Sunday, 30 September 2012

Review of Tom Pope: So It Goes at George and Jørgen

Tom Pope: So It Goes
George and Jørgen
14 September – 5 October 2012

“His is the art of whimsy,” says Professor Alexander García Düttmann (Professor of Philosophy and Visual Culture at Goldsmiths, and Visiting Professor of Photography at the RCA), describing the capricious and solipsistic photographic and video works of Tom Pope. Indeed, one cannot help but crack an almost wry, if also partly complicit smile, upon viewing Pope’s current exhibition, So It Goes, at George and Jørgen’s Bermondsey gallery. His comic interventions create a sense of anticipation, as we, the gallery viewers, watch as passer bys inadvertently become caught up in his pranks.

And yet there is an innocence to his misdemeanours, which Pope himself describes as “weakly anarchic”. Breaking branches off a tree, he explains with reference to the video work Scrumping in Monaco, would be wrong, but shaking it until all the oranges fall off is “ok”. This short piece is given heightened intrigue by the involvement of a woman, passing by, who stops to talk to Pope as he gathers the fallen fruits, in a voice too low for us to hear. We expect, perhaps, for her to scold him, but, when she moves on her way, and nothing further happens, the viewer is left wondering what was said. Actually, Pope discloses in a video interview carried out for FAD,[1] she stopped to tell him that he could take as many oranges as he wanted, since the owners of the private garden were not at home. His boyish cheek and charm no doubt helped endear her then, as much as they do us now.

A further scene of play, in which a bystander becomes involved, is Monsieur, in which Pope climbs into a fountain in a square in Marseilles, and sticks his fingers into the tap, making the water squirt out in all directions. A small girl comes bounding over to watch, perplexed. He doesn’t react at all to his audience, and, after a while, she runs away again, bored, only to return and watch the water, quietly and innocently, once Pope has left. Another example of simply watching the world go by is found in Me and You, in which a cockerel stands almost motionless, as a hen approaches, pecks about for a bit, and leaves. The viewer is fixed to the spot watching and waiting, like with reality TV. Will something happen? Will it be worth the wait? Nothing does, but strangely there is no sense of disappointment.

The works in this show were all made during a rather circuitous journey which Pope and his crew (who film him all the time, thus capturing some works in a more random and spontaneous manner, whilst others are pre-planned and carefully choreographed) undertook, via eight countries, en route to CERN, Geneva, in a hearse, carrying a grandfather clock. Yes, you did read that right! Pope recently won the Deutsche Bank Artist Award for his proposed project, Time Bound, a performance piece in which he would destroy the clock in the Large Hadron Collider, and question people along the way as to whether or not man can live without measured time. Unfortunately he was not given access to the Collider, but, with this show as its outcome, the journey was certainly not a waste of time – measured or not.

As well as the oranges, which reoccur in the photograph Another Splash, where Pope has cavalierly thrown one over the fence into a private pool, and in Currently Unemployed Potential, a dried exemplar brought back as a souvenir, making reference to the sun, and thus, albeit indirectly, to time and the universe, another recurring motif in Pope’s works is the balloon. In Caged Air, Pope is captured squeezing one between two stone Ionic columns, whilst in Oh Fuck, he runs and jumps on a cluster of three in a street, bursting them and setting off a car alarm in the process. This siren, along with a soundtrack of voices, traffic, and the typing of George and Jørgen’s director as she sits at her desk, form a cacophony of noises which permeate the rooms and follow the visitor round throughout the show. The overall effect is to create a sense of being out there yourself, visiting these many places along with Pope and his crew, and witnessing the goings on. The open question which draws you in most, however, is whether you are left feeling more like a gallery viewer, seeing the completed works post hoc, or one of the many passers by, caught up and involved in the works as they were being made. If the progression of time is, after all, not an issue, would it not be possible to be both at once?


Tom Pope
Scrumping in Monaco
4:3 single screen video
1 min 15 secs

Tom Pope
16:9 video projection
4 min 2 sec

Tom Pope
Me and You
16:9 single screen video
5 min 3 sec

Tom Pope
Another Splash
c-type print
127 x 127 cm

Tom Pope
Caged Air
c-type print
75 x 75 cm

Review of Rashid Johnson: Shelter at the South London Gallery

Rashid Johnson: Shelter
South London Gallery
28 September – 25 November 2012

For his first solo exhibition in London, Rashid Johnson (born 1977, Chicago) has created something of a parallel universe in the South London Gallery. Known for using familiar domestic materials in his work (“hijacking the domestic,” as he terms it), Johnson has turned the main ground floor gallery space into a topsy turvy kind of a hospital ward, or Shelter, in which psychotherapy is a freely available drop-in service, accessible to all in group sessions. The result is quite uncanny, with the row of four beds, placed on rugs, down the centre, the hanging plants above, and the books stacked on a mirrored shelf to the side, all creating a sense of familiarity and homeliness, but simultaneously the charred frames and zebra skin bed coverings, the black tones in the Persian carpets, and, if one looks more closely, the dark stains upon them, and, most of all, the black paintings and cracked mirrors hanging on the walls, all stir up a sense of unease and suggest some sinister foreboding.

The “paintings” are in fact branded or burned red oak flooring, covered with black soap and wax, and drawn and scratched into, heavily gouged, with circles and crisscross lines, echoing the chaos of a disturbed mind and the darkness within, into which the subject is digging deep, perhaps in an attempt to purge. Similarly, the mirrored tiles and shelves in The End of Anger, upon which six copies of a book of the same title are stacked, and an Art Blakey 3 Blind Mice Jazz Messengers vinyl displayed, are daubed with smears and splats of black wax, seemingly thrown at the glass with some aggression, dripping down and splattering out, with cracks from the violent impact, and scratches on the mirrored surface all around. Oyster shells are also perched on the shelves, filled with shea butter – perhaps some failed therapeutic attempt to create an oasis of calm and alleviate pent up agitation?

The beds are not inviting either. Only one is the right way up, with one on its side, and two upended. And the stains seeping out from underneath, across the carpets, appear to be written into as well, although what the lines and signs might wish to convey is anyone’s guess – again, the workings of an afflicted mind?

Upstairs, in the first floor galleries, Johnson has curated a small six work exhibition showing pieces by Robert Davis, Sam Gilliam and Angel Otero. The latter’s two contributions consist of wrinkled oil paint skins, collaged on to canvas and painted in metallic colours, so as to suggest, to me at least, oversized crumpled chocolate wrappers, stretched out over the canvases. Gilliam’s piece, One Situation, dating back to 1970, appears like a hanging cloak, or painter’s smock, besmirched with paint smears and drips, but yet beautiful and clear in its colours. Finally, Davis’ three works are abstract crisscross patterns across otherwise bare and unprepared canvases, Ghost Face using pale blue paint, but Wine No. 1 (Cabernet) and Coffee and Cigarettes both, like Johnson’s own work, turning to everyday materials (here giving the names to the works) to leave their stain. How these pieces relate to the therapy room downstairs, one can only speculate – are they the result of art therapy sessions, or rather of the decadent lifestyles which led to the need for therapy in the first place? Sometimes the differentiation between the paths to breakdown and recovery are not altogether clear. 


Rashid Johnson
House Arrest (detail) 
Branded red oak flooring, black soap, wax
215.3 x 154.3 x 6.4 cm / 84 3/4 x 60 3/4 x 2 1/2 inches

Rashid Johnson
The End of Anger
Mirrored tile, black soap, wax, books, oyster shells, shea butter, vinyl
123.2 x 214.6 x 45.7 cm / 48 1/2 x 84 1/2 x 18 inches

Rashid Johnson
Burned red oak, black soap, wax, zebra skin
64.1 x 185.4 x 91.4 cm / 25 1/4 x 73 x 36 inches

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Review of The Art of Chess at the Saatchi Gallery

The Art of Chess
Saatchi Gallery
8 September – 3 October 2012

Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) learnt to play chess from his older brothers at the age of 13, the same year that he painted his first picture. Throughout his life, he sought opportunities to combine his two great passions, with the game being a repeated motif in nearly all of his artworks, even when in the form of buried references, recognisable only to fellow players. Although he never achieved his dream of winning the French championship, he was a regular competitor at tournaments across Europe, and, in 1924, he was awarded the title of Chess Master by the French Chess Federation. By 1952, he had reached the conclusion that “while all artists are not chess players, all chess players are artists.”

The Art of Chess, on show this month at the Saatchi Gallery, is something of an homage to Duchamp and his love of this “game of kings”. It also reflects the ongoing fascination with the game by so much of society today. Of the 16 contemporary artists (or artistic duos) commissioned to produce their own chess set for the exhibition, not all of them are themselves players, but this is somehow irrelevant, and remains indiscernible when one looks at the intricate boards and playing pieces they have crafted. Everyone knows something about the game, and recognises and respects its age, tradition, and authority.

Oliver Clegg’s Nights Move (2008), for example, is a complete installation, displayed in a small side room off the main gallery, in which a felt-lined desk with inlaid chessboard is also strewn with a pair of reading glasses, a magnifying glass, and a set of callipers. Gavin Turk’s 14 minute looped film, The Mechanical Turk (2008), also speaks of authority, with a solitary turbaned man, frozen like a robot, mechanically moving his hand back and forth from an arm rest, to advance his knight about the board.

More modern approaches – playing on the Duchampian notion of the readymade – include Paul McCarthy’s Kitchen Set (2003), in which a board constructed out of squares of wooden flooring, laid out so that the grain is perpendicular from one space to the next, is adorned with found objects from his kitchen, including a bottle of liquid soap, a jar of ketchup, a garlic bulb, a pestle and mortar, a bottle of juice, and so on. Also following the household theme, Rachel Whiteread has put together a brightly coloured patchwork board of carpet and tile offcuts, furnished with miniature doll’s house sized items, such as chairs, cupboards, ironing boards, lamps, and cupboards.

The competitive nature of the game resounds in various contributions, including Tunga’s Eye for an Eye (2005), where the playing pieces are plated bronze teeth, Maurizio Cattelan’s Untitled (Good vs. Evil) (2003), where Hitler, Stalin, Dracula and Cruella Deville are amongst those who face off against the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Superman, and Che Guevara, and Barbara Kruger’s interactive set (Untitled, 2006), which poses questions and makes comments as each move is made. A screaming black and white face, printed on to the board, and a speaker system, video, and text-covered box to the side, all express the frustration of a difficult game: “I can’t go on!”; “You’re killing me!”; “There’s no way out!”; “You asked for it!”

In their own inimitable un-PC style, the Chapman Brothers Chess Set (2003) play black zulu-stanced warriors off against white opponents, all with phallic noses, upon a skull-decorated playing board. Other artists who simply couldn’t resist making their sets recognisably personal, include Yayoi Kusama, with her spotted pumpkin pouffe (Pumpkin Chess, 2003), and Damien Hirst, with his mirrored medical vitrine, containing glass and silver medicine jars and pill pots – pawn tablets, castle capsules, bishop syrup, K-night, queen mercury, and king cleanser – and two clinically white stools alongside a metal surgical table on wheels (Mental Escapology, 2003). Tracey Emin’s embroidered travel set (Chess Set, 2008) could be by no one else, and Tom Friedman’s Untitled (2005) comprises playing pieces which make up a mini-retrospective of his best-known works.

The greatest Duchamp reference of all is made in the photograph to accompany Deadalive (2003), the stained and polished oak stump set, with mummified and bronzed frogs, birds and squirrels as playing pieces, created by Tim Noble and Sue Webster. They took their macabre and eerie work out into the Gloucestershire woodland by their farm, and were photographed at play, Webster fully dressed, Noble naked. This is a restaging, with a twist, of the famous game between Duchamp and the American writer Eve Babitz (known as Eve) in 1963, photographed by Julian Wasser, and filmed by Jean-Marie Drot, in which it was Eve who was naked, and, apparently, a little bemused that her opponent was so intent upon the game that this detail largely escaped his attention.

Such is the fascination of the game of chess. Deeply absorbing, and with an unparalleled longevity. Whether a player or not, there is something for everyone in this exhibition.


Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Photography by Norbert Schoerner
Courtesy RS&A

Paul McCarthy
Kitchen Set 
Own photograph

Rachel Whiteread
Own photograph

Barbara Kruger
Own photograph

Yayoi Kusama
Pumpkin Chess
Porcelain, wood and leather
Case/board: 75 x 200 (diameter) cm
© Yayoi Kusama, 2003
Courtesy RS&A

Also published at:

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Review of Dorothy Bohm: Seeing and Feeling at the Margaret Street Gallery

Dorothy Bohm: Seeing and Feeling
Margaret Street Gallery
30 July – 29 September 2012

"I have spent my lifetime taking photographs. The photograph fulfils my deep need to stop things from disappearing. It makes transience less painful and retains some of the special magic, which I have looked for and found.”

At the grand old age of 88, Dorothy Bohm (born 1924, Königsberg, East Prussia) has indeed been taking photos for nearly a lifetime – for over 70 years, in fact, since her father handed her his Leica as she boarded the train to England to escape the Nazis in 1939. Her vast repertoire has grown from an early concentration on portraiture, to include still lifes, landscapes, cityscapes, and general images of human interest: snapshots of everyday life and society. Whilst Bohm herself asserts that “People everywhere experience the same joys, terrors, loves and tragedies,” her photographs nonetheless capture both the obvious and the more subtle distinctions between different social classes and cultures, both at home and abroad. 

To read the rest of this review, please go to:

Monday, 3 September 2012

Review of Transformers: Portraits by Sadie Lee at Ketchum Pleon

Transformers: Portraits by Sadie Lee
Ketchum Pleon, 35-41 Folgate Street, London, E1 6BX
27 August – 19 October 2012

Sadie Lee (born 1967) is not an artist who usually paints to commission. Her photo-realistic style is brutally honest, stripping her subjects – often quite literally – bare, revealing their inner identities, and questioning their outward presentation, both in terms of gender and sexuality.

Lee first came to public attention 20 years ago, when her painting ‘Erect’ was selected for inclusion in the National Portrait Gallery’s BP Portrait Award. The work, depicting herself and her partner, androgynously clothed and styled, sitting apart and glowering, but with their arms entwined, was used as the poster image, and, within weeks, it was a sell out. This was followed, two years later, by Lee’s first solo show, held in Manchester as part of the annual ‘It’s Queer Up North’ arts festival. Since then, her star has been rising, and, until 19 October, a selection of her works can be seen in PR agency Ketchum Pleon’s reception-area-cum-gallery, located at the boundary between the City and trendy arts hub Shoreditch.