Saturday, April 08, 2006

Halos / Family Viewing / Baroque My World (or: Space is the Place)

I am standing in the European Commission drinking a beer. I am in a small - I was going to say 'room' - but that's not quite right. It's like a wide hallway or sort of architectural non-place, leading between places which are either out of bounds, locked behind doors or which maybe aren't even there at all. It's the sort of curious place beloved of large government organisations or old institutions that inhabit these large rambling buildings, constantly reinventing rooms and offices and corridors... Whatever, it's a small area with stairs going down into it from the main entrance (which is, of course, on the side, not the front) and some stairs going out of it (though I can't now remember seeing a door). The floor is tastefully laid with mouldering dark brown furry carpet tiles, rather like an unemployment office from the 80's, and from the ceiling hang two astoundingly ornate light fittings. Between these two incongruously combined decorations is a small, concise exhibition called Halos, which has been curated by Matt Packer, who works with me in the ICA bookshop. I'm the first there. I get Matt to walk me round the pieces on show - which, valiantly and politely, he does (there's nothing worse that walking round a show talking about the art, but I feel I need some way into all this and he curated it, so he has to pay the price...). He's a little bit nervous and more than a little bit drunk, as befits someone who has pulled together a show and is faced with the first breath-tightening moments of the viewing, but he talks lucidly and intelligently about the pieces here. I remember that the 14th and 15th words of the press release were 'Walter' and 'Benjamin' so I know there's not going to be a lot of comedy moments tonight. We get into a conversation about why he has chosen to show the show here, but he gets a little cagey about this (as people always get when they have finagled anywhere to show some art). Anyway, I think it probably all works, despite, or maybe because of the carpet tiles. Just before I leave though, Matt points out a last detail about the room, which, surprisingly, I had missed: bomb proof curtains. I'm relieved. I've always believed this to be an essential and much overlooked and undervalued consideration when curating any space.
I drink up and say my goodbyes, heading up to CuratorSpace and Family Viewing. Nigel Grimmer is there, having just arrived himself, from Transition. He is here tonight, partly, as he has to speak to a couple of people about work/shows and he is slightly apprehensive until he sees the people he has to catch up with and then he swings effortlessly into a relaxed, happily confident networking artist... While he is busy advancing his career I run into Lisa Penny. Lisa and Nigel are my current private view buddies. As the months move on, so the groups of people I keep meeting change: used to be I was always at views with Lena Nix and John Hayvend; now I always seem to see Lisa or Nigel...and Lisa has a bit of a funny vibe tonight on account of having curated (with John Tiney) the previous show, Corpsing, in this very space. And tonight she's here again, but this time knowing a lot fewer people, not handing out press releases, not opening bottles of beer for people and generally thinking: who do these people think they are? Acting like they own the place...what a fickle crowd these private view people are...and I'm in agreement. Most galleries I know have a little hardcore of supporters that turn up to these views, but I get the feeling CuratorSpace is a little different here. I don't know many in this crowd at all. Where do all these people come from? Why do they come? Oh yes, the art. It's a very nice show. And when I say nice, I mean nice in a completely disurbing/disturbed way. Proof, if any more were needed, that artists are, on the whole, products of quite dysfunctional family backgrounds...Cathie Pilkington's Singerie deserves special mention. A forlorn line of monkeys sit at a table covered with the detritus of an earlier party: wilting balloons, tired bunting, squashed cakes and old fag butts; some of them with their happy monkey face masks still hanging around their necks. Disturbing, melancholic and deeply unsettling. If this piece isn't sold by the time I finish writing this I'll eat my own party balloon. There's a lot of good stuff here. There's also lots of overhead talk by people about whether they are going to Transition next, or having come from there, what it's like. Seems we are all either here or there tonight and I need to be at Transition to say hello to Cathy and Alex and wish them well in their new space.
I drink up and say my goodbyes to Nigel and Lisa and head up to Regent Studios, where Transition has now taken up residence, a few floors under MOT. The balcony outside is pitch black and heaving with people and the gallery is packed. It's probably the busiest I've ever seen Transition. Cathy and Alex are looking happy at the bar, serving the last of the wine as I arrive and I overhear people saying that they have just come from Curatorspace or are heading down there. The new gallery space here is fabulous, much better than the old garage they have just moved from. I'm sure, even as I write this, that a patina of history is falling onto the old garage - small legends will be passed around like wraps of drugs, everybody getting their own little hit (who went to those first shows, who was there at Stella Vine's private view, who was there when...) I see Cathy and say hello. She looks happily at the heaving mass and says, 'It's like a real gallery.' And it is like a real gallery. I suspect she, and her loyal team of invigilators, doesn't miss the long cold days in the garage...Its certainly not cold tonight. The sweat, to take a line from Irvine Welsh, is lashing off me. I spend most of my time wiping my face and taking crowd photos, saying a few hellos, and wishing all the bars at these private views didn't run dry quite so quickly...I inadvertently lean back against a door and nearly crush a work by Sarah Gilham. She's not too happy. And then she's not too happy later when I ask for her photo. She's looking at me thinking, who is this weird, sweating guy who tries to break my work and then stalk me? I tell her about the blog and things get a little easier. Curator for this show, Mimei Thompson (above) is there looking happy with everything. Antonio Gianasi is fretting about my photos of him, as usual. Alex, Cathy and Sarah Doyle are in the back room discussing a future show. People start to leave to go onto The Dove for more drinking. The nice, new, bright, white Transition starts to empty. It's an interesting show and the gallery looks great. This is my third view of the evening and it's time for me to go. As I walk back down the stairwell I can't help but think it's a shame, but there's one crucial thing missing from the new Transition gallery:
If only they'd invested in some bomb proof curtains.


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