A trio of female artists have taken over White Cube Bermondsey for the current exhibitions; Palestinian born and London based Mona Hatoum is shown alongside American artist and activist Harmony Hammond, and Hungarian creative Dora Maurer whose work has spanned five decades. All three women work with different materials and use different mediums in their practice, but complement each other in that all of the works are more complex than they initially seem. Hatoum’s sculptures have a sense of fragility and the impression that they might collapse at any moment, echoing the current political sentiments of many countries. Despite several being constructed from robust materials including steel, concrete, bricks and iron filings – they dangle precariously from the ceiling or are positioned to look like pieces could clash into each other and shatter. Others have more obvious weaknesses including the charred remains of a kitchen, barley held together with chicken wire as the brittle ash could fracture at any moment, or are made from her own hair and nails. Hammond’s works mostly comprise large scale warm-white canvases. These have all been recently produced, but there is also a nod to her earlier feminist works evident in the display of ‘Bag IV’ created in 1971 and made from rags donated by female friends whilst living in New York and taking the form of a handbag which Hammond describes as three-dimensional brush strokes. This sculptural element continues in her newer canvases, which far from being flat surfaces include frayed edges, grommets, pin holes, and evidence of straps all thickly covered in paint. Maura’s paintings in contrast are bold and structured, and play with symmetry and graphics. Far from being simple however, this collection of rectangular and square canvases set at angles are cleverly transformed into seemingly three-dimensional floating forms through the simple use of colour.
Painting over 90 canvases is a large project to undertake, let alone complete in just over two years… but that is exactly what David Hockney achieved in recent years, and 82 of these portraits and 1 still-life are currently on display in The Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy. Each portrait shares the same dimensions, is painted in acrylic on canvas, has the same background colours of a turquoise and light blue, and show the subject seated in the same chair – making it obvious why Hockney views them collectively as a single body of work. The portraits are densely hung side by side in three galleries at eye level, and the uniformity of both the paintings and their installation is very intense yet left me cold. Lamentably as I moved from one portrait to the next I started finding the exhibition repetitive, failed to notice subtle differences in posture, facial expression and attire, and was relieved when one of the sitters failed to show up to their appointment forcing Hockney to deviate and paint a still-life of some fruit! Having garnered some more information from the visitor handout I decided to have a second look and certain elements of the project became more interesting; none of the portraits were commissioned so each one is of a family member, friend, fellow artist or associate, and each portrait was executed within three days (the longest amount of time Hockney felt he could ask of anyone). I also enjoyed Hockney’s lampooning of selfies and his refusal to paint any “celebrities”, reaffirming the importance of the painted portrait over a photograph taken on a mobile phone. The project is unarguably an impressive feat and armed with more context it was certainly more engaging on a second loop around the galleries, however on an aesthetic level the exhibition still failed to excite or inspire.
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