It’s been a funny week here in London, where the art world seems to have decamped to Venice for the opening of the Biennale. I am looking forward to benefiting from all the reviews for my far more edited and peaceful visit later in the summer.
There are many good shows on at the moment, and the tour today with PH, JH and AZ took in a good sampling. It could just be me, looking to make sense out of some crazy times, but I’ve got a hunch that the success of these shows by four artists who span the spectrum in age (the youngest, Oliver Beer, born in 1985, to the most senior, Richard Tuttle, born in 1941), has a lot to do with the way each one makes work that is precisely about making meaning of our common experience. We saw about 10 shows, but these four stood out for me. Here are my highlights of the day:
Fred Tomaselli has been making psychedelic paintings overlaid onto digital facsimiles of New York Times front pages since 2005. At White Cube’s cavernous Mason’s Yard gallery space, around 20 of them are displayed all together and make me feel nostalgic for the good old analog days. The font reassures, the layout is predictable, and the clean black and white headlines, dated and prefaced with the famous motto “all the news that’s fit to print” feels trustworthy, even with Breitbart telling us it ain’t so. In this context, Tomaselli’s painted embellishments – cosmic, sometimes ironic, and brilliantly colourful fantasies overlaid against headlines of financial fraud, Turkish demonstrations and outbreaks of E Coli – highlight the idea that headline facts can be subverted and presented in highly subjective ways. Yes, Rauschenberg gave us the news in his paintings too: he mixed Apollo landings and Vietnam atrocities, combined and repeated them in ways that made the news equivalent to any other element of his paintings; and Picasso gave us newspaper clippings that caused us to find the “jou” in the journal and game in the whole enterprise of image-making. Tomaselli makes the news into both the canvas and the content. News is the foil for his fantasies, and one makes the other equally suspect, or equally believable. That seems to capture the feeling of the times. It’s not just the printed page that has evaporated into the digital ether, but our confidence in what we thought we could trust. We’re left dangling in a world of uncertainty.
Thaddeus Ropac’s new London gallery in Ely House, an elegant 18th century townhouse in Dover Street is magnificent. The inaugural shows include Gilbert and George’s Drinking Pieces , Joseph Beuys drawings, a selection of Minimalist works, and most memorable of all, a sound performance by Oliver Beer. Beer spent six months in the historic townhouse during its renovation, and closely studied its architecture and its potential as a literal sound chamber for harmonic voices. We arrived just as the house began reverberating with beautiful rich and deep tones that were hard to locate until we noticed four men standing in corners of the main lobby, with their backs to us, facing the angles of the walls and singing in muscular, agile voices that filled the volume around us. The human voice can move mysteriously, and with purpose, and if it’s pleasing, it roots its listener in place. I felt reassured to hear human voices powered by lungs and oxygen, to sense the capacity of the gallery’s volume through my ears and to feel the reverberations in my body.
Richard Tuttle has a show called The Critical Edge at Pace. My friends all comment this is “my” kind of show, by which they mean, bits of fabric and textile hanging on the walls. It occurs to me that there are a lot of “my” kinds of shows going on right now – textile is HOT. But of course, Tuttle has been around a long time, and is an old hand at the manipulation of fabric into shapes, textures and configurations. I’ve always liked the way Tuttle invests shapes and materials with an uncanny human quality, preferring the awkward, unkempt and disheveled to the elegant, rectilinear and tidy shapes of minimalism. He doesn’t just play favourites with these underachievers, but forces them up to the front of the class to stand on their own and find their voices.
The work in this show adheres to a more conventional format than I’m used to seeing. Each work is composed of identically-sized, squarish cuts of fabric that are arranged in groups of four, forming a long, rectangular band of colourful compositions. They are noisier and messier than the slightly abject, randomly placed single shapes that I associate with Tuttle. But I love the gusto he’s displayed in the way the panels are sewed together, puckered, pleated, folded, overlaid, and sagging in areas. There’s some pleasure here in all this making, and the shapes have a sure relationship to the body – PH commented that you almost feel you could wear them, or maybe sleep in them like a tent.
Jordan Wolfson treats us more gently in his current show at Sadie Coles, than he does at the Whitney where I saw him last month. At the Whitney Biennial I had waited in line for a pair of virtual reality glasses in order to see the artist’s Real Violence, an experience that left me dizzy and nauseous for a good 30 minutes afterward. It certainly brought to consciousness the way we get inured to what we see through a screen. Maybe the only way to convince us of brutality is to place us there at the scene of the beating to a pulp of one man by another. Could Wolfson be our modern day Hogarth? After all, isn’t computer-generated imagery today’s version of the easily read and digestible engravings and broadsheets of the 18th century? And like Hogarth the moralist, Wolfson exposes our foibles – ok, let’s call it depravity – capitalises on his ability to name it, and places it right under our noses for a good whiff of our shame. It was something of a relief to pad across the plush purple carpeting installed for Wolfson’s current show at Sadie Coles to sit cross-legged and watch a big screen featuring his narcissistic and puerile Huck Finn cartoon character. Wolfson zeroes in on the perverseness of the ways humans treat each other – his retributive voiceover describing, for example, the way a person, presumably a woman, accepts the indignities and sacrifices that accompany a relationship with a narcissistic partner.
Mamma Andersson is showing a new series of woodcut prints at Stephen Friedman. I like her paintings a lot, and get drawn in by the timeless domestic settings she chooses for them. They seem like they are from another era, when things were simpler. This is no doubt connected with her Swedish background, but it’s obviously a direction she’s pursuing with her choice of technique as well. Choosing a medium so connected to the hand, and to the purely analog equality of action and result – satisfies a human requirement for connection with the material, tactile world. The repetition of a small selection of motifs: a hare, a cat, a stag, and a pair of ornate gloves, shows how much she loves the serendipitous results of inking the woodblock in colors of varying viscosity, density and pigmentation.
Mamma Andersson woodcuts at Stephen Friedman
Richard Tuttle at Pace
Oliver Beer’s performance instructions at Thaddeus Ropac