London Art Pitch is a monthly column by Jamie Sterns, a New York curator and writer currently based in the British capital.
London has obviously become a major contemporary art center, with the headquarters of some of the industry’s biggest galleries and very large satellite locations for other international blue-chip dealers. With this abundance, there is at times a feeling of stratification between these large mega spaces—most located in Mayfair—and the rest of the city’s gallery scene. This is made even more dramatic by the city’s geography, which is spread out and sprawling. Nevertheless, there is still a vibrant network of smaller spaces that work with emerging and mid-career artists that enliven and inform the international art scene. Over the past few weeks I went to three galleries located in South London that are presenting impressive and complex shows in smaller spaces, proving that big doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Sunday Painter just expanded their Peckham gallery and inaugurated it with a fantastic group show entitled “John.” At the show’s center was a face carved from alabaster that is either a 2,000-year-old relic or an utter fake. Authenticity is not the point, though, as it was a stand-in for the show’s focus: “humanity’s anthropocentric tendencies.” This theme is loose, but the combination of artists and objects presented was not. There was a delicate and considered lightness to the installation that worked in tandem with a grounded thoughtfulness of materials that granted volition to the objects. This success made the show reflexive as well full of depth.
Entering into the space one first saw Piotr Lakomy’s Untitled (2013), which is a rectangular encasement with Styrofoam and blinking lights inside that tick. It acted as a sort of metronome for the show and you could hear it ticking constantly in the background. This was complimented by another work by Lakomy, entitled Untitled (The diptych) (2013), which are encasements as well. One has what looks to be a ceiling light fixture of an office and the other has a coverall made of reflective fabric that looks aluminum. The vacuum-sealed quality of these works got straight to the show’s focus of the anthropological and its mix of sterile preservation fighting against organic decay.
The visual cueing of pairs was repeated throughout the exhibition, including Allyson Vieira’s Multi Story III (2014), which is a freestanding sculpture, centrally placed in the space, that is made from roughly cut white Ytong blocks with touches of color. These two columns are sandwiched by thin sheets of reflective tempered glass and it is just high enough to feel monumental but also has an instability that makes even a sudden noise seem calamitous. The column as stand-in for the body is one that is often utilized within art and throughout this show this is subtly reinforced. Another example of this could be seen in Hannah Lees’s Eternal Return I (2014), a hanging sculpture of dried eucalyptus bark reminiscent of drying hides. There are three of them, but the two larger ones reinforce this column/body relationship, as well as suggesting decay.
The standout work in the show was David Musgrave’s Peripheral figure (2014), a small bronze sculpture installed on a low ledge just off the floor. There is something extremely bizarre about this form. It is not quite human and not quite animal—it is amorphous but also sci-fi all at once. This is the work that tilted the pristineness of some of the other works into a primordial ooze zone that made the whole exhibition much more complicated and fascinating to look at.
Sadly, “John” closed on May 3, but if this exhibition and the degree of intelligence and how it was installed is any indication of what is to come, Sunday Painter is gallery well worth paying attention to.
Jupiter Woods“this place is realy nowhere”
Andrea De Stefani, Felix Melia, Josephine Callaghan, Marco Strappato, Sam Smith
Jupiter Woods is a project space run by six Goldsmith MA curatorial students in which they do rotating exhibitions. The most recent exhibition was curated by Carolina Ongaro and its focus was on landscape, most specifically the modernist perspective of it, and its relation to construction and imprint of the body within this. The show’s possibly too-wide theme succeeded not in its whole, but in the summation of its parts, which presented works and investigations by artists who are reinterpreting what landscape can be and feel like. This is a tough challenge to undertake but one which obviously has a lineage and a necessary future.
The show had a proclivity for the cut-up, whether in Andrea De Stefani’s Diorama Ln. (2015), a kind of geo-topography in a stylized fish tank, or Marco Strappato’s Untitled (2015), which is made up of precisely haphazard layers of transparent film that somehow feels beautifully substantial. The cut is again seen in the two video works in the show, one by Sam Smith which is a knockout five-minute loop of gardens, palace columns, and aerial images with 3-D rendered overlays that plays with the forms versus merely ornamenting them. This work uses the split frame to create a tonal pace that is matched by surrealist jazz drumming which is reminiscent of the absurd bored mania that is prevalent in French New Wave films.
Perhaps the most engaging work though was an untitled work by Felix Melia from 2015. It is a monitor in a black backpack that is hung on the wall. You can see three fourths of the screen. On it is a background image, a smaller rectangular image over this and then other smaller screens popping in and out. The images are of surfaces, nearly indiscernible bodies, and have a zooming movement and motion. They are all taken by Melia and there is a hypnotic effect to the pacing and edit of their compositions. It is probably one the most interesting self-contained video works I have seen in years.
In this work and throughout the others there was the effect of revealing through layering that challenges the position of seeing. In relating back to the modernist-landscape-perspective theme of the show, these works may not be balanced completely with each other in this endeavor, but many do strike at the central cord of this idea, which was surprising and impressive to see.
The title of this show is a bit misleading, for although Pasolini is in the show, he is more a muse and source then a participant. The artist in full view is Carlos Reyes and in this exhibition he takes a series of political posters that Pasolini created in 1949 to reinvigorate and contextualize. Why Pasolini? That was spurred by the show’s organizer, Alessandro Bava, who invited Reyes to work with the Centro Studi Pier Paolo Pasolini as Bava saw an affinity with Pasolini’s archives with Reyes’s own. Is there a link? Yes and no. The works in the show incorporate Pasolini’s archived text and images with consideration and variety but there is a topical quality to it all. There seems to be a lack in synthesis or direct connections between Reyes and Pasolini, which belies the intended affinity, but this is not necessarily a bad thing as the alignment has produced work that opens new doors for both.
Although the direct link may be vague, it did not leave one lacking in engaging works to view. Of particular note is Laser-Etched Dried Reishi Mushrooms (2015), which are placed on the floor and walls and are exactly as the title describes. These mushrooms are bizarre objects. They look prehistoric and seem like they could be wood, stone, or paper. They have a texture that seems like suede but also like a painted surface. What is laser etched onto their surface is text from Pasolini’s posters as well as cartoon images of a slightly maniacally grinning man. There is something unnecessarily absurd about it, but it is nonetheless compelling to look at.
The mushroom can also be seen as a metaphor for networks. The concept of information being a spore, reaching out and spreading through medium, through generations, and through influences may be the most interesting underlying concept of the show. This can be seen in other works, including the large hand-painted film poster shipped in from Taiwan that forcefully stakes its ground in the exhibition space, as well as in Gauze Mesh Shirt, which is doubled with a Laser Etched Denim Shirt that has Pasolini’s text burned in the back. These works feel like afterthoughts of former narratives that may or may not link to the show’s focus, but that seems okay. Just the hint of a relationship is enough to spread a branching idea.
Reyes is an artist that doesn’t give it all away. There is a sense of restraint even within the experimentation. His works are not resolved or complete in a one-to-one way but rather they are investigations into ideas and materials he already uses or has just discovered. This deliberately paced, almost scientific quality in working makes Reyes’s art, and the pieces in the show, slow burners, which is refreshing both aesthetically and mentally. In this time of flash-and-dash art, to see work that may not hit every note perfectly but is hitting them honestly is rare and exciting to see.