The idea of books as art is hardly new. The concept of the artist’s book is a familiar one; indeed, there are artists’ book fairs all over the place. It’s just that when books become art is usually in the form of a book work: a book by an artist that functions as a work in its own right rather than as documentation. In Liu Wei’s exhibition at White Cube, Bermondsey at the moment, books have become sculpture and taken on the form of a city seemingly teetering on a rock with skyscrapers leaning at alarming angles.
Gary Hume’s exhibition The Indifferent Owl is as slick and polished as one might expect from an artist who paints with gloss paint and exhibits at White Cube, but for me, though I generally like Hume’s work a lot, there is something missing. Quite what that something is I don’t know but maybe it’s the indifference in the exhibition’s title seeping out and affecting the way I see the work.
There is something extraordinary about Anselm Kiefer’s paintings. The surfaces aren’t quite like anyone else’s and the scale of the work means that standing before one I always feel part of the picture space. The paintings in Kiefer’s exhibition Il Mistero delle Cattedrali at White Cube Bermondsey are less heavily textured than some of his work but the surfaces are still rough and often salty.
I went to Jeff Wall’s show at White Cube unsure quite what to expect. At some point when I wasn’t paying attention, Wall left behind the elaborate tableaux and sometimes less than obvious references to the history of painting and started to tell different stories – somehow simultaneously simpler and more complex – through his photographs. The work here is from two separate bodies of work that feel in some ways as though they could have been made by two different people.
In the ground floor space there are three photographs of the Sicilian landscape. Described as ‘documentary pictures’ in the press release, these tell of a landscape fundamentally unchanged over time but one in which the modern world is nonetheless constant visual presence. The drystone walls in Hillside near Ragusa might have been there for centuries staying low to blend into their surroundings; man is not a recent incomer to this place. By contrast, the electricity pylons stride across the hillside with a confidence that its natural inhabitants – the short, windswept trees growing on the low ground – don’t seem to share.