate flower and anus.

Michael Petry: Red Roses, 2009 – one of three blown glass and cut flower arrangements in which the rim of the vase is taken from online submission  of anus shapes, and  each flower choice  represents a man’s sexual preferences via the 1970’s gay hanky colour code.


Words: Paul Carey-Kent Images courtesy / copyright the relevant artists and galleries


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