After the Parisian exertions and provincial excursions of the past few weeks of blogs, it feels like time to return to the capital and go for a quick catch-up wander around to see what’s happening cityside. And so, with no particular plan in mind, I get out the tube at Green Park and walk up Albermarle Street stopping first at Marlborough Fine Art. I suppose Peter Sacks’ large abstracts are mildly diverting and pleasant enough and have a certain innovative quality – I certainly can’t recall any other artists collaging textile materials together with such seemingly cathartic brio. But they all look a bit too random and samey to me and blur into the kind of ornamental wallpaper decoration that might look good, offsetting the cool décor of a minimalist apartment or the boring blandness of an office block foyer, but fail to excite when strung together along the walls of a smart contemporary art gallery. And so I quickly head upstairs.
If the ground floor space at Marlborough tends to be given over to promoting the potential of fairly well-established, mid-career artists – and I’m not sure if Sacks is an exception to this rule or, since I’d never come across him before, whether I’m just embarrassingly uninformed and out of touch – the upstairs rooms are set aside to showcase potentially emergent talents of a younger, slightly more radical stance. Although, being sited near to the expensive side of the Monopoly board of London addresses, I’m not expecting anything too dangerously subversive or avant garde. And Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe’s installation room – a large sofa, a groovy ersatz Hendrix soundtrack and an enormous video screen showing a transient montage of potted plants – fits the bill, being about as comfortingly cutting edge as a vanilla marshmallow.
Across the road, Tornabuoni Art London continues its mission to fly the flag for 20th century Italian modernism with the current exhibition showing a mix of artworks and design classics from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And, frankly, the bright red plastic-coated typewriter that slips neatly into its box-like carrying case; the small round portable TV; and the white clam-shell telephone handset still look as chic and stylish to me as when I must have first come across them as a callow young teenager half a century ago. Seeing them all set alongside some Op Art paintings, one of those Pistoletto mirror works and an equally iconic Sergio Lombardo silhouette, I find I’m instantly time-transported back to that most energising of times when the bleak brown post-war austerity years were being swept aside by a colourful new world of decorative possibilities, and where plastic was going to be the exciting futuristic foundation for a trendy new world not the nasty and dangerous detritus presaging the death throes of a sick old one.
A bit further down the road Thaddaeus Ropac have transformed what I suppose was once a vast Georgian townhouse into a suite of display areas that are less rigidly routine and symmetrically severe than the typical clinical white cube gallery spaces. Presumably the idea is to show potential buyers how their potential purchases might actually look once installed within the surrounds of their own homely abodes. And for those with very large wallets and very large rooms, what could be nicer than to be able to own and display an old blackboard with some indecipherable chalk scribbles; a couple of glass vitrines full of caked lumps of fat and felt; and then have a wild coyote prowling around the guest room? In fact there aren’t any actual live animals corralled here today but there is an impressive display of examples of just about all of the other characteristic props and signature gimmicks associated with the late great German mystic shaman and showman Joseph Beuys. So, along with the items already mentioned, there’s one of those small wooden sleds; a large lump of basalt with a golden hare drawn on it; odd lumps of discarded industrial electrical equipment; and plenty of scraps of paper covered in arcane sketches and scribbles all hinting at offering the solutions to arcane mysteries of intellectual wonderment. It’s easy enough to dismiss Beuys’ output as a load of pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo masquerading as quasi-spiritual nonsense but the artist very successfully kept a straight face when he was producing all this stuff and undoubtedly introduced a whole new kind of museological aesthetic to Modernism’s metaphorical methodology. And there’s no questioning the seminal influence of his innovative stylings.
I suppose that Rose Wylie is another artist who’s devotedly dedicated her efforts to successfully developing a very distinctive, personal idiosyncratic style. Not long ago she had a big show of paintings at the Serpentine Gallery and now there’s a whole load more of her works to be seen at David Zwirner. Fans adore and venerate her faux naif cartoons as beautifully raw examples of a kind of free-flowing expressive creativity that comes from the unchained mind of an unfettered free spirit…or something like that. Those who consider themselves to be sensitive to the more refined and subtle possibilities of sensory visual stimulation, however, are more likely to see her crude, crass, ugly and messy squeaks, squalls and yelps as a deliberate affront to the sophisticated forms and elegant compositions that, for most of art history, were considered to be the natural aims of the painter in pursuit of artistic excellence. Being personally located within the neater, ever so slightly neurotic sector of the psychometric spectrum of personality profiles, rather than at the unbuttoned, wilder frayed irrational end, I find Wylie’s work appallingly, childishly awful and utterly without merit. But I kind of think that perhaps that is the reaction she is hoping to evoke. Indeed, far from reflecting the spontaneous outpourings of a guiless savant, her works strike me as being all too contrived and archly awkward – a thought rather confirmed by the fact that the display here also includes some of the preparatory drawings upon which the larger paintings are then based. Clearly no attempt has been made to use the opportunity to correct any infelicities in the drawings when reproducing them as much larger-sized paintings – the artist apparently being happy just to see the horrors get bigger and brasher, all the better to irritate the grumpy traditionalists who favour some kind of order and balance and technical virtuosity above chaos and trivia and the celebration of cackhandedness. It’s a situation perhaps best resolved by emitting one last harrumph and moving on to the D Contemporary Gallery situated next door where Luke M Walker is displaying a suite of rather more beguiling cityscapes.
The Transient City is the artist’s attempt to temporarily freeze-frame elements of the complicated interlocking three-dimensional mosaic of buildings and bridges that fall either side of the gray meandering Thames. So crowded and complex are the components that combine to create the architectural arrangements of the mighty metropolis that trying to render a meaningful representation is no easy matter. And so, inevitably, the task of the artist is to try to achieve a believable balancing act – fuzzying some of the detailed elements of the individual glass and concrete blocks but avoiding the temptation to lapse into too much of an abstracted blur of outer urban sprawl. Using a tempered, toned-down palette of blacks, grays and reds, Walker gives it his best shot and can be quite reasonably pleased with the results.
And so, cutting across a few junctions and byways, I reach the final stop on today’s rambling itinerary, the Flowers Gallery at the end of Cork Street. The front window has a most peculiar, not to say disconcerting, example of art historical cross-dressing that places the very familiar gauze skirt from Degas’ Little Dancer around the somewhat bulkier, more muscular waist of Rodin’s Thinker. It’s certainly given the bronze figurine something new to ponder, though I’m not sure whether he’s squirming at the indignity of having being given an unwanted and entirely inappropriate sartorial makeover or, maybe, inwardly celebrating the outward expression of a previously unrealised ripple of gender fluidity. Taking a look at the other mash-ups, assemblages and sculptural follies that combine to make up Nancy Fout’s Down the Rabbit Hole exhibition here, I think it’s probably fair to say that the artists isn’t, in fact, desperately concerned with deliberating over the tortuous sociological and political implications of dragging up famous old men in skirts. Her artistic intentions are a good deal less high minded and much more on a Magritte or Man Ray level of Surreal jokiness that, for instance, inserts a razor blade into a bar of soap, places a pair of dentures in a small leather purse, or sticks a stuffed canary in a miner’s lamp. Some of the humour is perhaps just a little bit heavy-handed but most of the 3-D punchlines made me smile and so provided a pleasant enough conclusion to a reasonably entertaining day of arty sight-seeing and cultural window-shopping.