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Stephanie Hesz
London, UK
July 14, 2010

Tawdry. I make no apologies. If this were a one word review, that would be it. In his current two-piece show at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery, Turner Prize-winning artist Mark Wallinger has proved to frustrate, nay dishearten. This disappointment (and it is real disappointment) is solely born out of reverence. The exhibition consists of two separate pieces. The first, Self (Times New Roman), is a glass-reinforced polyester sculpture which, in essence, amounts to a simple three-dimensional representation of a black capital “I” in Times New Roman script, sitting on a white wooden plinth.



Mark Wallinger, Self (Times New Roman), 2010, glass-reinforced polyester

The second piece, in a separate room upstairs and titled I Am Innocent, consists of two scaled-up digital reproductions of Velázquez’s frequently referenced masterpiece Pope Innocent X. Hanging from the ceiling, the prints are mounted back-to-back and suspended from a slowly revolving motored cable. On one side of the digital print the Velázquez portrait is presented in its original form (though enlarged); on the other the image has been flipped vertically. As the reversed image revolves with the original, the Pope appears to face himself, his gaze becoming steelier with every rotation.



Mark Wallinger, I Am Innocent, 2010, digital archival print mounted on aluminium, motorised turntable

Presented as two forms of self-portrait, these works say very little. Wallinger has provided an accompanying passage in which he poses questions such as, “Where is I if it is us and how can I ever be me?” And, please don’t think the potential significance is lost on me. The identification and acknowledgment of self, the building and nurturing of identity, the value of the gaze and the understanding of what it is to recognize, the power-play between viewer and object, between passive and active. Fine. But, in this instance, this “I” doesn’t buy it.

Wallinger has proved himself on numerous occasions. Assuming the varying roles of painter, writer, sculptor, video-artist, and installation-maker, his engagement with identity politics and social transitions is noteworthy. For an artist whose other works include State Britain, a gallant installation meticulously replicating Brian Haw’s “peace-camp” Parliament Square protest, and a recent commission of a large scale public artwork (a massive horse set to dominate Kent’s skyline like southern-England’s answer to the Angel of the North), these latest pieces seem like weary B-sides passed off as multi-platinum A-sides.



Elizabeth Magill, Blue Hold

I approach the Royal Academy of the Arts’ annual Summer Exhibition much like I would a 19th Century cabinet of curiosity. Anticipation, caution, excitement, dread. Yet, I do always enjoy it – even if it’s through gritted teeth and sighs of dissatisfaction. It certainly remains a spectacle of sorts. Having transformed dramatically over the past two hundred and forty-two years (it has a long and fascinating history), the show has evolved into something else: not only a platform for art and artists (and for patrons to see and be seen), but also a show in every sense: where taste is questioned, Pimms is offered in the gallery space, and a row of florescent red dots means success.



David Mach RA, Silver Streak

The Summer Exhibition is the largest open submission exhibition of contemporary art anywhere in the world. The theme this year is “raw” but, notwithstanding the occasional underdeveloped (and I’m being generous) canvas, it was somewhat dismissed. And aside from the formal and informal aesthetic bickering that will forever engulf the galleries at such an event, there were some truly wonderful pieces amongst the utter drivel. Standout works include a luminous, captivating landscape oil-painting, Blue Hold by Elizabeth Magill, which draws and maintains the eye with its deft application of colour, reminiscent of an underexposed photograph laced in a golden hue. Another thrilling piece is Silver Streak by David Mach RA: an extraordinary, larger than life-size sculpture of an animated gorilla, constructed entirely out of coat hangers.



Johan Mybschmann, The Book of Space

Worthy of a passing mention, too, is a room that rarely fails to stimulate: the Architecture Gallery (located in the large Lecture Room). Curated by David Chipperfield, this year’s stunning exhibition is The Book of Space by Johan Hybschmann: a book transformed into a beautifully intricate architectural object, formed out of paper, brass, Perspex and MDF. It is breathtaking.



Picasso: The Mediterranean Years, 2010, installation image

Finally, the shining best for last: Picasso at the Gagosian. Focusing on his Mediterranean Years (1945-1962), the post-war period in which Picasso was drawn to life in the South of France, the exhibition—curated by Picasso’s acclaimed biographer John Richardson and the artist’s grandson Bernard Ruiz-Picasso—is an artistic triumph, unrivaled in London this summer. In stark contrast to Tate Liverpool’s current exhibition Picasso: Peace and Freedom, which focuses on the artist as political activist and promoter of peace amid ideological and cultural change (a show which has not been a runaway success), the Gagosian—one of the wealthiest commercial galleries in London—offers a multihued insight into Picasso’s more intimate works that celebrate his love of material and the world that surrounded him. Including ceramics, paper cut-outs, and pencil sketches torn from books, as well as major works on canvas, the exhibition is one of the finest Picasso shows I have seen in recent years.


Stephanie Hesz is a graduate of the Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialised in art museum history and theory, contemporary public art, and memorials. She has worked and lectured at a number of art institutions including The Royal Collection, the National Portrait Gallery, and MoMA, New York. Currently living in London, she works as an art history educator and writer.


Anthony Reynolds Gallery: http://www.anthonyreynolds.com/
Mark Wallinger continues until July 17.

The Royal Academy of the Arts: http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/
Summer Exhibition 2010 continues until August 22.

Gagosian Gallery: http://www.gagosian.com/exhibitions/2010-06-04_picasso/
Picasso: The Mediterranean Years continues until August 28.

 

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