notes and notices

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

  • Anna Barriball at Frith Street Gallery ★★☆☆☆

    Anna Barriball

    New Drawings


    On until 14 March 2024

    Barriball is known for repetitive marks which caress surfaces before defeating them with pigment. Now, new drawings of windows – blue, orange, and yellow rectangles of faintly broken-up colour – try to capture shadows cast by the sun on the floor in her studio. They’re visible only against a layer of dust which temporarily settled between gusts of wind. 

    But they only feign such fragility. On unsolicited inspection, these blocks turn into dull sheets of waxed paper and not the light-loving cyanotypes or Polaroids to which they make claims. The blinds are drawn tightly over the frames, leaving no highlights, no shadows, and no sunlight either. 

    Vague references in the gallery’s text to the artist’s comfortable pandemic isolation fail to illuminate this confusion. The eyes may be the windows of the soul. To make an aphorism of the reverse needs more than shadow-play.

  • Wilhelm Sasnal at Sadie Coles ★★★☆☆

    Wilhelm Sasnal


    On until 16 March 2024

    Sasnal’s sun-soaked Californian road trip turned sinister. The highway’s coastal expanse, recorded here in the painter’s usual Adobe Illustrator style, is unmarked by the signs of life. The streets play host to murder, and the luxury apartment to solitude. The wholesome teenager who in one canvas offers the painter some lemons is sure to be hiding a switchblade behind his back. The reservoir barely hides the night. “LA”, as a canvas precariously propped up by a ladder proclaims, “is not safe”.

    Perhaps. Parts of the exhibition support this narrative, as does the LA Times. But Sasnal’s untitled, unmediated project switches tracks from one canvas to the next. The scenes’ intense sunshine and the odd technological instructible paintings thrown into the mix saw seeds of doubt if not discord. 

    This universe is half picture postcard and half dystopian meme. Reality, in a word. But Sasnal’s paint stays flatly on the canvas. Only in flights of anger – somehow too studied but too indecisive – does this vision come close to becoming believable.

  • Material Rites at Gathering ★★★☆☆

    Fritsch, Genzken, Oldenburg, Shani, Sherman, Smithson, Thek

    Material Rites


    On until 9 March 2024

    Material’s disastrous influence on meaning, questioned in this show deftly by Oldenburg, Sherman, and Genzken, should be art’s most pressing concern. The role of faith in the making of truth, likewise, is routinely overlooked. Here, Thek and Fritsch take a good stab at it.

    The instincts are right, but too much makes sense to make sense together in this cramped Soho showroom. A scan of the gallery’s roster reveals that the project’s aim is to upvote a couple of amorphous, although figurative works by Tai Shani. Curatorial and commercial ambitions mix thus, and suffer the same fate we all do.

  • Ed Webb-Ingall, A Bedroom for Everyone at PEER ★☆☆☆☆

    Ed Webb-Ingall

    A Bedroom for Everyone


    On until 11 May 2024

    How can art improve the lives of communities affected by the cost-of-living crisis, years of underinvestment in public services, and the brutality of open markets? Wrong answers only because Webb-Ingall has already turned this group of migrants, minimum-wage workers, and local activists into low-grade animated content. 

    Aesthetically, his 15-minute film which the gallery hopes will inspire or agitate viewers, is akin to the verbose, AI-generated web blogs one has to wade through on cooking recipe and instructional websites before finding the content of interest. Politically, it’s a technocrat’s call masquerading as a grassroots protest banner, cloaking impotence with pseudo-radical verbiage that has done no one any good, ever.

    Peer sits a block away from the Job Centre, where many of this exhibition’s target audience supplicate themselves in return for meagre state handouts. A minute’s walk in the other direction is a branch of the citizens’ advice service, where the same appellants learn to cope with this system. Webb-Ignall can’t decide which of these two he’d rather show his work at. In the gallery, he replicates the failings of both.

  • Mohammad Ghazali, Trilogy: Then… at Ab-Anbar ★★★★☆

    Mohammad Ghazali

    Trilogy: Then…


    On until 6 April 2024

    Two runs of austere, monochrome images line the gallery’s walls. One documents the construction of what could be a modern Persepolis. Rebar and concrete tower over the sky, columns spring from the mud below. Silver gelatine permeates all surfaces and commands respect like the false gods to whom this edifice is devoted.

    Across the room, dozens of even more formally composed images of Tehran streets. Each bears a mark of a protest, so silent that you might miss it. No people are present in these scenes. This makes them eerie and poignantly defeated. 

    It’s hard to read these pictures without falling into Ghazali’s sentimental trap. Repetition and framing are photography’s greatest tricks. But the sheer industry of this analogue production proves that something in front of the lens must have been worth keeping. One only hopes that this reality measures up to the shot.

  • Jenkin van Zyl, Dance of the Sleepwalkers at Edel Assanti ★★★☆☆

    Jenkin van Zyl

    Dance of the Sleepwalkers


    On until 9 March 2024

    On the gallery’s black walls, van Zyl’s metallic drawings look like graffiti in one of those property guardianship projects that would have been a crack den a decade or two ago. Today, it breaks the budget of a trust fund hipster artist. Fantastical figures – half rats, half human gimps – lock in an erotic death dance in one image. The head of this game’s loser becomes a trophy in another. But the polished steel and brushed aluminium surfaces of these tableaux, reminders of this environment’s once functional intent and the work’s commercial aspirations, cry out for real vermin and vandalism. 

    The manufacture of faux subcultural memorabilia is Edel Assanti’s ongoing side hustle. Here, each of van Zyl’s posters comes with a wall sculpture made from the ubiquitous intercom panels that adorn the doorways of shared occupation buildings. Ring 1 for “Grief”, and it’s flat 7 for “Garbage”. Their poor state – finally! – betrays the base humour of this one-star hotel’s residents, but also the whole show’s false-grit indecision.

  • Yoko Ono at Tate ★★★☆☆

    Yoko Ono

    Music of the Mind


    On until 1 September 2024

    In the kind of Sunday afternoon daze visitors experience when visiting the museum, one may mistakenly queue up to enter Tate’s seemingly permanent installation of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms instead of Yoko Ono’s retrospective two floors below. Either show is as full of punters as it is of signs, one no different from the last, as though they were phantom mirror reproductions. 

    Ono’s ‘pieces’, so numerous that they are cramped even in the largest of Tate’s gallery complexes, manifest as sets of instructions, documents, and the odd living object. “Count the number of lights in the city every day”, bids one. Call an apple an apple, rhymes another. Fly. Imagine. Remember.

    The museum craves poetry. Trying to rewrite the oversights of art history which failed to credit Ono’s conceptual word salad, Tate accepts her instructions as Apollinarian rain. Grinning with recognition under John and Yoko’s “War is Over” banner, it wants to believe that such banalities might still change the world.

    Unfortunately, they didn’t. For all of conceptual art’s enduring populism, the worth of Ono’s practice lies today in an academic argument about her influence on art school undergraduates and performance art divas like Marina Abramović. This show might sell tickets. But it won’t change the weather.

  • Bitch Magic at Alma Pearl ★★★☆☆

    Renate Bertlmann, Cullinan Richards, Ayla Dmyterko, Permindar Kaur, Rebecca Parkin, Tai Shani, Penny Slinger, Georgina Starr, Unyimeabasi Udoh

    Bitch Magic


    Curated by Celeste Baracchi
    On 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 Traoré at Sultana and Amanda Wilkinson ★★☆☆☆

    Nanténé Traoré

    She 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 Narkevičus, The Fifer at Maureen Paley ★★☆☆☆

    Deimantas Narkevičus

    The 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.

Inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.