I was an Elmgreen & Dragset neophyte until last autumn, then on a work trip to Paris I stumbled across the artistic duo’s 1,000 Starfish installation at Place Vendome. Once back in London I learnt that Whitechapel Gallery was hosting an exhibition dedicated to the Scandinavian pairs’ work, entitled ‘This is How We Bite our Tongue’… and with only a week left until it closes on 13 January, I was given the new year impetus I needed to go and view it! The entire ground floor gallery houses a new commission The Ghost of Whitechapel pool, which depicts a fictional empty swimming pool and using this now abandoned civic space the piece questions local government decisions to cut funding and close these shared spaces. The edges of the pool also play host to numerous other sculptures; a classical inspired male torso toppled over and lying on its side, bronze casts of a Mercedes car seat and cooling boxes, an aluminium meteor on a trampoline, and two urinals connected by interlinked twisted drainpipes. Moving upstairs a series of exhibition wall labels painted directly onto white canvas or carved in white marble pay tribute to artists who have inspired them, and are accompanied by an installation encouraging the public to sit at a desk, have a glass of whiskey and read through the artists’ diary. In the final room of the exhibition, each work features a somewhat anonymous figure, ranging from sculptures of a little boy staring at a rifle, to a pregnant house-maid and a little boy cowering in a fireplace, all finished in matte white with minimal features, to a judicial wig hung on the wall minus a wearer, the outlines of two portraits which were once hung on the wall, and two white pillows cast in bronze with the impressions of the heads previous sleeping there still imprinted into them.
A kitsch pastel coloured “Scoop-scape” decorated in soft pink walls, mint coloured furnishings, a pale lemon check-in desk, and heavy dose of nostalgia welcome you to ‘Scoop: A Wonderful Ice Cream World’ currently installed by Bompas & Parr near Gasholders in Kings Cross. I had pre-booked a date and time slot, and on arrival was given a small newspaper including a map of the exhibition to read whilst waiting for the experience to begin at an archway entitled Lick & Learn… upon entering, a short film is played introducing you to the experience and encouraging each group to open the freezer door and enter the world of ice! After a chilly start, temperatures rise as you explore three centuries of ice cream paraphernalia from glass penny-licks, to original moulds, scoops, makers, postcards and other memorabilia. There is a huge interactive element too; not only can you smell different flavoured aromas from popular vanilla and chocolate to traditional Victorian era classics like Rye-Bread or Daffodil, but you can also make your own ice cream in minutes in a recreation of Mrs Marshall’s (Queen of Ices) Cookery School kitchen. You can also measure your brain waves to detect the neurological effects of eating ice cream, eat glow-in-the-dark ice cream in a neon tunnel, and submerge yourself in a breathable vanilla fog. It is probably a good time to mention that I have a dairy allergy, and it is testament to this installation that I enjoyed learning about the past, present and future of the frozen treat as much as my ice cream licking companion! On until 30th September, don’t forget to pick up a final desert from ‘”Cone-Henge” on your way out.
As an insomniac you make a decision, either you embrace the night or resent it, and I have embraced it. I appreciate everything from London’s night skyline, to nights out in different areas of the city, catching rare quiet moments where you are the only person on an ordinarily busy street, spotting a bold urban fox running across the road, and the general sense of calm after 11pm… so a photography exhibition dedicated to ‘London Nights’ easily caught my attention. In a wonderfully contrary way I visited this exhibition at an early morning private view, and had the pleasure of starting my day by viewing these 200 images captured by over 60 photographers. The exhibition is displayed in the museums’ basement gallery, and is dimly lit with grey walls and dark floors, adding to the nocturnal atmosphere. One of the things that struck me most was a feeling of familiarity, and appreciating how little the city has changed over the last century, as so many of the buildings and streets were immediately recognisable and only the fashion or adverts captured within each image gave away the decade they were taken. This was most evident in George Davidson Reid’s 1920’s photographs of Trafalgar Square, images of Liverpool Street station during the Blitz, Bob Collins’ 1960’s shots of Piccadilly Circus, numerous iconic images of St Pauls Cathedral from almost every decade, and contemporary photos of a night out in East London and West London displayed side by side. Broadly split into three categories; ‘London Illuminated’ which focusses on the capital’s landmarks from both familiar and unusual vantage points, ‘Dark Matters’ which explores the more sinister side of the city and how darkness can evoke fear, threat or isolation, and ‘Switch On Switch Off’ which observes Londoners who inhabit the city rather than the city itself. On until mid November the show is certainly worth a visit – incorporating architecture and portraiture, moments of resilience and shared acts of exhilaration, as well as exploring social issues and current threats to London’s night venues.
I was first introduced to the ebullient world of Hassan Hajjaj last year at an exhibition on dandyism and black masculinity at The Photographers’ Gallery which included two of his portraits – and was intrigued to see more when I heard that Somerset House were hosting a solo exhibition by the Moroccan-British artist. The Terrace Rooms in the South Wing of the building are entirely dedicated to ‘La Caravane’, an exhibition which features photographic portraits, video installations, music, an installation of a motorcycle, and pieces dedicated to humble socks and woolly hats! The first of a trio of rooms contains photographic portraits of sitters ranging from other artists to street performers, athletes and musicians, all beautifully framed with his typical repetitious tin-can or food packaging border. At the centre of the space, a motorbike bedecked in re-imaginings of the Louis Vuitton logo sits on top of bright red pallets, a green patterned base and mini cans of paint around the border which echo the framing of the portraits on the walls. The next room is dominated by a 1960’s inspired sofa facing multiple video installations of people who have sat for portraits playing musical instruments, signing, or talking to camera, as well as two portraits framed in Hajjaj’s ubiquitous style hung above the fireplaces at either end of the room. The final space contains more photographic portraits alongside three unusual works; one focusing on plastic sunglasses, one on socks and another on woolly hats. The vivid colours and customised textiles, furniture and household items utilised throughout the show evoke the street culture of Marrakesh where the artist was born and spends much of his time. Similarly his deliberate arrangements and careful positioning of people and objects in each shot shape the viewers understanding of each portrait, and question the relationship between “people” (or objects) and “place”. Vibrant, irreverent and full of personality this free – yes free – exhibition certainly put a smile on my face!
Newport Street Gallery is fast becoming a favourite – light and airy, with high ceilings in all six of its gallery spaces spread across two floors, and consistently displays works by artists who produce bright, colourful, and fun or provocative pieces. Their current offering entitled ‘Ornamental Hysteria’ showcasing Barbados-born Ashley Bickerton’s works, follows the same brief and features pieces which intelligently combine painting, photography, collage and sculpture in an array of vivid colours. Bickerton is playful throughout; poking fun at the rampant materialism of 1980’s New York in his ‘Logo’ and ‘Non-Word’ pieces in the opening gallery, to portraits like ‘Smiling Woman’ where photographs are distorted in Photoshop before being reprinted on canvas and painted over, and whimsical takes on artistic traditions including an installation of life-rafts rather than traditional seascape paintings. Bickerton appears to extend the same tongue-in-cheek attitude towards himself, evident in a self-portrait where he is depicted as a grinning five-bodied serpent, and again in his regular use of the graphic motif ‘Susie’ which acts as his signature but is more akin to a trademark (again allowing him to comment on ideas around identity in a consumer driven society). The standout work for me is ‘Red Scooter’ where oil, acrylic and digital imagery of a family crammed onto a moped combine, in a bespoke frame harking back to his Caribbean roots featuring coconut, mother-of-pearl and antique coins. Bickerton evidently finds sticking to one medium far too limiting and in his own words it is “only in their combination that I find comfort”. This exhibition is certainly packed full of arresting colours, artworks which challenge the visitor, and at times are even quite frightening, however the overriding element of fun which pervades the entire show left me feeling exactly that – comforted!
The term ‘urban jungle’ is never more true than when used to describe Oxford Street in the lead-up to Christmas; a mass migration of the UK population to one shopping destination, prowling the streets in pursuit of the ultimate gift, and shoving any opponents out of the way to seize their prey. In the relative calm of nearby Golden Square is Marian Goodman Gallery, currently host to an exhibition entitled ‘Animality’ exploring the complex relationship between humans and animals. Split across both floors of the gallery, it comprises seventy works ranging from early cave paintings through to emerging artists’ creations including pieces by Yinka Shonibare, Cartsen Holler and Peter Wachtler alongside philosophy and writing by Charles Darwin, Michael Foucault and George Orwell to name just a few. Upon entering the gallery you are greeted by cabinets of illustrated animals, a giant white stuffed squirrel by Mark Dion, an enormous black and white printed image of an elephant, a purple octopus sculpture by Carsten Holler, and numerous photographic images of birds and other creatures littered across the ground floor. A calf dressed in bright prints synonymous with Yinka Shonibare is suspended on a tightrope above the staircase, an albino camel sculpture by John Baldessari, and humanised wooden sculptures of a foxy Fox Lady and raincoated Raven Man by Stephan Balkenhol all continue to question what distinguishes humans from animals. These pieces are interspersed with film, including Fischli and Weiss’s humerous projection of a cat endlessly drinking milk from a bowl, Pierre Bismuth’s version of Disney’s ‘Jungle Book’ where each of the characters speaks in one of the many languages it was translated into it, and a dark cartoon version of Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ sponsored by the CIA who altered the ending. With only days to go before it closes on 17th December, I’d suggest a visit to escape the human crowds and reacquaint yourself with our animal counterparts.
Raven Row is undoubtedly one of my favourite galleries, located in east London near Spitalfields Market in two adjoining eighteenth century townhouses on Artillery Lane (aptly known as Raven Row until 1895). It is eccentric without being pretentious, large enough to get lost in but still feels intimate, and always host to something curious. Its current exhibition ‘The Ulm Model’ is no different, educating visitors about the lesser known German school of design which only operated for a short period between 1953 and 1968. This exhibition was exactly what I wanted from my Sunday afternoon… a relaxed cultural fix without feeling protracted or contrived. The curation is simple and uncluttered, and specially designed display structures showcase items ranging from weighing machines to crockery, electric razors, traffic lights and petrol cans. As well as the objects themselves, the exhibition also includes drawings, models and prototypes created by the schools’ students as well as sections dedicated to some of their more progressive work for corporate clients, namely Braun and Lutfhansa. The key pieces that captured my attention include Dieter Raffler & Peter Raacke’s multi coloured plastic shell suitcases, Hans Roericht’s TC 100 stacking set of teapots, cups and saucers, as well as Hans Gugelot & Dieter Ram’s record player designed for Braun. The original wooden floorboards, fireplaces and other period features of the building juxtapose against the modernist design of these objects nicely, and exploring the various rooms and corridors of this gallery unsure what you might find around the next corner adds another element. Whether you are a design geek or neophyte, I’d suggest taking advantage of this exhibition and paying a visit before mid December while these German works’ are collectively on display in London.
Having seen copious pictures of Anthea Hamilton’s “butt” sculpture and other increasingly iconic images from this year’s Turner Prize across various arts press, social media and mainstream news, this week I cycled down Embankment to Tate Britain were the annual prize is exhibited. This years’ four finalists reflect the diversity, humour and talent within the British contemporary art world. Opening with Helen Marten’s installations where everyday objects are gathered together in a collage-like fashion, putting familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts and creating a manufactured archaeological site where visitors are encouraged to try and make sense of what is in front of them. Around the next corner you are greeted by Anthea Hamilton’s large-scale bum crack, formally titled ‘Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce)’ and I only wish it came to fruition as an entrance for a New York apartment block, alongside her ‘Brick Suit’ set against a backdrop of faux brick wallpaper. The next gallery space hosts Josephine Pryde’s photographic series coupled with a model of a Class 66 diesel locomotive and train-track complete with tags by various graffiti artists from the cities her exhibition has been display at in the past. Her ‘Hands Fur Mich’ photographs are akin to advertising images, focussing on females’ hands holding mobile phones, tablets, ipads and other technology that society is becoming increasingly reliant on. The final gallery is dedicated to Michael Dean’s sculptural works and his compelling ‘United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children’ installation comprising £20,436 in pennies across the gallery floor (the amount the UK government state as the minimum a family need to survive for a year). During installation Dean removed one penny enabling visitors to tangibly visualise what is below the poverty line, creating a powerful close to this years’ exhibition. I left feeling torn between two artists and eager to hear who is announced as 2016’s winner on 5th December.
On the lower-ground floor of Harris Lindsay at 67 Jermyn Street, you’ll discover the ‘Orion Stumbles’ exhibition featuring a selection of Francis West’s paintings on the legend of Orion alongside several of his Nocturnes. This gallery space curated by Megan Piper within an arts and antiquities dealership is an apt location for this exhibition focusing on the mythological figure of Orion – the blind hunter who walked across the sea to be healed by the sun God. Akin to all of West’s work (including his earlier drawings, pastels and paintings) the pieces in this show portray figurative forms in a state of metamorphosis. Whilst his Nocturnes are dark, dream-like, and at times bordering on the grotesque, his paintings on Orion in contrast use vivid purples and blues, and are far lighter and less oppressive. This disparity is made more poignant when you realise that West recently passed away in December 2015, and that the painting I was most drawn to is the final piece created by the artist entitled ‘Death of a Poet’. Despite consciously exploring the theme of death, the painting feels spirited and optimistic rather than fearful, with a shadowy allegorical figure of death in the bottom corner tempered by bird taking flight within the same scene. Physically, it is also larger and visibly more ambitious than the Nocturne canvases that surround it. I was moved to learn that this piece was painted from West’s deathbed with the support of his wife – and it felt not only rare, but fascinating and compelling to view an artwork from this psychological perspective and gain an insight into the optimism West had towards death at such a pivotal moment. I’d certainly suggest a visit to Piccadilly to catch the exhibition before it closes on 11th November.
Behind an inconspicuous door and adjoining metal shutter on Herald Street, you’ll find the aptly named Herald Street Gallery. Feeling slightly frazzled from a hectic work week and with absolutely no desire to head into central London, I embraced my local east end culture this weekend… and with Maureen Paley, Laura Bartlett and The Ryder Project gallery spaces all on the same street – there’s no need to venture any further! It was my first visit to Herald Street Gallery but certainly won’t be my last, as the current Cary Kwok exhibition spanning both rooms of the gallery provoked, entertained and excited me (as all good exhibitions should). Kwok is a hugely talented Hong Kong born, London based artist who specialises in fine detail drawing – explicit in the seven ink, pencil and acrylic pieces on display in this solo show. The overarching theme is homosexuality within a sprawling metropolis; one that could be Hong Kong, London, Tokyo or Manhattan and where the architecture makes reference to various historic styles from ancient Greece and Rome, to medieval castles, gothic-revival follies, colonial arches, brutalist high-rises, 1920’s art-deco and hybrids of every era in between. Within these buildings, oversized muscular men in homoerotic scenes ranging from two male figures with erections serving as fountains, a pink palace where the supporting beams are created by naked males in acrobatic poses, and shop signs full of camp innuendo including ‘Have a Cock’ in Coca-Cola’s irrefutable design are all embedded. Alongside these drawings is one sculpture, entitled ‘Arrival (La Belle Epoque), which looks like a beautiful art-deco lamp. On closer inspection you realise that the lamp-stand is in fact a wooden penis and what I thought was the melting wax light is actually spurting semen! So if you fancy some tongue in cheek humour with your art, get down to Bethnal Green before 25th September when the show closes.