Monday, 18 September 2017

A walk in the park can become a bad dream.

As two of my favourite things are going to the park and looking round art galleries it's no surprise that I'm fond of sculpture gardens. But I've not actually visited that many. I remember a pleasant one on a visit to Washington DC in 1999 and last year's trip to America involved a lovely, sunny couple of hours browsing round the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle with my friends Gareth and Rebecca.

While the weather in September in London couldn't compare with that gorgeous late flowering summer it was nice enough and, mostly, dry. The Frieze Sculpture Park had been set up in the south east corner of London's large, and quite grand, Regent's Park. For those of you who don't know London it's the one with the zoo in it. I was very familiar with the park having worked nearby for eighteen years and regularly taken picnics in it and jogged through it.

After my visit last Friday, and then again on Saturday with Adam, I posted four photographs to my Paul Klee inspired Facebook photo album 'Taking a line for a walk. Journeys into the art of London' and my friend, and most loyal blog editor, Alex said that FINAL DAYS by KAWS (capital letters - the artist's own) looked big, nasty, and nightmarish. I thought it looked quite fun.

I'm not sure if KAWS (real name Brian Donnelly) is a fan of Deadmau5 or not but his wooden giant certainly reminded me of that artists stagewear and logo. More than that it seemed like just the oversized, slightly silly, thing that'd put the smile on the faces of people out for a stroll in the park. I think sometimes that's enough.

 
KAWS - FINAL DAYS (2013)

 
Eduardo Paolozzi - Vulcan (1999)
 

Eduardo Paolozzi is probably the biggest name of the handful of well known artists showing in Regent's Park. I'd enjoyed a retrospective of his at the Whitechapel back in the spring and this, made six years before the artist's death in 2005, was a welcome addition. As was the pint of Paolozzi lager I discovered in The Holly Bush in Hampstead later Saturday afternoon. My integrity as a researcher meant, of course, I had to sample a pint. It tasted like lager. Strong lager.

Another big, and borderline menacing, piece is Peter Regli's marble snowman. Much like KAWS's work I've no idea what the thinking was behind it but I liked it. I wanted to touch it and thinking that was acceptable I did just that. Turns out it's not acceptable but there's nobody there to stop you so I've no idea how those rules are policed other than on trust alone.
 
Peter Regli - Reality Hacking No 348 (2017)

 
Bernar Venet - 17 Acute Unequal Angles (2016)

 
John Wallbank - Untitled (Seven Cube) (2016)
 
Those works will delight children big and small but it's hard to see youngsters being particularly enthused by Bernar Venet's mathematical looking steel construction or John Wallbank's resin, fibreglass, pigment, plywood, and rope Sewn Cube. In fact in the case of the latter it was pretty hard for this adult to get excited about it.
 
Majorcan Miquel Barceló seemed to have grasped that novelty isn't such a bad thing in collections like this. His patinated bronze elephant balancing on its trunk may look, as Alex pointed out, susceptible to high winds but it was rather charming all the same.
 
Hank Willis Thomas's Endless Column of footballs may not have been endless but neither was Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi's 1938 Endless Column of Targu Jiu on which it's been modelled. Brancusi's work stands in remembrance of the infinite sacrifice of the Romanian soldiers who fought, and died, in World War I. Willis Thomas has replaced Brancusi's rhomboidal modules with footballs and it's hard to see where he's really going with that. Is he trying to say our highly paid and pampered professional footballers are somehow the modern day equivalent of those who once died in service. I hope not.

 
Miquel Barceló - Gran el fandret (2008)

 
Hank Willis Thomas - Endless Columns (22 Totems) (2017)

 
Anthony Caro - Erl King (2009)
 
Unlike Barceló's elephant I'm sure I saw the resin footballs of Willis Thomas swaying in the wind. My thoughts on the work, too, swayed. I was much more sure about Anthony Caro's Erl King and Magdalena Abakonwicz's Standing Figure with Wheel. Caro's rusted steel is fairly typical of the British artist's large pieces but its unpainted appearance gave it the agricultural quality of American abstract expressionist David Smith.
 
 Poland's Abakanowicz bronze and iron beauty seemed to hark back to an even earlier era. The wheel wouldn't be out a place in a museum of pre-Industrial Revolution farming equipment and the headless, haunted figure takes on even greater significance in the wake of Abakanowicz's death, aged 86, in Warsaw this April.

 
Magdalena Abakanowicz - Standing Figure with Wheel (1990)

 
Joanna Plensa - Tribue to dom Thierry Ruinart (2016)

 
Michael Craig-Martin - Wheelbarrow (red) (2013)

 
Gary Hume - Bud (2016)
 
There was nothing in the park I thought was horrible. Or hated. But some were undeniably, and obviously, better than others. I didn't linger too long in front of Michael Craig-Martin's wheelbarrow, Gary Hume's bud, or Joanna Plensa's tribute to 17c Benedictine monk and wine making enthusiast Thierry Ruinart and I was fairly nonplussed by John Chamberlain's bright pink aluminium knot.
 
Put simply there were better, more interesting, things there to keep me occupied. Not least Alicja Kwade's Bg Be-Hide. Another Pole, 49 years younger than Abakanowicz, her contribution was simple yet effective. A large boulder, a mirror, and a stainless steel sculpture made to look exactly like the stone but silver. As you moved from one side of the mirror to the other the reflection of either the stone or the sculpture appeared to encroach perfectly on its counterpart. It's just an optical illusion but it's a pretty neat one and it was a joy to witness people sussing it out for the first time. Very much the sort of thing that belongs in a park.

 
John Chamberlain - FIDDLERSFORTUNE (2010)

 
Alicja Kwade - Big Be-Hide (2017)

 
Emily Young - Planet (2012)

 
Mimmo Paladino - Untitled (1989)
 
As I suppose are the more earnest sculptures of Emily Young and Mimmo Paladino. Even Reza Aramesh's diabolic goat, Rasheed Araeen's approximation of a climbing frame, and Takuro Kuwata's mushroom like growths didn't look too out of place.

 
Reza Aramesh - Metamorphosis - a study in liberation (2017)

 
Rasheed Araeen - Summertime - The Regents Park (2017)

 
Takuro Kuwata - Untitled and Untitled (2016)

 
Tony Cragg - Stroke (2014)
 
Tony Cragg's another of the marquee names on show but his Stroke was completely overshadowed by Ugo Rondinone's pale, ghostly, metallic tree. Surrounded by actual trees it's hard to work out if summer moon is in awe of his green brethren or if he somehow exerts a ghastly control over them.
 
Turning away from Rondinone's tree the stern faces of Thomas J Price's Numen look out at both the entrance of the park and Urs Fischer's skeleton/fountain/chair combo. Fischer, like Rondinone is Swiss born and lives in New York City. Judging by the available evidence there's something about that particular life trajectory that pushes an artist towards making slightly disturbing, if ultimately quite humorous, work.
 
So, even if the works of Fischer, Rondinone, and KAWS could be, to some, a bit of a nightmare the actual experience was more the kind of thing that dreams are made of. Next time I think I'll take a picnic.

 
Ugo Rondinone - summer moon (2011)

 
Thomas J.Price - Numen (Shifting Votive One, Two and Three) (2016)


 
Urs Fischer - Invisible Mother (2015)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Can't Get There From Here:Along Dangerous Borders.

"Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals" - Mahatma Gandhi.

I'm not sure what to think about the fact that the BBC has decided to mark the 70th anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence with a season that puts all the focus on partition and none on independence itself. It's not that the division of then British India wasn't important. It caused anything up to two millions deaths and displaced over ten million people along religious lines so of course it was important. It's just that the wider picture seems to have been ignored and it's not just so the British can look like the good guys. The British Raj quite often come out of this story looking anything but that.

That, somewhat large, caveat aside all the programmes I've caught have been worth seeing. They've been informative, emotional, and even-handed. The one I enjoyed the most though was, perhaps typically for me, something of a travelogue. A travelogue with a difference though. A two headed one. Dangerous Borders:A Journey across India & Pakistan was a trip along the border between those countries from each side with Adnan Sarwar taking the Pakistani side and Babita Sharma the Indian.

Sarwar, of Pakistani heritage, served with the Royal Engineers during two tours of Iraq and now works as a photographer and filmmaker and speaks in a broad Lancashire accent that reveals his Burnley upbringing. Sharma, like me, was born in Reading, and has worked for BBC Radio Berkshire, South Today, and now reads the news on World News Today. Her family have their roots in India.

So the programme makers have chosen well. Instead of going for big league celebrities they've gone for people of a more intellectual bent but also people with a personal history in the region. They're both young (well, younger than me), attractive, enthusiastic, and they're good communicators too. You can't help liking them. As the viewer flips from one side of the border to the other, from one presenter to the other, and we follow each of them on their two thousand mile trek north there's a small part of me that hopes at the end they'll run across the partition line, embrace each other, fall in love, and live happily ever after. Failing that I'd at least like to be friends with both of them.

It's not that sort of show though and it's not that sort of border either. It's the sort of border Gandhi feared. A dangerous one which, sadly, hatred seems to flow across with much easier passage than love. Sharma, whose Hindu family were forced to move to India, seventy years ago starts her journey in Gujarat. In Adipur, a low rise city of white painted buildings just eighty miles from the border which was created specially for refugees fleeing partition. Gandhi's ashes are laid to rest there and, seemingly because Gandhi met Charlie Chaplin in London in 1931, Adipur hosts a Charlie Chaplin convention which sees hundreds of men and women dancing in the streets dressed up as The Little Tramp.


Karachi, where Sarwar starts his trip, is a much much bigger place. A huge city, the most populous in Pakistan, and the beating heart of the country. As if immediately to disprove Western expectations of Pakistan he meets up with an artist who paints pictures of uncovered woman but then instantly confounds our surprise by admitting that this is done at great personal risk. In 2016 the model, activisit, and social media celebrity Qandeel Baloch, at the age of 26, was murdered by her own brother for 'bringing disrepute' to their family. Her 'crime' had been taking selfies with a religious leader.


Despite this the catwalks of Karachi we visit with Sarwar are freer than I'd expected, even if the main market for the clothes is across the border in India. Over there Sharma's teamed up with an all female, all ages (the youngest is 22, the oldest a fresh faced sexagenarian) biker group in Adipur. As they take their collection of Royal Enfields and dirtbikes on the road we're shown that female freedoms have always had to be fought for.

Quite literally in the case of the women Sarwar meets in all women's boxing gym in a poorer part of Karachi. He meets a teenage boxer so devoted to pugilism she even practises during Eid. Each punch seems to be a gradual chip away at decades, centuries even, of misogyny.

These women are not the only ones who find life tough in Karachi. The city has had a large East African population for as long as anyone can remember and although Islam forbids discrimination and there's no caste system there is still, surprise surprise, racism at play. It doesn't seem to matter how well tended a garden is, the weeds always seems to come through. Here as with almost everywhere else on Earth. Perhaps the racists could be fed to the two hundred plus 'magical' crocodiles that the Sufis keep in the lakes around the tomb of Manghopir instead of the sacrificial meat brought along regularly as offerings by devotees?


India, of course, does have a caste system and although it's illegal to discriminate based on it almost everybody still does. The clues to what caste you come from are not easy to hide. They're in your name. Sharma itself reveals Babita's family to have once belonged to the Brahmin caste, the uppermost caste in all India. Many others see the Brahmin, due to the great privileges bestowed upon them, as oppressors. Babita seems sad about this but it's unlikely that had she been born a Dalit her family would've ever had the opportunity to move abroad or been fortunate enough to experience any of the other opportunities they must've had. There's no two ways about it, the caste system is not a good thing.

We're soon shown how that actually plays out in India when Babita travels on to the Little Rann of Kutch. It's a hostile desert landscape punctuated by mountains of salt where one hundred thousand, low-caste, people work risking blindness, lesions, and tuberculosis in temperatures of forty five degrees for what amounts to an absolute pittance. There's money in this work but they won't see it. Someone's getting rich out of it but it's not them. Such is the fucked up capitalist world most of us now accept living in. Hope for future change isn't great either as we meet kids working there. They can't afford to go to school, they can't get an education, and they can't escape the trap.


In Pakistan's Thar desert Sarwar travels to the Zero Point border crossing. Remarkably it's one of only three crossings along the whole of this enormous border. If any world leader were insane enough to think putting a huge wall up increases safety they might be instructed to take a look at the regular outbreaks of trouble that occur on this border, often costing people their lives. Some fear an incident of large enough magnitude could trigger an all out war between two nations both in possession of nuclear weaponry.

As their car reaches the border the rangers transporting Sarwar order him and his team to stop filming. The camera comes back on for a meeting with a Hindu desert tribe who still live in Pakistan. They stayed on in Pakistan because they feared, as low-caste Hindus, they'd face worse discrimination in India than in Pakistan. It's speculation as to whether or not that would've happened but here they live, work, and even intermarry with the local Muslim population.

If that sounds like a good thing (which it does) prepare to be disappointed by their treatment of women. The women can't mix with men and even have to eat separately from their husbands but judging by the crude jokes they direct at Sarwar perhaps they're just winding him up. They certainly seemed very skilled in the art of the leg-pull.

Both Babita and Adnan have their roots in the lush, verdant Punjab region. 80% of the Punjab is on the Pakistani side (where, of course, Adnan is visiting) and 100,000,000 people (half of Pakistan's total population) live there. They're harvesting sunshine, in the form of solar energy, and, with trade with India not much of an option, the Chinese are backing it. Pakistan needs the money but for China this is of strategic importance. Despite the niceties thrown back and forth between the Pakistanis and the Chinese you can't help feeling that all concerned know that Pakistan is very much the junior partner in this deal.

Over in Indian Punjab Sharma cycles through the tree lined boulevards of Chandigarh. Nehru created it as capital of Indian Punjab when Lahore fell on the Pakistani side of the border and it was designed by Le Corbusier. It doesn't look that much like anything else in India and, despite its many critics, it's an architecturally fascinating place.



Lahore is too. For different reasons. Once seat of the Mughal empire it's now the home of the Pakistani film industry and the country's literary scene. Here, as with most places we're taken, we hear heart rending tales of partition. This show is as much as a history programme as a travelogue.


But who will write the future history? Adnan talks to Salman Ahmed, whose band Vital Signs, in 1987, had such a hit with their song Dil Dil Pakistan it has taken on the status of an unofficial national anthem. Ahmed speaks of accountability and posits that with 70% of Pakistan's population now under twenty years of age what route will these youngsters take? What route will they be allowed to take and with a 60% illiteracy rate what are the dangers they'll be exploited by fundamentalists and demagogues? Pakistan is, after all, a country that spends ten times more on defence than education.

At a Sufi ceremony we learn that Sufis have been rejected by the rampant swing towards conservatism in Pakistan and have also been attacked there. Islamic State and the Taliban take delight in killing them but then again IS and the Taliban take delight in killing just about everyone and everything.

The heroin that flows into the region from Afghanistan has had a huge affect on the Indian side of the border. There are 4,000,000 heroin addicts in Indian Punjab alone, many of them middle aged women. Babita meets some of them in a female rehab centre before a trip to the, very different, Amritsar temple complex, 'the pool of the nectar of immortality'!


During independence/partition the Sikhs never got the homeland of Kalistan some of them wanted and, after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, in 1984, following her Operation Blue Star military operation to take control of the Golden Temple, three thousand Sikhs were murdered in reprisal attacks.

It's a gruesome, bloody, episode that only serves to prove that an eye for an eye soon leaves the whole word blind. Far better to follow the example of Adnan Sarwar. He's visiting Jassar where Babita's father was born and as Babita won't be able to visit herself he takes some sand from one of the buildings as a present for her. It's a touching moment and as close to the romance I'd wished for the show ever gets to. His home village, Kharian, is a garrison town and his mum's there to meet him. She tells him he needs to get married soon, that time's running out. It seems I'm not the only one looking for a little romance.

In a world where nationalism has taken hold from Trump to Brexit to Putin and beyond it's no surprise to find it's rampant in both India and Pakistan. It's still depressing though - and jarring if the militarized zone in Jammu and Kashmir, that looks like Switzerland, is anything to go by. The local sweet shop owner displays mortar shells and the charm of the people either side of the border, both sides upset at what their governments (and, historically, the British) have done to divide, and endanger them, sits uneasily along the horrific stories of young newlyweds bleeding to death from shrapnel wounds.

In the mountains of northern Pakistan the Taliban are the threat. As much as they like to kill Sufis the Taliban love to kill tourists too so Adnan is protected by AK-47 wielding guards as he takes a train to the lower Himalayas where they're building a railway bridge higher than the Eiffel Tower. At Gilgit he watches a polo match which seems to act as a metaphor for the whole situation. In a beautiful setting a dangerous game with no clear rules is played out. This time the police win and celebrate by dancing with their Kalashnikovs.

Babita's in Srinagar now where many Kashmiris want independence from both India and Pakistan. It's India's only majority Muslim state and it's violent and dangerous. Protests tend to follow Friday prayer sessions suggesting that religion isn't the solution to their problems but very much the cause of them. Kids still in their school uniforms are subjected to tear gas, bullets, and pellets but if it's what God wants who are we to say it's wrong, eh?


Even while we're there the Indian army slingshot stones into the mosque and there's a scrap. Eventually Babita, her crew, and the cameras are forced to retreat. As more and more lies are propagated, and education denied, the circle of violence is all but guaranteed for future generations. It seems pretty hopeless but flowers can, and do, grow even in the most parched of deserts.

Sixty miles from the border with China in Passu, Adnan meets with some Caucasian looking, Muslim schoolgirls. Amongst this beautiful mountainous scenery there is a 100% literacy rate and there lies hope that if religion can't be abandoned, it can at least be adapted, or directed towards the peace it often pertains to care so much about.



On the terrifying ice roads of the Himalayas at the Zoji La pass we meet with an Indian man who lives 10k from his brother but, because of the 'line of control', it takes him fifteen days to visit him. This is the kind of insanity that these unnatural borders have caused and, other than the religious fundamentalists and nationalistic governments that hold sway over so much of the region, it seems to me that people are sick of it. They don't want it any more. There doesn't seem to be any hope whatsoever of things changing in the foreseeable future but hopefully if more people stick to Gandhi's message and act with love, instead of hate, there'll at least be a chance that things could improve in the future when these huge, and youthful, populations grow to be adults. If they're denied education because of dogmatic or economic circumstances, however, we could end up continuing to travel in the opposite direction and the results of that really don't bear thinking about.












As if by magic the shopkeeper appeared.

Well it happened years ago when he lived on Festive Road. But Mr Benn neither worked in the garage up the road nor did he seem to have the remotest interest in impregnating anybody. In fact all indications were he was a confirmed bachelor who liked to spend his weekends getting dressed up in fabulous outfits and embarking on fantastical adventures. There were two sides to Mr Benn, alright.

Not that, as a toddler, I saw it like that. It was just a regular quarter of an hour of escapist magic, with an obligatory moral message snuck in, backed up by Duncan Lamont's memorable score, in which our titular hero would visit a fancy dress shop, change into the outfit of a knight, a caveman, a chef, an astronaut, or a clown, and then enter into whatever world was fit for whichever character he was that week.

The bulk of the story would take place in that world where the simple premise would be that there would be some kind of problem and that Benn's character would find a solution to it. Then he'd go back to the real world. Little Princess Annabella wouldn't eat because she was lonely so Benn the chef invites the poor children to the palace for a feast which Annabella soon joins in, Benn suggests to a bunch of Neanderthals menaced by alarmingly quick moving dinosaurs they move in to stone huts, and Benn the zookeeper helps out his charges by caging the local humans so that they can see the cages are too small and do something about it. You get the idea.

On returning his outfit he'd return to the suburban normality of 52 Festive Road, draw the curtains, and wank himself silly.

Ok, I made that last bit up. Who knows what he did when he got back home but he did, always, have a little souvenir of his adventure. A wooden spoon, a photograph of a herd of elephants, a parrot's feather, a lump of rock that was once gold, or a jar that once held magic dust. Absolute crap basically.

 
Mr Benn and the Shopkeeper with the Red Knight Costumer (1971)
 
But us kids didn't care. Mr Benn was in the big league. He was up there with Bod, Bagpuss, Rainbow, Pipkins, and The Mr Men and whilst Benn himself, a slightly better defined Homepride Man who'd no doubt balk at the ostentatious dress and behaviour of Mr Monopoly or the monocled absurdity of Mr Peanut, was the nominal star of the show it was the shopkeeper who, as if by magic, stole every scene he was in.
 
I didn't even know what a fez was (being too young for Tommy Cooper) and nobody in my family sported a natty speckled bow tie so he looked like nothing I'd ever seen before. He looked like the sort of man who ate Turkish Delight. There was something of the east about him, for sure, but never having travelled further east than Clacton-on-Sea I didn't really know what that actually meant. Who knows? Maybe people from the East do just disappear and reappear on whim. I met a girl from the area once and she certainly seemed to do that.

 
 
The Shopkeeper's Costumes (?)

 
Preparing for the Royal Banquet (1971)
 
Mr Benn was screened between 1971 and 1972 and then, surely, repeated time and again throughout my youth. It certainly feels like I saw each episode a considerable number of times. They were narrated by Ray Brooks who later played small time gambler, and all round cheeky chappy, Robbie Box in the BBC comedy drama Big Deal, a show whose theme music came courtesy of Bucks Fizz's Bobby G. In the mid-eighties that was top-end stuff.
 
But it meant nothing to me in the early seventies and the name of David McKee meant even less. I didn't care who wrote or narrated the thing. I just wanted to sit with a pack of salt'n'shake crisps and a beaker full of Quosh and be transported into world where a city gent with no concept of dress down weekends, let alone Fridays, helps King Neptune and a mermaid outwit two submarine's worth of paparazzi who are trying to get long range shots of their pet dragon. Was that really too much to ask?

 
Mr Benn Waving Goodbye (?)

 
Mr Benn - Spaceman! (1972)

 
Hugging the Dragon (1972)
 
The Illustration Cupboard in St.James's, however, is for big kids, not little ones. So their exhibition, 50 years of Mr Benn, focuses very much on the obviously highly talented creater, writer, and illustrator of the series, McKee. Brought up in Devon McKee started off with a story called Two Can Toucan which, true to its title, featured a toucan that could carry two cans of paint on its bill. There doesn't seem to have been an awful lot of mileage in that so it's no surprise that it was Mr Benn that shot him to fame.
 
After Benn and the shopkeeper, McKee, with Brooks back on board for further narration duties, kept himself busy with King Rollo. Rollo was an infantile king whose limbs rotated violently and disturbingly and busied himself in moronic escapades involving dogs, balloons, breakfasts, and shoes. Rollo may have worn the crown but Benn was still the king of McKee's creations and remains so to this day.

 
52 Festive Road (2017)

 
The Fancy Dress Shop (?)
 
Disappointingly, the Illustration Cupboard has set up the show more for retail than anything else so if you've got a spare £5,500 burning a hole in your pocket why not get down there. That's how much Preparing for the Royal Banquet will set you back. If you've been feeling the pinch the iconic Mr Benn and the Shopkeeper with the Red Knight Costume weighs in at just over two grand. Just imagine the eyes of any future romantic partner lighting up as they see that taking pride of place on your bedroom wall.
 
Whilst the high prices weren't particularly surprising (there's a certain type of man, and it usually is a man, who fetishizes his youth to such a degree that money really is no object) the lack of information boards proved to be a minor disappointment. But this was still an interesting trip down memory lane, third right off Festive Road, and it was a surprise to see that Benn had been brought out of retirement not once, but twice in recent years.
 
First, in 2005, as a gladiator and then, last year, as a very suave looking 007 dispatched to prevent some nefarious action on the Thames in front of the Houses of Parliament. If only he'd been there in March when deranged Islamic fundamentalist Khalid Masood drove a hired Hyundai Tuscon into pedestrians, ploughing them down, and taking six lives. Although it's hard to imagine Ray Brooks narrating that.
 
So Benn is back it seems. Perhaps Benn has never been away. As for the shopkeeper, judging by his advanced years and his ever expanding paunch, it seems safe to say that, much like my youth, he's disappeared forever. Memories are made of this. 


 
The Changing Room (Caveman) (1972)

 
The Changing Room (Gladiator) (2005)

 
007 Benn (2017)

 
007 Benn to the Rescue (2017)

Playground Structure:The Gridrunners.

"The fluidity of the paint is so gorgeous I felt like I wanted to conquer it and control it." - Rachel Howard.

The group exhibition Playground Structure takes its title from a photograph by Jeff Wall that depicts a climbing frame in a suburban park - and I took that line wholesale from Blain/Southern's press release about the show and because I owned up to that it's not so much plagiarism as an acknowledgement of respect and therefore is utterly appropriate for many of the works on display, following, as they do, a long lineage of esteemed progenitors.

The grid in art has been around for a fair while now (ask Mondriaan) and it seems that, after a fashion, there's very few new things one can do with it. Many try. Few succeed. Said press release points us to Rosalind Krauss's supposedly influential (I doubt my mum's even heard of it) 1979 essay 'Grids' in which she argued that twentieth century artists had used the form of the grid to signal an absolute break from the past.

That certainly may've been true once but now the use of the grid has become so firmly established as a method and almost hackneyed as a technique does it still ring true? I'm also less sure what Krauss was getting at when she claimed the grid as an 'emblem of modernity' that occupied a 'schizophrenic' position that could either be materialist or spiritual.

Blain/Southern, inspired by Wall's photo, see a third way that's neither in hock to the demands of capitalism nor seduced by the woo of new agers. The curators of the show ponder the grid 'carnivalised' and converted into a climbing frame for the mind, somewhere the viewer's imagination could play as freely as a child on a real climbing frame?


Jeff Wall - Playground Structure (2008)

It's a fairly noble aim but it's never going to be as much fun as being a child on a real climbing frame, is it? Let's face it. Being a child and going to the park is fun. Being an adult and going to an art gallery is, at best (and with a few honourable exceptions), 'improving'.

Amy Feldman and Dan Walsh fail, spectacularly, to recreate the thrill of the slide, swings, and seesaws of the playgrounds of our youth, Daniel Sturgis seems to have opted for turning the iconic Croatian football jersey into a sub-Bridget Riley op art piece, and Jeremy Moon's 'kinaesthetic dynamism', despite receiving huge plaudits at the time, relies on a very standard trick of the eye for its very brief, and somewhat limited, appeal.



Amy Feldman - Public Lick (2016)


Dan Walsh - Track (2017)


Daniel Sturgis - Just Enough (2017)


Jeremy Moon - Ice Palace (1970)


Dan Walsh - Circus (2016)


Ed Moses - Untitled (1973)

None of these works are terrible but none of them particularly inspire. They're so-so. A minor distraction. Something you'll have forgotten about within about ten minutes of departing the gallery. The most interesting thing about Ed Moses is that he shares his name with the double Olympic gold medal winning 400 metre hurdler. That may seem a reductive way to speak about these people and the art they've no doubt lovingly created but, hey, their work is all about reduction anyway. So they started it.

Amongst the filler there are some undoubted gems. County Durham's Rachel Howard is a new name on me and three works of hers on show are, along with the Wall photo, the very best things here. Symptoms and Side Effects has an almost Rothko like quality in that you want to stand really close to it and immerse yourself in both its impenetrability and its beauty.

The reds and yellows, from a distance, start to look like a much loved, familiar, but worn carpet. If there's something feminine about this example of Howard's take on abstract expressionism you'll reconsider when confronted with her Broken Grid Theory and If it feels like this. Greyed out memories of grids give way to a stark, brutal, yet strangely alluring pair of paintings. It seems unsurprising, after viewing these, that Howard has devoted entire series of works to the themes of sin and suicide.


Rachel Howard - Symptoms and Side Effects (2016)


Rachel Howard - Broken Grid Theory (2017)


Joan Snyder - Untitled (1969)

Joan Snyder is another female artist who seems to understand that the way of breaking out of the cage of the grid is to dissolve it and embrace its potential fluidity. Her daubs are more sensual than Howard (and far more so than Walsh and Strurgis) and seem to invite us in, ask us to discover, for ourselves, their mysteries.

Snyder identified as a feminist artist from an early age and it's been said, on no lesser source than Wikipedia, that "she uses shapes and marks that evoke female anatomy such as vaginal openings, nipples and breasts". I'm not sure even Picasso would be able to interpret any of her works in this show that way but certainly from the Untitled work in 1969 through to 2015's New Squares and last year's XOX she has looked to, and mostly succeeded in, continually diversifying her output. It shows a questing mind that was never going to remain hampered by the formal demands of the grid for very long. 


Joan Snyder - XOX (2016)


Joan Snyder - New Squares (2015)


Mary Heilmann - Pink Synergie (2011)

I've written about Mary Heilmann (following her Whitechapel retrospective) back in July last year. I'd very much enjoyed that show (as you can read for yourself) so was looking forward to seeing more of her work at Blain/Southern. Alas, there was just the one piece, the small wall mounted Pink Synergie. It's pleasant enough but if I'd not visited the Whitechapel last year to get a better appreciation of her work I'd have not been impressed. It shows how artists and exhibitions need context and it shows how art, like music and relationships, can be reappraised and altered over time as our perceptions, desires, and feelings shift with knowledge and age.

With that in mind it's possible that had I visited this exhibition on a different day and in a different mood I may have come away either frothing at the mouth at its frivolity or raving at its radical outlook. But on Friday, when I was out trawling the galleries of Mayfair, I felt calm and collected and thus my assessment is surely affected by my mood. It was a good, not a great, exhibition but, if nothing else, it brought the artist Rachel Howard to my attention. I'll look out for her work in the future.


Rachel Howard - If it feels like this (2016)


Jeremy Moon - No 1/70 (1970)


Daniel Sturgis - Just Enough (Albers) (2016)