Anchorage-based Milan-born artist Paola Pivi used to turn jumbo jets upside down and photograph them. Now she’s snapping trains of naked men, each one with their cock placed in the bottom of the man in front. (You can’t see a lot of detail; the young men are just very joined together.) The participants all look relatively serious, and uncomfortable, which makes things all the funnier. It’s a sort of anti-porn porn. For each photo, Pivi has the guys change their place in the train, so the one at the front of the line only gets to be f*cked and not do any f*cking. Well, we all have to have a rest sometimes.
Warnings about the exhibition -- entitled “Sorry, I Can’t Tell You” -- on the Carlson Gallery door in Heddon Street prepare you if you are easily offended or embarrassed. Heddon Street is now a very weird pedestrianized café-heavy thoroughfare off Regent Street, playing host (the night I was there) to a dodgy classical quartet playing Robbie Williams -- yuk -- and tons of galleries, including the mighty Aicon Gallery. That street only used to hold Sadie Coles Gallery. Detmar Blow, when co-director of the Blow de la Barra Gallery, was skulking around there too at one point, but he’s now moved to the Eastend.
I rented Paola Pivi’s Mulberry Street flat in New York when she and her then-boyfriend, former Turner Prize winner Martin Creed, went to live in Italy for a year in 1999. I always liked the ideas they had for their art, which were always so different from each other’s. Thinking about it, Martin has made a film about anal sex, too (Work No. 730, 2007). Pivi’s “Sorry, I Can’t Tell You,” then, may represent a bit of cross-pollination in more way than one.
Last month’s Anti Design Festival, supposedly an antidote to the “pretty and commercial” London Design Festival, ran for nine days over a number of Eastend sites around Redchurch Street and was set up by legendary graphic designer Neville Brody of Research Studios. He is soon to be head of the communication art & design department at the Royal College of Art. The premise of the festival was not particularly anti-design; rather, it was promoting the idea that we are, every one of us, trapped, and need to be allowed to be more creative. Laughable. You can’t move for freedom of expression these days. I say we should even look into toning it all down a bit.
The program said, “Our society has been under a spell for a long time. The past 25 years have seen the procedural reduction of our creative spectrum. . . . the Government decided that art and culture were no longer about the public interest, but instead existed to make money, and that they should pay for themselves.” That’s bollocks. If anything we’ve seen a procedural increase in our creative spectrum. There are rafts of public money sloshing around to help individuals and groups set up art projects. Imagine living in Iraq or somewhere, I can’t imagine there are spare funds for much there. Also, what is so wrong about a.) art paying for itself, and b.) wanting art to make a profit? It’s healthy.
I’ll stop ranting now to say that Morag Myerscough’s scrawly red neon What a Bunch of Cunts in the Anti Design Festival -- quite who was she referring to I wonder? -- in the foyer of the main site, a residential development on Redchurch Street called Londonnewcastle, was stunning, and fabricated by everyone’s favorite neonist, Kerry Ryan.
I liked “Loud Flash: British Punk on Paper,” co-curated by one Mark Inglefield, a lovely lanky strawberry-blonde, former Angel Islington neighbor of mine, and now a BlainSouthern Gallery employee.
Billed as a roundtable discussion on posters, flyers and fanzines and the politics of the punk era, Haunch’s Burlington Gardens site saw Ray Gange (star of the Clash film Rude Boy), Tony D (former editor of Ripped and Torn fanzine), co-curator Toby Mott (artist and designer and owner of the Mott Collection), Teal Triggs (author of the Thames & Hudson book Fanzines) and Spizz from the punk band Spizzenergi trundling about punkishly. Formerly troubled Adamant turned up late and said, eloquently, "This is the best Punk art collection I've ever f*cking seen in my whole f*cking life." There was a time that I would see Adamant hanging around with the homeless outside the Beigel Shop on Brick Lane. He doesn’t look as mental anymore, though, thank God. I was a bit worried for him during the lost years despite remembering his 80s battle cry, “Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.” He will always be remembered by me as the most exciting and good-looking man on the posters of my teenage bedroom wall.
The living, loving, breathing work of art who goes by the name of Pinkietessa continues her ongoing project “Pinkietessa’s A-Z of London” with E for Eros -- E being the current letter of the alphabet linked to a London landmark.
It’s super fine and informative, much like the producer-director-artist herself. Her next film, F for French House, coincidentally came out on the day she took me to the eponymous Soho institution for the friends and family opening of Polpo, a very good tapas restaurant upstairs. It’s the brainchild of Russell Norman and Richard Beatty, ex of the Ivy and receiving envy-inducing reviews already.
Best exhibition title of the year goes to Edwin Burdis’ “Back, Sack and Crack” at the Max Wigram Gallery. On opening night, Burdis, whose first major solo show in Britain this was, did a performance called Home. Perched precariously on a chair on top of a slippery table, he wore a cardboard mask of a home, while a friend of his read out a monologue about houses and homes. This is art, I kept saying to myself.
Fifty or so of his brilliant cartoon-like, sometimes Guston-esque paintings on paper covered an entire wall of the gallery. His young nephew and an even younger friend served bottles of beer out of a bucket, lending the night a Dickensian twist, popping up everywhere at waist height as they were, asking, “Do you want beer, miss?”
The frequently misunderstood Max Wigram was even seen hugging Edwin post-performance. It had all gone a bit sentimental, even a bit Oliver Twist, if I dare.
Nice to hear that the Henry Moore sculpture Draped Seated Woman is to be returned to the Eastend after a campaign by councillor Tim Archer. It was always known to locals as Old Flo and was lent to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1997 after spending 40 years as a fixture on the Stifford estate in Stepney Green.
It had to come back, not only for the enjoyment of residents, but also because Brutalist -- or even marginally Brutalist -- sculpture achieves its optimum esthetic value against the backdrop of council estates. Tower Hamlets Council was concerned about the cost of looking after and insuring it, but now the Canary Wharf Group has agreed to install the sculpture -- worth millions of pounds -- in a public place, and cover any insurance costs.
Good to see the Sadie Coles Gallery is putting on a show of the recently deceased YBA Angus Fairhurst during the Frieze Art Fair. The top spot of the year. I imagine a part of the proceeds will go to his family.
Is this funny? A friend of a friend, one Steve Morris -- once an artist and now a builder of luxury flats -- told me the other night that, in early 1988 he was asked by a friend to take part in a show. When he asked who was organizing it, the friend said that it was a bloke called Damien who wasn't much of an artist but was a good organizer. Steve thought it over and then thought, “Nah, I can't be bothered.”
Now a successful property developer, he finds the idea that he is an art-world “loser” quite funny. He could however be secretly kicking himself, and merely veiling it with good-natured humor.
Recently labeled in Time Out magazine as one of the “heroes of the underground” by no other than Wolfgang Tillmans, Richard La Rue -- aka Racky -- pulled a marvelous performance out of the bag at the Red Gallery for a multi-performance, slightly dirty art night called PSI Kick Self Defense/ Blank Cheque last week. Fronting a band called Winnie the Poof with the legendary musician and designer Richard Torry on ukelele, Racky bowled me over with his singing ability and ongoing oddity.
I originally came across him dressed as a bathroom cabinet, since which time he has changed his name to Racky, and become a lot more vocal with me than he was back then, trapped and almost mute as he was in the confines of his mirrored dresser.
The Blank Cheque night seemed to be sponsored by -- no word of a lie -- Walker’s Prawn Cocktail Crisps (a British staple), and, if a blind-looking man in the audience (pictured) wasn’t the Norwegian, bell-headed, looks-like-he’s-been-hit-by-a-bell, chess master champion and G-Star Raw Jeans poster boy Magnus Carlsen (photographed for the jeans campaign by artist and filmmaker Anton Corbijn), I will eat my non-existent hat.
Talking of Tillmans, his eponymously named Serpentine Gallery retrospective that ran during this summer attracted the gallery’s biggest ever audiences, averaging over 2,000 visitors per day. The exhibition was Tillmans’ first major show in London since 2003.
Racky, being a bit of a cult figure himself, told me about a cultish dead man called Austin Osman Spare whose work had its first public museum outing at the Cuming Museum on the Walworth Road. At 17, Osman Spare (1886-1956) was hailed a genius as he became the youngest exhibitor at the Royal Academy’s summer show of 1904. Traumatized by his experience as a WWI war artist, Spare rejected fame and fortune and concentrated his talent on “richly encoded Symbolist illustrations,” which are now collected by the likes of Jimmy Page. The work I saw was “stack-hung” Edwardian style, in the manner of the RA’s summer shows and Spare’s own pub exhibitions of the late 1940s, early 1950s.
I’ve always liked Helene Appel’s minimalist paintings, partly because I like anything with well-spaced foliage on it. Born in Germany and living in London, she paints on coarse hessian-like canvasses. Lettuce, chopped onions and the like all get a look in the show “Chopping Board” at the Approach gallery, on view till Oct. 24, 2010. On opening night, I sat down in the pub of the same name that the gallery sits above, with the artist, her German dealer and Approach gallery director Jake Miller. The kitchen mistakenly brought out a massive steak and put it down in front of me. The German dealer looked at it hungrily; I ended up having half of it and feeding him half of it, as if he was a baby. It was a very strange silent, non-erotic experience. Miller seemed to be laughing uncontrollably on the other side of the table. I never even caught the temporary infant’s name.
In walked an oldish man called Peter Davis, who once made a glorious film called Pub, in the Approach in 1962, although it looks and feels even older than that. Davis moved to America to be a network television cameraman soon after he made that film, but was back in London to see the screening of Pub at Space Studios. He told me it was entirely serendipitous that he’d made the film, having lived in the flats at the back of the pub and just come in with his camera one day. It’s a classic document of old London.
The next day at Space Studios, I saw another Davis work, a multi-screen film and archive presentation exploring counterculture in America in the 60s. One film was Anatomy of Violence (1967), which documents the 1967 Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation, an international gathering featuring Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Marcuse, R.D. Laing and Stokely Carmichael. What a cycle of films. Running concurrently at Space, where the curator is the inimitably brilliant (and oft mentioned here) Paul Pieroni, was “Reanimation Library,” a selection of out-of-print, discarded and thrift-shop books organized by the eponymous Brooklyn library, found in the local Hackney bookshops. I particularly liked Damien Roach’s riffs on a book of Rorschach inkblots.
Off to Cineroleum, a movie house installed at a derelict petrol station on Clerkenwell Road, and the first of four weekends of pop-up cinema, dedicated to re-imagining traditional cinema in this unusual setting. Curated by artist Lewis Jones and (seemingly) about 25 of his friends, the outdoor cinema was primarily constructed from donated and found materials. It was a mammoth task. They even carved their own marquetry in to the tables, hauled in a number of original cinema seats, built the rest of the seats from wood and made their own popcorn, too.
I watched Rebel without a Cause there on opening night. Is that film seriously considered a classic? As a series of stills, it’s good -- I took 180 of them on my phone -- but not as moving picture. The shorts beforehand, all emanating from, or at least having something to do with, the Branchage Film Festival (a two-year-old event in Jersey in the Channel Islands), were far superior.
I discovered an artist who has now become my all time favorite living female painter. Marisol Malatesta (not to be confused with Marisol, the Pop artist), originally from Peru, had an exhibition in the Peruvian Embassy in London. The painting, Triangles Are Stronger than Squares is firmly on my wish list. For the show, “Parts of the Face Are Not Likely to Change Much Either,” Malatesta reworked images of the ecstasy of nature taken from Spanish religious paintings of the 16th and 17th centuries and relocated them in odd settings. Her figures are uncanny and, couched in their Mannerist milieus, all a little bit sinister, in a delicious way.
Marisol is showing as part of Plus Art, a group exhibition produced by the aforementioned neonist Kerry Ryan and artist Declan McMullan in a pop-up gallery in Britannia House, underneath the Atlantis art supplies store on Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane. Also in that magnificent big space will be works by Franko B, Mat Collishaw, Keith Coventry, Tracey Emin, Keith Tyson, Sarah Lucas, Melville Mitchell, Polly Morgan and about 40 others. “Plus Art,” now in its third incarnation, is open for 24 hours a day during the entire Frieze Art Fair period, and one day before, too, i.e. Oct. 13-17, 2010.
Back to Peru, it seems that the London-based Peruvian artists may now be taking over. Ximena Garrido-Lecca just sold a mammoth work to Charles Saatchi for the second part of his gallery’s show “Newspeak: British Art Now.” That work, The Followers (2009), resembles a hotel of still-lifes, all stacked up one on top of the other, and inspired by the nichos, or the concrete structures that house the dead in Peru.
Onwards to the festival Be Glad for the Song Has No End in Cambridgeshire, which requires a trip out to the countryside. Be Glad for the Song Has No End was the UK's first gathering of artists' music, headlined by Martin Creed and His Band and including all manner of additional acts, from Long Meg and Grubby Mitts to Rob Bidder and Pyramid Pyramid. Mark Leckey did a DJ set.
Tate chief Nicholas Serota came along and watched Bob and Roberta Smith's band, the Ken Ardley Playboys, and everyone flocked to Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth's “Reverse Karaoke” yurt, where you entered through a sparkly gold curtain and played along on drums or guitar to her vocals.
Other good things were Mark Essen's record exchange (a stall where you could swap your vinyl for his), Benedict Drew's Fischli and Weiss-esque film of a cymbal balancing precariously on a balloon then crashing down with a bang or slowly edging its way down as the balloon deflated.
The Berlin-based painter and sculptor Thomas Scheibitz, a man who I was almost definitely stalking a few years ago (in an art way, not in a tabloid way), turned up again in London for a quite spectacular show of paintings and drawings at the Sprüth Magers Gallery. On opening night, I wondered if he’d be shifting himself rapidly out of sight on seeing me, but happily, for me, he remembered the stalking in a fond way and even asked after my mum, who had then become unwittingly tied up in the whole episode.
Running simultaneously to the Sprüth Magers show is an exhibition that the artist has “curated” himself at the Drawing Room in east London. I give “curated” quotation marks, because he told me he doesn’t really feel that he’s curated it, but that he has merely selected works. “A Moving Plan B CHAPTER ONE,” as it is titled, is full of rare pieces that reveal the motivations behind Scheibitz’s work, from the likes of Thomas Demand, Hirschvogel, Maria Lassnig, A.R. Penck, and Arno Schmidt.
At the talk to launch the Drawing Room part of Scheibitz’s shows in London, he was talking with former Turner Prize judge and writer Caoimhin Mac Giolla Leith. Thomas told him that the inspiration for the show came from Victor Hugo, Edward Hopper and Walt Disney. Just before the talk started he came up to me in the audience, leaned down and said, “Don’t ask me any questions.” Probably a joke. Not sure. I had nothing in my brain to ask anyway; I just like looking at his work.
The last big event before Frieze Week was the Turner Prize opening at Tate Britain. The show features four artists: the painter Dexter Dalwood; the Otolith Group, a collective that works in film, photography, writing and curatorial projects; the sculptor Angela de la Cruz; and sound artist Susan Philipsz.
Dalwood, as well as being recognized belatedly via his nomination as one of Britain's foremost painters, is one of the nicest men I know. I spoke to Nicholas Logsdail, head of Lisson Gallery, who has supported Angela de la Cruz over many years. He was kind enough to share the secret which has made him Britain's most influential contemporary art dealer for the last 30 years. “I run a gallery ordinaire. No smoke and mirrors, no clever tricks. Just a gallery ordinaire."
Also in attendance was artist and Slade professor Andy Stahl, dealer Andrew Mummery, and dealer Nick Hackworth of Paradise Row, which reopens this month at new glamorous central London premises in Newman Street with a show by Shezad Dawood.
The Turner Prize betting is probably on Dalwood, but my eye was caught by the Otilith Group's film and video installation, a collaboration with legendary French film-maker Chris Marker, and by de la Cruz's sculptures, many of them apparently crushed and distorted paintings on canvas.
Always end a bit of self-promotion. The launch party for my book, the Hedonist’s Guide to Art, which features over 90 essays by art-world insiders including Charles Saatchi, Mat Collishaw, Artnet Magazine’s very own Walter Robinson, Polly Morgan, Sarah Lucas, Genesis P Orridge, Anthony Haden-Guest, Richard Wilson, Sam Leith, Al Murray, Richard Wentworth, Keith Coventry, Will Self, Keith Tyson and myself, is out on Oct. 14. Available at all good bookstores and online.
I’m shameless, I know.
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.