Yawn! It wasn't because Giorgio Griffa's A Continuous Becoming retrospective at the Camden Arts Centre was boring that I nearly fell asleep when I was reading the press release on a rather comfy seat in their foyer. It was more likely the fact I'd been up since about 0530hrs and had walked over ten miles that day. But it has to be said the show really wasn't that interesting.
Camden Arts Centre is a nice place to visit. It's got a quirky little bookshop, a good café, and a reasonably decent sized garden that looked quite inviting on one of the warmest days of the year so far. But that should all be the icing on the cake and the cake itself should be the art that is housed within.
I'd had fairly high hopes for Griffa, an artist I'd previously been unaware of, based on the fact that he had links with the Arte Povera (a movement that I've long admired) and that he lives and works in Turin (which is a beautiful city and one that can really capture the imagination of any artist) and, initially, I thought his numbers, lines, and scribbles looked quite pretty. What could they mean? Would there be a code I could crack? How would his art develop?
Tre line con arabesco n.834 (1994)
Tre Colori (1998)
The best answers I could give would be they meant nothing, there was no code, and the art didn't really develop very much at all. It all got a bit samey and I was glad the exhibition had been free. There's nothing wrong with devoting yourself to one very specific subject and honing your art around that subject. Artists as diverse as Giorgio Morandi, Claude Monet, Bridget Riley, and Paul Cezanne could all be said to have worked in that fashion.
But as the careers of those artists went on they, in most cases, seemed to get to the essence of their 'muse', started to really see what it is they were painting, peel away the layers of the onion and uncover some inner truth. It seems like Griffa just carried on grafting. He obviously liked what he was doing and saw no need to change his methods or dig any deeper.
Tre Colori does make good use of blues, reds, and pinks to create a pleasant aesthetic but Dall'alto and Obliquo are, well, just a bit dull really. Even if the latter did remind me of the cover of New Order's 'Fine Time'.
In his eighties, Griffa's been at it for a while so he probably knows what he's doing and why he's doing it and it probably all makes sense to him but there's very little here for the viewer to latch on to. That doesn't seem very generous. Sometimes I like an artist to give a bit. There's plenty of books about him in the reading room (though most are in Italian which I can't read) and you can even put on headphones to listen to the kind of music (jazz) that Griffa plays when he paints.
It must be lovely to spend your senior years tucked away in a studio in Turin listening to jazz and making the art you want. By the time you reach that age you probably deserve it too. But, still, that doesn't mean there's much in it for the viewer. That's as self-indulgent as someone writing a blog about it all, if not as self-aware.
There's a lot in the exhibition about how Griffa "transcribes rhythm, sequence and the repetition of minimal gestures", uses something he calls "positive concentration", and how he "nurtures a synergetic relationship between himself, his tools and his materials". It's all so much word salad. They're pleasant enough to look at but positive concentration and synergetic relationships? C'mon!
For what it's worth the show follows a rough trajectory around his career. From the sixties when he flirted with minimalism, through the eighties when he claimed some of his work was intended as a homage to arch conceptualist Joseph Beuys, and on to work made as recently as two years ago.
Intertwined with the supposed artistic development are two ongoing series. Canone aureo (Golden Number or Golden Ratio) lays claim to all sorts of confusing mathematical stuff from Euclid, pentagrams, pyramids, and the Fibonacci sequence and perhaps offers the closest thing to a Scooby as regards what all these numbers, letters, and marks all mean.
Alter Ego is a slightly simpler concept. It's Griffa paying homage to artists he admires. Artists as diverse as Henri Matisse, Yves Klein, Paul Klee, Alighiero Boetti, and Agnes Martin) Paola a Piero is his tribute, if you will, to 15c Late Gothic painter Paolo Uccello and Griffa's near contemporary abstract painter Piero Dorazio. There doesn't seem to be much in common with Uccello's egg tempera renderings of horses or battles (unless those lines represent swords, could be on to something here) and Dorazio worked in much bolder, far more striking, colours.
Paolo e Piero (1982)
Canone aureo 498 (Alighiero Boetti) (2015)
Canone aureo 860 (2014)
Canone aureo 179 (2016)
....and so it goes. I walk round the galleries, I take photos, I enjoy the way the sunlight streams through the window onto 1980's Frammenti more than I enjoy the piece itself, and I nearly interrupt a couple having a cheeky little snog in one of the alcoves. I don't hate it. I don't love it. I don't even feel bewildered. Just a little indifferent. So I go home and write about it. Because writing about things you're indifferent about is a really good use of your time, isn't it?
Cosi e la vita!
Doppio movimento (1997)
Canone aureo 874 (Agnes Martin) (2016)