Latest Reviews of exhibitions in the Vyner Street area By Alice Lubbock
Vyner Street. For the past few years it has been the place to experience the forward-looking London art scene. And it is still gathering speed, with galleries opening up in every available space on and around this not particularly long cobbled street just off the Cambridge Heath Road. Known as ‘The Cork Street of the East’, it is the best place to start off any ‘First Thursdays’ trip – those evenings when East End galleries open late and provide free booze for a night of art and people-watching. These galleries all dedicate themselves to showcasing the newest, youngest and most experimental art around. Here is a whirlwind tour of some of the current exhibitions.
Herald Street, a short walk from Bethnal Green tube has a high concentration of galleries (on such a tiny road, there are 4). First I visited Maureen Paley Gallery (21 Herald St) who are holding the first solo exhibition in the UK of NYC-based painter, Thomas Eggerer (until 8th April). This artist is having his cake and eating it too. He could be an amazing abstract artist – his command of colour combinations and brush-strokes adeptly merge to make each background – yet he is also accomplished draughtsman of figures and scenarios. The paintings show groups of mainly boys involved in farming activities, or rubbish-collecting. The figures are small, and some are sketched out with just a few strokes, others are a lot more ‘filled in’. The settings for these actions (reminiscent of community service punishments for unruly young boys) are intense planes of bright colours, just barely suggesting roads or horizons. These are mystifying scenes, so that you can’t make up your mind whether you want to join in.
Upstairs is his new series of studies of the pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli – three paintings in which only the pianist and the piano are demarcated, set to similar backdrop of swathes of brush-strokes. Through each painting, as the colours and the pianist’s expressions change, a sense of movement is created. However, the paintings fail to fill this large room, and their placement feels a tad rushed.
At Herald Street Gallery (no. 2), Markus Amm – an entirely inscrutable young German artist, ‘investigating modernism’s legacy’ – has six large canvases on show in the first room of this gallery (accessible through a mysterious door and a taxi garage), and then another five much smaller pieces in the next. The large works are an abstract series of lines, apparently made using a special spray-paint can, that sweep across a lightly whitewashed canvas, creating either loose squares or rectangles, or vertical shapes – some of which resemble the Easter Island heads. Through to the next room and the canvases have shrunk, squeezing down all the paint on their surface into a thickly saturated square upon which Amm has applied plenty of coats before choosing to stay with the colour or shades of colour that we now see on the surface. This makes each canvas ‘glow’ slightly – especially the ultraviolet blue one – and, if you like to meditate on painting techniques, these are great subjects to ponder.
Off Bethnal Green Road, and inside B J House, a small industrial unit upstairs is where you can find the Hollybush Gardens Gallery, and Eline McGeorge’s exhibition ‘A World of Our Own’, until the 29th April. McGeorge is a Norwegian mixed media artist, with an interest in the 21st century female condition. Most of the work stems from a film that she made of the same title, which interlaces Femme-Punk tunes of the 1980s with scratchy digital video, and the artist’s voice listing those female ‘freedom fighters’ with whom she identifies, and emphasising that the female no longer has a ‘need for territory – the woman does not need to stay in the home’. And this is all set to the backdrop of London’s financial centre, political demonstrations, and historic moments of the 20th century (e.g. the Moon landing – elsewhere in the gallery she has appropriated the astronaut’s portrait and stuck a woman’s face behind the helmet).
On the floor is a sculpture made from a few breezeblocks, and sheets of aluminium foil (an element from the kitchen, no longer the woman’s prerogative), onto which she has graffitied the words ‘Tired of Capitalism’. An artist’s book is also on show (printed onto recycled pound notes), containing some of the works seen, as well as futuristic sketches of her fictional world. But this ‘call-to-arms’ is a rather timid one – and at times descends into a somewhat confused shout.
Finally to the hallowed ground of Vyner Street, and first the Wilkinson Gallery – the ‘big boy on the block’ (asserted by the huge metal doors that you have to heave open to enter) that has represented a wide range of international artists over the past 10 years. Currently it is holding two exhibitions (both until the 15 April): Makiko Kudo on the ground floor, and Harm Van Den Dorpel on the first. Kudo makes quirky, large-scale paintings of a fantasy land, part influenced by traditional Japanese woodblock tableaus (with their intricately detailed tree-scapes and plants, and decisive paint strokes), and part by Japan’s newer export; Manga artwork. Choosing to forgo the strong black outlines that both these genres deploy, Kudo has placed Manga-like, solitary figures amongst busy settings, where in the cavernous space of the Wilkinson, they appear even more alone and lost. In ‘Floating Island’, for example, the girl only has a swan for company in a work instantly reminiscent of Henri Rousseau with his isolated figures amid overwhelmingly and surreally detailed foliage.
Harm Van Den Dorpel’s collection of works entitled ‘About’ seem heavily influenced by the Bauhaus school of photography – collaging machine-age images onto bent Perspex to create neutron-like orbs that hang in the centre of the room, and montaging abstract photography of body parts, computers and natural forms and framing them behind etched Perspex. But, beyond knowing that this is an artist excited by the aesthetic language of high modernism, these purpose and meaning of these works remains painfully oblique. The work is highly abstract, and the titles give nothing away (‘Untitled 2012’, ‘Assemblage 2011’…), while the press release and artist’s bio on the front desk consists simply of an excerpt from a surreal science-fiction tale.
The artist claims that he has an interest in new technology and its meanings within new contexts; but I’m not sure whereabouts in the room these contexts are explored – I just felt like I’d walked into a blown-apart and sparsely re-assembled computer.
At Nettie Horn, also on Vyner Street, I was happy to find an altogether more viewer-friendly form of contemporary art – or in any case, more understandable (to describe it as ‘friendly’, I would soon regret). Marko Mäetamm makes multidisciplinary work around the theme of confessions and family life. His ‘self-portrait’ confronts a second after entering the gallery, the artist tied and rolled up in a carpet, propping himself up with his forehead against a door-frame. If this isn’t worrying enough, many of the depictions of family life (done in charming blue watercolours, on wallpaper and single frames in the back room), seem frighteningly based on his own adolescence, and reality.
The work is eerie and whimsical in equal measure; dark, yet funny. ‘My 10 favourite poisonous plants’ embodies this paradox, with the plants are delicately painted onto small ornamental plates, with their Latin name beneath, and arranged neatly on the wall – like you might expect to see in an older person’s home. Charming; that is until you discover the linkage (no need to spell it out!).
I greatly enjoyed the animations on display inside their wicker partitions – particularly ‘I married a bear’, with its hinted messages of domestic abuse and control, glossed over by simple, sweet drawings. ‘Blue Stories’ is another animation, this time not so funny, but handled in a similar, but more extreme deadpan fashion. In the same room is ‘Our Daddy is a Hunter’, a series of drawings with non-corresponding, handwritten rhymes underneath (and one quickly becomes aware that daddy isn’t a hunter in the conventional sense).
After all that, the last gallery along my route was above a pub, i.e. a great place to finish up. The Approach, at 47 Approach Road, have a new exhibition of Martin Westwood’s sculptures, ‘Boneus’, on until 13th May. Westwood has chosen to appropriate a selection of functional items or forms, so boring and universal they’ve become invisible, and elevate them to ‘art-object’ status through making moulds or casts of their originals, and assembling them into new collective forms. Among these items are bank transaction counters, travel pillows, boxes of A4 office paper, a charity donation box, and pastry rolls. Some replicas have been enlarged or exaggerated to further enhance the ‘art’ quality, and the new, reduced colour palette of pink, grey and black (with the hyper-real yellow pastry showing up) further conceals the objects’ origins. The room could be a futuristic junk-yard, glossed and varnished beyond recognition. The aesthetic oddly works (once you stop trying to ascertain the artist’s method), and the textures – so opposing normally – blend well. Thick, reflective glass encased in pink plaster, supporting fragile, crumby ‘pastry’ that has also been placed inside blocky foamed cardboard… It’s all mad, but it looks nice.
I had to have a pint downstairs and sit, quietly, reflecting on everything that I’d seen – and I’d only just scratched the surface of art in E2.
Words/ Photos: Alice Lubbock © 2012 ArtLyst