One of the things that really struck me looking at Alex Van Gelder’s Meat Portraits was that they reminded me of a very different body of work: Cathy de Monchaux’s small-scale sculptures made from materials velvet, leather and metal. Searching for the works that come most immediately to mind proves tricky; images of the works I remember best from de Monchaux’s Whitechapel exhibition or from the Turner Prize show the year she was nominated prove elusive but the seductive beauty of the lush red velvet held in oddly fleshy formations by brass fittings has stayed with me.
The pale pink leather of works like Dangerous Fragility is in come ways more bodily – clearly evoking skin – but it’s the combination of the softness of the velvet and its wound like appearance that I find particularly fascinating.
Alex Van Gelders Meat Portraits brought a couple of other bodies of work to mind for me so, ever in pursuit of an overly obvious link, it seems like a good chance to think about Helen Chadwick’s beautiful but disgusting Meat Abstracts. The extraordinary quality of these pictures really doesn’t come across in reproduction but even so the lushness of the pictures is apparent.
The pictures are very deliberately put together; with props and fabrics lending an air of sumptuous theatricality. In each, a careful arrangement of meat has been laid out; each is lit in part from the single light build positioned within the frame.
I’ll admit to approaching the exhibition of Alex Van Gelder’s Meat Portraits at Hauser and Wirth with a feeling of trepidation. Yes, from what I’d seen the images looked rather beautiful, but there’s no getting round the fact that they’re photographs of bits of dead animal and I’m a vegetarian so meat isn’t something I’m keen on looking at really.
Individually, many of the images are undeniably beautiful to the extent it’s sometimes hard to remember that the subject matter is so gruesome. The colours and patterns are seductive and there’s a pleasing symmetry to some of the pictures that just doesn’t say abattoir to me. At times it’s all too clear though.
Martin Creed, Work No. 88, A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball, 1995
There’s something about a blank page. There’s a sense of possibility, of course: this could be where it all goes right – this page could soon be home to the perfect drawing or piece of text – but there’s also a sense of anxiety, after all what can go very right can also go very wrong. We’ve probably all been there, stuck in the cycle that sees each new page end up in the bin. You write. You read. You screw up the page and start again. If the blank page carries a sense of possibility I guess the scrunched up ball of paper carries the sense of exasperation.
In the case of Martin Creed’s Work No. 88, A sheet of A4 paper crumpled into a ball the connotation of disappointment at things not going according to plan is there to an extent but the tight roundness of the resulting ball is too close to perfect to be the result of anything other than a more careful, considered crumpling up of the page.
Regular readers will know that when it comes to art, I do like white things. Maybe it’s the visual simplicity. Maybe it’s that I’ve made quite a lot of white things myself. Maybe it’s the enjoyment of trying to figure out what’s going on in the work when there’s so little to actually look at in terms of colour and form. Who knows? Whatever the reason, I often do find myself prepared to put in the time to look again if at first the work seems empty.
It’s unsurprising then that when I visited Jack Brindley’s show Sweat at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery it wasn’t the more colourful works that really held my attention, it was the sheets of (sort of) plain white paper.
Susan Hiller’s Witness, which I first saw in a disused chapel in north Paddington in 2000 – and which I wrote about for MostlyFilm a couple of years ago – is one of my favourite artworks, I think (yeah, yeah, it’s a long and ever changing list, but Witness is always there). There’s something about the weirdness of the narratives – recordings of tales of encounters with the unexplained, stories about strange lights in the sky told in many different languages – the beauty of the installation and the oddness of trying to carry on listening even when the story is told in a language you don’t understand, that I find compelling.
Coming across some of those same voices in a different form – as part of the soundtrack to a work called Sounding – in the Box at Pippy Houldsworth was an unexpected pleasure (I’d known about the main exhibition in the space; the Hiller was a bonus). The Box is a small booth space, here containing a small screen housed in a box frame; three sets of headphones hang just outside the booth (though the work is best experienced solo) and it’s these that add sound to the video abstraction on the screen.
Though I’d seen Yutaka Sone’s work before and found it fascinating, the work in his show at David Zwirner interested me more not just for the extraordinary accuracy of the marble cityscapes but for the places they represent. I think the only carved marble work by Sone I’d seen in real life before is Highway Junction 105-110 which depict freeway intersections in Los Angeles, a city I’ve never visited and only really know from films. The works felt a bit like architectural models, albeit it unexpectedly made of white marble. Here the cities are Venice, New York and Hong Kong. Admittedly I’ve only been to Hong Kong once, very briefly and a long time ago but the other two are cities I know well.
Sone has mapped the territory in incredible detail using methods as diverse as aerial surveillance and Google earth to gain as exact an understanding of the cityscape as possible before it is carved by hand into the marble.
A Brief History of John Baldessari, 2012 – title screen
In a way it’s just a short leap from Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell to the three things John Baldessari believes every young artist should know, though rather than painting these he chose to impart them to Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the directors of the short – very short, we’re talking six minutes here – documentary A short History of John Baldessari. It turns out it’s possible to find out quite a lot about Baldessari in six minutes, though I suspect knowing a certain amount about the man and his work before hand does help.
John Baldessari, Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell, 1966-1968
I’ve written about John Baldessari’s text paintings before but this seems like a good time to go back to one in particular: while I’m thinking about words of advice, Baldessari’s Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell seems like a good work to write about. There’s something pleasing – to me at least – about the idea of using the conventions of painting to produce something so unapologetically unpainterly. Lets face it, if Baldessari’s tips are even a little bit useful, by ignoring his own advice so comprehensively surely he’s ensuring his own work is unsaleable?
Except of course, he’s John Baldessari and as such he’s very far from whatever part of the art market it is that prefers paintings to be of landscapes, flowers or the madonna and child.
Peter Fischli and David Weiss, How to Work Better, 1991
There’s no one way to get through the day, of course, and there’s no one way to be an artist. But there is advice that works in many situations – often based on good old common sense – and the ten point list that is Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s How to Work Better is just that. It’s simple, it’s straight-forward and it’s something most of us would do well to follow.