notes and notices are short and curt reviews of exhibitions at (mostly) London galleries.
- Renate Bertlmann, Cullinan Richards, Ayla Dmyterko, Permindar Kaur, Rebecca Parkin, Tai Shani, Penny Slinger, Georgina Starr, Unyimeabasi UdohBitch Magic★★★☆☆Curated by Celeste BaracchiOn until 2 March 2024
There’s more than one way to skin the witch’s cat. The evidence is ample in this show which brings together an impressive line-up of female esotericism and playful weirdness. Penny Slinger’s ‘70s photo collages bourgeon in angst, exposing a woman’s body to horrors rarely caught on film. Cullinan Richards’ industrial sacrificial altars meet their end with hysterical laughter.
Each “bitch” brings her brand of “magic”. But the more of them come close to the cauldron, the more spoiled the soup. Ayla Dmyterko’s paintings chase after a mystery, but her paint is mere cosplay and a trick of the mind. Premidar Kaur’s macabre curtain hanging hides no secret behind it. Georgina Starr’s sound piece finds a groove in patinated occult but does somehow poorly in this diverse coven.
The curator’s text finally reveals the cause of this dissonance. The gallery assembled these women not to narrate their ideas, images, or practices but to put them to work trading feminist thought for a “novel and more inclusive” dictates of queer theory. There will be no women when this spell breaks. And no need for magic, either.
- Nanténé TraoréShe says it's the high energy★★☆☆☆On until 17 February 2024
A social media advert targeted at my middle-aged eyes suggested that old retinas lose their ability to register colour. Traoré’s photographs render this sales pitch obsolete. Even when printed in monochrome, these images scream uncontrollably. They are saturated with colour and noxious self-obsession, the kind of aspirational self-harm made glamourous by Goldin and cos-played by Tillmans. Bodies clash with lights in front of Traoré’s Narcissus camera. They do so not for art but for that Instagram algorithm whose promise I must miss out on.
It needn’t have been so. Traoré wants these images to speak with Apollinaire and Rilke, or at least Björk and Pink Floyd. But not one of these correspondents sought life entirely within his or her body. Traoré, a self-professed obsessive storyteller might one day look past such carnal fixation.
- Deimantas NarkevičusThe Fifer★★☆☆☆On until 18 February 2024
What connects mystical runes, sublime sounds, hypernatural birds, and the very middle of Europe? Wrong answers only, as the meme goes, because “nothing” is obvious. Narkevičius’ constellation of sculpture, photography, and sound installation, topped for good measure with a 3D film gimmick, pulls in too many directions.
This luck-of-the-draw curating is unsatisfying and disruptively confusing. It forces the eye to find comfort in the Lithuanian’s already familiar and predictable 1997 video on “the post-Soviet era”. This modest work, lightly twitching the Iron Curtain, inadvertently becomes a centrepiece. In the age of the decolonial, this is as quaint as it is outmoded, and the contextual vacuum of this cutting room floor helps no one.
- Entangled Pasts, 1768–now★★☆☆☆On until 28 April 2024
Menacing calls to decolonise art history loom large over the museum. But contrary to its stated ideological mission, the project is beneficial to everyone involved. At £20 per indulgence, this show absolves The Royal Academy of its original sin. An optional £2 donation excuses the visitor too.
But this more smoke and mirrors than a pious endeavour. One gallery parades John Singleton Copley – an academician painter forgettable save for his slave holdings – as the gift shop brand scapegoat. Another confusingly notes that the 1807 act of abolition had both supporters and opponents among artists. Later, US and British histories and art worlds mix with little discipline, laying the ground for claims that are as faddish as they are hyperbolic. A noxious mix of evidence and emotion dismisses any niggling doubts.
The show’s decisive weakness, however, is its aesthetic reliance to lift guilty souls from the gutter of history on a handful of already familiar works. The fragments of Himid, Locke, Walker, and Shonibare which frame the narrative have done so much ‘work’ in another parish that they are no witness to the Academy’s half-sincere contrition. Who could have thought that these mantras would turn into rote?
- Michael Andrew PageClaustrum★★★★☆On until 17 February 2024
When e-flux adds #neurodivergent to the tags they use to big-data all art, Page’s paintings are sure to make the top of the set. His linen oils, as repetitious as they are meticulously executed, point to a preoccupation that few minds sustain. In granular but confusing detail, each explodes a grand structure.
The arches, columns, and domes – half implied, half drawn in near one-to-one scale – could be the features of a cathedral. CAD, image transfers, and meditation all leave marks on these diagrams. The show’s titles then turn these monuments and their much poorer, windswept cousins into defenders of life’s frailty. Finally, they become the structures of life itself.
All this is pleasing to look at for an #actuallyautistic mind until it remembers that Page’s tent, brain, and the cathedral take the same form for a pretty good reason. To share in this discovery is the purpose of art.
- Bhenji RaBiraddali Dancing on the Horizon★☆☆☆☆On until 17 March 2024
Seeing the proliferation in galleries of long, sparse, indulgent, and hookless video installations that obliquely refer to the ancestral practices of unspecified, distant peoples, one might suspect that this trend in ‘radical’ filmmaking is the work of a conspiracy. Ra’s thirty-minute montage of washed-out wide shots lacks as much in action as it does in structure. Landscapes from a Philippine village wash over the screen and occasionally play host to livestock and human figures performing yogic-like dance movements. A colour-field sequence with designer subtitles relays fragments of a conversation between a grandmother and grandchild, the sense of which is ungraspable in the cut. The sign-reader’s desire is only obliquely rewarded by a prolonged scene, shot through a lens smeared thickly with Vaseline, in which a group of people allegorically adore a trans beauty queen.
Generously, one could compare such work to meditation. It might, at a push, be a piece of instructional diplomacy. But the gallery’s deployment of “a pedagogy of decolonial choreography” and branding the artist’s hometown of Sidney “Gadigal land, Eora Nation” break the spell. Such work was once a mere grift. But when it is this boring and has so deeply captured even the most cynical of art institutions, it is an outright stitch-up.
- Jan GatewoodGroup Relations★☆☆☆☆On until 2 March 2024
“Like people, rabbits come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and colours”, the exhibition handout warns visitors. Beware, ye faint of heart because Gatewood has bred at least a dozen. She has a story for each and each is more thrilling than the last. The show’s a dive down the warren and it will leave you breathless.
But not thanks to the qualities of her rainbow pastels. No. These rabbits are, to swap Gatewood’s idiotic euphemism for another, stand-ins for ‘historically oppressed people’. “Children of the projects” appear in one. Others, she explains, are the alter egos of Toni Morrison, David Hammons, and Kara Walker.
As though this couldn’t get any more patronising, the bunnies preach morals. “Rearrange yourself as an act of humility,” one challenges the bamboozled viewer. Such thin metaphors could only have come from LA. Did Gatewood look at her “In This House We Believe” yard sign and think that it needed some furries?
- Tommy CamernoDelirious★★☆☆☆Curated by Antoine SchafrothOn until 28 January 2024
Is there a limit to the number of fads a single practice can channel? In this bijou, four-piece show, Camerno packs building site machismo, camp Technicolor nostalgia, generational warfare, and a dollop of old queer.
Such indecision could be dismissed as youthful enthusiasm, but these inconsistencies are premeditated. Ornamental steel shapes hung from a monumental totem revel in laser-cut precision. They’re so far oblivious to the speckles of rust that will one day consume them. A ‘70s pin-up who appears on one canvas is till today unmoved by the decades which separate her from glory.
But the procession of time marked out in another painting is unstoppable. What’s left of the show are stage props that feed adolescent imaginations with false memories of the long-finished party. But even if Camerno’s complaints against the past were legitimate, his bet on the lasting value of his stock illustration tropes makes for poor politics.
- Manfred Pernice, Megan Plunknett>anticorpo<★★★★☆On until 17 February 2024
The brand of formal inquiry exercised by Pernice and Plunkett rarely makes the news today. In the age of the skeuomorph, the lost meaning of signs and the human detachment from them should alarm philosophers. For artists, it is a rare opportunity.
Pernice’s accidental sculptures, assembled from plinths, crates, and podiums, forego any trace of joy or celebration. The flag poles, once bearers of pride and excess, stand naked as if to mark a period of mourning. Their Eastern European colours and forms, like the detritus on an abandoned building site, speak of an opportunity missed and self-induced amnesia.
Plunkett’s semiotic photographs continue along time’s arrow. The image archaeologist’s wheel stopped on Coke cans and sun gods just now, but many more objects deserve a place on Wikipedia’s ‘top things’ list. They’ll miss out on the click-through traffic, however, because Plunkett’s signs, like Pernice’s, revel in detachment.
There’s nothing new under the sun here, quite literally. Such ‘80s nostalgia for meaning before history’s end is a comfort blanket. It would take a demagogue to remember that even the Bechers’ water tower pictures were a call to action.
- Teewon Ahn and Ibrahim Meïté Sikely★★★☆☆On until 17 February 2024
Forcing a Seoul gallery to share space with a Viennese one seems a little ungenerous of this London venue when the two artists’ projects are so idiosyncratic. Meïté Sikely’s acrylic canvases mix fantasy daemons with everyday slogans in the manner of DC Comics and sub-Saharan advertising murals. It’s half William Blake, bit strip-mall, part superhero film set. Ahn’s menacing cat pictures in which the artist’s pet plots his revenge against the human race are peak YouTube cuteness restaged for the CSI morgue. But when the same mutt jumps from the canvas and assumes distorted sculptural forms, the threat of his claw is but a lame joke.
These works are as garish as they are fun to look at. But experienced without the mediation of a phone screen, their exuberance is jarring. Such overstimulation is the host gallery’s brand as post-internet art’s dealer of choice. It would have been more rewarding to pursue only one of these plots.
Inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.