It seems impossible to walk down a street in Mayfair without bumping into a familiar art face. As a consequence, due to all the chatting, a five minute walk often takes fifteen minutes.
I did finally make my way up Dover Street and get to Sprüth Magers who are showing a series of new works by Louise Lawler. Lawler’s photographs seek to explore the presentation of artworks and the context in which they are viewed – whether in private homes or in galleries. Her work forces us to look at art out of its normal context, making us consider how we view, and idealise, these artworks, and questioning how our opinions are modified by the manner of display.
Louise Lawler at Sprüth. Own photograph.
The current exhibition sees Lawler photographing two works by Richter – his Mustang-Staffel and Schädel – during their installation in Dresden. Through her manipulation of the original dimensions, she questions how the art world distorts artworks. These two new sets of work lack her usual charisma but the concept is fascinating and it is a concise, playful show.
I also popped into Bischoff Weiss’ Chain Chain Chain. I found this to be a strange show and one where it is important to understand the conceptual rationale before visiting. Curator, Glenn Adamson, who is also co-curator of Postmodernism at the V&A, has wanted to explore this project for a long time. Looking at art as a commodity, and the commercial status of both artists and artworks, he examines commodity fetishisation and how artists can slow down the commodity chain that flows so readily around us.
Zoe Sheehan Saldana, Adult Life-Jacket, 2008-09. Own photograph.
As well as physically referencing chain as a material (which crops up frequently in the show), the title also evokes the commodity chain itself by mimicking and underpinning it; Gyan Panchal and Nicole Cherubini’s work evokes shipping containers or packing materials through highly aestheticised objects.
The best way to understand the complex chain of Adamson’s thoughts is to hear (or rather, to read) it from the horse’s mouth and this is best done by picking up the small pamphlet that accompanies the show.
Onwards, as I headed up Bond Street in the freezing cold to Haunch of Venison for the Mystery of Appearance – the show I had been looking forward to all day. Who could not be excited by the list of post-war British artists involved? The list of ten artists includes some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow. The new front entrance to Haunch was only unveiled two days ago. What used to be a shoe shop (how apt for me) has been transformed to become such a beautiful extension of Haunch that I can’t even pretend the loss of the shoe shop is tragic. In fact, I can’t even now remember what shoe shop once stood here.
The new Haunch entrance on New Bond Street. Own photograph.
The title of the exhibition comes from Francis Bacon who said ‘To me, the mystery of painting today is how appearance can be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of making? …one knows that by some accidental brush-marks suddenly appearance comes in with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have brought about.’ Bacon himself here acknowledges the mystery of these artists’ genii – their ambition and the effect of their work is often mind-blowing.
Francis Bacon, Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, 1951. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.
The exhibition retains the artists’ individualities while introducing an enlivening conversation between them. Yes, such conversations have taken place many times before (often in our auction houses) but, with art this great, this dialogue will never become staid. The influence these artists still exert is sensational. The exhibition also examines the personal relationships between the artists themselves some of which began in the late forties.
Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.
Several of the works have come from major public galleries while some of the pieces from private collections have not been on display in years. With the recent sad deaths of Freud and Hamilton this show is timely and poignant. The exhibition does not pretend to be an overview – more of a personal selection by the curator.
Richard Hamilton, Respective, 1951. Own photograph.
Opening with a selection of nudes, in the second gallery the exhibition moves onto landscapes and portraits. These are followed by a focus on the special significance of the Old Masters to the artists, concluding with a focus on their interpretation of space and lens-based imagery. What this exhibition does is highlight quality and excellence, re-evaluating this group of incredible artists – their motives, their stories and, most importantly here, their conversations. Hours after the PV, I’m still struggling to pick a favourite – the sheer power of the Bacon, the textured dynamism of the Auerbach, the delicacy of the Freud portraits or the sensitivity of the Hamilton drawings… All the works are sublime.
Leon Kossoff, Seated Woman No. 2, 1959. Own photograph.
The catalogue with essays by Catherine Lampert and Tom Hunt is equally stunning and the perfect companion to the show. Although some of the relationships or conversations remain elusive, the paintings are all brought together by a sense of timeliness and a commitment to their medium through which the study of the human condition is touching and powerful.
Mystery of Appearance at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.
Mystery of Appearance is a beautiful exhibition and one that I will certainly return to during the daytime when I can further appreciate the works flooded by natural light from the Haunch skylights. But, in the meantime, wow!
Louise Lawler: No Drones is at Sprüth Magers until 23rd December 2011, www.spruethmagers.com. Chain Chain Chain is at Bischoff/Weiss until 28th January 2012, www.bischoffweiss.com. Mystery of Appearance: Conversations between ten British post-war painters is at Haunch of Venison until 18th February 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.