Fitzrovia Art Gallery Reviews September 2012

By all accounts, Fitzrovia is growing.  According to one report that we have seen, a new gallery was opening up once every two weeks earlier this year, earning Fitzrovia the distinction of being the most concentrated gallery district in London.  Yet, Fitzrovia’s success comes against a backdrop of decline in some of London’s other art hubs.  Rumours have been circulating for some time that the Vyner Street area is not quite as vibrant as it used to be (there are various anecdotal explanations for this, the most plausible of which is that dealers and collectors simply could not be bothered to make the great trek to east London).  In addition, the Guardian recently reported that half of the galleries in Mayfair’s Cork Street are likely to be forced out with the announcement of a second multimillion-pound property development which looks set to send rental prices skyrocketing.

In this context, Fitzrovia’s newfound success is not to be scoffed at.  For this month’s review, Artlyst decided to make a day of it, rather than trying to squeeze in several galleries in one evening – many galleries stay open until 9pm on the last Thursday of every month as part of the Fitzrovia Lates initiative, which has been spearheaded by regional kingpin, the Haunch of Venison, in a bid to popularise Fitzrovia as a premier art district.  However, one of the galleryists that Artlyst spoke to whispered into our ear that Fitzrovia Lates has not quite taken off as planned, at least not yet.  It is not altogether clear why this is the case, although timing is most likely the guilty culprit.  The scheme was only launched at the start of the summer (in June 2012), which is traditionally a quiet period on the gallery calendar.  In addition, the galleries in Fitzrovia are spread out over a relatively large area in comparison to other art hot spots like Vyner Street, which have the advantage of proximity on their side.

Our verdict?  We found gallery hopping at a leisurely pace by the light of day to be highly enjoyable, particularly if the experience is punctuated by the coffee break (or three), with lunch thrown in for good measure.  As an added bonus, there is also some very interesting art to be seen!  Some of the notable highlights include the exhibitions below.

Paradise Row
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, To Photograph the Details of a Dark Horse in Low Light
13 September – 20 October 2012

Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s new solo exhibition at Paradise Row explores the relationship between photography and race.  The title of the show (to photograph the details of a dark horse in low light) was the coded phrase originally used by Kodak to describe the ability of a new film technology developed in the early 1980s to accurately render dark skin.  (Previous technologies had been unable to do, so much so that Jean-Luc Godard famously refused to use Kodak film during an assignment to Mozambique in 1977, on the grounds that the film stock was inherently ‘racist’).  In response to a commission to ‘document’ Gabon, Broomberg and Chanarin recently made several trips to the country to photograph a series of rare Bwiti initiation rituals, using only Kodak film stock that had expired in the late 1950s.  Using outmoded chemical processes, the artists were able to develop only one roll of the film, in addition to a number of black and white test prints of the type pictured above in the installation, 4me4you.

Carroll / Fletcher
Natascha Sadr Haghighian
20 July – 20 September 2012

In a radical departure from her usual practice of site-specific projects, Natascha Sadr Haghighian’s first solo exhibition in London consists of a selection of works from the last fifteen years.  The installation featured above, Unternehmen: Bermuda (2000), was the artist’s contribution to the Federation of German Industries’ Ars Viva prize.  It consisted of her meeting with the judges at a bus stop in Berlin (situated in the midst of a triad of three art and science institutions) and, like spies in a B-movie, exchanging slides kept in a metal briefcase, in a sort of group performance.  The entire situation was filmed and photographed by an ‘under-cover agent’ from across the street.  Initially, the judges did not know that they are being filmed, but the photographs reveal their surprise as the realisation slowly dawns upon them.

Haunch of Venison
Giuseppe Penone, Drawing
6 September – 6 October 2012

Italian artist Giuseppe Penone is regarded as one of the most important artists of his generation.  In the late 1960s, he emerged as a key exponent of the Arte Povera movement.  This solo exhibition at the Haunch of Venison focuses on Penone’s drawings, and includes new drawings that are closely related to his major sculptural commission for the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which opened on 5 September 2012.  Although he his more well-known for his three-dimensional works, the act of drawing has always been central to the artist’s practice, both as a means of developing new ideas and for producing major works.  For Penone the idea of drawing is a generative process similar to the growth of the tree, a motif used repeatedly in his work.

Nettie Horn
A Kassen, 17A Riding House Street
7 September – 14 October 2012

A Kassen is a Copenhagen-based artist’s collective comprising of Christian Bretton-Meyer, Morten Steen Hebsgaard, Søren Petersen and Tommy Petersen.  This exhibition is a site-specific response to the gallery’s new premises and neighbourhood (Nettie Horn recently relocated to Fitzrovia from Vyner Street).  Through interventions and sculptural works, A Kassen’s practice exploits the codes associated with institutional structures, as a way to re-imagine the encounter between artwork and public.  The intervention pictured above, entitled 17A, Riding House Street, features an architectonic sculpture made from the doors and windows comprising the gallery’s façade.

Art First
Bridget MacDonald, Arcadia
6 September – 6 October 2012

Bridget MacDonald’s drawings recall the impact of ancient Greece culture on Europe, the imprint of which is still visible in so many aspects of Western life today (for example, it is well-documented that Greco-Roman norms of beauty still continue to define our ideal of the perfect body).  In a world where classical standards can seem outmoded, or even taboo, MacDonald’s drawings are an ironic reminder of how the brittle, impatient demands of a modern culture can quickly overwhelm and alter the present.  Through a series of charcoal drawings, the artist evokes the space and light of remote Arcadian landscapes that she visited in 2011.

Words and images: Carla Raffinetti © Artlyst
Except for these images: Natascha Sadr Haghighian © Carroll Fletcher, Giuseppe Penone © Haunch of Venison, Bridget MacDonald © Art First

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