Thursday, 28 July 2016

A meeting with the makers.

One of my regular little art excursions is to the Camden Arts Centre. Can't remember how I first found out about it but it's been a pleasure since the start. Exhibitions are free. It's got a great book shop and café and, if the weather is clement, the garden is a treat. Also, vitally, it's a short walk from Hampstead and it's charming array of pubs. Even when I fainted there, I'd run a half marathon and not eaten, that was still fine. A story to share.

Currently they're showing Making and Unmaking. Curated by Nigerian fashion designer Doru Olowu  (born Lagos, 1965). Clothes, as expected, feature heavily alongside jewellery, textiles, ceramics, and more traditional art media.

You begin with Anya Gallacio's 'sculpture', "I will walk down to the end with you if you will come all the way down with me", in the aforementioned garden. Its meaning unclear but on a purely aesthetic level a treat.

In the main galleries there's a LOT of stuff. On the walls. On the floor. Hanging from the ceiling. I was drawn to the two portraits below. Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's 2016 Tie The Temptress To The Trojan and Meredith Frampton's 1921 Winifred Radford. I'd been entranced by Yiadom-Boakye's work before, at a recent Serpentine show, and was new to the older artist. I liked both works but, most of all, I was taken by how two such different approaches to portraiture could complement and play off each other.

Embah's whimsical Burroquet II  (2001) appeared to be cowering in the corner. Perhaps overwhelmed by these strong female artists and their sitters.

Equally Embah could be said to represent Olowu's interest in folk art. Nobokho Nqaba's carrier bag mosaic and Alexandre da Cunha's fur gloves underlining this tendency.

There's a weak, by his standards, Alighierro Boetti print positioned just along from Tony Armstrong-Jones' bromide of Jacqui Chan in Venice and an entire wall of spray painted silk rayon.

Dorothea Tanning's Glad Nude with Prawns (1978) sits close to Yinka Shonibare's Butterfly Kid and Wangechi Mutu's Panties in a Bunch, both from last year. They act as a kind of foreplay to the next room.

Ivorian palm leaf skirts, Isaac Julien ink prints of dapper dudes, Claude Cahun's surrealist photography, more curtains, hats, and a Chris Ofili watercolour surround Tanning's Etreinte, below, which is, in turn, eyed suspiciously by Leonce Raphael Agbodejou's muscle men. Something sexual is afoot here and I'm not sure what.

If you need to cool down you're out of luck. But if you want to sit in a room heated like an oven and watch Luis Monteiro's videos of models showing Oluwu's outfits you've come to the right place.

It continues. Peacock feathers, Congolese raffia, hemp fibres, knotted linen, porcelain vases etc; etc; A lot of it is very pleasing to the eye but as someone who tends to come at things from an art-historical perspective I sometimes find it tricky to process this type of, possibly, purer curation.

Olowu has been described as having 'a fluency with diverse aesthetics' and, for once, the bumf makes sense. That's exactly what this is. This isn't about the mind. But about the eye. I needed to leave my preconceptions aside. Forget, for once, about 'learning' and simply enjoy this celebration of creation.

Eventually I did and the more I look back on it the fonder I am of it. A fluency with diverse aesthetics indeed. Cheers, Doru.

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