Who needs shallow art parties? Theyíre so October. After Frieze, and the glamour, and the attendant madness, I became acutely aware of how edifying it might be to rediscover the other side of the London art world: the smaller galleries and happenings, the quieter movers and shakers that donít have the backing -- for example -- of galleries that are owned by auction houses. The things, in short, that I may have once arrogantly overlooked.
‹ber-curator Hans Ulrich-Obrist topped the Power 100 list back in October, but it was good to see those cheeky fellows at Hyperallergic.com immediately countering the silliness of such a list with their inventory of the least powerful power people in the art world. The lineup included one Candida Home, a supposedly blind art blogger who is said to have caused £80,000 in damage while reporting on the, er, well-known Lakeland Ceramic Fair in Derbyshire.
Also getting a much deserved mention were the "faceless miners" from Sierra Leone who hacked 8,061 diamonds out of the face of the earth so that Damien Hirst could make For the Love of God, his skull-covered imitation of a disco-glitter ball. These men no doubt "sleep well at night," noted Hyperallergic, after doing their bit to achieve "the pinnacle of the latest gilded age."
In search of the subtle
Keenly trying to hit the subtler art notes I so craved, I ventured out and walked miles up the Kingsland Road to Mustafa Hulusiís tiny new artist-run space, the Civic Room, in Haggerston, an as-yet-ungentrified part of the old East End. Why not put a show on of your own work first, if youíre the founder of the gallery, is no doubt Hulusiís thinking here, although a strong and varied program looks set to follow his inaugural exhibition, "The Ruins."
Hulusi, who showed paintings earlier this year at Patrick Painter in Los Angeles, has always been adept at curating oddball exhibitions. Heís also known for fly-posting mammoth posters of his own name across the billboards of the East End (itís one way to get noticed), and for sticking pieces of art up in various Shoreditch lightboxes -- most of which he seems to own, or at least rent.
In 2001, he let me exhibit in one of those lightboxes a large-scale "epic" poem that Iíd written about the Apocalypse called Stammer Going on in the Flat Background. It told of a dystopian world populated by managers of poorly imagined catering businesses and gated communities. Someone even did a fireworks display in Hoxton Square for me, on the eve of the unveiling of the piece. Were we all bored? Underemployed? Both, I think.
"The Ruins" at the Civic Room are exact replicas of the marble sculptures of the Roman goddesses, the Salamis Women, found on Hulusiís ancestral home, the island of Cyprus. One major change: heís had them cast in black marble, not white. Hulusi told me he used to play on the ruins during his family summer holidays. The figures are "ravished yet asexual," he says, noting that removing artifacts from their place of origin can distort our reading of the past. The headless statue in the middle looks for certain as if sheís holding a large ice cream cone. An ultramodern image always, always, butts in to ancient things for me. Itís a constant and tiresome mild form of hallucination.
Running concurrently at Hulusiís London dealerís space, the Max Wigram Gallery, is "The Worshippers." (You see, itís impossible to stay away from Bond Street sparkle for too long). Smaller-scale versions of the Salamis sculptures are on show along with Hulusiís hyperrealist paintings of Cypriot oranges still on the trees, and a strobe-heavy video, with which the exhibition shares a title, thatís made in conjunction with ex-Turner Prize nominee Mark Titchner. Flashing images of Ayatollah Khomeini do battle with Ď80s rave-esque geometric patterns and Titchnerís signature truisms. A manic mishmash evoking -- I suppose -- an anticonsumerist message. Anti-west? Pro-strobe light? I just donít know anymore.
What British art graces the walls of Westminster? I heard that the very feminist Margaret Hodge MP, our new-ish Minister for Culture and Tourism, got rid of her predecessor Barbara Follettís old art works -- which included a ceramic rendering of a mad cow (not kidding) -- and chose the following from the very Orwellian-sounding Government Art Collection: works by Barbara Hepworth, Bridget Riley and Mary Martin, and a lightbox by Zarina Bhimji called Howling Like Dogs, I Swallowed Solid Air. Grayson Perryís Print for a Politician, the only work chosen that was made by a man (even one who wears a dress), is also getting an airing, all told.
Following the monkey nuts
Limoncello is the name of an unassuming gallery that I kept meaning to request mailings from, kept meaning to remember to go to, and that I literally stumbled across the other day underneath some old railway arches on Cremer Street off Hackney Road. Limoncello was, I believe, originally the Store gallery and founded by the now-famous Lisson Gallery-backed artist Ryan Gander -- he of recent Frieze Projects fame. (Ganderís We Are Constant project took photos of Frieze punters looking at their favorite work, and displayed them along the entrance corridor). Now Limoncello is run by Ganderís wife Rebecca May Marston and a man called Matt Williams, who was eating a bag of monkey nuts when I happened across the opening there.
What struck me here was A Tergo; Can You Dream Like The Wolfman?, a film by something called "New International School" (which is, a quick search tells me, "a mobile coalition of artists whose interests, among other things, is in examining the limits and limitations of art as it is practiced in economically buoyant zones"). The movie is based on Freudís Wolf Man case, and was shot in August 2009 on location in Treignac, France. New International School has an annual conference in Treignac, as far as I can gather. The film is a collection of lovely gloomy, pensive shots of Scandinavian types lying fully clothed in bed, or standing at thresholds, looking deliberately blank. A bit Dostoyevskyan, a bit Ingmar Bergman. A bit both.
If other works were on view, it was too dark to find them. Oh, there were film posters on the floor, and a trail of monkey-nut shells.
Onwards then, and still keeping it largely painterly, poetic and low key, to "Epoch of Perpetual Happiness," the Peter Davies show at the Approach Gallery. Davies exhibited in the Approachís very first group show many moons ago, and is back, after some years in the semi-wilderness where he was for a while represented by Gagosian, at other times represented by no one, and at all times, teaching painting at the Slade. Heís very much a gentleman and his paintings are big, wry comments on the now stale conceits of Op Art, flower power and counterculture.
What tickled me most was the list he seems to have requested be included in the press release. Itís a roll-call of his influences and heroes, and I would print it verbatim, if my editor would let me. But among the names are Ellsworth Kelly, Pattern & Decoration, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, bell hooks, Dead Kennedys, Saddam Hussein, tribal tattoos, Gunter Grass, Roy Lichtenstein, Super Mario, AIDs Quilt, Paris 68, Coca-Cola, Tauba Auerbach, Gerhard Richter and Michael Kidner. A little bit of just about everything, then.
Feverish art dreams
I fear Iím almost definitely going art-world-mad, letting it seep in to my subconscious too much. Either that, or, as I try to withdraw from its clutches somewhat, it follows me bleating, into my dreamscapes. Iíll explain: The morning after the Davies opening, I awoke slightly feverish from a dream in which I had been given the monumental task of producing a stage show, to be performed in the Approach gallery. I recall having huge trouble with very unhelpful teams from both sides of the Atlantic, throughout the dream. The show was to be -- no word of a lie -- the world premiere of "Tanya Bonakdar - The Musical." †But I couldnít get it off the ground.
The following morning, I woke from another dream in which I had been living in Texas for so long that I needed to take a "reading" holiday in Aspen, Colorado. I took along with me the artist Phil Collins, another ex-Turner Prize nominee and, coincidentally, an old high-school friend of mine. In real life, I had definitely been wondering what Phil had been doing of late, as I hadnít heard of him that much after a flurry of activity post-2006 Turner Prize. On opening my real-life, non-dream email that morning, a press release from the Victoria Miro Gallery arrived, telling of Collinsí new show there, titled "Soy Mi Madre" (I am my mother).
Spookier than that, his new film, which is about the Latino and immigrant populations of Colorado, a sizable percentage of which hail from northwestern Mexico (so, nearly Texas), was commissioned in 2008 by the Aspen Art Museum as part of the Jane and Marc Nathanson Distinguished Artist in Residency Program. You couldnít make it up.
I was very much looking forward to Katie Patersonís "Streetlight Storm," which opened on the pier of the small town of Deal in Kent, Dec. 21, 2009-Jan. 30, 2010. (The project is supported by Vauxhall Motors and Albion Gallery, in partnership with Turner Contemporary and Whitstable Biennale, Iím supposed to say.) The Scottish-born, London-and-Berlin-based Paterson has been quietly beavering away for a few years now, after stunning everyone with her beautiful piece that recorded the sounds of a dying glacier in Iceland, letting people listen to it via a mobile phone that anybody could call up. I mentioned the piece here a year or so ago.
"Streetlight Storm" is designed to have the pierís 20 lamps "flicker in time with lightning storms as they happen everywhere from the North Pole to North Africa," Paterson says. "Theyíll all be going at once. Loosely, the brighter they are, the nearer the storm."
A lightning expert has worked closely with the artist to devise an antenna -- "just like a big bit of chicken wire" -- that picks up electrical signals from the lightning strikes. These are isolated as audio waves, which are then connected electronically to the lights.
Bob Law -- "the father of British Minimalism" -- is having a retrospective across two London galleries, Thomas Dane and Karsten Schubert, until the end of January. Difficult to love immediately, the modified fields of black, the white, red and blue blocks that make up numerous "castles," and the penciled outlines of squares and more castles (they look like they were executed by a depressed draughtsman) slowly grow on you, if you give them time.
I loved the lone Law sculpture at Karsten Schubert, a sleek, quiet stainless steel piece, called Obelisk for a Day (1999), that looked like a giant whistle. It was dated 9.9.99 and had the words "all measurements in increments of 9" embossed on its base. Most of the works seemed to be from 1966 or 1999. Was this deliberate? Law has been dead for five years so we canít ask.
One thing that Iíve noticed (along with Mick Jagger) is that you canít always get what you want. Example: during Frieze Fortnight, it was virtually impossible to get an alcoholic drink at any of the openings, especially if you werenít there at dead-on 6 pm. Now that I donít want a drink, and canít face the parties, I canít for the life of me get hold of a soft drink at a gallery. During one night of four openings last week there was nothing but beer or wine. Not that any of this really matters.
A big crowd descended on the Swallow Street space to see William E. Jonesí sometimes disturbing re-appropriated footage of a 1962 undercover police film of homosexual liaisons in a menís public toilet in Mansfield, Ohio. Titled Tearoom, itís an autonomous project supported by Hauser and Wirth gallery and curated (in the UK) by Sarah McCrory, who has just been appointed as the person to take over from Neville Wakefield in curating next yearís Frieze Projects. The film was being played in full inside the space, but the bottom half of the screen was blocked off for viewers on the street. Perhaps a sensible move in the aftermath of the removal of Richard Princeís Spiritual America photofrom the Tateís "Pop Life" exhibition not so long ago.
On the opening night, the artist was in conversation with Stuart Comer, curator of film at the Tate. I had to agree with Jones when he said that the film makes it "transparent that there is no photography without desire." When a young, good-looking man with a pompadour haircut enters the lavatory, the camera operator never stops jumping around as he follows the young manís every move, whereas his camera barely moves when filming the various fat old blokes giving and receiving (what appears to be) scant and furtive pleasure. "We know he was married with children, but what the filmmaker-policeman was actually thinking is not available to us," said Jones, ominously.
The clandestine trysts reveal a mixing of races and classes that you wouldnít expect in the early Ď60s; itís a "pre-liberation film," said Jones. Itís a fascinating document, and a melancholy one. Accompanying printed text reveals some of the vicious Ohio newspapers headlines after the sting. "Police go undercover to reveal a nest of bestial depravity," said one. When the film was shown at the Warhol Museum last year, the artist encountered a negative reaction from the audience that he couldnít have expected. "I wonít be going back to Pittsburgh any time soon," he said.
Tea, cakes & "Idle Women"
Down to the Wallace Collection for tea and cakes, and a talk about the museumís future exhibitions. After the furor over the Wallace hosting Damien Hirstís painting show, "No Love Lost," lots of people are still wondering why Dame Ros Savill, the museumís director, actively sought out an artist not known for his painting skills. We know about the "eye-watering" sum of money (i.e. £250,000) Hirst gave to the gallery, but we didnít think Ms. Savill would want to labor the point that it was all about the green stuff. But labor she did. "The week before [No Love Lost] opened, our shop took £4,000," she said, during the tea and cakes morning. "The next week we took £27,500." So there you have it. We bow to Mammon; thereís no escaping it.
Seemingly not so bothered about the money are a group of young artists -- as yet unsullied by the banalities of fame -- who have recently graduated from the RCA and now, as a collective named "Idle Women," participating in the show "Statues Die Too," organized by the artist Poppy Jones (no relation). The show took place way out west (i.e. west London) in a freezing cold former stables called the Garage. Greeting you at the entrance was an ominous, black, recently restored Victorian carriage by Lise Hovesen. "Available to hire, to be drawn by Black Fresian Horses: Please see artist for further information," said the bumpf. Alongside it was a film made recently at Chernobyl. Destruction sits next to restoration, etc. For the evening the carriage was taken over by 20 friends of the artist and as many bottles of wine.
I liked Poppy Jonesí seemingly fragile screenprints here. She won the Lynn Painter-Stainers Young Artist Award in 2007, and is, I imagine, one to watch. Live music came courtesy of Lewis Jones (again, no relation) and his band Plaster of Paris.
A quick trip across the English Channel -- is that what itís called still? -- to Berlin, where a welcome email came in from the Micky Schubert gallery inviting me to a Daniel Sinsel show. I rave about Daniel Sinselís paintings to Daniel Sinselís face whenever I see him in the street -- his studio is close to my flat in London, and I always embarrass myself a bit. But, because heís so tall, his head sails above the clouds, so I donít think he can even hear me. If he can, heís such a gentle German, I donít imagine he minds too much. Micky Schubert had a delicate painting of a flute, but doubled up, as if you were looking at it drunk. A central sculpture of cymbals in a black box caught my eye too. Was he feeling very musical lately? "Yes," said Daniel. "I am always listening to music while working and I tried to incorporate a more unspeakable world of sound into my work. I am glad you liked the cymbals. I am quite proud of them as the work seemed so bonkers as an idea but I am glad it all came together nicely. I think."
I popped down to the Other Criteria shop and gallery space on New Bond Street for "Ghost Proof," Boo Savilleís show of etchings, drawings and prints where she revivifies photographs of the dead. Boo keeps inviting me to her things, so she must have forgiven me for interrupting the panel talk about her work, with my threats to mangle the life out of Alexander Brener, the shit "artist" who "works" with excrement, and who is generally a bit of a shit himself.
Saville filled me in on the bizarre goings-on at "Art Barter," which took place when I was away in Berlin. Curator Lauren Jones organized this biggest art swap-shop London has ever known, at the Rag Factory, Nov. 26-29, 2009. Tracey Emin, Tim Noble & Sue Webster and Gary Hume were all involved. Boo told me, "I got offered a tour of the British museum by an archaeologist, which sounds right up my street. I was also offered a drawing of an octopus by a child and a red nail." Topping that surely, though, was artist Adham Faramawy, who was offered a foreskin for his sculpture Untitled Bust (The Feather of Ma'at). "Stanley Schinter, filmmaker and performance artist, did indeed offer me his foreskin in exchange for my sculpture," Faramawy confirmed. Heís yet to decline or accept.
And finally, some holiday messages to get us through the following weeks:
Maureen Paley sent a surprisingly joyous e-card wishing us all "Peace on Earth"; Sadie Coles sent a musical e card singing "HO HO HO," along with news of the Matthew Barney show opening in London on Jan. 27. But the festive piŤce de resistance has to be the greetings card from everyoneís favorite billionaire Ukrainian oligarch and collector, Victor Pinchuk, which arrived this week from Kiev. The message inside; "Happy New Year! I wish you balance for your soul and carity [sic] for your mind. I wish you worthy challenges and beautiful successes. I wish you love! Victor Pinchuk." I never thought heíd be one to emote in such a new-age-y kind of way. But people can always surprise you.
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.