notes and notices

notes and notices are short and curt reviews of exhibitions at (mostly) London galleries.

  • Mohammed Z. Rahman, A Flame is a Petal at Phillida Reid ★★★☆☆

    Mohammed Z. Rahman

    A Flame is a Petal


    On until 13 July 2024

    Groups of young people gather in social rituals in Rahman’s cartoon paintings. Boys drink beers at a backyard barbecue. Others smoke cigarettes by a bonfire. The girls, elsewhere, eat dinner. Their overconfident adventures with fireworks make the quintessence of childhood.

    The settings of their get-togethers, however, are only the figments of the painter’s imagination. So is their youthful cheer. Rahman finds his friends in deserts and war zones. To offer them reprieve from their horrors, he builds for them a series of stage sets that simulate the comforts of home. 

    Rahman’s zine hand makes this make-believe explicit but not plausible. Neither do the structures which frame his works in the gallery. His subjects’ stories – the most intriguing takes place in Mostar a decade after the city was besieged in the Bosnian war – are confused by the artist’s overstated, adolescent politics.

  • Matthew Barney, SECONDARY at Sadie Coles HQ ★★★☆☆

    Matthew Barney

    SECONDARY: light lens parallax


    On until 27 July 2024

    Matthew Barney’s work has few parallels in the contemporary art world. His films double down on Jodorowsky and his performances would put the young Abramović to shame. His bizarre installations challenge Beuys. A decade he spent working with Björk put his work in front of millions.

    Secondary carries on with the artist’s trademark monumentality. It turns the gallery into an American Football stadium. Video screens hang from the ceiling to magnify the action for fans in the cheap seats. Barney’s game takes place only on those. Spectators shuffle around the Astroturf pitch, bumping into pillars and scaffold-like sculptures.

    The hour-long video opera follows the athlete’s body in motion. The image mixes grace with industrial grit in a tone familiar from Barney’s River of Fundament cycle. The sport and stage costumes expand the artist’s study of physical restraint, the subject of his experiments already in the 1980s. The piece climaxes with the infamous 1978 pitch injury of the wide receiver Darryl Stingley which left the player paralysed.

    The drawings and objects which accompany the film make Barney’s obsession with strength, elasticity, and brittleness of the human corpus explicit. The video’s installation enhances it, forcing all necks to crane uncomfortably. But it misjudges this warehouse gallery space. The objects’ proportions are at odds with the body’s grace to which they refer. All the seats in the house are the cheap seats, granted, but their discomfort is distracting, and the game lacks a cheerleader. This would be a trivial complaint in any other artist’s work, but for Barney, muscular fatigue must count for more.

  • Jordan Derrien, Painted on a Wall of the Inn at Marlotte at Des Bains ★★☆☆☆

    Jordan Derrien

    Painted on a Wall of the Inn at Marlotte


    On until 20 July 2024

    For the simplicity of its conceptual gesture, Derrien’s series of wall paintings – quite literally fragments of canvas walls covered in what could be domestic paint and framed by white skirting boards – is riven with confusion. No detail is apparent in these works at first glance. Their modest scale and systematic, paired presentation demand close inspection. 

    The scrutiny yields reward. Subtle textural differences between the canvases emerge. One wonders if Derrien got his acrylics from Dulux and if he applied them with rollers rather than careful brushstrokes. Before long, the artist has his audience discussing the nature of paint drying out loud.

    This is for nothing, however, because the artist forgot that his concept lies in its execution. His frames are shoddy, as though a cut-rate decorator assembled them to order. The wood mouldings are rickety, the canvas edges messy. This may have been intentional, but if so, Derrien’s work is no more than a poor copy of life and therefore redundant. If it’s an oversight, it discredits the whole genre.

  • Michaël Borremans, The Monkey at David Zwirner ★★★★★

    Michaël Borremans

    The Monkey


    On until 26 July 2024

    Borremans’ anthropomorphic paintings distorted monkey faces have the appearance of porcelain dolls. Alone, they would have been unremarkable. Borremans, however, places these eerie animal portraits next to his only slightly odd pictures of humans. This does to the human figure what Pierre Huyghe’s ape did with the absence in his Human Mask film.

    The comparison unnervingly accentuates his people’s outre-mer characteristics. Some seem medieval, others come from Hollywood Westerns. This company gives even an entirely straightforward female nude a set of otherworldly qualities that she alone could not bear.

    Borrowings from 17th-century court portraiture mix with 1980s pop. Borremans toys with his subjects, his audience, and with art history. His monkeys quite literally do so with them all when they appear as giant overlords of human life modelled at plaything scale in the painter’s already modestly sized pictures. 

  • Robert Rauschenberg, ROCI at Thaddeus Ropac ★★★☆☆

    Robert Rauschenberg



    On until 3 August 2024

    There isn’t much new I expected to learn from a commercial excavation of an artist as thoroughly researched as the father of Neo-Dadaism Rauschenberg. This framing of his exhibition travels to cultural foes like Mexico, Venezuela, China, Japan, the Soviet Union, and East Germany in the 1980s, however, had me surprised. The project known as the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange and endearingly abbreviated to “Rocky” after the artist’s pet turtle outs Rauschenberg as a propagandist if not an outright Fed.

    I happened to visit the gallery as one of its sales staff showered the work with adjectives for the benefit of a collector from one of these “alien but same” cultures. The American’s travel to politically “hostile” territories was “brave”. His wall assembly of Cuban cardboard boxes was “beautiful” and “profound” in a way only a child of American democracy could aspire to. That a visit to Tibet gave rise to a series of sculptures made of detritus was “remarkable”. Above all, Rauschenberg’s belief in the power of art to overcome division was “commendably unwavering”. 

    It is no secret that the CIA supported American Abstract Expressionism at the height of the Cold War. That celebrating art’s complicity with regime propagation decades later would be profitable will need a future historian to untangle.

  • Harmony Korine, Aggressive Dr1fter Part II at Hauser & Wirth ★★☆☆☆

    Harmony Korine

    Aggressive Dr1fter Part II


    On until 27 July 2024

    Korine’s reputation precedes him. His cult legends like Kids and Trash Humpers are hard to eclipse. They have, however, earned him a place in both the indie canon and the art financiers’ chequebooks. This hasn’t always been to the work’s benefit. 2019’s Beach Bum shot in the style of Baywatch, for example, was thumbs-down dull. 

    Last year’s Aggro Dr1ft is a brutal story of “the world’s greatest assassin”. The violence of gunshots, car chases, and concealed identities certainly could make for a sleepless night. Shot in a psychedelic, infrared colour, this film might be Korine’s return to form.

    None of this is of use to the gallery, however. A series of canvases reproduces the film’s most striking scenes with the finesse of an inexperienced but already blasé studio assistant. The garish colours which may have carried the story in cinema here are unfitting of their new medium. One or two do invoke the eeriness promised by the project’s synopsis, but this is through chance rather than artistic merit. To make matters worse, the exhibition includes a couple of video objects that loop the film’s sequences. These would be more appropriate for NFT drops if not bus-stop billboards.

  • Eddie Ruscha, Seeing Frequencies at Cedric Bardawil ★☆☆☆☆

    Eddie Ruscha

    Seeing Frequencies


    On until 15 June 2024

    Despite indications to the contrary, it brings this critic little pleasure to disparage the aspirations of a young gallery. But either the curator or the quinquagenarian artist should have known better than to show off this nonsense. 

    Ruscha’s paintings are a cross between a cartoonist’s representation of an LSD trip and an AI’s “artful” arrangement of twee California colours. They barely make up for their design with their thankfully modest size and number.

    The gallery’s invitation promises Oskar Fischinger, Scott Bartlett, and even David Hockney. It is a blessing that it stopped short of citing Stella. Ruscha’s geometric repetitions, waves, and colour fields might be the thing in California’s forever hippie junkyard. In London, they are not Bardawil’s first investment into egregiously mediocre painting. This critic hopes they are the last.

  • Dayanita Singh at Frith Street Gallery ★★☆☆☆

    Dayanita Singh


    On until 29 June 2024

    One must admire Frith Street. This gallery loves its artists forever, as though it were oblivious to the contemporary’s ever-changing favours. Its static roster ages with the building and with the money that funds the endeavour.

    But one may also sigh at the same gallery’s run of dull, barely distinguishable exhibitions. It’s Singh’s turn this summer, though her expensively framed pictures could have been the work of at least three other Frith Street Gallery artists. None of them would have made this work any better, or any worse. None would have made it new, either.

  • Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, I.W. Payne, Downtown at 243 Luz ★★★★☆

    Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff, I.W. Payne



    On until 22 June 2024

    The Kingly Street cupboard which hosts this Margate outfit’s pop-up barely has room for three artists. With two gallerists on site, it leaves little space for breath and even less for context. 

    For once, that’s for the better. Henke and Pitegoff’s black-and-white photographs of leather handbags do for the vaginal labia what Mapplethorpe’s vegetables did for the penis. Seeing them this close up – there is no other way – invokes a violence that’s far from the gentle joke of an O’Keeffe desert flower.

    Next to this macabre gynaecological luxury product line-up, Payne’s near human-size cardboard silhouette jokingly riffs on a Roy Lichtenstein cartoon. Move too close and its spikes will poke your eyes. Move one step back and you’ll hit a steel column. 

    This little assembly would make the perfect décor for a court waiting room, unsettling any might-be villain. It may also be a great way to air yet keep close art’s most captivating defects. 

  • Adriano Costa, ax-d. us. t at Emalin ★★★☆☆

    Adriano Costa

    ax-d. us. t


    On until 13 July 2024

    Form triumphs over detritus. Items bought at flea markets, found under the sofa cushion, or rescued from the back of a white van landed in Costa’s studio where they assumed new shapes with the help of a glue gun, some duct tape, and the odd rivet. These tabletop curios with titles like Public vendetta and Slum mania dominate the exhibition. The slight contrasts between their scales, colours, and textures invite questions of their provenance but offer no useful answers, save for the recognition that such junkyard aesthetics has been a contemporary art trope forever.

    A different origin story comes with a series of bronze objects that break the exhibition’s rhythm. The bronze casting process calls for materials like plaster or silicone to pour negative voids of the final, positive sculpture. Costa splinters this and rescues the moulds from his workshop’s waste pile. This time, however, doesn’t merely upcycle them for the gallery but casts the voids into bronze positives. This iteration elevates this form of ‘art workshop’ detritus over the other, truly ‘found’ matter.

    The gallery text plays up the work’s site specificity. It’s wrong to. Costa’s found objects are specific to only themselves, and even more so when they are the mirrors of their bronze process siblings. This treatment earns their reprieve from the waste compactor’s claw. Why some are more worthy than others is left unexplained.

Inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.