Martin Herbert: Tell Them I Said No

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Sternberg Press, 2016, 128 pages

How many great artists have there been that passed by totally unknown? It is a recurring idle pub question, but one which casually brings up some heavy stuff: of working processes, careers, visibility, networks and power. No matter what some like Dave Hickey might like to believe, I don’t think talent just rises to the top like some genius double cream; recognition is a collusion of luck and lust, of determination and dollar signs. Martin Herbert’s latest collection of essays, Tell Them I Said No, is premised on artists who had it, whatever it might be (talent, promise or a steady career), and turned their backs on it; artists who were known, seen, acknowledged, and then – for whatever reasons – disappeared. Continue reading

Marion Coutts: Aiming or Hitting

Tintype Gallery, London, 10 March – 13 April 2017

Marion Coutts, Aiming or Hitting, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and Tintype.

Tucked in an alcove at the back of the gallery is a cluster of drawings, one of which, in a shaky, pale blue hand, simply spells out the words Actual Size (all works 2017). In the context of ‘Aiming or Hitting’, Marion Coutts’s first solo show since 2008, the pointless tautology appears as a gentle reminder to try and focus on the world as it is, a reassurance that everything has its own scale. The exhibition’s careful photographs, sparse drawings and slight sculptural installations evince a sense of hesitant detachment: a wandering eye and sense of curiosity, tempered with a deliberate step back, a wary distance. In the main room of the gallery, Curtain is a line of black vinyl strips that runs from shoulder height to the floor, bisecting half the room like odd, funereal party streamers. Two rounded pieces of chalkboard occupy the opposite wall, each shaped like the conjoined circular outline of an image as seen through a pair of binoculars. There are no ghosts of words or remnants of anything ever having been written on them, just the residual faint lines of chalk that always stays behind when you try to to wipe a chalkboard clean. This deliberate blankness sets the tone for the whole show, while the work’s title gives us our stage instructions of where to remain: The Middle Distance. Continue reading

Condo 2017

Multiple venues, 14 January – 11 February 2017

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Oscar Murillo, Human Resources, 2016. Image Courtesy Carlos Ishikawa and the artist.

A circle of blank, wide-eyed faces stares at you, a wooden seating arena filling up the Carlos Ishikawa gallery peopled with puffy, scarecrow-like bodies. They have round, papier-mâché heads painted shades of brown and black with felt hair and eyebrows, most of them outfitted with rubber boots and factory uniforms. The living people sitting on the structure blended in, adding to a sense of unease, then one burly man sauntered in and began to sing in what sounded like a medley of love songs in Spanish. It was as if we had temporarily tuned into a faraway radio station. After a few minutes, he finished, muttered a small thank you, and left. Oscar Murillo’s installation Human Resources, 2016, is one of the highlights of ‘Condo’, if only simply because it is the biggest. As per the usual for the ‘socially engaged’ side of Murillo’s practice when he’s not painting, these figures have supposedly been made by people in his home town in Colombia, as apparent representations of themselves. At the centre of the room was a miniature Aztec ziggurat encircled by a crudely assembled roller coaster. ‘Azteca Ride’, letters on the side of Japanese artist Yutaka Sone’s untitled 2016 sculpture proclaim (brought by Tommy Simoens gallery of Antwerp); here, we were in a sort of South American amusement park, entertained by exotic workers and ancient history. The pairing of works might have been intended as a critique to such fetishisations, but it felt like more a joke at the artists’ expense. Continue reading

Ian White: Here is Information. Mobilise.

Hardcover, published by LUX, 2016

The title of Ian White’s posthumous collection of writing brings to mind the comments and instructions posted on social media since the American election last November, accompanied by lists and databases detailing which civil rights organisations to support and which politicians to hassle. The ‘information’ in this book, edited by Mike Sperlinger, White’s former colleague at LUX, isn’t so directly practical as the directive to ‘mobilise’ might suggest, but it does detail its author’s working and thinking methods, with texts on video, film and moving image that are concise, sometimes sharp, politically minded and always self-conscious. Continue reading

Locky Morris: Ridiculous Beginnings

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Locky Morris, The Drop, 2007/16. Image courtesy the artist, Naughton Gallery. Photograph by Simon Mills.

Strewn about the hallway is a trail of debris; lights, brooms, boxes, and other obstacles in a semi-organised sprawl. It’s like someone tried making a shop out of the bits in their attic, sifting through the junk, arranging it into small, improvised displays. The skeleton of a mostly empty postcard stand is propped in one corner, while a clear container with the inevitable, unsolvable tangle of electric wires sits in another. Propped up on one stand is a brown and grey photograph; what looks like a scuffed-up, dirty floor, with a hand truck and some rubbish scattered around. A metal grille runs across the image, with a thick, dull, chocolate-coloured sludge underneath it. Behind the propped-up photo is an odd set-up, with a work light dangling from a sideways soap dispenser – even more improbably, with a pair of sunglasses you can make out held inside. A text installed just beneath gives a winding explanation: ‘at the mechanics…hovering over the body wash pit out came the camera and almost at the same moment as taking the shot the sunglasses disappeared into the pit’. Pulling back, the quarantined sunglasses might now make more sense, displayed in a sort of makeshift mini-version of the car workshop. But then the photo itself, you can’t help but look again and try to stare into the impenetrable depths of whatever forsaken globs of mank had gathered in that drain over the years. Continue reading

Joseph Grigely: The Gregory Battcock Archive

Marian Goodman Gallery, London, 21 June – 29 July 2016

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Joseph Grigely, The Gregory Battcock Archive (detail), 2009 – 16. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

In any visit to an exhibition there’s always something of the shifty air of dumpster-diving: sifting through someone else’s stuff, trying to piece together what kind of person, or persona, has moved on from the things that have been left behind. We’re only temporary trespassers, haunted by the absent spectres we conjure from the remains. The Gregory Battcock Archive is doubly haunted, a small room of seven elegant vitrines filled with photographs, letters, scripts, zines, postcards and other ephemera, accompanied by several posters and one small, moody painting on the wall; the ghosts in this room are not only Battcock, a writer and critic who was active in the heyday of 1960s and 70s New York City and was found murdered in 1980, but also Joseph Grigely, the artist who accidentally stumbled upon Battcock’s papers during the 1990s after a storage company closed, and left its clients’ possession strewn across a floor of Grigely’s studio building. Grigely’s resulting artwork, The Gregory Battcock Archive (2009–16) isn’t so much an archive as a subjective selection from Battcock’s papers – or, more specifically, some stuff that Grigely held on to before the rest was donated to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art – that has been shown in various places over the past seven years, including the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and now here in the UK for the first time. Continue reading