Winter has certainly arrived and, after a quick amaretto latte at Caffè Nero (my winter essential), I was grateful to take refuge inside the first gallery of the evening. Tuesday seems to be the new Thursday and with openings all across London, I selected four within easy walking distance of each other.
I began at Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly to see one part of their current Paul McCarthy exhibition which is spread over both their gallery spaces and St James’s Square. Not Paul McCartney – this is an art blog! As everyone will know, Paul McCarthy, is, of course, one of the world’s most celebrated living artists. Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently travelled to Los Angeles to visit McCarthy and was overwhelmed by the vastness of his studio – the size of the operation is not just a Hollywood essential but is vital to his work as the exhibition fills three spaces (four if you count the Savile Row split) with huge ambitious pieces. He’s also currently showing in their New York gallery and his daughter, Mara, has curated their Zurich exhibition – Hauser seem to like keeping it in the family.
Paul McCarthy, The King, 2006-2011. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com.
Presiding over the ground floor at the Piccadilly space is McCarthy’s The King, a monumental installation raised on a platform and surrounded by large-scale airbrush paintings, supposedly created on the easel which stands on the said platform. The main focus here is a silicone model of the artist – naked. Slumped on a wooden throne, wearing a long blond wig, his limbs are partly severed, his eyes are closed (possibly in pain). He is grotesque. And, as is so often the case, we cannot help but look. Church pews have been arranged in front of the piece so that the space becomes a chapel where visitors can worship at the shrine of the artist. Incredibly, this created an almost holy hush across the gallery particularly noticeable to regular Hauser PV guests. The King had cast an intense spell and everyone seemed intoxicated by his power. There are other works in the vault rooms downstairs and the gallery spaces on the top floor but they didn’t have quite the same impact as the resonance of the initial piece. Neither, was it easy to access them; ascending or descending the stairs involved getting far too ‘up close and personal’ with the other guests.
Paul McCarthy, Mad House Jr., 2011. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com.
Next, I wandered along Piccadilly to Beaux Arts who have an exhibition of paintings by Jonathan Leaman. There is no doubt that his skill as an artist is exemplary and the paintings are good but, for me, they were not sensational (maybe this is unfair considering the act they had to follow).
Jonathan Leaman, The Great Pipe, 2006-2011. Own photograph.
Leaman is visibly inspired by narrative works from the 17th and 18th centuries and he saturates his works with meanings and emotional incidents. Beaux Arts had one particularly special visitor in the gallery, intent on cleaning his paws whilst offering the occasional greeting to anyone who intruded on his space by the bar.
Beaux Arts’ dog and the first dog in the blog. Own photograph.
Cork Street was awash with visitors and I passed at least five other tempting openings as I headed to my number three. But, alas, there was no time. Well, I say that but an enticing display of shoes distracted us for at least ten minutes. Research for Artista, of course!
Kurt Geiger. Own photograph.
TAG Fine Arts have taken over the Air Gallery on Dover Street with an exhibition of maps. Map-making is an ancient art form that has helped to form a coherent geographical image of the world. But, maps are no longer merely useful objects to be used for navigation and this is often the last thing on the mind of the cartographer. This exhibition shows how traditional topography has evolved into territory for imaginative exploration. These are not just two-dimensional pieces but windows into imagined lands.
The Art of Mapping at the Air Gallery, Dover Street. Own photograph.
The Art of Mapping celebrates cartography as an art form in which artists use maps to respond to their environments, creatively register ideologies, emotions and ideas and present selective records of real or fictitious worlds. Highlights are new works by Stephen Walter and Rob Ryan but the exhibition showcases a number of contemporary artists concentrating on these themes including a range of new works as well as old favourites like Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear. From Google’s controversial Street View project, to the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition, cartography is increasingly in the public eye. One vodka tonic and lots of chatting later and time seemed to be running away with me…again!
Simon Patterson, The Great Bear, 1992. Own photograph.
My final stop was part two of the McCarthy exhibition at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row. The North Gallery is taken over by Pig Island, a work that took seven years to complete, filling McCarthy’s studio, blurring the boundaries between a work and the workplace.
Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Own photograph from the viewing ladder.
The sculpture combines political and popular figures, placing them in a morally deviant world overrun with images of reckless abandon. Constructed and raised on blocks of polystyrene, the work is littered with wood, cast body parts, clay, spray paint and old fast-food containers.
Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com.
Pig Island looks intentionally unfinished – a raw and never-ending work that could expand into infinity. There is something in every nook and cranny but the state of the piece means we can see McCarthy’s thinking and the development of his skewed ideas. Stepladders are placed around the work to allow visitors a better view of the piece. But, stilettos and a short dress meant I didn’t dare embark on this particular climb. Instead, my loyal friend ventured up the ladder for me (and for you) with the camera and somehow managed not to fall headfirst into the island.
The ladders/viewing platforms for Pig Island. Own photograph.
The South Gallery presents some of the offspring of Pig Island which McCarthy himself has described as a sculpture machine. Train, Mechanical shows two pot-bellied caricatures of George W. Bush, sodomising two pigs.
Paul McCarthy, Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.
As perverse as it sounds, once again, it was impossible not to stop and stare. The sculpture was intriguing and the audience were in no hurry to move away. The work certainly brings out the voyeur in everyone. I dare you not to stare at the rhythmic motion of the arses of presidents and pigs alike.
Paul McCarthy, detail of Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.
Round the corner of the gallery, I gave in and changed into flats for my journey home.
Walking down Regent Street, I had my first glimpse of this year’s Arthur Christmas Christmas lights – the countdown has truly begun.
Paul McCarthy: The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship is at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, Piccadilly and St James’s Square until 14th January 2012 (Paul McCarthy’s outdoor sculpture Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools will be on view until 15 February at St James’s Square), www.hauserwirth.com. Jonathan Leaman: As Above So Below, 5 Years in the Making is at Beaux Arts until 17th December 2011, www.beauxartslondon.co.uk. The Art of Mapping is at The Air Gallery until 26th November 2011, www.tagfinearts.com.