This is a collection of short and curt exhibition reviews from (mostly) London galleries.
- Iris TouliatouOutfitsPEER, LondonOn until 16 December 2023
The popularity of Institutional Critique – the artistic practice which takes the management of museums and galleries as its subject – has waxed and waned since artists like Michael Asher in the 1970s began to rearrange gallery walls and floors as though the fabric of the exhibition space was more interesting than the artefacts. Touliatou’s intervention at PEER – stripping a section of drywall, moving a door, and altering the gallery’s location on Google Maps – returns to this tradition as though nothing had changed in the meantime.
She has a point: the very purpose of art institutions is once again in question. But can Institutional Critiques’ failed experiments produce different results today? Touliatou’s twist takes her to the museum store where she assembled a collection of dozens of ceramic figurines of Jennings Dogs, the ornamental canine guardians found in the gardens of suburban homes whose 2nd-century Roman predecessor belongs to the British Museum. These gestures remind the gallery that it is a social space in which the vernacular should be at home. Unfortunately, they also inadvertently point to the gallery’s sorry end: art-free but dog-friendly.
- Gray WielebinskiThe Red Sun is High, the Blue LowICA, LondonOn until 23 December 2023
On my first visit to this exhibition, I thought I’d misunderstood the ICA’s new opening times and missed half of the show. Returning, I found nothing more: a largely vacant space with some seats set in a circle, a photo wallpaper with multiple sunsets, and an electronic scoreboard like at a basketball court. In another room loosely styled as a military bunker and only dimly lit, I played with an unresponsive touchscreen to unknowingly change the score outside. Underwhelmed and unaffected, I moved to the gallery bar.
Reading the exhibition’s pamphlet in search of something to chew on, I found it full of vague observations and dubious claims. The title came from some Cold War science fiction. Time’s arrow is broken. There’s a world outside. We’re living in the end times. Some things mean other things.
This illuminated nothing. I knew that it was possible to understand art and life less after seeing an exhibition. I didn’t, however, imagine that experiencing Wielebinski’s work twice would only compound such damage.
- Abel AuerThe shadow of tomorrow draws an ancient silhouetteCorvi-Mora, LondonOn until 4 October 2023
Abel Auer’s paintings are consumed by the apocalypse. A nuclear mushroom cloud washes over the landscape in one with a sinister orange hue. Another captures an encroaching forest fire. Things are no better in the city where a hurricane has toppled towers. In a literal example of ‘zombie figuration’, Death himself makes an appearance on one canvas, while in others, the dying are busy counting hell’s circles. It’s a memento mori but death is the future and the past perfect at once.
For its concern with the natural and the inevitable, this isn’t an exhibition about the climate crisis. It is, nonetheless, opportunistic: like every artist, Auer tries to turn the disaster to art’s advantage. But he is more interested in the fate of painting than humanity and thus stands apart from the army of zealots who make eco art today. Unfortunately, a ‘key’ painting – a kind of sales pitch that calls to the Illuminati, the pyramids, and aliens – undermines the show and turns it back into propaganda.
- 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.
notes and notices are inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.