To Marylebone and walk down the backstreets to get to the Lisson Gallery. The seasons seems to have been changing gear over the past couple of days and so today, for the first time this year, I decide to follow suit and venture out without the protective layering of my usual heavy overcoat. Consequently I’m carrying quite a few less pounds which means there’s a bit of a spring in my step. But, of course, with every yin must come a little yang and so along with the welcome rise in the degrees of celsius comes a very unwelcome fall of assorted tree pollens, some of which are evidently the exact molecular size to get right up my nose, jam up the tubes, irritate my sinuses and so cause sneezing, coughing and itching eyes which then redden, water and generally start to blur my vision of the outside world. And so it is that when I enter the Gallery, my first impression of the smallish exhibition of sculptures and sketches by Anish Kapoor is somewhat fuzzy and unclear.
Fortunately, I took the precautionary measure of downing some antihistamine tablets along with breakfast and these start to kick in and work in concert with my own homeopathic breathing exercises – which involves sniffing, snorting, hawking and heaving – and so things start gradually to come into focus. Well, not entirely. After all, key elements of Kapoor’s armory of artistic strategies involves creating works that specifically involve various example of optically illusory wizardry. Perhaps most famous amongst his trademark tropes is the production of pieces wherein innocent viewers are tricked into thinking that they’re looking deep into the abyss of a bottomless black hole when, in fact, the actual empty spot is only skin deep; and then there are all the polished surfaces that reflect back deliberately distorted versions of reality.
And, sure enough, there’s a parabolic mirror in the current show which, as I approach, manages to make the chequered lines of my rather stylish M&S shirt wave and wobble out of their right angular alignment into some decidedly non-euclidean geometric wrong angles. Walking up and down watching this effect is an amusing enough exercise but I’ve seen it a few times before and the appeal wears off after half-a-dozen goes. So, what of the newer stuff – the other three big sculptures that are on show today? Well, the Gallery notes calls them ‘large-scale, amorphous, hybrid forms’. But, to the lay person, I think they probably look like big red lumps of not very much. Again, the official version says they, ‘…exist somewhere between painting, sculpture and anamorphic objects…’ and show the artist, ‘…exploring the shift between two and three dimensions’. But, to be honest, I think the spectacularly large lumps look less like the result of any useful explorations into the space-time continuum than the much magnified results of expectorations from some poor tubercular Mimi or other desperately dying diva. Hopefully unlike the poor Bohemian, Kapoor can reverse out of what seems to me to be a bit of an artistic dead end and find more productive territory to investigate than producing jumbo piles of random red gunk, which seems a bit of a waste of his talents.
Elsewhere in the Gallery are a series of gouaches of similar roseate hues to the sculptures, although whether there is any other, deeper connection is unclear as this time the forms suggest an origin more volcanic than haemoglobinous. And with titles like Tongue and Grunt, maybe the artist is referencing some encounters of a more personal nature. In any event, while the pictures are clearly meant to evoke the spirit of some hi-energy expressionistic ejaculations, to me they all seem a wee bit overworked and contrived and the results less the painterly manifestation of any great metaphysical love, lust, angst or outrage, than the visual equivalent of a petulant, foot-stamping hissy fit. I can’t help wondering if perhaps one of Kapoor’s assistants forgot to put the sugar in his morning frothacino one day or maybe failed to correctly iron the maestro’s copy of the Times. All in all, it’s a bit of a disappointing show from an artist who can usually be relied upon to throw up something much more interesting.
Anyway, it’s time to move on so I consult my satnav app and discover that there are no easy tube or bus rides to my next stop but I should be able to walk there in about twenty minutes. And, apparently, if I do undertake this perambulatory exercise then I will have burned off calories equivalent to having imbibed half a latte or scarfed a third of a bag of pork scratchings – these apparently being the units of energy measurements employed by the hipster coders who design such computer accessories.
And so it is that by the time I get to the Serpentine Sackler Gallery I’m feeling a little esurient, although I’m fairly certain that even if the swanky restaurant attached to the Gallery were serving up portions of peau de porcine cracquilage, I wouldn’t be able to afford them and, that being the case, I will just have to settle for feasting on the art. Which, I suppose, is vaguely appropriate since the display today are of the Conceptual kind and so designed to be food for thought. Although, at the risk of overworking the comestible metaphor, I have to say that the stuff on display is not really much to my taste – less a visual banquet of delights than a rather thin gruel or, as the famous public schoolboy Jennings was wont to complain, stale buns.
As far as I can tell, the work here is meant to be a sort of homage to one of the original 1960s Conceptualists, John Latham, who is currently being honoured with a mini-retrospective over at the other, original, Serpentine Gallery, ten minutes walk away across the bridge. Maybe it would have been better to see that show first before seeing how it has then inspired the quartet of artistic acolytes here…or maybe not, since I’m not sure that any of them expands very usefully on any of Latham’s original ideas. Anyway, for the record, Tania Bruguera shows a little video in which she offers herself up as a candidate for the role of President in her native Cuba, not that she stands much chance of being elected since she lacks the vital qualification of having Castro as a surname. I’m sure she’s very sincere in her motivation and got valid political points to make, but I’ve never really been convinced that this kind of documentary-style film making qualifies as art, nor felt that the gallery setting is really the best place for its propagation.
Next up is Cally Spooner and her sequence of pencil lines drawn round the interior perimeter of the Gallery. I think she’s produced a kind of graph that charts variations in a variety of measurements of her bodily functions or maybe it’s fluctuations in the euro-sterling exchange rate or the price of fish or something. I’m not sure that it really matters suffice to say following the ups and downs of any of these metrics would be equally interesting and informative…or otherwise.
Douglas Gordon’s contribution is to set up a ping-pong table and a pool table and invite visitor to play on them which, I think, is a direct recreation of one of Latham’s original Conceptualist ideas. And, half a century ago, I’m sure that gallery goers would have been baffled, outraged, appalled, excited or intrigued to suddenly bump into such unlikely items in amongst the usual displays of paintings and sculptures. Needless to say, reactions by a contemporary audience – myself included – is less extreme and more just a sort of slightly embarrassing, self-conscious shrug of the shoulders and an increase in pace to pass on to the next object for consideration. Which happens to be some tea bags drying on a radiator, courtesy of Laure Prouvost. I’m not entirely sure what point the artist is making with this rather pitiful display except perhaps an attempt at being deliberately provocative but surely she must realise that it would take a lot more than this kind of teenage insouciant behaviour to draw any kind of reaction from today’s Serpentine audience. There was quite a long queue formed to get in to see her other, larger sculpture so I passed up that opportunity but I gather that it involved stroboscopic lights and an assemblage of glass reliques, butter, lemon, tomato, onion, carrots etc etc etc.
As mentioned, the fons et origo of all these witty, ludic, pieces of thought-provoking nonsense lies over at the other Serpentine space. Here can be found the condensed assorted miscellany of John Latham: abstract and semi-documentary films; chopped up books; spray-paint splatterings; souvenirs from land art ramblings; a glass sphere with the air removed and a range of other such oddities and soddities. But sadly, no sight or mention of the artist’s greatest work for which he famously masticated, regurgitated, blended and decanted an entire volume of theoretical writings by the greatest of all pompous critics, Clement Greenberg. Should anyone wish to repeat the exercise with my own humble scribblings then please feel free to print out a hard copy of this, or any other of my blogs, and get chewing.