notes and notices

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

  • When Forms Come Alive at Hayward Gallery ★★☆☆☆

    When Forms Come Alive


    On until 6 May 2024

    This exhibition cannot decide if it’s a tourist attraction or a serious examination of sculpture’s relationship with movement. A survey so loosely framed could only ever be partial. This show, however, tries hard to rewrite the canon even when it needn’t. Where a more classic version of this story would have done with a David Medalla, for example, the Hayward’s account introduces a lesser-known Michel Blazy. This is one-upmanship confused by misreading of art history’s time arrow. Perversely, this method makes some works, like Choi Jeong Hwa’s mass-market totems, look like poor cousins even when they aren’t.

    The project also betrays an impulse to read any material, shape, or colour as fad politics. A layer of faux more-than-human environmentalism, for example, is crowbarred into Teresa Solar Abboud’s resin legs and tongues and serves the work no favour. The show’s at least partly Ideological selection criteria, likewise, failed to exclude Marguerite Humeau’s macabre plastic fungi. By contrast, the equally atrocious rollercoaster by EJ Hill and Eva Fàbregas’ giant vibrating dildo can at least be excused as mindless selfie fodder.

  • Aria Dean, Abattoir at ICA ★★★☆☆

    Aria Dean



    On until 5 May 2024

    The ICA’s once inviting gallery space is now a maze and smells of industrial rubber. Inside this pen, Dean’s video follows an animal’s death parade in a disused slaughterhouse. After a moment of exuberant confusion, the image turns into a sinister whirlwind. To the soundtrack of a cheap horror film, the invisible carcass then whimsically journeys over a pool of CGI blood and along a row of butchers’ hooks.

    Dean has contributed plenty to art’s politics as a writer and editor. Her thoughts on necropolitics would have thus been of some interest. But this work is as subtle as the “U.S.A.” denominator included in the video’s title. Even at the outset, the project’s chances are scarpered by a knee-jerk association of black American life with systemic and terminal oppression.

    Capital is racism, architecture is death. Dean isn’t wrong and all this could have been a decent e-flux essay. But visuals of her own making overpower Dean the artist. There are, for example, no butchers and no cattle in the film’s frame. The question of death-value turns into idle musing, leaving the work of the ‘system’ as opaque as ever.

  • 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.

Inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.