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LONDON DISPATCH
by Laura K. Jones
 
Perhaps it’s a bit chronologically disordered, but let’s go back to front and cue Gary Webb’s solo show, "Revolution Oil," which opened recently (May 15, 2008) at the Approach W1 in the Eastend. It was packed with Webb’s family and many art stars. Gillian Wearing, Michael Landy, Rebecca Warren, Michael Raedecker, Rachel Howard, Mark Titchener -- all sorts showed up for Webb and deservedly so. Webb, who had a big show in New York at Bortolami Dayan a few years back, speaks like his sculptures look -- colorful, tangential, often unreadable.

At the Approach, seven bonkers sculptures are placed perfectly, and seem markedly more mature than usual. Reddish blocks of wood come out of blobs of high gloss shapes. Luscious sunset-orange felt bases sprout into silver coins dangling from bronze branches. Three trademark angled mirrored sculptures run along each solid wall in the main gallery. Downstairs, an almost comedic piece, called Tarragon Soldier and made of 15 white globular sections, looks like a snowy spider and confirms this show as one of brazen, joyful sculpture.

Many cars then trundled us to the Eastend -- Smithfields to be precise -- for a party at the Hix Oyster and Chop House. This is the new venture of Mark Hix who is, a) the ex-executive chef of Scott’s, the Ivy and the Rivington, and b) proponent of the everlasting art tab (i.e., give me an artwork and eat for free at my restaurant forever). I noticed Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Fucking Beautiful neon piece had been transferred from the Rivington and placed on the back wall of the Oyster and Chop. (Three weeks ago I bumped into T. Noble at said Rivington as he was almost sheepishly handing over a letter to the new management there, requesting it back.)

Much frivolity at Webb’s aftershow party, with the Approach director Jake Miller deejaying from a laptop. The Jackson Five was definitely extensively played at one point. Then there were the oysters and the silver bowls of asparagus. And the fried fish. A feast.

Next it was off to Webb’s American dealer Stefania Bortolami’s hotel room in the art hotel Zetter for balcony drinks. Packing twenty people in a small room was bound to cause an argument or two. And it did. Some (uninvited, I think) girls were shouting at each other. It was class war. All we ever argue about over here is how not-posh we are and how we are actually really, really salt of the earth, etc. Poor neighboring-room guests. Sorry.

And today (May 20), Webb has just called, his arm in a sling, after being rammed off his moped on the Old Kent Road by a vicious man driving a white van. Luckily for Gary he came out of it with a dislocated shoulder, a chipped shoulder bone and a shed-load of morphine. Unluckily for the driver, once he’d done his ramming, the traffic had stopped and he couldn’t get away. The ten-strong herd at the bus stop called the police and the white-van man has been arrested for attempted murder. Good. Aggression is overrated.

Back, now, to very soon after my last dispatch (in April), when John Currin debuted a particularly saucy show at Sadie Coles on South Audley Street. It really is very, very pornographic and everyone in the paintings is dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing. As the opening was so soon after the untimely death of artist Angus Fairhurst, who showed with Coles, the atmosphere was a little more subdued than usual, but still a bit glamorous.

Sadie was greeting everyone (including Mick Jagger and Hugh Grant who, weirdly, came together) at the door of the gallery. Anya Gallacio, Johnny Shand-Kydd and Jay Jopling joined Currin and his wife Rachel Feinstein afterwards at the Belgravia dinner in a private house. In regard to his painted sex scenes, Currin seemed intent on defending his wife’s honor. Though he has often employed her as muse for his paintings, he said, twice, "I can assure everyone Rachel hasn’t been used for these." Feinstein confirmed, "I haven’t had sex for ages." So now we know. 

The show’s doing so well, and is so staggering as a new body of work, that it’s been extended until June 10.  

As if on this note, an invite arrives to Angus Fairhurst’s memorial at Tate Britain on July 25, 2008. The event will "celebrate his life and work," and speeches will begin at 7.45 pm. I’m sure it will be packed to the rafters.

"Working" on my laptop at the bar of the Charles Lamb pub next door, I learn a funny thing about Gilbert and George. (Perhaps everything you learn about Gilbert and George is funny?) The besuited, bespectacled living works of art walked in to Nicolas of London a few weeks ago. This Nicolas, known locally ‘round the Angel (this correspondent’s neighborhood) as Nicky the Greek, is one of the very last genuinely Old World tailors, and he’s based at the top of Goswell Road. He was also, I learn, the pattern cutter for The Spy Who Loved Me. Nicky does all the work for his tailoring business himself, and it takes four months to get a suit. You can’t rush him.

Gilbert and George, celebrated for their sartorial elegance and desire to buy lots of suits, are the kind of customers any tailor would die for. They walked in. They asked for a fitting. Their usual tailor had just died. Nicky didn't recognize them and said, "Sorry gents, busy right now. Can you come back a week Monday?"

Onwards, to the opening of Harland Miller’s long-awaited show about Edgar Allen Poe, who celebrates his 200th birthday in 2009. It took Miller ten years to pull this eclectic thing together. Miller once wrote a novel and gave it what is perhaps the best title ever: Slow Down Arthur, Stick to Thirty. He’s also an artist and impeccably connected to lots of other artists, if this show, titled "You Dig the Tunnel, I’ll Hide the Soil," is anything to go by.

Half of it is in the White Cube Hoxton Square site, and the other half is in the old vaults of the Shoreditch Town Hall. Harland asked everyone -- a staggering 35 artists, mostly his friends -- to make a work in response to a Poe story. A big, bold Julian Schnabel is featured in the gallery part of the show. I like a crow made of flowers by Fred Tomaselli, which is neat and smart. Mike Nelson has made three spooky rooms upstairs called Melnais Kakis (The Black Cat), which smell like the nightmare part of a fairytale, and Cerith Wyn Evans has, with a flourish, put together an enormous flickering and slightly camp red chandelier.

The Shoreditch Town Hall part of the show is best, though, fitting so well with the theme. It’s like an absurd Gothic fairground, all naturally bumpy floors and dusty walls. Polly Morgan’s pigeon trapped in a bunged vase is a bit creepy, and beautiful. Next door, the voice of the Mancunian punk-poet John Cooper Clarke slides out from a clunking great big metal sensory deprivation tank (by Harland Miller) and recites The Pit and the Pendulum. The party upstairs was suitably White Cube and epic to look at, but a bit restrained and actually, almost empty; due again, I imagine, to Fairhurst’s recent death.

Mat Collishaw’s dazzling show "Deliverance" next, at Spring Projects, newly launched in the back of beyond, between Kilburn and Belsize Park. Having a long-standing interest in bullets to the body and the sufferings of children, Collishaw has surpassed himself in terms of the striking image by projecting here photographs of staged tableaux that depict the blood-soaked misery of war. Images of bloodied children running, or families hiding, come at you in jagged flashes onto the darkened gallery’s walls, all of which are covered with phosphorescent paint. Each rather haunting example of suffering lasts for a few seconds before fading away, like a retinal hit.

The flashes appear to be haphazard, coming as they do from three ceiling-mounted projectors that swivel, click and flash like state-of-the-art gun turrets. It’s disorienting and unsettling, like walking into a war zone. It’s possibly about overload of traumatic images, through TV screens and the like.

Someone told me to ring this phone number, + 44 7757 001122 -- you can try it; it’s still working -- and I rang it and could hear a glacier in Iceland melting. What a lovely piece. It’s by Katie Paterson, who is just out of the Slade School and being watched by everyone, especially the giant Albion Gallery, which just went and signed her.

This coming September, Paterson is going to take part in a group show of London-based film and video artists at the Tsekh Gallery in Kiev, Ukraine, along with Mat Collishaw, Breda Beban, Matthew Bown, Mark Dean and Shezad Dawood. It’s to be curated by Bown, who since he was booted out of his Savile Row space last December has been a committed ex-gallerist, with Natasha Sheiko, and has inspired a huge show at the Ukrainian National Gallery in 2009. These things I’ve learned this month.

I learned even more things when I went to artist Breda Beban’s Eastend flat to have a look at what she’s been doing. A professor of visual arts at Sheffield Hallam University, she makes quiet epic light-boxed photographs of "religious areas," those chapels and mosques found these days in international airports. She is also a curator and a director, who has made an astonishingly sexy verité movie called The Most Beautiful Woman in Gucha, which showed at the Tate in March.

Beban told me she was "one of Tito’s children," she smoked a lot of cigarettes and, without knowing it, confirmed that she is in possession of the best, most unusual face in the universe. I discovered she made a film of her ex-husband and his new wife having sex. I don’t know why but I wanted to applaud or fall into her when I heard that. I wanted to stay all day.

Had to get on, though, to watch and listen to filmmaker Douglas Gordon talk at the Tate’s Starr Auditorium. He and legendary New York video artist Peter Campus were in conversation with David A Ross, former director of both the Whitney Museum and the San Francisco MOMA. Ross was asking them valid and engaging questions, but the two filmmakers were being unnecessarily evasive and I think aggressive. Campus kept giving a brusque "no" before Ross had even finished a question, as if to say, "these questions are trite and pointless." Gordon was responding only marginally more kindly. Why? Artists are allowed to be eccentric, especially in settings such as these, but it made for an uncomfortable night.

On a lighter note, Ross started, in his academic and slightly serious way, to try to extract from Gordon any weighty reasons behind the making of 24-Hour Psycho, his frame-by-frame re-projection of the Alfred Hitchcock classic. To which Gordon replied, "Well, all we did in Glasgow when we were growing up was lie about watching videos. When I got hold of Psycho, I watched Janet Leigh unhook her bra, and I thought, hold on, I'll watch that again in slow motion."

Andrew Stahl is the head of painting at the Slade. I went to see a show he’d curated at the tiny Bischoff Weiss Gallery called "Monologue/Dialogue 2," a mixture of Thai and U.K. artists and a collaboration between the British Council and the Bangkok University Gallery. It’s unusual to see Thai artists here. The exhibition showcases Sansern Milindasuta, Nipan Oranniwesna, Vijinthanasarn and British artists Eric Bainbridge, Rana Begum, Nathaniel Rackowe and Stahl himself. Eric Bainbridge found identical little paintings of a coastal cottage in junk shops in Sunderland and packaged the lot together with accompanying instructions on how they should be hung on their original fittings.

Nipan Oranniwesna, who was the Thai representative at the 2007 Venice Biennale, made a fine stencil of the streets of London from an actual map by cutting out everything that is not a street. He combined this with a stencil from a map of Bangkok and sprinkled talcum powder through the stencils leaving behind a fragrant trace of the streets and rivers of London combined with the streets and rivers of Bangkok. The talcum powder was gently sifted onto a wooden platform covered in white paper. Aww.

Dealer Stuart Shave, who shows artists ranging from David Altmejd to Clare Woods, confirmed that there really is a gallery-exodus back to the west side of London when he opened his spanking new Modern Art space in Eastcastle Street, Fitzrovia (Vyner Street remains his Eastend bolt). The debut show, Nigel Cooke’s "New Accursed Art Club," is pretty wonderful -- just the kind of big, bold admirable paintings of sprightly bearded men lurking near Hieronymous Bosch-like vessels that you might want to kick your new gallery off with. Later, Shave surpassed himself in the generosity stakes by hiring out the whole of St. John’s restaurant and throwing a party with a lot of food.

To Sotheby’s to see the Francis Bacon triptych on show before it sold over in New York for some obscene amount. It looked excitingly amateurish to me. I think it was the lighting. Too much dead space around the melting manifestation of Bacon’s psyche? I’m not sure Bacon always brought home the bacon.

I’d been lucky enough to go to Berlin a few days previously to interview the garrulous, likeable Worldwide Head of Contemporary Art and lead auctioneer for Sotheby’s, Tobias Meyer. It was there that he’d invited me to see the Bacon in London. It was there that he also talked about the "Schwellenangst" one needs to appreciate art; Schwellenangst, he said, "is a beautiful German word. Schwellen is the swelling in the floor at the threshold of the door. Schwellenangst is about the fear you feel when you approach a threshold. The threshold fear is something I always felt. It’s important that you are in awe. That art does actually intimidate you enough." I liked the way he spoke.

Anyway, back in London, I found Meyer in the Sotheby’s crowds talking to Damien Hirst and Lucian Freud, where he told me he had quite enjoyed the interview because I had a "wonderful spirit." I told him he had one, too. It was all very camp. Why am I writing about this? To show off, probably.

Down the road to Paul Simonon’s show of realistic paintings of bullfights at Thomas Williams Fine Art. Were they supposed to be ironic? I don’t know. But then there was a nice one of a plate of eggs and bacon. And a skillful study of a nude "reclining." It got better as I walked round. There was Lucian Freud again (I imagine he was following me), and half of London was there, too. Simonon used to be in the Clash. He’s got a following. They followed him to his aftershow party at a pub where the brothers Collishaw -- Andy and Dave -- brothers of artist Mat -- were DJing.

Mustafa Hulusi’s epic show at the Max Wigram Gallery in Bond Street was a series of large hyperrealistic paintings of lush Cypriot almond blossoms, taken from his photographs. The flower canvases were painted by copyists and each placed next to a bold black-and-white Op Art painting of expanding rays. On the far wall was a neon outline map of Cyprus, where Hulusi’s family is from. Here were (I think) comments about diverse visual strategies, drugs, mind expansion and a flyer for the Soho afterparty that aped the flyers for raves from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Bad graphics, a call for ladies to come in free before midnight, etc. Those pesky Collishaw brothers were DJing again. They get around.

Keith Coventry stopped some crack addict girls on the street in Dalston, near his studio. He persuaded them to come back to his flat and pose for some photos getting high. I was looking at some prints of those pictures in my back garden, thinking they were brand new, and was surprised to learn they were from a show I had missed at the Emily Tsingou gallery a while back. The one of the three girls sporting scraped-back ponytails is called The Three Graces. Anyway, they fascinated me, so here they are. Keith has a show coming up at Hiscox Arts Projects on June 17, 2008, and another one at the Fine Art Society on 2 June 25.

The "402" show at the Vibe Bar Gallery on Brick Lane is an exhibition flying off the back of a Death Row project. Artists Nick Reynolds -- son of the Great Train Robber Bruce -- and the Baroness Von Reichardt went out to Texas to witness the state killing of 31-year-old John Joe Amador in August 2007 (Amador had himself murdered a taxi driver and a passenger). They and Amador’s family then took the body to a woodland cabin and Reynolds -- Britain’s sole caster of death masks -- made a cast of his head and arm.  (Texas is the only state in the U.S. where you can move a body without an undertaker present, apparently.)

John Joe Amador always stated he was keen for the casting to go ahead. A day before his death, he said, "A death mask; that’s what kings have. Now I know I’m not trash. Now I know I am somebody."

The head cast is central to the "402" show. Amador’s family was there. Linda (Amador’s wife) brought along a small bottle of his ashes, and joked that she could only bring a few of them, in case there was trouble getting through customs. Howard Marks gave a speech about the horrors of capital punishment and Alabama 3, who did the theme tune for the Sopranos, played in the garden.

I think that’s enough.


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.