Friday, January 19, 2007

What You See Is What You Get (and More)

So, I nick over to the Serpentine to take in Damien's Murderme show. I have to say, it was a blast. Some really big, heavy, full on, top class, high range, serious minded, big statement, proper, no nonsense art. And all the time I'm walking round I keep getting drawn into things and looking and thinking and feeling great to be here amongst all this stuff and then suddenly, like a sledgehammer cracking a walnut, it just hits me that he actually OWNS all this. It's not like just a group show of stuff. THIS IS FROM HIS COLLECTION.
It's awesome. He owns a Francis Bacon, for goodness sake. He owns a Jeff Koons that is enormous. He owns a whole bunch of Jim Lambies and even more Richard Princes. And Sarah Lucas works by the bucketload. And Warhols! He has that massive splattering of dead whale bits that John Isaacs did - revolting and grotesque and I couldn't take my eyes off it. And he owns it. It's his. Don't get me wrong - it's fantastic to see all this stuff. But I couldn't get away from the thought of Damien owning it. It was like a group show and a solo show at the same time.
Then I'm at Fieldgate, for a group show called Latitude. I'm here, really, to see the Sarah Baker piece but I'm stopped by a great Doug Fishbone video piece which I think maybe I've seen before...I'm also struck by a wall of shopping bags by Rosemary Williams. She bought an item from every store in the Mall of America in order to get a representative bag from all the retail outlets. It's impressive and made me feel both nauseous at the concentration of consumer packaging - which, now reduced (or elevated, it's hard to know) to art, looks clearly like so much hollow desperation and worthless greed - and also uncomfortably attracted to the designs and textures of the bags. It's an ambiguous piece and well worth getting more info from Rosemary about this here - her website has podcasts of her shopping trips and also some revealing commentary about the money she spent and the goods purchased (and although she attempted to take everything she bought back to each shop - minus the bag - there is a subtext about the issues surrounding her purchases - and those she does actually keep - which is enjoyably problematic and which she herself is happy to explore. Her husband less so, mind - he eventually refuses to open credit card statements for the sake of his health).
Sarah Baker's piece is in a room on its own. Nooza has written about it here. I love it. Sarah has produced a music video but she can't sing. The video uses cheesy edits, back lighting and cutaway slow motion clips from what looks like family footage of a young girl (Sarah?). There are two people standing in the room watching this with me and they are both laughing in disbelief at Sarah's atrocious singing. Sarah is utterly shameless about her lack of tune and pitch. She defintely doesn't have the X factor...
But she does, finally, seem to have the beginnings of a website - which hopefully she'll be updating soon...
Then it's up to Maureen Paley's on Herald Street to see the Andrew Grassie exhibition. This is another real treat. There are five paintings, all executed in the fanatical, detailed photorealism that Andrew is so good at. Each painting is 15.8cm high and from 21.7 to 26.1cm wide. So, you know, fairly small. They are arranged on three of the walls of the downstairs gallery. Two on the left hand wall as you walk in, two on the next wall, much further up, and one on the far wall. The paintings are of the five shows that have preceeded this. Each one is based on a photograph that Andrew took of the installation of each of the previous shows. On the handout he even details the dates he took the original installation shots and then the dates that he began each painting. His show, this that I am looking at now, is called Installation.
Did you see what he did there?
OK, let's think about this. He's a painter. A very, very, very talented painter in terms of near photographic reproduction on an almost incomprehensibly small scale (I mean, I can't even focus on some of the details, let alone paint anything that small - check out that roll of masking tape, above, that's like about a few millimetres high). So, you know, he can do that bit. So then what? What to paint? What questions to ask? It seems to me that Andrew is trying to move painting into questioning itself; or us, as viewers; into questioning what it means to look at a picture. In these works we are looking at pictures of the room we are standing in, except the paintings show the room as it was, at five points previously, and at a point when the gallery was closed to the public. We are seeing the room as it was never meant to be seen. He is showing us a version of the room. So we are not so much looking into and at a painting which is showing us something in another place, he is reflecting back to us the room we are in. We are not looking into the painting but looking back into the room, and looking back at five installations. So, maybe, these five paintings are about perception. But note that he hasn't called this show Five Paintings or Five Rooms or Five anythings. The five paintings are called Installation. These are paintings that know where they are, know that they are installed in this room. They know they are being looked at. And they will always relate to this room. They're not like other people's paintings that sit on the wall waiting to be bought and hung on another wall. They are an installation. They are the room now, and in the past. In at least a couple of the paintings there are doors open in the gallery wall with views through to the usually hidden areas of the gallery. And this being Maureen's gaff the place always looks immaculate. But in the paintings he is opening the gallery up, carefully peeling away all the artifice that has been so assiduously constructed for the previous five shows. When I leave the gallery and think back I feel absolutely convinced that I did see in through one of the gallery doors, at a clock on the wall. But, I know, factually, that I was alone in the gallery the whole time and that the doors were closed.
It's a curious effect and one he achieved awesomely in the Art Now room at Tate Britain a couple of years back. Then, in a piece called New Hang, there were 13 paintings around the empty room depicting the room from various angles but showing a collection of different paintings and scultures from the Tate's collection. It was amazing. I came away from that feeling like I had been in a room filled with different works. This work today is different, but there is still that odd juxtaposition betweeen the five small paintings, the gallery itself and the residual memory of being in a gallery that had other stuff in it, other people's works, open doors, tins of paint, a stepladder...
These aren't paintings so much as propositions about the nature of paintings, about perception, memory and experience.
I don't know of anything else quite like them.
And seeing them is unforgettable.

some pics


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