As usual, these are just subjective thoughts, subject to change, etc. Not all of these exhibitions were my cup of tea, but I’ve tried to keep the whinging under control – and there were highlights for sure.
Mat Collishaw The Centrifugal Soul at Blain / Southern
7 April – 27 May 2017
This exhibition is dominated by two luminous electronic sculptures, both requiring darkness. There are also twelve small paintings, literally put into the shade and picked out by dim spot lights. This doesn’t do them any favours and the gallery’s promo images show the paintings photographed in better brighter conditions. I’m familiar with Collishaw’s 90s photo work, but don’t know him as a painter. I don’t know if he painted these or if they’re the work of hired hands. Either way, they feel made-to-order, as if all the decisions about their appearance and content were finalised before the first mark was made. One thing I love about painting is how every brushstroke has the potential for invention, constantly evolving and redirecting the outcome. The result can be a physical trace of this mental adventure (like Klee’s “line going for a walk”), but there’s no opportunity for that in these rigidly planned and executed pictures. They make me think of David Salle’s writing on intentionality. The research that went into Collishaw’s concept for the show seems pretty interesting, but the paintings are left with nothing to do formally except illustrate one idea about art and biology, using the same juxtaposition (plumage/graffiti) twelve times over. This is painting pressed into the service of Post-Conceptualism (LeWitt’s idea-is-the-machine-that-makes-the-art) and Post-Minimalist seriality. That’s not what I’m looking for at the moment.
Fred Tomaselli Paper at White Cube, Mason’s Yard
17 March – 13 May 2017
Until now, I’d only seen Tomaselli’s paintings in reproduction. In the flesh, the construction of these works on paper is homespun and low-tech. They feel like a souped up psychedelic school-project, cut-and-pasted the old fashioned way with carefully hand-painted text and patterns. Up close the acrylic and gouache colours are flat, mat and opaque, but from a distance they swirl and vibrate. His paint is applied with the steady-handed precision of an air-fix enthusiast, and I wondered if some of the more repetitious patterning could have been executed by assistants. It looks like a process that might have the therapeutic meditative effect of meticulous doodling or hobby crafts. Some of the additions to newspaper images are reminiscent of the Chapmans’ Injury to Insult works, though I don’t know whether there’s influence going either way. I’m not very interested in Tomaselli’s handling of the drug theme, but it seems to be a good catalyst for making the work. The political commentary of the newspaper paintings requires more attention than I gave them, but again, my impression is that the thematic content serves the image making process more than the other way around.
Mamma Andersson at Stephen Friedman
28 April – 27 May 2017
I’m not all that interested in recent paintings that appear to be traced from photographic sources, i.e. Tuymans, Dumas, Sasnal, Doig, Bas, and their followers. Many of Mamma Andersson’s paintings fit into this category. On top of that, her restrained earthy palettes often strike my colour-blind eyes as dirty and/or dull, so I didn’t go into this with high expectations. The exhibition text speaks of “strong narrative” and “emotive scenes”, but I found it difficult to engage with the work in that way, perhaps because much of the drawing looked to me like it had been traced from source images with a somewhat perfunctory line. I’m not always averse to fictive worlds rendered this way. In the work of Henry Darger, I enjoy the tension between his inelegantly traced figures and the roles they’re made to play in his highly personal and vividly rendered imaginings. I just haven’t yet found a way into Andersson’s world, and as a consequence many of the images here feel lifeless and second-hand, especially the stock-type hare and deer. On the positive, I enjoy the colour, high-contrast, and variety of technique in a painting like Saturday (above). Some of the paint is applied so drily I’m not sure if it was scrubbed on with a brush or if it’s oil stick. The dense black area on the right has the surface of forcefully applied wax-crayon, and the large yellow negative space of the back wall is “coloured in” with a relatively small brush, making a feature of the discrepancy between hastily covered open areas and denser more carefully filled-in edges. Cumulatively, these mark making choices create the varied patina of the image. I still can’t work out how the patterned curtain was painted, made as it is from exposed marks that are brusque and unfussy, not obviously masked, and yet perfectly formed, dragging into each other only when it suits the form. The larger paintings also seem to bring out Andersson’s interest in composition, with Saturday riffing on Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1.Ryoki Ikeda π, e, Ø at Almine Rech
6 April – 20 May 2017
From a distance, Ikeda’s pigment prints look like minimalist monochromes. Close up, the surface is covered in tiny perfectly defined numbers and barcode-like data. Stepping in for a close look results in a slightly disorientating optical strain, which I guess could be taken as some kind of microtechnological sublime. The exhibition instructs that these “must be taken as wonders” and describes them in terms of “restrained elegance”, “staggering detail”, and “numinous beauty”. Unfortunately, I don’t share their appetite for stark tech-fetishist precision manufacturing, nor the ascetic purging of human content. There is also an immersive room of sound and video works, but I’m guessing it’s all better suited to an audience with a more positive feeling toward technology than mine.Picasso: Minotaurs and Matadors at Gagosian, Gosvenor Hill
28 April – 25 August
Gagosian’s space is transformed with curtained partition walls, and feels more like a small museum. The extra wall space is necessary to present the amount and range of work in this exhibition, curated by Picasso biographer Sir John Richardson. The three promotional images on gagosian.com don’t even hint at the scope of this show. I don’t know enough about the gallery system to understand the implications of Gagosian putting on a show like this, but it’s certainly different to what I’ve seen there before. Works on paper are plentiful, showing Picasso’s famously effervescent creativity, but I like the large paintings best. These are fascinating in themselves and in relation to Picasso’s contemporaries (primarily Matisse), not to mention how they continue to feed into the work of living artists including David Hockney, George Condo, Ansel Krut and Dana Schutz. This is a free show of great work and well worth stopping by. It also contrasts with the other painting shows I’ve seen today, each in their own way mechanically assisted and/or preconceived. This is a reminder of how chaotic and spontaneous painting can be when it’s done without a safety net.
Justin Mortimer It Is Here at Parafin
30 March – 20 May
Mortimer’s paintings are high-contrast, highly coloured, and jaggedly composed, combining detailed representation with areas of painterly abstraction, and using varied techniques of paint application. These are all things I usually respond to. However, he also does one of my pet peeves: his representational passages are always lifted directly from photographic sources, leaning heavily on the kind of flash-bulb black-drop-shadow imagery that’s so dependable for creating punchy photographic depth and drama. It’s a photorealist trope kickstarted by Richter almost 50 years ago, later reworked by Tuymans, Sasnal, and Kippenberger (occasionally), with recent practitioners including Mortimer, Adrian Ghenie, Alexander Tinei, Marcin Maciejowski, et al. The world it evokes is vaguely disturbing and unmistakably modern, until you notice how popular it is as a technique, and then it starts to look kind of hacky (like vaseline on the lens to evoke a romantic atmosphere). In fairness, Mortimer uses it to better effect than any other current painter I can think of (along with Borremans, sometimes), his colours have become synthetically toxic (a bit like Neo Rauch around 2003, which I like) and he’s increasingly mixing things up so that the flash photo sources sometimes account for only a small part of each canvas. I just wish he’d let it go altogether sometimes, to see what else happens. He’s talented enough that all sorts of things must be possible. In the doorway of the exhibition there’s one small photo collage, presumably an example of the kind he makes in order to work his paintings from. It’s an honest presentation of his process, but highlights how formulated it has become. It’s like he started a series ten years ago and never stopped. But this is my hang up about a particular aesthetic, and if he likes it then why not?