London Art Pitch is a monthly column by Jamie Sterns, a New York curator and writer based in the British capital.
“Eileen Quinlan, After Hours” at Campoli Presti, London, through April 18, 2015
Eileen Quinlan works in a medium that seems possibly out of vogue these days: photography. A true student, master, and innovator of this medium, Quinlan currently has concurrent exhibitions at Campoli Presti’s two locations, in Paris and London. The London exhibition is entitled “After Hours,” and it combines new and past works. This exhibition is smart and exact, and it just feels right.
Quinlan’s photographs employ what are now considered traditional techniques: gelatin silver printing, medium and large format cameras, and the use of actual smoke and mirrors to create abstract effects in her studio. One can’t help thinking of the word “process,” but it is not in the familiar, dull way—the techniques she uses are not simply to quote the medium’s history; they are tools she has mastered in order to manifest a potent idea.
This is a show about pairings and groupings. Some works are obviously made for one another; others seem to have been pushed together, or perhaps drawn toward each other through their narrative content.
The pair that sets the tone right away is a photograph of a women’s crotch, Good Enough (2015), which hangs beside Bormo for Beca (2015), an indiscernible abstraction of an unknown material that duplicates the V of this female region. As you absorb this, your eyes catch a glimmer of something on the opposite wall, and when you turn, you see two mirrors, Stand-in for Red Goya (2015). You start to straddle back and forth to see the reflections of the works in the room at various angles. These mirrors emphasize the precision and clarity of Quinlan’s aesthetic. They fit, and they work perfectly in the room.
The V form can be seen throughout the show, most notably in Twinned Mitsuoko (2008–15), a series of 12 gelatin prints of black metallic, reflective surfaces that are pinched at the top or bottom of the work in the center. They are paired in two rows of six, so that an invisible force between the works seems to be causing them to pucker. They feel lush and sexy rather than coldly abstract, and they underscore the show’s investigation into how one thing can be like another, and how anything seemingly fixed is mutable and flexible.
Image making, the surface, the body, the illusions of space, and the creation of narrative through subtlety and chance are Quinlan’s fortes. “After Hours” demonstrates this confidently. The clarity of her vision and execution makes looking at her work continually satisfying, engaging, and surprising.
“Nicole Wermers: Infrastruktur,” Herald St, London, through April 12, 2015
A few weeks ago I made a statement that there could never be an interesting art piece that had a chair as its center. I have been proven wrong by Nicole Wermers’s current exhibition at Herald St, “Infrastruktur.”
The press release suggests that show “look(s) at the structures of ritualised social relation in general and at the material objects through which these relations are communicated in particular.” Nice words, but let’s throw them out for the moment. Back to the chairs. Wermers’s are entitled Untitled Chair (2014–15), and they are an adaptation of Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chair. There are ten of them, and they are scattered throughout the space. A fur coat hangs on each one. This type of chair will be familiar to most. They are the ones that have a single tubular structure that curves to create a low, comfortable square-shaped chair that is usually upholstered in fabric or cane. Wermers has retained Breuer’s signature lines but has replaced the upholstery with lush velvet in shades of mauve, taupe, lavender, tan, and heather grey. They look so soft that they seem a touch pubescent, and the desire to sit on them is cut off because of the fear of shattering this illusion.
On these chairs, as mentioned, are fur coats. They are on the lighter side of the fur-shade spectrum—white and grey, with touches of tan and orange. They look like something your gran devoutly kept in the back of her closet and would strut out in on those special occasions. They too are lush, and their animal softness and fluff make it hard not to stroke them. Their lining is also something to note, which is silk and seems to have been color matched with the chair’s upholstery. This effect conjoins the chair and the jacket, making it feel more and more like a body.
In addition to these is a series of four painted ceramic works entitled Sequence (2015) that loosely replicate a lost-and-found tear-tab sheet that one posts on poles and doors. They are blank white, demur, and mostly forgettable, but they lend a touch of “something else” to the overall feeling in the show.
Although Warmers does address the notions mentioned in the press release about forms, industrialization, and the systemizing of communications through objects, that is not where the more interesting aspects of her show lies. The interesting part can be found in the haunted feeling that is evoked from the sculptures. The fleshiness and the vintage nostalgia triggered by design and style alongside the missing-tab sculptures induce a sadness, a loss, a fissure of some sort.
While thinking about the installation the next day I remembered an image I once saw that was of the rooms and warehouses full of objects and possessions of Jews and others who were sent to the camps during the Holocaust. Piles of shoes, piles of violins, piles of fur coats. Wermers’s stylized installation triggered this image, and then those chairs and furs were not about glamor, structured design, or the cool intellectualism of the architecture of objects but about the vacancy of the body and the objects those bodies inhabit. She has managed to make symbols of modernity and wealth much more complicated then she might have even intended.