notes and notices

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

  • Amanda Wall, Femcel at Almine Rech ★★★☆☆

    Amanda Wall



    On until 22 December 2023

    In Wall’s femcel portraits, despair is sexy. Larger than life and rendered in Insta colours that could have been the choice of an image AI, her women perch at the bed’s end, squat by the wardrobe, and rest at the kitchen table. They’re bent out of proportion, showing off their skinny asses to the collector’s delight. Their boob tubes are tight, their shorts short. They play tired, scared, and helpless, just like you like them. They pulled these faces for you before. You will come back for more again.

    The self-taught and presumably terminally online Wall may have experienced the faux emancipation of an e-girl first-hand. But her paintings are too brash and denatured to win in the battle over the 21st-century female body. Maybe sex work is the only work left in a world with no sex and universal online income. But there’s no dignity in paint when the arc of art history tends to “show hole”.

  • Ghada Amer, QR CODES REVISITED—LONDON at Goodman ★★☆☆☆

    Ghada Amer



    On until 22 December 2023

    In The Rules of Art, Pierre Bourdieu scathingly described artists as sign-writers for hire willing to tailor their messages and beliefs to the highest bidder’s wishes. Thirty years on, this critique is outmoded because all art sloganeers the same thing and nobody pays artists anyhow. 

    Amer’s textile works weave and print a litany of clichés (“one is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”, for example) in unreadable cursive thread trace and overconfidently bold appliqué type. These snippets are so dull to the eye that the gallery reproduced the captions (“my body belongs to me and it does not represent the honour of anyone”) on the wall next to them. This invites a game of proofreading, in hope that Amer maliciously inserted a greengrocer’s apostrophe into de Beauvoir’s mind. But Bourdieu was right, after all: the signs stick to platitudes.

  • Dominique Fung, (Up)Rooted, at Massimo de Carlo ★★☆☆☆

    Dominique Fung



    On until 20 December 2023

    In Fung’s pastoral paintings and ceramics, the peaceful garden pond is the site of despair. Men weep into water lilies. The damned are locked in an underwater dance. Ghosts go fishing and fish are apex predators. 

    All this tries to be macabre and surreal like in Bosch or Miyazaki but is instead laughably twee, not least because this isn’t the only show on in London set at the bottom of a Victorian garden. Fung may be on-trend and her East Asian influences elevate the canvases a little but the clumsy sculptures send the whole show back to the garden centre.

  • Avery Singer, Free Fall at Hauser & Wirth ★★☆☆☆

    Avery Singer

    Free Fall


    On until 22 December 2023

    It’s officially no longer “too soon” for mediocre 9/11 art. Singer’s installation mimics the lobby and office spaces of the World Trade Center which she remembers from visiting her mother at work. This could be a trauma theme park but is instead an excuse to show off a handful of paintings of characters associated with the attacks. The stylised photorealistic canvases have titles that suggest deepfakes and are elaborate in their making: a 3D artist, a model maker, and a make-up specialist are involved. 

    Singer has the benefit of ‘lived experience’ to defend her method but the content and extravagance of this production in central London are puzzling. This show would be better without the baggage of the artist’s personal story and even better without the Twin Towers altogether. The qualities of the image and Singer’s idiosyncratic construction of her subject are enough to deal with the event’s excess.

  • Helen Johnson, Opening at Pilar Corrias ★☆☆☆☆

    Helen Johnson



    On until 6 January 2024

    You’d never guess that Helen Johnson is an art therapist as well as a painter when her subdued hanging canvases come with titles like Late mirror stageTransfence love, and Lack. Women, whole or in body parts, are thrown around these images by chaotic lines in shifting scales and perspectives. They’d like you to know that they’re thinking of serious matters (see Constituted object) but can laugh it off, too (Das Ding Dong). A series of smaller works at the back of the gallery momentarily inspires Bataille’s Story of the Eye but Johnson dispels such risqué associations with another run of prosaic captions.

    This is the work of a mind that, having needlessly spent years in analysis, became hooked on ennui. Or, just as likely, of an artist who wasted her studio time misreading Lacan to the detriment of her praxis. The unescapable result are these dull, if technically proficient, paintings of boredom made for dull eyes. Their lack, in turn, is profound.

  • Vinca Petersen, Me, Us and Dogs at Edel Assanti ★★★☆☆

    Vinca Petersen

    Me, Us and Dogs


    On until 22 December 2023

    This modest display of the artist’s personal photographs of people, campsites, and dogs taken during her fifteen-year spell as a traveller and squatter and recently made up into four framed assemblies hardly makes for an exhibition. The tableaux, sparsely annotated in Petersen’s hand, sketch stories of free love, free movement, and free association. 

    But constrained by this gallery, they are merely vehicles for nostalgia. And that’s a pity because Petersen’s work of ‘giving voice to underrepresented communities’, as curatorial fashion today would have it, has roots in a life of both joy and struggle that social practice rarely succeeds in engaging. To go all out on it is no answer, either: Petersen’s website has pictures of this critic examining her much larger installation in 2019.

    Such is the lot of political alternatives. Close up, Petersen’s innocents today conjure ideas of redneck resistance. At scale, of state-marketed utopia. The middle ground is envy.

  • Oh, the Storm at Rodeo ★☆☆☆☆

    Oh, the Storm


    On until 13 January 2024

    This could be a lazy stockroom show or the greatest selection of the gallery’s works. We’ll never find out, however, because in Rodeo’s quirky tile, brick, and cobblestone Mayfair interior, it’s impossible to tell where a work ends and the wall begins. No amount of close contemplation helps and this exhibition is trying to explain the concept of ‘crazy paving’ to a blind man. Attempting to shut out the excess stimulus of the gallery fabric is so vexing that one longs for the works to either scream in brash colours or to disappear altogether. They do neither, and neither seems like a winning strategy anyway.

    Rodeo previously staged charming, intimate, and minimal shows in this space. When ‘site-specific’ has become a dirty concept again, this show is worth seeing for its interior design student failure alone. After the storm, an opportunity to train one’s spatial sensibilities.

  • Armando D. Cosmos, Nothing New Under the Sun at Phillida Reid ★★★☆☆

    Armando D. Cosmos

    Nothing New Under the Sun


    On until 20 December 2023

    Cosmos, who is no doubt a victim of nominative determinism, wants to redefine STEM as the alliance of science, theosophy, engineering, and myth. Digital tapestries with the look of 1980s popular science magazines illustrate the aesthetic connections between the research of life and life itself. Whimsically but also mechanistically, the works line up the atom, the DNA helix, and the microscope against the shapes of the planets, plant seeds, and the winding serpent of Asclepius.

    These images could become moderately successful memes. The earth is a viral molecule on one tapestry, and biotech brings a new dawn on another. Both science and myth take turns as the butt of Cosmos’ clipart jokes.

    Unfortunately, this study remains largely decorative because the works make too much of coincidence and not enough of the image. Their epistemic basis, that everything looks like everything else, is intuitive but insufficient. These diagrams, therefore, could be at home on an “in this house we believe” yard sign and an anti-vaxxer’s rally with equal ease. The artist would likely endorse neither.

  • Diego Marcon, Dolle at Sadie Coles HQ ★★★☆☆

    Diego Marcon



    On until 16 December 2023

    Mr Mole is working from home. His mole children are home too, off sick from school in this wintry weather. Mrs Mole holds everything together. The fire is burning, cups of tea all round. Mole is tucked up in bed himself, a pile of paper on his lap. He has some stuff to catch up on, so he enlisted the help of his wife with copying out the Book of Numbers. That would have been fun but these numbers are 21, 19, 3, 9, and 18, and a whole lot more. In the thirty minutes of Marcon’s endlessly looped film, the Moles spend an infinity batting these figures from one page to another, interrupted only by the odd cough. Not even the mammals know why.

    This is half cutesy, half absurd until one realises that little separates the animatronic moles from half of the world’s human population for whom rearranging numbers in a table is synonymous with survival. Idle work became indistinguishable from leisure, vegetative time-passing from family life. No wonder, then, that even the Moles seek meaning in the figures. The key, according to Marcon, is 566. But that number works only for him.

  • Women in Revolt! at Tate ★★★☆☆

    Women in Revolt!


    Curated by Linsey Young
    On until 7 April 2024

    “In the early 1970s, women were second-class citizens” is as good an excuse for a survey of British 2nd-wave feminism as any. But just like the two decades of social politics and activism it narrates, this encyclopaedic exhibition requires an encyclopaedia to navigate. Not because the story is opaque – many of the works in the show are already familiar – but because the institution’s impulse to streamline its plot – to make history, in other words – demands scrutiny.

    The intentions seem honourable and in the exhibition guide, the threads are distinct. There’s a room for labour, a corner for childbirth, one for black women, and a section for lesbians. This is as close to nuance as Tate gets today. But in the gallery, the material is so abundant that a visitor not already acquainted with the arguments might struggle to understand the conflicts that directed and often broke the march of progress which the museum would have us lock step with. 

    Counterintuitively, it might have been more productive to exclude the hundreds of pamphlets, zines, and other ephemera and show only those artefacts of the period that somehow already earned their place in the museum store. This would aestheticise, rather than ideologise this history. 

Inspired in form and attitude by Manhattan Art Review.