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

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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

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

David Lamelas: Publication

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David Lamelas’s September 1970 exhibition at London gallery Nigel Greenwood Inc Ltd consisted of a table with a 48-page book on it. The eponymous Publication, just reprinted by not-for-profit publishers Primary Information, consists of 13 written responses to the statements: ‘1) Use of oral and written language as an Artform; 2) Language can be considered as an Artform; 3) Language cannot be considered as an Artform.’ Most the replies are on the same bland register. ‘I think artists will be using language to make their art for a long time,’ Robert Barry states flatly. Yep. Continue reading

John Latham: Spray Paintings

Lisson Gallery, 1 April – 7 May 2016

John Latham, Two Noit. One Second Drawing, 1970-71. Image courtesy the John Latham Foundation and Lisson Gallery, photo by Ken Adlard.

John Latham, Two Noit. One Second Drawing, 1970-71. Image courtesy the John Latham Foundation and Lisson Gallery, photo by Ken Adlard.

Halloween, 1954: an astronomer and animal ethnologist couple, with an interest in the paranormal, invite artist John Latham to create a mural for a party in their Hampshire home. In response, Latham gets a spray gun from an ironmonger and spurts their white wall (or, in some accounts, their ceiling) with black paint. The resulting burst of dots sets off a series of associations for the artist: a sculpture, performance, drawing and painting all at once, that looks like an inverse night sky. The spray gun becomes a regular feature in his work, but also a tool to think through his growing theory that physics has got it all wrong: the basic unit of the universe isn’t the particle, but a minimal, time-based something, anything, happening – what he later called a ‘least event’. Latham’s widespread influence hasn’t been so much the result of his early splotchy part-figurative paintings, or his later muddy, messy assemblages and destructive performances, but is more due to his persistent promotion of the artist as a sort of eccentric natural philosopher. Continue reading