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An Exhibition of Everything – Lines of Thought at Parasol

29 Feb

Because it’s not right in the heart of Mayfair Parasol Unit often gets missed off the PV lists but art enclaves now exist all over London and Islington isn’t really as out of the way as many people think.  Last night, with dinner plans only a five minute drive away in Clerkenwell, I was determined and went to see Parasol’s new exhibition – Lines of Thought.

A mixed show, the exhibition includes work by Helene Appel, Hemali Bhuta, James Bishop, Raoul De Keyser, Adrian Esparza, Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, Jorge Macchi, Nasreen Mohamedi, Fred Sandback, Conrad Shawcross, Anne Truitt, and Richard Tuttle.

Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, Ceaseless Doodle, 2009. Image via www.designweek.co.uk.

Line is one of most powerful forms of artistic expression in history.  The exhibition, therefore, was based around a very simple premise.  Whether seen as continuous, broken, curved or straight, it’s everywhere and forms the basis for everything.  Some of the works show the magnitude and extravagance that can now be achieved through a focus on linear exploration.

Fred Sandback, Untitled Nr 4, 1968/1983. Image via www.designweek.co.uk.

Raoul De Keyser’s paintings, upstairs at Parasol, recall the workings of such Abstract Expressionists as Mark Rothko, where he has divided the small canvases into black and white fields, playing with the horizontal.  His paintings are introverted, self-reflections on his varied life.

Downstairs is more dramatic; Hemali Bhuta’s Stepping down is a site-specific installation using thousands of wax stalactites to mimic candles.  The impressive installation is somewhat diminished by the range of works in the gallery but the piece is still visually striking, transforming one corner of the room into a cave-like space where dripping formations evolve out of the ceiling.

Hemali Bhuta, Stepping down, 2010. Image via www.parasol-unit.org.

Adrian Esparza’s new work, So Fast and Slow, shows a mounted Mexican blanket that has been partially unravelled.  Much of his inspiration comes from his borderland experience in El Paso, where he lives and works, and his daily encounters with political divides.  Although So Fast and Slow is a new work this year, Esparza has created similar pieces before.  Here, guided through a loom-like maze of nails, the cotton thread becomes a strikingly geometric colourful landscape looking at the turbulent history it represents.  Esparza shows the blanket both as a constructed object and as a deconstructed form suggesting the potential for new possibilities from past forms.

Adrian Esparza, So Fast and Slow, 2012. Image via www.parasol-unit.org.

Of course, no exhibition on line would be complete without Richard Long (fresh from Haunch of Venison) and Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #103 from 1971.

For me, Conrad Shawcross’s Harmonic Manifold 1 (5:4) stands out and still has the same mysterious enigma as when I first saw it at Turner Contemporary and then again at Frieze – it’s been around quite a lot.  Placed on a raised platform surrounded by Shawcross’s drawings the work commands respect, bringing its own inspirational gravitas to Parasol.

Conrad Shawcross, Harmonic Manifold 1 (5:4), 2011. Own photograph.

The exhibition is a well-thought out idea, nothing radical, nothing subversive.  My fellow gallery-goer thought it had crossed the line and was dull.  I thought the strength of the disparate works kept it interesting.  The main problem is that line can be so manipulated that, in fact, the theme of the exhibition is everything, as everything uses line.

Outside at Parasol. Own photograph.

Parasol will always have the advantage that their stunning gallery space shows off works to their best no matter what they are.  It was a warm evening and people were milling outside by the pond, sipping champagne under Yamada’s SAD light and returning to the exhibition with smiles on their faces.

Lines of Thought is at Parasol unit until 13th May 2012, www.parasol-unit.org.

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No need to be SAD: Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit

28 Nov

You may remember that I missed a couple of openings last Tuesday so after lunch and a few meetings at The Charles Lamb in Islington on Friday afternoon, I decided to head over to Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit to see their two, much-talked about new exhibitions.

Victoria Miro’s artist, Alex Hartley, has had his fair share of press recently – and not much of it positive – regarding his 2012 Cultural Olympiad Project, Nowhere Island.  The sculpture is formed from six tonnes of rock cut from a Norwegian glacier and will visit numerous venues across the UK next summer.  Hartley’s aim is for the project to highlight the dangers of climate change but the ‘island’ has been slated as a waste of public money.  Rarely do all the different newspapers unite but here they found a common cause.

Alex Hartley’s Nowhere Island. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk

However, Hartley’s current exhibition at Victoria Miro serves to remind us what a great artist he is.   Presenting a series of mixed-media photographs, the exhibition seeks to explore his on-going investigation into dystopian architecture, secular habitation and the construction of a sanctuary.  Not only do his photographs concentrate on built environments, but the works become built environments themselves as well, as Hartley constructs and transforms traditional wall-mounted photographs, turning elements of them into sculptural jungles.

Alex Hartley, A city in my mind, 2011. Own photograph.

The interventions are all scaled architectural models which come together to allude to the creation of something that has now become uninhabitable, a building or form of shelter occupying an uninhabited landscape.  In some of the images, Hartley even digs crevices into the flat surface of the photograph – ingenious!  From a distance they look like just photographs but up close they are sculptural landscapes.

Alex Hartley, I’m tired of travelling, 2011. Own photograph.

His works directly reference Drop City, the first rural hippy commune built in a desolate area of Colorado in the mid-1960s.  Living in makeshift shelters, the radical artists and film-makers sought to create a live-in, and living, work of art.  In practice, it wasn’t quite so successful and was disbanded within ten years.  But, on Victoria Miro’s terrace, Hartley has made a Drop City dome, rusted, aged and out of time which he will apparently inhabit during the exhibition.  I saw a pair of boots outside the tent mouth but didn’t spot him lurking inside, only a few hens pecking away at the water’s edge.  Dropper is beautiful and so brilliantly brings to life the ideas in his photographs.

Alex Hartley, Dropper, 2011. Own photograph.

One other sculpture accompanies this exhibition.  Upstairs, a work shows a life-size, one-man tent, partly submerged in a snowdrift.  Is the inhabitant inside?  Has he/she survived or escaped?  Although the message reinforces that of the photographs the sculpture, in my opinion, was slightly unnecessary and seems a bit random placed by itself.

Upstairs at Victoria Miro showing Bivvy, 2011. Own photograph.

The project space by reception includes artefacts and objects from Hartley’s past two expeditions to the High Artic that relate to the controversial Nowhere Island.  As this space is separate, it doesn’t distract us too much but I wish they hadn’t dredged up the Olympic debate here and, therefore, brought all of our doubts about Hartley to the surface.

However, regardless of your views on that, the mixed-media photographs are superb and deserve attention in their own right.  Pretend Hartley has had nothing do with the Olympics and look at these stunning works afresh as he re-builds the photograph, forcing us to think about place, community, shelter and surroundings.

Alex Hartley at Victoria Miro. Own photograph.

Looking at the Hartley installation on the terrace, it’s impossible not to be struck by Parasol Unit’s installation by James Yamada.  The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees is a sculptural work addressing the phenomenon of light and is the first in Parasolstice – Winter Light, a series of outdoor projects on this theme.

Complementing Victoria Miro’s exhibition, Yamada’s work is a shelter but in no ordinary sense.  Integrated into the roof are lights normally used in the treatment of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  Yamada is known for such ingenious constructions as this that merge nature and technology but here the main question is, is it art or therapy?  The artist doesn’t want it pigeon-holed as either.  Art is therapeutic for a lot of people and, regardless of whether you suffer from SAD (and I think we all do a little bit), after ten minutes of exposure, the lights are meant to elevate your mood and change your body dynamic.  Yamada thinks that London is dreary in winter and wants the artwork to give people hope.  We visited just as it was getting dark and, although I didn’t have time for my ten minute stint, it did make me happy looking at the warm glow emanating across the terrace.

James Yamada, The Summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, 2011. Own photograph.

Inside at Parasol is an exhibition of two Swedish artists – Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand – that focuses on time and memory.

Cecilia Edefalk at Parasol. Own photograph.

Edefalk’s work carries a strong Scandinavian haunting melancholy.  Beautifully painted, her twelve completely different versions of the same nude (a Venus statue) focus on ideas of repetition, reproduction and historical memory.  Although all the paintings concentrate on the same subject, they could not be more different.  They allude to one another and form a complex exchange until all that remains is an abstracted, silhouetted image.  The artist is heavily involved in the exhibition and the physical set-up is an integral part of her practice – some works are displayed at angles, some upside down and so on until the exhibition becomes a performance of the artist’s own sensibilities.

Cecilia Edefalk at Parasol. Own photograph.

Upstairs, Wåhlstrand’s work blew me away.  Images do not do these justice – they are photo-realistic ink drawings, focusing on memory, that reconstruct her own personal history.  Exploring motifs from the family album, Wåhlstrand re-approaches her family history and the harrowing story of her father’s suicide when she was only one year old.  Although the images themselves are not particularly special by re-drawing them, Wåhlstrand gives them a poignant immediacy as she re-explores the past of her family that she never knew.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand, Walk, 2011. Own photograph.

As she approaches and moves beyond the stories they tell, the drawings are greatly enlarged from a normal family snapshot.  The images are soft and lacking in resolution, showing the fading of memories over time.  The softening dilutes the power of the photograph and the memory.  Both artists’ works have a profound sense of loss and distance.  We cannot get close to the figures depicted, we will never truly understand.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand upstairs at Parasol. Own photograph.

Three brilliant exhibitions and they’re next door to each other so what a bonus (I confess to having been in flats otherwise this would have been a perfect totter for me).  All the works deserve attention in different ways and then, if you’re tired from an art overload, you can sit down in Yamada’s happy house and get some energising light.  It’s a win win situation!

Alex Hartley: The world is still big is at Victoria Miro until 21st January 2012, www.victoria-miro.comJames Yamda: The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees is at Parasol unit until 18th March 2012 and Time and Memory: Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand is at Parasol Unit until 12th February 2012, www.parasol-unit.org.

So many galleries, so little time…

8 Apr

Yesterday was definitely a mega gallery trawl.  Having spent a few days in bed suffering from the dreaded lurgy that I always seem to get at this time of year, I was suffering art withdrawal symptoms.  Heels at the ready (although having regard for my frailty I had a pair of flipflops in my Mary Poppins- like handbag just in case), I set off.

My first stop was Parasol unit on Wharf Road whose current exhibition, I Know Something About Love, includes works by Shirin Neshat, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Yang Fudong.  Each artist explores the theme of love in various times and cultures reflecting on their personal experiences.  I went as I am a huge Yinka fan; for this exhibition he has re-configured his installation Jardin d’amour originally shown in Paris in 2007.  The works are housed within an evocatively romantic maze of ivy-covered trellis filled with secret walkways and mysterious turnings. 

Own photograph

You come across the three Yinka installations after losing yourself in the work. Please note, this was the only time that evening I got lost but that’s probably due to the fact that later I was with “the boys”!  I felt like a child again, on a treasure hunt and these works are indeed buried treasure.  Peepholes in the maze mean you see the installations of The Confession, The Pursuit and The Crowning before you find them. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

There is an exciting sensation as your pace quickens trying to reach the goal – hunting for the mystery of love.  Ironically, you encounter lots of dead ends in the process!  Beautifully complemented by the maze, Yinka playfully applies a political perspective by looking at love in eighteenth-century Rococo France.  The three scenes resemble Fragonard paintings with elegantly dressed, affectionately intertwined (headless) couples.   

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

One of the installations, surrounded by fritillarias, has a bench enabling the spectator to become part of the scene.  No-one is indifferent to love and Yinka’s garden will bring out the hopeless romantic in even the most cynical of us. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

The other artists’ works are in the upstairs gallery – three striking video installations that are all powerful in different ways.  To be truthful, I hurried through the upper galleries still lost in Yinka’s magical mystery tour so I didn’t afford these works very much time.

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

As I was next door it seemed opportune to pop into Victoria Miro where they are showing ‘new and recent’ paintings by Chantal Joffe.  As you enter the ground-floor gallery space you are confronted by seven large-scale paintings in a muted palette of black, red, blue and white. 

Own photograph

This limited palette is very effective, creating a sombre and dignified feeling.   The paintings depict portrayals of Joffe’s heroines, both imagined and real (painters and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries).  The young women, isolated against dark backgrounds, are trapped within the canvases; their bodies are in awkward or sexual poses, distorted or kneeling, conveying a sense of vulnerability.  The works are untitled to denote a lack of specificity but this reading is meaningless when looking at the works and the artist’s intention isn’t helpful.

Image via www.victoria-miro.com

The works left cold rather than feeling sympathetic or empathetic – they just had no impact.  However, I love this gallery and large works look good in this cavernous space.   In all Joffe’s paintings the figures gaze away from the viewer, maybe looking into the future or reflecting on the past.  Who knows?  And, sadly, who cares?  I felt the works were bland and, unfortunately, this didn’t change as I walked around the exhibition

Upstairs, smaller works are overpowered by the architecture.  Being familiar with Joffe’s earlier works, to me these new canvases seem hurried and I didn’t sense how these women felt or how Joffe herself  felt. 

 

Own photograph

Time to move on…

I met with ‘the boys’ and we headed to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery for the opening of an exhibition of new works by Harold Cohen.  Cohen, who represented the UK at the 1966 Venice Biennale, is undoubtedly a well-known artist – a pioneer in applying computing to the arts having created a unique technique.  These works are created with his celebrated program AARON which here forms the digital equivalent of underpainting the canvas.  Cohen then works over this underlayer with oils creating the finished works we know today.  I was fortunate to chat briefly to Cohen at the gallery; even during our short conversation, his passion and pride for the works is evident.  They are vivid and make good use of the upper gallery space.  For me, the works reflected the gorgeous weather outside.  As simplistic as this may sound, they were happy abstract canvases – the perfect antidote to the Joffe. 

Image via www.jacobsongallery.com

By now we were getting conscious of the time and, with my flipflops on, dashed up to the Lava Gallery for Page Tsou’s opening.  Although I’m a regular to Carnaby Street and the surrounding courtyards, I’d never noticed this gallery before which I think is a large part of its problem. 

Own photograph

This is a small space in a great location but there is nothing that exciting about the set-up to draw people in.  Tsou’s exhibition is only on for a week but it’s definitely worth a visit. 

He has flipped traditional portraiture – drawing the back of heads to form unidentifiable portraits. 

Image via www.rca.ac.uk

It’s a clever idea.  Tsou said he began this project as he realised it’s the back of the head that we look at every day, walking down the street, on the bus… and he didn’t know why people always focus on facial features when the hair and skull can be just as interesting.  These portraits are semi-figurative and mysterious.  Tsou’s technique is unquestionably good and the intricacy of his drawings is fascinating.  He has an unusual vision whilst upholding original techniques – certainly one to watch. 

Own photograph

And, he was giving away free combs – a nod to the hair-themed exhibition.  Love it!

 

Own photograph

As we legged it down to White Cube it was time for the heels to go back on.  I have a reputation to uphold after all and what fun would a PV be if I wasn’t tottering around.  Also the boys are all rather tall (they cheekily say I’m rather short) and I can see them better with my heels on.  Mason’s Yard was mobbed!  It was as if someone had sent an e-mail out earlier in the day offering sunshine and free beer after work and the whole of Mayfair had turned up. 

Own photograph

I doubt that many of the people there actually saw New Order as when we ventured inside it was blissfully quiet in comparison to the people-packed courtyard.  White Cube has to be the only gallery I know that operate crowd control with an in-out system in use for the PVs.  Classic and something only they could pull off. 

Apparently, the works in this exhibition share ‘a focus on the transformation of social or ideological structures that shape experience and, in different ways they explore existing communal, political and physical constructs of the everyday’.  A suitably broad and all-encompassing statement that enabled White Cube to shove in whatever they wanted.  There is no denying that the individual pieces in this show are great but, overall, I don’t feel there was any formal coherence to the show and the pieces don’t come together well. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

If I didn’t know better, I’d say these works had been pulled out of storage to fill a gap in the exhibition schedule.  The Balka work on show downstairs was generating a lot of attention but that was partly because, after a few beers and too much sun, people were enjoying the interactive element.  It is actually a very poignant work: a long tunnel with five coloured threads hanging and intermittently rotating, recalling wartime atrocities in Poland. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

By all means go to see the pieces and admire them in their own right but, for me, the theory does not make this a cohesive show. 

Time was getting tight and we were forced to sacrifice openings at Simon Lee and in Hoxton Square and hail a cab to the Britannia Street, Gagosian. 

This is another space that I adore and I particularly admire the versatility of the layout.  For this exhibition of works by Philip Taaffe, the gallery has returned to the format I like best, the one that was used for their wonderful Bacon/Hirst exhibition in 2006 and many more besides, with the main room as a huge rectangular space and a side room on the far left.   

Taaffe’s first solo show in London was one of the best of the evening.  The main room is filled with intoxicating triangular canvases – their kaleidoscopic shapes produce a trance-like mesmeric state.  The works are full of contradictions: the near violent use of clashing colours is still harmonious (or, perhaps, the fashion for colour blocking makes it seem so), the works are both filled with control and abandon, figuration and abstraction.  Considering this, they are very powerful pieces. 

Image via http://1.bp.blogspot.com

The second room is very different in style and, for me, not as exciting; here, Taaffe focuses on the interrelation of forms and images across art, nature, architecture and archaeology, recalling masks from Greek tragedy, ornamental friezes and late-antique stone carving. 

Image via www.gagosian.com

These are more muted than the stained-glass effect of works in the first room.  Although the works are aesthetically pleasing and this is a nice exhibition it is nothing outstanding.

An exhausting, but kind of wonderful, gallery overload and I couldn’t have planned a more diverse route if I’d tried.   I changed back into my flipflops outside the gallery and the security guard actually came out to tell me how clever he thought that was.  He laughed at me so much as I shrank a good four inches that I decided to call it a day.

Next stop … next week … Miró at Tate!

 www.parasol-unit.org

www.victoria-miro.com

www.jacobsongallery.com

www.pagetsou.com

www.lavacollective.com

www.whitecube.com

www.gagosian.com

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