At the end of September 2009, in a modest but strategic effort to tap into fresh artistic talent, the established Swiss gallery Mai 36 opened a small spin-off in Berlin, joining a number of other international galleries that have recently established branches there. The quaint space, roughly 540 square feet, is called Reception and lies tucked away at the edge of the city’s newest, most active gallery district, Kurfürstenstrasse. Recently on view, “How Things Change & Stay the Same” was English artist Guy Allott’s first show in Germany.
In the past, the young painter and sculptor made playful cardboard maquettes of spaceships and paintings of surrealistic landscapes, sometimes combining the two in painted depictions of what the artist calls “landscape spaceships.” This exhibition showcased the most recent work, including his first series of watercolors—small scale, monochromatic grayish scenes of forests, many located, as the titles reveal, on the outskirts of Berlin.
As with Buckow (2009), which shows a pathway blocked by bare, fallen trees, many of the images—whether distant views of dense thickets or close-up studies of tree trunks—tend toward abstraction.
A rickety wooden fence led visitors into the back gallery, which contained colorful medium- and large-scale oils of enormous trees depicted with broad, lush brushstrokes. The trunks are pierced by large holes that offer views onto the landscapes beyond, yet there are ever so slight disjunctions between what we see around the tree and what we see through the hole, leading us to doubt our reading of the image. In the 36-by-31-inch Red Background Explorer (2009), the portal-like hole—which seems to be propped open by makeshift timber supports—reveals what could be either a fiery orange sunset or, considering the billowing volcanic mountains on either side of the tree, a crater of molten lava. The visual disconnect is often subtle but, like Magritte with his trompe l’oeil windows, Allott upends our expectations.
On a centrally positioned pedestal, the 11-inch-tall bronze sculpture Boarded-up Spaceship (Hello 20th Century),2009, resembled a cobbled-together Constructivist container, its interstellar vehicle visible through gaps. The piece is a perfect melding of the artist’s earlier fascination with spaceships and his recent obsession with wood and trees, making the exhibition’s title ring true.
Photo: Guy Allott: Red Background Explorer, 2009, oil on canvas, 36 1/4 by 31 1/8 inches; at Reception.