Thursday, 25 February 2016

Review of 12 @ MENIER at Menier Gallery

Menier Gallery
22 - 27 February 2016

Artist Sarah Jane Moon describes her role in 12@Menier, an exhibition featuring works by 12 contemporary women artists, as ‘organiser’, not ‘curator’. In tandem with Elizabeth Shields, she selected a further 10 artists, whose work she likes, and invited them to take part in the show. What works would be submitted was not known until the day of the hang. Somehow, however, it has worked – and worked well. The walls of the basement gallery – including some temporary partitions – are filled with familiar faces (if you know any of the artists involved, you are bound to know some of the models too!) and the odd landscape in between. No one work dominates and you can therefore take your time conversing with each subject and exploring the variously absorbing scenes.

Two of the artists are sculptors and so one aisle is bisected by a series of metal legs, Uta Brouet’s ‘One and Three’ (2016), the identical shapes seeming to kick rhythmically, dance, move, and create images in the imagination. On the ground, two aluminium wire dogs vie for attention, while, in the far aisle, Laurence Perratzi’s bronze ‘Circles’ hold dancers and acrobats, beautifully navigating the challenges of a confined, yet infinite space – a metaphor, no doubt, for life itself.

Moon’s own contributions include a detailed triple portrait, ‘In the Studio’ (2015), which she describes as “not just a self-portrait, but a portrait of relationships both lateral and triangulated”. A meditation on female sexuality, the body, nature, violence and nurturing, Moon represents herself as the artist, with paintbrushes in hand. The wall behind is decorated with pictures key to her identity, including Courbet’s ‘L’Origine du monde’ (1866) – an explicit painting of that place between a woman’s legs – and Marlene Dumas’ ‘The Painter’ (1994), which shows her young daughter, naked, hands covered in red paint, perhaps a reminder, throughout our adult upheavals, of the inner artist child.

Roxana Halls’ quirky portraits include ‘Sushi’ (2014), taken from her Appetite series of paintings of women eating, set on a sliding scale, with some scarcely daring to indulge and others displaying a voracious appetite: food, Halls explains, is a metaphor for life. Her reclining nude, ‘Liza’ (2011) appears simultaneously confronting, seductive and yet plaintive. The rich drapery, the make-up and the choker convey a sense of theatricality, inherent to all of Halls’ work.

Camilla Cannon, who appears as the subject in a couple of Susanne du Toit’s portraits, is showing a vibrant, abstracted oil of a woman in a yellow bathing suit, arms above head, unshaven pits bared to the world. The artist also famously painted the writer Emer O’Toole, after she caused something of an uproar by speaking out in favour of female body hair on ITV’s This Morning in 2012.

“The whole thing's been a really interesting experience,” reflects Moon. “A mixture of west end and east end, straight and gay, different classes, but all women. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop being able to put together a list of the painters and sculptors I admired most – and, happily, they all agreed.” Moon chose artists whose work she recognised as “very good formally” and whose manner of conducting themselves in the world as artists “suggested a kinship”. She sought artists who prioritise their practice and treat it as a vocation rather than an occupation. Also important was that they should be working within the figurative and representational genre with traditional materials.

Coinciding with Saatchi’s Champagne Life exhibition, showcasing the work of 14 women artists, Moon adds: “It's a well-known fact that women are hugely under-represented in the professional arts world and I wanted, in a small way, to do something to address this fact. Women are incredibly powerful when we work together. Together we hung the exhibition with a brilliantly collaborative spirit – there was very little ego to negotiate.” And that shows. If this were curated, one would say it had been well done; since it was not, then even better! Well worth a visit.

Artists included: Sophie Bayntun, Alice Boggis-Rolfe, Uta Brouet, Camilla Cannon, Susanne du Toit, Roxana Halls, Sarah Jane Moon, Laurence Perratzi, Olha Pryymak, Ilaria Rosselli del Turco, Elizabeth Shields, Adele Wagstaff.


Camilla Cannon
oil on canvas

Also published at DIVA online

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