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LONDON DISPATCH
PART TWO

by Laura K. Jones
 
cont'd from Part One

Having been mildly obsessed with Bob Rossí "Joy of Painting" show on the telly for all these years -- his "happy bushes" hid a psycho killer, I know -- I was inspired to keep going with my own paint and brush after the fairly disastrous painting of a seafaring bosun that I made for Polly Morganís birthday. My next stab at the canvas went better, and I produced a glorious painting of a rooster as a wedding present for my best friend Gary Webb, who married creative fashion director Gity Monsef in Dorset last month.

I am either going to nick the painting back (if itís not appreciated) or continue painting fowl in circles like this one. Then I will move on to the aardvark/anteater family. All to be painted in circles.

The wedding was a joyous, roaring affair with artists Steve Claydon, Andrew Logan, Simon Popper, Mark Titchener and Martin Westwood in attendance, along with sculptor Webbís three dealers -- Jake Miller (London), Guillermo Parra Romero (Madrid) and Stefania Bortolami (New York). The vicar looked out to the pews and said he had never seen so much color in his life, and that "Gity and Gary have been a pleasure to marry. We donít usually get brides and grooms down here like you two." We hope that was a compliment.

On the subject of paintings by people who donít normally paint, I see YBA Mat Collishaw has been painting sandwiches. But I canít go on about him in yet another column as it will look like favoritism. Except to say that he and all the other former students of the legendary Goldsmithís College teacher Michael Craig-Martin (basically, nearly all the YBAs) will be in a show organized in Berlin by Craig-Martin and opening on Apr. 30, 2010. It will be at the gloriously named Haas & Fuchs gallery.

Coincidentally Damien Hirst and Michael Joo are also showing in Berlin at the Haunch of Venison on Apr. 30. (Berlin has no Gagosian or White Cube so Hirst can exhibit elsewhere there). Andreas Gursky opens the same night at Spruth Magers. There also looks to be a good show on the theme of "darkness" at the Matthew Bown Gallery Berlin on Apr. 28. Itís titled "noire et pourtant lumineuse" --oy, isnít that what Baudelaire used to call his girlfriend? -- yes, but here itís applied to the gallery itself. Dark yet luminous -- that is, art that works in darkness. Katie Paterson, one of my all-time favorite artists -- she has made lightbulbs that give off a moonlight glow -- is included, alongside Anina Brisolla, Alexander Brodsky and Gunda FŲrster.

But more about that busy week in next month’s column. Perhaps itís time to move across the English Channel to the continent?

Should I mention the Marine Hugonnier show of works on paper at Max Wigramís new space on New Bond Street? Yes, itís good, itís vivid, the cut paper frequently almost becomes sculpture, and itís a much bigger new space, even though Max has only moved next door. I also want to mention a photography show by Swedish-born, Paris-based artist Lina Scheynius at Viktor Wynd Fine Art in Hackney. I met this ex-model in Paris last year when she was exhibiting her quietly possessing photos at the No Found gallery. After 16 years of snapping, her work does make an impression.

Then this kind of thing pings into my inbox, making me want to NOT GO ON ANYMORE: "Artists celebrate drinking the most expensive cocktails in Britain!" Then the question, did I want "pictures of artists quaffing the most expensive cocktails in the land?" Lots of well-known artists said yes, apparently. For Valentineís, something called "the Proposal" cocktail was devised. "Snare a spouse this year. . . sweep their loved one off their feet. . . and wow them with the presentation of two Baccarat crystal champagne flutes boasting the very rare and lauded Dom Perignon Oenotheque 1995 cocktail either side of a carefully selected engagement ring." Other cocktails on "The Ultimate" list are priced between £180 and £490.

I could not help but delight in Booker-Prize winning novelist Ian McEwanís snipe at the environmental project Cape Farewell, and the almost missionary zeal with which Rachel Whiteread, Antony Gormley and ten other artists were taken to the Arctic to "ponder the perils of climate change" last year. McEwanís new book Solar has been sniggering at the expedition with such glee that the UK papers have had a field day.

The artists on Cape Farewell stayed on a 120-foot-long vessel in a frozen fjord north of Longyearbyen on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. They were encouraged to go out into the snow and respond to global warming as they saw fit. Whiteread came back from the Arctic adventure to install Embankment, a piece of art made of white cubes to represent a glacial plain, at Tate Modern. In his parody McEwan has transformed her into Stella Polkinghorne, an artist who has made a "scaled-up Monopoly set on a playing field in Catford, each side of the painted board 100 meters long."

Gormley made a self-portrait by burying himself in the ice and then filling the void with water in polythene sheeting until it froze. In Solar he becomes a Spanish artist called Jesus whose specialty is creating ice statues of penguins. But thatís enough Schadenfreude.

I popped down to the final night of Michael Landyís "Art Bin" at the South London Gallery, just to see how much the skip had filled up. Here are the photographic results. Itís filled up quite a lot.

Fiona Banner did a performance at the Damien Hirst/Hugh Allan-owned Other Criteria editions outfit and shop, arranging for a nude male model to stand against a white background. He looked a bit lost, while Fiona wrote a narrative description of him and his immediate surroundings in black ink on canvas. When she reached the bottom of the canvas she stopped. Nicely uncomfortable.

A quick trip took me to the National Museum of Wales in the Welsh capital of Cardiff to see the shortlisted works for this yearís £40,000 Artes Mundi contemporary art prize, the most generous prize of them all in Britain. Its aim is to give a platform to contemporary artists who are established in their own countries but have previously received little critical recognition in the UK. Most of them have lived with the daily impact of the fall of Communism. I must say I liked the works of Chen Chieh-jen from Taiwan, saddening films of silent factory workers in his home country, a narrator reading out their written life stories.

The director of Moscowís Contemporary Arts Centre, Viktor Misiano, was one of the chief selectors of the prize. He made a speech at lunch in the hotel over the road from the museum and thanked the prizeís chief executive, Tessa Jackson, for looking after him. "You gave me very human conditions in which to work, Tessa." Does the old Soviet anxiety never go away?

Back in London at the Haunch of Venison gallery was the Kids Company- and Bryan Adams Foundation-hosted "Shoebox Art" auction, a unique exhibition and sale of work by leading artists who each recreated a room from their childhood inside a shoebox. Hundreds took part, including the Chapman Brothers, John Isaacs, Ross McNicol, Simon Perriton, Marc Quinn and Boo Saville, plus 100 London children. Polly Morganís raised £9,500 and Damien Hirstís raised £21,000. I didnít catch the rest but overall the total raised was over £170,000. Champagne was being passed around, lilac cakes too, and all the food was generously laid on for free by Sketch restaurant.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder and driving force behind Kids Company (a powerhouse of a charity that tries to improve the lot of extremely vulnerable children in Britain), told me that the most difficult thing to raise money for was for art materials. She also asked if I could ask every artist to add on "just £5 to every sale they make and give it to Kids Company." Thatís not too much to ask. I have made a start already but hopefully this article will relieve me of asking every individual artist in the land, which would take a long time.

Many moons ago I received an invite for the Contemporary Art Societyís annual fundraising dinner and auction "Systems," to be held inside the derelict Battersea Power Station. Clutching it to my chest with glee, I thought, "How kind of them to invite me!" then saw the £3,000-pound-a-table price tag and put it and my dreams to one side.

Then I get a call on the day of the dinner from the abovementioned Gary Webb, whose work was in the auction; his then-fiancťe was ill, and he wanted to know, could I go in her place. Just to get a look at the inside of the crumbling behemoth of a building was worth it. The corrugated cardboard tablecloth, the giant fishcake in a mini-saucepan, the pea soup in a camping cup, the strange waiters in white crinkly crime-scene suits ended up being a bonus. Everyone was wearing white but me; I havenít got any white clothes.

It was all good fun, of course. Most people were investment bankers (one of them, a very well-spoken Old Etonian called Roddy, gave me some sound financial advice) and art collectors who the artists and I had never seen before, except for the very real and beautiful Hazel Collins, who we all know and love.

The eventís sponsors had to employ falcons to scare off the pigeons that had been defecating on the see-through roof of the power station, I was told. It all added to the glamour. Falcons, white suits, power stations.

Oliver Barker of Sothebyís led the auction and a lot of money was raised. We were allowed to take our twinkling wire sculptures from the table home. Mr. Webb and I wore ours on our heads all the way to Soho; I eventually gave mine to my cab driver for his daughterís bedroom, said goodnight and went to sleep with tears of laughter streaming down my face. Itís crazy what a bit of chicken wire and some fairy lights can do.


LAURA K. JONES is a journalist based in London. She has written for the Guardian, the Observer, the Times, the Saatchi Magazine and artforum.com.



 



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