This is a collection of short and curt exhibition reviews from (mostly) London galleries.
- The last train after the last trainPublic, LondonOn until 28 October 2023
Even though the press release cites Derrida and Žižek, this exhibition could be arranged after the films of Rainer Maria Fassbinder. Aline Bouvy’s steel, plaster, and neon S&M mural, for example, is straight out ofQuerelle. One could imagine Emmi, the office cleaner from Fear Eats the Soul dusting Rob Branigan’s peculiar architectural maquettes and tinsel forests and after she damaged them sobbing as earnestly as she cried over her dying Gastarbeiter husband Ali. The failed magic tricks in Lyndon Barrois Jr.’s canvases would hang in the final scene of Chinese Roulette in which everyone turns against everyone because disdain is the most comforting feeling. Fassbinder would have Lou Castel’s drunk film director scoff at Jacopo Pagin’s surrealist compositions on the set-within-a-set of Beware of a Holy Whore before all three forgot all about it after another drink.
Not a terrible filmography. Only Héloïse Chassepot’s slim, rainbow-coloured panels would be the odd ones out, like the all too real 2022 remake of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant in which François Ozon bafflingly turned Petra into Peter.
- The Otolith GroupI See Infinite Distance Between Any Point and Anothergreengrassi, LondonOn until 4 October 2023
The art world ‘discovered’ the late Lebanese-American poet and painter Etel Adnan when she was in her eighties and ‘broke out’ with her painting straight into Documenta. It celebrated her wisdom and heritage in that sombre but hollow way the art market reveres older women.
After the Otolith Group met Adnan in Kassel, they filmed her reading her poetry. They trained the camera over her shoulder, showing neither her face nor the page. The result is a collection of abstract images of the seas and stars that is as meditative as it is affected.
Why should we listen to Adnan? Why these poems? Why now? There are no answers in the film. The only plausible explanation is that the exhibition is a private memorial for Adnan accessible only to members of the art world’s inner circle. And that’s a pity because Adnan’s ideas could be better shared with many others.
- Trevor YeungSoft GroundGasworks, LondonOn until 17 December 2023
The gallery is dark, except for the faint glow of those nauseating ‘bisexual lights’ with purple and blue LEDs designed to prevent people over forty from straying into nightclubs. Water trickles against a patch of soil and the air smells like Dow Chemical’s idea of the forest. A massive tree trunk is the centrepiece and, save for some patches of amorphous mess, that’s about it.
Only on reading the gallery handout did I understand that this environment was Yeung’s study of the gay cruising area in the woods on Hampstead Heath. The trunk is the infamous ‘fuck tree’, the water is piss, and the splats of paint stand in for cum.
I may be over the club’s admission age but I find art’s predilection for ‘celebrating’ minority sexual behaviours reductive not because they’re distasteful but because they inevitably reinforce the mechanisms of governance that practices like cruising try to evade. It’s stressful enough to fuck in the forest for fear of passers-by or the police; imagine having to also look out for curators.
- Nikita GaleBlur BalladEmalin, LondonOn until 9 December 2023
‘Retinal’ was once an epithet for art that pleased the eye but didn’t reach the brain or the heart. Gale wants to reclaim it by making art about retinas themselves. The exhibition is a minimalistic sound-and-light show about a visit to the optician’s, only that Gale’s spectacles are literally four-eyes and you can’t read any of the letters on the charts however hard you try.
Gale trained as an anthropologist, and this shows. The works try to speak to technology and its play with the human – or the other way around – but are stuck at that facile gadget and gimmick stage. Even though the project brings together a few unusual tricks, they are disjointed and leave little for the eye to linger on. Is ‘cerebral’ a compliment?
- Kevin Brisco JrBut I Hear There Are New SunsUnion Pacific, LondonOn until 18 November 2023
This show could have been solid five-star material. But I only got to see it through the gallery’s window because the staff didn’t let me come in a quarter of an hour before their official preview even though the door was wide open. That’s for the best because what I did see – paintings of foliage familiar in style from Ikea wallpapers that the press release claims are metaphors for “colonisation and migration of bodies across the Atlantic” – deserved even less attention.
- Florian MeisenbergWhat does the smoke know of the fire?Kate MacGarry, LondonOn until 21 October 2023
Florian Meisenberg’s paintings are either the product of a conspiracy or documents of a conspiracy theory. Whichever it is, the secret is as old as the hills. The canvases are filled by a crude, naïve hand that matches their folk contents: aethereal beings, plants with magical powers, strange rituals, acts of submission and domination. And naked bodies. Lots of naked bodies.
These works know nothing and too much at the same time, always maintaining plausible deniability. Between the witch burning, group sex, and friendly foxes, they’d make equally good posters for The Q Anon Movie and covers for the Ramblers association annual report.
Because Meisenberg applies ground stone onto the canvases, they look like more colourful, fantasy versions of cave paintings. It’s been a while since overzealous boy scouts ‘accidentally’ destroyed prehistoric stone markings. That same end will eventually come for Meisenberg’s work, too: he even foretells it in a miniature video in which a camera lens pointing at the sun too long goes blind.
- Alvaro BarringtonGrandma’s LandSadie Coles HQ, LondonOn until 21 October 2023
The wood and corrugated iron huts which Borrington built in the gallery from his grandmother’s memories of her Caribbean village look disconcertingly like art fair booths. The atmosphere is festive, the carnival is on. One hut is home to Bonnington’s sail-like paintings of sunsets and girls frolicking in the sea. Another, with ‘guest artist’ Paul Anthony Smith, shows collages of revellers and flags of pan-Caribbean unity. Sonia Gomes uses hers to hang a fabric sculpture. There’s also a ‘project’ room with Akinola Davies Jr.’s flickering images and sounds from Notting Hill.
Any one of these artists could have carried the show but together, they compete for grandma’s hospitality. The party slumps into a half-voiced political complaint and never recovers. This is what happens when instead of living culture, we ‘celebrate’ it, as is the demand of street carnivals and, indeed, art fairs.
- Sylvie FleuryS.F.Sprüth Magers, LondonOn until 4 November 2023
A tall woman wearing Louboutin heels and a Givenchy suit, clutching a Fendi purse strides confidently through a museum. She gestures at the displays as she passes: this Stella, that Judd. A gaggle of faggy curators follow her adoringly. They Tweet out anonymous allegations of sexual abuse to #MeToo the male artists. Long live the feminine museum! Now she drops off her car at the mechanic’s shop, dressed down to Armani. Those Pirelli calendars must go, here’s some Playgirl instead. Women drivers rule!
The screenplay for ‘a day in the studio with Sylvie Fleury’ just writes itself. Sadly, she didn’t make the film but the props are all in the show. A counterfeit Pistoletto mirror has that woman bending over a Moschino shopping bag. Designer shoes are strewn across a fake Andre tile floor. And there’s Chanel nail varnish in the mechanic’s office for his buff mate to try on.
In Fleury’s car workshop cum womenswear boutique, everything is ready-made and ready-to-wear. But you can’t touch any of it and you certainly can’t afford it. This is feminism for trophy wives and capitalist critique for the 1%. So clean, so safe, so Swiss!
- Hannah TilsonSoft CutCedric Bardawil, LondonOn until 21 October 2023
A woman’s self-portrait in sickly lime green and yellow acrylic spread so thinly that it looks like a felt-tip doodle. Tilson sports a cutesy beret and a checked trench coat. She turns her absent gaze out of the frame. The pattern of her coat matches the background like in Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg, only less Technicolor. The next painting is the same, just with slightly different (sickly) colours. And the next one too. Tilson is in all of them. And in every one, she’s lost.
This line may perfectly ascribe Catherine Deneuve’s 2023 successor. But if The Umbrellas made the actress an instant star, Tilson’s styled self-portraits are an affectation that will take many years of practice to pay off.
- Cui JieThermal LandscapesPilar Corrias, LondonOn until 4 November 2023
Cui’s acrylics are what today’s megacities would look like if the characters of the 1960s cartoon The Jetsons had free reign over architecture. The skyscrapers are so tall that it would make no difference to a street-level observer to make them any taller. There is no sky anyhow and the structures have no Earthly foundations, either. There are stripes and checks on the canvas edge for scale, but they have no key. It’s a futuristic vision, except Abu Dhabi and Shanghai already built it.
But it’s the prehistoric Flintstones – the jet family’s contemporaries in the animation studio – that get the final word because ‘architectural’ models of giant animals dominate the canvases and the buildings. There’s a mega-giraffe, a skyscraper-sized rooster, a cathedral-like rabbit. Dino, the Flintstones’ pet dinosaur, must be close by too.
For all the liberties Cui takes with architectural conventions, this attempt to bring a simulacrum of the natural world together with the megapolis is unsustainable. The exhibition thus feels like a lecture on climate change sponsored by the designers of The Line, Saudi Arabia’s dystopian plan for a 110-mile linear city in the desert.
- Josiane M.H. PoziThrough My FaultCarlos/Ishikawa, LondonOn until 28 October 2023
Pozi doesn’t want the figures in her umbrous acrylics to be recognised. Only one face is rendered at all. In one image, a woman hides in a room so cold and so dimly lit that she may well be the girl selling matches. In another scene that could be the end of a night out on an industrial estate at the edge of town, a different woman registers only in silhouette. Then there’s a group, but they’re as indistinct as the faces of Jesus that regularly appear to people on slices of toast.
These no-shows are plenty to worry about. But a sound and image montage installed in a tomb-like structure teases a downlow house party in which the absences are even more acute. This moves the exhibition from the understated sensibility reminiscent of Degas straight to Tumblr, where to be out of the loop is far more frustrating.
- Xie NanxingHello, Portrait!Thomas Dane, LondonOn until 16 December 2023
At the very first glance, Xie’s sizeable canvasses look like the kind of crass abstractions that routinely fill the walls of galleries in need of a cashflow injection. A moment later – and this says nothing of the work’s commercial allure – they reveal a clef, a code by which one finds that they are, in fact, portraits of figures lost between brushstrokes, renders, and planes.
Looking at these paintings is a little like wearing an augmented reality headset over only one eye: here is the figure, here is the artefact. This one is lost in a canvas within a canvas. Another one you only know from a laptop screen. That one is how you’ll dream when your data plan runs out.
- Nick RelphFils, ta vision!Herald Street, LondonOn until 28 October 2023
There’s joy in geometry. To make his tableaux, Relph poked circular and rectangular holes in packaging cardboard he found in the alley behind a Manhattan Comme de Garçons store. He added to this some stickers and stencils and thus made the perfect wall decoration for a graphic designer’s dining room. But there’s little for the eye to hang on and none of the punk culture of Relph’s earlier practice emerges from the works. Is the clothing brand iconic or ironic? Why is the cardboard so clean? It would be more fun to play with a child’s wooden shapes toy – a close relative of these plates – than to figure this out.
- Siobhan LiddellBeen and GoneHollybush Gardens, LondonOn until 21 October 2023
A green mountainside, the white cliffs of Dover, an enchanted forest at night, a cat hiding behind the curtains. A small canvas with a dramatic seascape seen through a sash window has little fabric drapes pinned on it. A ceramic rendering of a human ear dangles over an oil stamped with a brick pattern as though to make a rebus. Teacups, shoe laces, and (of course) mushrooms stick out from other paintings.
Liddel mixes perspectives and scales and she tries to measure the permanence of mountains with the length of a cigarette. Her subjects want to be at once grand and mundane. But they aren’t. Add to this some abstractions with titles like Between Worlds and these are very mixed messages. When Liddel applies her material tricks to them indiscriminately, the result is the twee aesthetics native to a grandmother’s mantlepiece collection of tourist souvenirs and devotional figurines. That’s not a bad perspective, but the works neither elevate, nor challenge it.
- Odoteres Ricardo de OziasDavid Zwirner, LondonOn until 29 September 2023
The art world will never run out of ‘outsider’ artists to bring into the fold. The fun is to guess the criteria. Was the artist a natural truth-seer? A village shaman? Or just quirkily crazy?
With Odoteres Ricardo de Ozias, it could be all the above. The canvases are uniform in size, their colours from that vibrant ‘folk’ pallet, and many depict carnivals or acts of fervent religious worship. Perhaps this is what happens when a Brazilian railway clerk turns evangelical preacher. These images are all perfectly charming even to a viewer possessed of a cold anthropological eye.
The troubling part is in realising just how far ‘outside’ these ideas are. Angelic visitations and demonic possessions were daily subjects for Ricardo de Ozias, but so were communal gatherings and celebrations. This is the kind of arte povera that could hardly come out of a 21st century art school.
- Mandy El-SayeghInteriorsThaddeus Ropac, LondonOn until 30 September 2023
Interiors fly-posts the grand civic forms of the Ropac townhouse with sheets from the Financial Times and the Daily Mail and vast expanses of poured latex. Everything is soft and pastel. A curtain, also dipped in beige latex, isolates an oppressively-filled room. Contours of the continents are discernible underneath the rubber, alongside fragmented of headlines. A cacophonous narrative, an equally discordant video collage. Upstairs, the forms devour the walls, too. Some worn-out carpets compete with another soundtrack. The eye longs for the calmer view outside.
El-Sayegh says she wanted to replicate Freud’s consulting room and her studio. But for the abundance of material, there simply aren’t enough ideas in the exhibition to go around these Mayfair halls. The show thus looks like a hurried response (all works dated 2023) to a gap (four weeks) in the schedule. Sometimes, access to the resources of a mega-gallery is a curse. By contrast, El-Sayegh’s restrained 2019 Chisenhale exhibition was far more ambitious.
notes and notices are inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.