Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Jonathan Meese at Modern Art

Posted in Reviews by va801km on February 9, 2009

installation shot

installation shot

Should Scarlett Johansson be afraid?

Entering Jonathan Meese’s exhibition at Modern Art feels like walking into the lair of a psychopath, possibly dangerous, certainly obsessive, who could be back at any minute to catch you prying in the workings of his mind.


Giulio Paolini at Lisson Gallery

Posted in Reviews by va801km on January 25, 2009


This exhibition confronts, in a post-minimal style, humankind’s obsession with logic and our confusion and obstinacy when it fails.

Appropriate to the search for transparency, it is an airy arrangement of spotlit plexiglass and white paper. Within beautifully constructed cubes and vitrines, elements balance and poise against perfectly symmetrical backdrops; but they also escape containment, proliferate, and lie shattered in pieces.

The largest work is alone in the middle of the front ground floor gallery, prominently visible from the street. A pyramid of plexiglass cubes sits straight on the floor. In one of the lower quarters a Photostat of a man in shirtsleeves and waistcoat kneels with his back to you, pen poised at the exact intersection with the other cubes; he is surrounded by shards of more plexiglass, which emerge at the base into the viewer’s space, implicating you in his fruitless quest for control. Above him a crystal globe rests among small precise plexiglass squares, a middle rung to the aspiring heights of empty perfection in the small top cube. It is all replicated in myriad ever-decreasing reflections in the smooth clear surfaces. The title ‘Immacolata Concezione. Senza Titolo/Senza Autore’ (‘Immaculate Conception. Without Title/Without Author’), combines biblical reference with the idea of the author/artist ‘begetting’ the perfect work.

In the main gallery space smaller sculptures and wall reliefs continue the themes of mathematical enquiry and the failure to find or communicate the answer. Lettere da Torina, 1888 (Letters from Turin, 1888) contains fragments of photocopied writings and pseudo-geometrical drawings torn up as if in frustration and trapped between plexiglass planes; the lines appear deeply scored and overdrawn as if in a gesture of reassertion, warding off doubt. (The letters referred to are the last written by Nietzsche during his mental breakdown). In Apocalisse da Camera (Chamber Apocalypse), a series of frames containing one another fail to contain the drawing at their centre, which hangs skewed , with other papers scattering to the floor from its corner.

The upstairs gallery shows twenty-eight collage studies which give further clues. Disproportionate lumps of coal balance on baroque chairs, and little figures in Regency dress mark points with sticks; as if making a metaphor of the enlightenment, (transfer of faith from blind religion to the empirical ‘purity’ of science) and the industrial revolution (the means of mechanical reproduction), to represent our contemporary loss of faith in the artist as author, the artwork as fait accompli, and the gallery as marker of value and status, leading to a proliferation of meanings.

The repeated motifs of thwarted enquiry seem a testament to the characters’ mettle in their determination to go on searching for an apex; a little like the experience for the viewer – the show is deliberate, uncompromising, admirable, but almost too lucid, a self-contained and self-critical enquiry leaving little for us to question.

Giulio Paolini
Lisson Gallery 52-54 Bell Street, NW1 5DA
26 Nov 08 – 17 Jan 09
Image: Immacolata Concezione. Senza Titolo/Senza Autore (detail)

Rivane Neuenschwander at South London Gallery

Posted in Reviews by va801km on December 9, 2008


The barn-like space of the SLG appears to be undergoing some kind of conversion; eight open-sided cubicles support a new mezzanine floor, all sturdy raw timber. The gloom suggests the place is deserted, but a sound disrupts the image: a magnified drip, metallic and echoing, followed by more of different tones, shifting and pausing.

The sound envelopes you as you move into the space, but all seems dry and still. Close your eyes and you are in a cavern, or a high ceilinged bathroom with a metal tub. On your right is the first of two projections, an undulating droplet on a continuous journey through a landscape fringed with palm trees buffeted by a wind to which the bubble seems impervious. The whole set-up creates several disjunctures; the bubble in the film looks like a drop that never falls, at odds with the sounds, and the landscape of the film is incongruous in the conspicuously constructed environment. A 16mm film projection clicks into life with a rapid whir; a hole burrows its way through all the blank black frames, like the bubble in the first film become an animation of emptiness suggesting a viewfinder, or the view through an unfocused microscope.

A bare light bulb shows a microphone in the ceiling. Above it upstairs you find the ostensible cause of the sound – a large aluminium bowl set into the floorboards catches occasional drips from an unseen source in the roof space. The drips fall too infrequently to tally with the sounds, but they trigger them. There is also a pile of fine sawdust on the floor and a horizontal row of large evenly-spaced drill holes all the way round the wall at shoulder height, revealing layers of plaster and brick. The holes continue on and through two mysterious round moulded shapes in the surface of the wall, perhaps blocked-in windows, bisecting them.

There are many visual as well as audible echoes: drip-bubble-bulb-hole-bowl; trees-timber-dust. It looks like a space still in construction, but this is belied by the completeness and mathematical perfection. The recurring roundnesses suggest framing and containment versus intrusion and revelation, the absent (or empty) object of contemplation. Borrowing from the language of minimalism, the space is yet experiential and strange. The bubble is a fragile separateness carrying a different air within its membrane, and in the same way the viewer is enclosed within a different space, both cool and logical, even banal, and otherworldly in its logic. The suspension point of the title may refer to the mezzanine (which bisects the space along its picture rail) but it replicates and mirrors itself on physical and psychological levels.

This is reinforced by the flip-clock which you may or may not notice on your way out: other than November 08, it shows all zeros, which duly flip round. You have visited the show for no hours and no minutes, on no particular day – a time out of time.

Rivane Neuenschwander: Suspension Point

South London Gallery

2 October – 30 November

Image: still from ‘Inventory of small deaths’, Rivane Neuenschwander, taken from SLG website.

Best in Show

Posted in Reviews by va801km on November 20, 2008



Best in Show

( John Jones Project Space, 3rd – 31st October 2008)


What do an ass, a pyramid and a single-keyed piano have in common?


They were all to be found above a framing workshop in Finsbury Park during October, a group exhibition of 23 recent graduates’ work.  ‘Twenty years on from Freeze, Goldsmiths graduates Pearce and Ramsay place themselves and their peers as the successors to the YBA ‘do it yourself’ generation.’ So went the listings.


‘One’ by Tom Badley, an incredible piece of craftsmanship, conjured the spectres of Magritte and Dali; funereal and absurdly humorous, it also suggested a closing down of possibilities, a limitation of expression.  The ass dug its hooves into a pile of soil in an effort to resist the pull of its harness.  The pyramid was badly covered in what looked like Fablon and sat imperviously in a corner; there was a blank space where its title would have been on the works list.  This muteness was echoed in a piece by Olivia Pilling which turned a portable TV set into a piece of lacquer-work, screen and all.


There was a lot of video work, mostly on portable TVs on plinths, a problematic display mechanism probably more to do with budget than curatorial preference.  Giles Ripley re-staged cinematic scenarios with his own painted and be-wigged hand as co-star; Malcolm Gauldie told uncomfortable and morally ambiguous jokes to an unresponsive audience; in Nico Weber’s ‘Lido’ a lone protagonist echoed moves of diving and synchronized swimming, in a deserted public toilet. 


Ruth Angel Edwards’ painting ‘Side by side we exist as potential, let us leap into the arms of the future together’ depicted a group of students posing like a band for a promo shot, looking into the middle distance with expressions of romantic inspiration.  It trod a fine line between cringeworthiness and irony.  The title and the subject matter were hand-in-glove with the show’s theme, but considering how ubiquitous it could have looked in many a graduate show of 1988, and how odd it seemed here, it created a strange reversal.


Viewers searching for a zeitgeist in new British art might have identified a spirit of stubborn resistance, a revived interest in process or a self-conscious exploration of performativity.  This did not reflect the DIY efforts of a group of artists setting out to alter the art map, though.  There was no sense of collective energy or purpose; Pearce & Ramsay ‘did it themselves’, for sure, demonstrating an eye for potential, but the impetus seemed quite different. The leaflet ‘essay’ and rosettes on the marketing material were clues to an ironic but ambiguous relationship with what came to be seen as the YBA attitude.  In fact they carried out a canny ‘PR’ exercise for themselves, with their P&R branding and their names all over the listings; maybe this is where the real Freeze legacy lies. That said, it will be interesting to see which of their hot tips go on to stellar careers, as the show argued persuasively that some of them will.


Image: ‘One’ by Tom Badley ©

Object Salon

Posted in Reviews by va801km on November 3, 2008

Object Salon

Anya Stonelake / White Space Gallery
October 14 – November 22

There is something endearing about this haphazard show and its eclectic small sculptures. Befitting the space itself, tucked away above the more prominent venues of Mason’s Yard and feeling like a storage unit, most of the works are arranged prosaicly on shelving within the single small exhibition space, whilst others (the ones the curators couldn’t decide about, perhaps?) are on tables and chairs in the office area amid piles of paperwork.

This presentation, consciously or not, is also befitting of the premise of the work. Curators (in this instance five: Thomas Beale, Kathy Grayson, Nadim Julian Samman, Emily Speers Mears and Anya Stonelake – this is the second ‘Object Salon’) asked artists to present 3-dimensional works which could be taken as hand luggage on a ‘plane. Knowing this makes the display protocol read appropriately like a depot.

For a small show, there are a lot of artists – 34 – whose ‘diverse practices’ range from traditional sculptural media, to kinetic objects using a prototype-design aesthetic, to mini-installations. Some of the pieces are weak, and would not stand up in a more traditionally curated exhibition, but get away with it in this luggage-hold of a show. Darren Bader’s ‘Untitled’ for example – two white T-shirts, complete with fresh fold-marks, are held in place on shelves by two heads of broccoli. Why? A tenuous joke about the disparate contents of hand-luggage? A misfiring comment about production and distribution or availability of commodities? Or a throwaway joke at the expense of the art market? It was certainly out of touch with the hand-crafted aspirations of the rest of the show.

There are pieces that make successful use of humour, social comment and subversive use of craft techniques, though. Cui Fei’s ‘Read By Touch’ is surely a poison-pen letter – a Braille of thorns, its partner-piece a revolving Christmas tree of barbed wire by Konstantin Novikov. FNO (Gluklya & Tsaplya)’s ‘Tramp’s Overcoat’ shows a richly embroidered lining sewn into a dirty mac, whilst Babak Radboy offers a portable rope bridge with beautifully finished wooden slats (you could have fun creating scenarios in which someone has packed that in their case).

Alas, the pièce de resistance – Meryl Smith’s ‘Excessory Luggage’, a Louis Vuitton-style handbag in the shape of a prone chihuaua, is missing due to a threat of legal action. I loved the fact that this was the mainstay of their advert in Time Out.

The show would have benefited from a more critical eye, particularly excluding the most obvious interpretations of the theme – a ‘suitcase bomb’, a case of personal photographs, and a couple of predictable takes on Hirst’s ‘For the love of God’; but when you read that it is intended to counteract the bombasity of Frieze and the recent trend for enormous sculptures it seems almost fitting: “…modestly scaled and hand-made creations are playing second fiddle to mega-objects. The curators feel that this is a shame”, the press release states with apparent innocence.

So don’t expect an intellectual work-out, but you’ll be sure to see something to reward the effort of finding the place. Who could not be a little bit charmed?

Image: Meryl Smith, ‘Excessory Luggage’, ©

Sarah Lucas: Penetralia

Posted in Reviews by va801km on October 27, 2008

Sarah Lucas: Penetralia

Sarah Lucas, doyenne of the genitalia gag in the YBA era, seems to have lost none of her preoccupation with tackle but here presents something more complex, subtle and ambiguous than the visual punchlines which made her famous.

The presentation is sombre, monochrome, all directional lighting and large dark plinths – the effect more natural history museum than commercial gallery. Spindly pale forms cast dramatic shadows; from a distance they look like bone formations or bleached driftwood. Then you realise what you’re looking at. Each branching form has a penis grafted onto it, incongruous and drolly melancholic. Other body parts also feature; through a hole in a piece of tree bark emerges a white plaster finger, inviting you to read it as a female groin playing at (or poking fun at – literally) masculinity; but most of the sculptures are just hybrids of branch-or-bone forms and male members.

The repetition and the presentation give the sense of a collector’s cabinet of found things, dead and ossified, offered up for examination. They are fetish objects, but instead of embodying a substitute for the ‘absent penis’ they present it back in a starkly castrated form. It returns as its own repressed, the ghost of Freudian paternalistic fears.

Another easy reading would be a feminist one: the penises are presented as lifeless and powerless relics, or insensate organic forms – perhaps critical partner pieces to some of Lucas’ earlier works, such as ‘Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab’ and ‘Bunny’ which commented wryly on the objectification of the female body.

But fetish objects are also invested with a mystical and psychological power, and this is highlighted in the weighty coffee-table book by Lucas and her partner Julian Simmons, which seems folkloric and even shamanistic, apparently devoid of irony, through Simmons’ poetry and prose about the power of feeling and being, the landscape and life. Full of black-and-white photographs of sculptural details shot from all angles, like a museum curator’s catalogue, its texts appear to invoke nature spirits and pagan gods, and to infer the universal and the timeless from personal experience. The press release defines ‘penetralia’ as: “1. The innermost parts of a building, especially the sanctuary of a temple. 2. The most private or secret parts; recesses: the penetralia of the soul.” Is this another manifestation of Lucas’ apparent exhibitionism, the externalisation of a foray into the innermost self?

The sculptures’ incorporation of casts of flint brings in another element; there is an obvious analogy with the tool (a ghost of the cock gag) which suggests past cultures’ beliefs in the sacredness of hunting and virility. Leaving the basement, which houses two copies of the book, look again at the layout of the ground floor works on your way out: the arrangement of the plinths suggests a stone circle or the temple of the title. Maybe this set of work is as much a paean to notions of masculinity as a quiet joke.

14 October – 15 November
Sadie Coles HQ,
69 South Audley Street, London
Image from

Juan Fontanive and Chosil Kil at Riflemaker

Posted in Reviews by va801km on October 17, 2008

79 Beak Street, London W1F 9SU

Juan Fontanive, 'Tin Tan', and Chosil Kil, 'drawerings'
15 September – 8 November

Riflemaker looks like it could be an artist led space, were it not for the position just 
off Regent Street; housed in a gun-makers workshop dating from 1712, it has a peeling 
low-key frontage and an anti-white-cube aesthetic, with faded paint on wood panelling and 
an eclectic selection of old wooden chairs serving as shelves for its literature.  Yet it 
is a commercial gallery, funded from sales of works by its represented artists.  Showing 
mainly young and upcoming international artists, with the occasional high profile 
retrospective (the website claims a 2005 William Burroughs exhibition brought over 30,000 
people through the doors) it has developed a pattern of solo shows and external projects 
in partnership with other organisations which have garnered it reviews in most of the 
national broadsheets and arts publications.  And obviously made money to boot.

The peeling chic is the result of careful restoration and its signature appearance is 
maximised to appeal to those looking for something less institutional than the white 
walled temple of modern art.  The old shop sign has provided the gallery's logo, which 
hits retro and post-modern keys. The nature of the space so striking that the art has to 
consciously work with it because competition would be futile. This has led the gallery to 
focus on installation.  It was set up in 2004 by two collectors, Virginia Damtsa and Tot 
Taylor, who curate the space themselves.  Each exhibition is accompanied by a limited-
edition hardbook book priced at £10, and a programme of artists' talks and film.

The current exhibitions are by Juan Fontanive (ground floor), a young American artist, and
South Korean-born Chosil Kil (basement).  There are also the remains of an installation by
Liliane Lijn on the first floor.

Fontanive's show 'Tin Tan' consists of mechanical devices ('stupid machines' in his words)
which whir wire arms and compositions of black and white paper in a clockwork fashion.  The
first thing you notice on entering is the breathy clacking noise of cogs and motors. The
sculptures colonise the room, like fungus, growing out of walls and corners.  They are
reminiscent of Jean Tinguely's mobiles and Paul Klee's paintings, which combined with the
setting and their purposeless charm gives a feeling of nostalgia.  They are friendly and
benign, quirky and slightly old fashioned.  The artist states that they 'congratulate the
air and each other'. The whole installation is technically perfect but whimsical; the
artist's statement talks about beauty and freedom, air and infinity, but also ridicule.

The statement ends with a puzzling sequence introduced as if it were a sharing of common
experience, when what it describes appears to be a particular instance of a a (bad) dream;
the artist describes approaching a mysterious man sitting in his garden who, when he turns
around, has 'make-up and madness on his face and in his putrid eyes', which seems to be
telling the viewer to look for the darkness within the whimsicality of the work.

Downstairs, Chosil Kil's work is based on another simple premise, the play on words of
'drawerings', with the use of actual found drawers (the furniture variety) to display some
pieces.  All in one way or another use common and personal homely items: curtain tape, MDF,
a tray, a pillow.  In a reflection of the exhibition upstairs they are monochrome and have
a strong thread of nostalgia and whimsy, but seem to tell more specific personal stories. 
In 'Nils, Thomas, Mum. Me and Frank', a broken ring of MDF hangs suspended in a loop of
curtain tape from a wall-mounted drawer, like a sling.  I imagined that each part was
figurative, the drawer perhaps representing the mother which no longer sheltered her
children but still supported them (or held them back) from a physical distance. 

‘All Is Well' recalls a traditional party game; small objects are hidden beneath a cloth on
a tray and the whole is lacquered black, stuck together.  In the game the game-master would
usually remove one object at a time, cover the tray and move the remaining objects around to
test the participants' memories of the absent objects.  But in this case we can never be
correct in our memories because we never saw what was on the tray in the first place - only
vague outlines of things which might be small bottles or piles of coins.  The memory has
been simultaneously buried through encapsulation, repressed. Its partner piece is a framed
piece of white paper on which the artist has written and over-written 'the names of people
she no longer wants to know'.  As the names become illegible, she says, the memories are

One piece only has been deemed worthy (or needy) of a full explanatory wall text.  'Rings'
consists of a glass bell-jar dome on a black plinth beneath which is a randomly coiled
length of gold wire.  The wall text explains that the wire is made from 5 gold rings, 14-18
carat, given to the artist by her mother on her leaving South Korea, to be sold 'in case of
emergency'.  Each ring had its own story - who it had belonged to, how her mother came to
have it.  After 11 years in Britain the artist had the rings melted down and re-formed into
this wire, which the text proclaims represents the transformation of the relationship
between mother and daughter.

On the first floor are several pieces by Liliane Lijn from her NASA residency 'Stardust'
project, using Aerogel and video to create small 'ruined landscapes' in perspex  tanks
animated by an aurora which is created by the abstract play of the down-projected video
onto the sculptural fragments.  The video pieces are named in the works but you never 
really see them; by peering upwards into the tanks you can make out skewed fragments but 
they are used as content-less raw material in the sculptures, except for the descriptive 
titles in the information sheets: 'Visions of the East', 'Tunnel Vision' and 'Burma'.

The three exhibitions share a number of poetic resonances, which is obviously not by
accident.  It is easy to see why the gallery is well-received and successful.  I was left 
with the impression that it was as much about a playing a shrewd game as interest in the 
art.  Everything is contemporary without being too challenging; it has the look of a 
project space, but is fully in control of the end appearance of the work.  It seems to 
pick and choose very carefully from current eclectic trends, treading a fine line 
between appropriation and repetition, irony and romanticism.

In 2007 a project called 'Riflemaker becomes Indica' attempted to recreate the ethos of 
the the iconic 1960s radical bookshop and gallery that was next to White Cube; Sally 
O'Reilly in Frieze magazine said of the result:
"Riflemaker operates within a system of market value an legitimisation that has absorbed
previous models of adventurism... and this cannot be made temporarily transparent."  
Does Riflemaker embody an essential emptiness in the production and consumption of
contemporary art, or a new optimism in combining meaningful exploration and risk-taking
with commercial value?  Whichever it is, they are doing something right; they've recently
opened a new gallery in Soho Square.

Image: work by Juan Fontanive, ©