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Holes Under My Heels and Spots Before My Eyes

12 Jan

Sadly, councils do not take stiletto-wearers into consideration in failing to repair London’s streets.  The sea of holes I encountered on the way to Davies Street was quite alarming and so walking in my killer stilettos (the first London PVs of the New Year called for statement shoes) required more concentration than usual.  I confess to resorting to the safety of taxis for the second half of my evening.

Damien Hirst, Methoxyverapamil, 1991.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

Hirst’s dots are dominating tonight with worldwide openings across all 11 Gagosians (rumour has it that there may well be a third London space opening this year).   Conceived as one exhibition over a multitude of locations, the works range from the smallest, comprising a half spot measuring only 1 x ½ inch, to a monumental work over 60 inches in diameter, as well as the most recent work with 25,781 spots, all in different colours.  No-one, not even the most ardent Hirst fan, could argue that these are exciting.  With more than 300 of his Spot Paintings on display across the two London galleries, the works become a blur.  Rather than maintaining Hirst is a skilled artist, Gagosian are merely illustrating his (and indeed their own) commercial magnitude.  There’s no stopping the Hirst mass-marketing machine and it will continue throughout the year as he takes over Tate in April.

Damien Hirst, Levorphanol, 1995. Image via www.independent.co.uk

I wandered round the Davies Street gallery with a collector who has loaned a painting to the exhibition and he couldn’t even spot his own work.  We finally limited it down to three possibles, all of which seemed to be hung the wrong way up.  That, for me, summed up the problem with these works.  See one and you’ve seen them all.  While I love some of Hirst’s works, these lack the excitement and controversy we have come to associate with him.  He simply claims they are works to pin down his joy of colour, creating a structure in which to explore the full spectrum.  He has no pretensions about them and that, I suppose, is the perverse beauty of Hirst.  He once said he wanted to make art to get rich.  He does what he says – nothing more, nothing less.  The spots are his way to explore the potentials of the palette.

Damien Hirst, Bromchlorophenol Blue, 1996. Image via www.independent.co.uk

Just around the corner at Sprüth Magers is an exhibition of Donald Judd’s working drawings from 1963-93.  Do familiarise yourself with Judd’s work before visiting, otherwise his artistic vocabulary will be meaningless which would be a shame.  The drawings are all preparatory, bearing some connection to Judd’s three-dimensional objects.  They present a script of the artist’s thoughts and calculations, most apparent in the works in the glass desk where the intensity of his thought process fights for room on the page.

Some of the larger ‘working drawings’ in the show were made after the actual works; they are an act of documentation, of re-thinking, charged portraits of what Judd has created.

Donald Judd Drawings at Sprüth Magers. Own photograph.

From holes in the pavements to cobbles in Fitzrovia, I headed to the Josh Lilley Gallery who are back on top form with a UK premiere of works by Matt Lipps.  Lipps’ work exists within the realm of photography but he is far from being a standard photographer.  Instead, he extracts images from a diverse range of source materials, re-organising culture into his own compositions, often with a range of unusual juxtapositions.

Upstairs, there is a gentle introduction to Lipps’ work with a series from 2008, showing photographs from his childhood home, montaged against the dramatic landscapes of Ansel Adams.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Stove), 2008. Own photograph.

HORIZON/S, his new series seen downstairs, transcends time, location and culture.  For this work, he took images from the first ten years of Horizon Magazine, a bi-monthly arts journal that aimed to present high culture to those who weren’t in the know.  After producing these almost sculptural collages, Lipps re-photographed the work, sealing the image onto one plane.  When finished, the works look as though they have been achieved in Photoshop but the very art of these works is the manual appropriation and re-mixing to form a unique vocabulary.

Matt Lipps, detail of Untitled (Women), 2010. Own photograph.

The work is organised into basic categories such as Women’s Heads or Men in Suits.  Boundaries of time and scale are ignored and distinctions between those pictured are eradicated.   The art world, and Horizon magazine, is often forced to organise objects.  Here, Lipps questions the logic of this through a different system of categorisation that includes an element of disorganisation.  Visitors to  the gallery were trying to identify the figures, to force them back into their normal social groups.  It’s absorbing to observe the need to understand and soak up culture in the way we have been ‘taught’.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Men in Suits), 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Lipps’ reassembly of imagery comes together in carefully-balanced compositions.  Untitled (Horizon Archive), the centre point of the exhibition, is a complex tableau looking at the politics of organisation.  The six panels form an on-going image with a jumbled conglomerate of figures from various ages and cultures.  All are connected by the magazine-style stereotype which they embodied.  The fascination with these works is the act of encountering a dislocated image, transformed in size, that is designed to surprise.  They are particularly effective.  Are they sculptures, photographs, or found images?  They are not one thing, nothing with Lipps is meant to be that simple.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Horizon Archive), 2010. Own photograph.

Talking to an artist outside the Josh Lilley Gallery I was directed to Gallery Vela (not one I’d heard of before), only a few minutes away.  Although a relatively small space, it has a welcoming atmosphere – a traditional gallery with dark wooden floors.  Focusing exclusively on the charcoal drawings of Matthew Draper, they are displaying two bodies of work, both very distinct in style.

Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

The first room shows Draper’s study of interiors where he plays with spaces and hidden depths.  The thoughtfulness of the framing enhances the effect of the drawings.  The darkened rooms are momentarily lit in his exploration of illusion. There is something quite primitive and basic in his style but the works have a lot of depth to them.

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

Like Lipps, Draper also experiments with collage by drawing on montages of found materials.  In contrast though, he enjoys the random nature of selection and there is no specific intention in his choice of news story – newspaper is just a material that allows him to create a composition.

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

To go full circle, I headed to Britannia Street to get a bit more dotty.

I can’t remember when the gallery was last extended to this size but it is stunning.  They have opened all their rooms to show the large-scale paintings.  There is no doubt that this is a beautifully hung exhibition, showing Hirst’s tried and tested formula at its best.  The colours shine from the canvases in the way Hirst intends.  Show me one of these works and I’ll think it’s quite ‘pretty’ but show me 300 and they become monotonous.  Hirst has done some nice variants on the spots theme but basically they’re still all spots; there are no surprises here.  Instead, the works begin to resemble pages from a child’s colouring book.

Damien Hirst exhibition at Britannia Street. Image via www.artnet.com

Gagosian have made a joke of the 11 exhibitions by offering a prize (a signed Hirst print) to those who make it to all of them.  I guess if you could afford to go to all those galleries in the first place then you could easily afford to buy a print or even pop to one of his many studios and make your own.  He’s always generous enough to sign them for visitors!

Even without drinks, Gagosian always pulls in the crowds but they are there for a good gossip and to people-watch rather than spot watch.  Gagosian’s shop has gone dotty too with mugs, bags and badges, pushing the commercial nature of their brand to a dumbed-down extreme.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Hirst hater.  In fact, I rather like him but, for me, this is overkill and dilutes what was once quite a good idea.

 

Hirst in New York, in front of Minoxidil, 2005. Image vi a www.independent.co.uk

It’s been a good art start to the year and the 2012 London programme looks exciting.  Although not the best art of the night, Gagosian was certainly the place to be spotted.

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986-2011 is at both London Gagosians until 18th February 2012, www.gagosian.comWorking Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963-93 is at Sprüth Magers until 18th February, www.spruethmagers.comMatt Lipps is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 17th Februayr 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.comMatthew Draper is at Gallery Vela until 11th February 2012, www.galleryvela.com.

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