Friday evening marked my second visit to Haunch of Venison’s Richard Long exhibition. The two visits could not have been more different. A couple of weeks ago, when I first popped in, the gallery was a space of peaceful tranquillity with only a few people admiring the works. Last Friday, the gallery was taken over for The Courtauld Summer Party with hundreds of Courtauld alumni buzzing around the rooms. The exhibition was almost forgotten as the hub swelled and gossip escalated. Mine were not the only heels in the gallery and the sweeping staircase that leads to the first floor acted as a ‘would-be’ red carpet for glamorous alumni.
Haunch of Venison staircase with Giuseppe Penone, Ripetere il bosco – frammento 28, 2007. Own photograph.
In spite of the fun that overwhelmed Haunch that evening, this exhibition is certainly not one to be missed.
Long is the walking artist, a pioneer both in Land and Conceptual art; his works are characterised by simplicity, precision and economy, exploring complex ideas about time and space, movement, natural forces and human experience. The exhibition features works in a variety of media that have arisen from, or been inspired by, his walks. Whether huge stone sculptures or smaller photographs, the works all share this common theme, focusing on the effects of his recent travels.
Richard Long, Stone Print Spiral, 2011. Own photograph.
Although the show presents new works, there is no doubt that Long is following his well-trodden path using a tried and tested motif that he first happened upon in his teens (when he photographed the tracks created by a rolling snowball and poured plaster into the sunken holes and crevices that remained) and has developed over the years.
Long’s work is created outside the traditional artist’s studio. His studio is the landscape and his tools are nature’s creations. These works, often in the form of huge sculptures, appeal to our sensual natures while his photographs and text-based works allow our imaginations to do the work. These two practices come together most successfully in the largest room at Haunch where, in North South, the white Portland stone circle, divided by an upright line of Cornish Delabole slate, is surrounded by text works. Compass points in North South evoke the world outside the gallery – although Long has brought nature inside, it is impossible to confine his natural ideas.
Richard Long, North South, 2011, and other works. Own photograph.
The text works range from small framed pieces to word-installations that take over entire walls.
Richard Long, Fibonacci Walk, Somerset, 2009. Own photograph.
As Long introduces nature’s materials into the galleries, imposing himself on the works, they become objects of contemplation rather than mere evocations of his journeys. With society’s continuous destruction of our natural landscape, Long’s work is still as powerful as it ever was. His relationship with our environment strikes a resounding chord. Long studied at St Martins under Anthony Caro alongside some of our greatest modern artists and was encouraged to pursue whatever art form he wished. His own interpretation of painting is seen in one work, from which the exhibition takes its title, where he has thrown watery clay and pigment at the wall, using his hands, rather than man-made tools, to create shapes. The pigment in this work is an unusual inclusion for Long but aims to show the often necessary and harmonious marriage of man and nature. Long’s work is very much about himself, the way he interacts with natural forms.
Richard Long with Human Nature, 2011. Image via www.thisislondon.co.uk.
Long’s work is about journeys and, as we walk around the exhibition, we make our own journey. You may remember that I wrote about the Fabien Seiz exhibition (at the Josh Lilley Gallery) a few weeks ago where visitors’ footprints mark the bitumen on the gallery floor. Here again, although less explicitly, we can think about our own journeys, conscious of the marks we leave behind all day whilst walking along the streets, running for the tube or ambling through London’s parks.
Also using the natural landscape as its focus, the concurrent exhibition at Haunch shows the works of Giuseppe Penone. Take care not to confuse the two artists as a number of the larger upstairs galleries are filled with Penone’s work, not Long’s! The press release at the reception desk has a helpful map to guide you through – sense the irony that a map is helpful to understand the journeys taken by these two artists. Working with natural elements, Penone’s work seeks to reveal realities through mark-making, studying the interaction between
man and his environment, showing nature’s resilience in spite of our frequent interventions.
Giuseppe Penone in the mezzanine gallery. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.
Haunch is not the only place where Long is currently exhibited – as well as being included in major collections across the world, he also has a work in the Summer Exhibition, just a short walk down Burlington Arcade. The Summer Exhibition work, which I’m fairly sure also appears downstairs at Haunch, Untitled (2010), is made using white china clay on black card showing a journey of hands. Maybe this is a designed as a taster to lure people up to Haunch – you see one, you love it and you want to see more.
Richard Long, Untitled (2010). Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.
Or if you’re heading abroad there are two further Long shows in Berlin and New York.
Richard Long: Berlin Circle, installation view. Until 31st July 2011 at the Haumburger Bahnhof Museum für Gegenwart. Image via www.therichardlongnewsletter.org.
Long has quite a busy exhibition schedule at the moment and maybe this explains why the Haunch show was, sadly, a tad smaller than I expected. Although he may not have succumbed to the celebrity that compels some artists, Richard Long is undoubtedly one of the most important talents to have emerged since the 1960s.
Richard Long: Human Nature is at Haunch of Venison until 20th August 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com.