LONDON - Whitecube Gallery - Victoria Miro - Waddington Custot

Here is a tour of the best and most impressive exhibition in contemporary art galleries in London this November : Fabienne Verdier at Waddington Custot, Anselm Kiefer at Whitecube & Alex Hartley at Victoria Miro.

Rhythms and Reflections -  Fabienne Verdier - Waddington Custot - This November, Waddington Custot is proud to present Fabienne Verdier’s (b. 1962, Paris) first solo exhibition in London. The exhibition will feature large-scale abstract paintings produced over the last year. These include recent work from the Walking Paintings series as well as a new group of paintings, Rhythms and Reflections, which mark a noteworthy change of direction for the artist.

In the Rhythms and Reflections works, Verdier balances her on-going exploration of gesture with a consideration of the pictorial surface as a whole and consequently the creation of a sense of space and depth. Multiple layers of glaze are initially built up, adding a translucency and vibrancy to the surface of each canvas. Definition is given to an abstract plane of broad monochromatic brushstrokes through a series of vertical drips of paint that Verdier resolutely incorporates into the composition. A departure from her previous practice, the new works on the whole are less about the physical act of painting and more about the consideration of a rhythmic layering, nomadism and sudden events of mark making. As Verdier herself considers,

“Everything in this world is vibration: forces in constant movement, combinations of rhythms and reflections of the real. We ourselves are rhythms steeped in the great universal rhythm.  As the Mexican poet Octavio Paz once said: ‘Rhythm is not a tempo: it is a vision of the world.’”

If this new series offers Reflections, the Walking Paintings are composed as a ‘lightning strike’. The series is a result of a performative act: a funnel of paint, suspended from the ceiling, pulled across the canvas in a swift horizontal movement. Begun in 2012, the series has gone through several stages of development and is the continuation of the artist’s exploration of the idea of the ‘trait’ (a line drawn, in French). As the paint falls, the raw energy of the artist walking on the painting is translated onto the canvas, making nature’s intangible forces tangible.
Wallhalla - Anselm Kiefer - Whitecube - White Cube presented an exhibition by Anselm Kiefer featuring large-scale installation, sculpture and painting. Titled ‘Walhalla’, the exhibition referred to the mythical place in Norse mythology, a paradise for those slain in battle, as well as to the Walhalla neo-classical monument, built by Ludwig I King of Bavaria in 1842 to honour heroic figures in German history.
Throughout his career, Kiefer has interwoven themes of history, politics and landscape into his work, revisiting imagery and symbolism through different forms and media. His work conflates and connects themes, resonating with the idea of history as one continuous cycle. In the past, for example, Kiefer has employed the symbolism of Norse mythology alongside the forms of National Socialist architecture, and for this exhibition he used this as a basis for dramatic new paintings and sculpture that deal simultaneously with notions of creation and destruction, life and death.

The exhibition focused on the major installation Walhalla in the central corridor space, from which the other works thematically departed. Featuring a long, narrow room lined with oxidised lead, rows of fold-up steel beds are set close together and draped with dark grey crumpled lead sheets and covers. At the far end of the room, a black and white photograph mounted on lead depicted a lone figure walking away into a bleak, wintery landscape. The whole installation was dark, sombre and sparsely lit by a series of bare light bulbs, suggesting an institutional dormitory, military sleeping quarters or battlefield hospital. This sense of morbid claustrophobia is countered nonetheless by the offer of rest, of a break in the journey; a place perhaps of transformation.

Phileman in stasis - 

 San Loreto -

Sursum corda - In the ‘9 x 9 x 9’ gallery, a dramatic, rusted metal spiral staircase disappeared into the ceiling. Along its handrails hang curling strips of film reel, mounted onto lead, and soiled, robe-like dresses on wire coat hangers. In Norse mythology, Valhalla is linked to the Valkyries; women who decided who would live and who would die in battle. After making this choice, the Valkyries accompanied the dead to Valhalla, the hall of the slain in the afterlife ruled over by the god Odin. Entitled Sursum corda, this sculpture relates to the moment when the Valkyries arrive at Valhalla, their robes periodically discarded along the climb, suggesting loss and the trace of bodies that are no longer there.

In his latest paintings, Kiefer employs a range of media – oil, acrylic, emulsion, shellac and clay – to emphasise the space of painting as a threshold into a mythic, imaginative realm. Here, a series of high towers are set amid desolate landscapes, their stacked forms exploding and dissolving into clouds of deep black or caustic blue smoke. A familiar motif in the artist’s work, the towers are based on his own sculptures made from rough concrete casts of shipping containers, including the brutalist-style towers of Jericho made for the set of In the Beginning staged at Opéra Bastille in Paris in 2009. In one such painting, Kiefer depicts the towers up-close, as if the viewer has found themselves in the ruins of some ancient city. In another work, which consists of three panels, flights of steps leading up to each tower reference the neo-classical, imposing architecture of Walhalla. Here, however, rather than the symbolic bastion of power that Walhalla aims to evoke, they are flat and two-dimensional, overlaid and set at impossible angles under the expanse of a meridian blue sky. In other pictures, which echo the landscapes of Van Gogh, the paintings are divided by a rough track, receding as far as the eye can see and often encrusted with layers of paint and deposited with a bitumen-like matter.
Several new vitrines, in different scales, continue these themes, through assemblages of soiled bleached clothes, stones, stacks of institutional metal beds, bicycles or small trees set upon squared off, cut-out sections of earth. Sealed off and displayed, these objects appear like fossils or unearthed artefacts entombed in glass and lead cases.

Arsenal - 

After you left - Alex Hartley - Victoria Miro - An exhibition of new work by the British artist, including a major architectural intervention in the gallery’s waterside garden.

Thoughts of modernism and its legacy, as well as Romantic ideas of the ruin and the picturesque are conjured in these new works. While modernist architecture has been a constant touchstone for Hartley, amplified in recent work is a sense of narrative, of the viewer having arrived at a situation of ambiguous cause and uncertain outcome.
Comprising sculptural and photographic elements in which the supports of plinth and frame are merged, further large-scale works present fragmentary architectural details in front of dense jungle scenery. As with A Gentle Collapsing II, these works allude to the manmade world versus the natural environment. Narratives of entropy and decay are ever present. Yet, for Hartley, this is a surprisingly fertile territory, one that allows the imagination to roam freely, to envision what might have been and what might be to come.

A further collapsing occurs between genres. Hartley’s work always encourages us to consider how we experience and think about our constructed surroundings – through surface and line, scale and materials, locations and contexts. A Gentle Collapsing II breaks down rigid categories of production, referring as much to painting as to architecture, landscape design, sculpture or even theatre. Similarly, in a new series of wall-based works in which photographic, painterly and sculptural elements are brought together, the idea of the boundary – between interior and exterior, private and public space, manmade and natural environments, two and three dimensions, object and image – is subject to constant re-evaluation. Classic examples of modernist domestic architecture, photographed by Hartley in Los Angeles, form the basis of a series of monochrome wall-based works in which the photographic image and hand-painted elements – describing and embellishing the verdant West Coast landscape – are separated by a layer of semi-transparent Perspex. Caught up in these works are ideas of privacy and voyeurism, and the contradiction of modernist aspiration as epitomised by the glass-walled pavilion giving rise to the desire for boundaries of other kinds.

Resembling an International Style domestic building apparently abandoned to the elements, the major architectural intervention A Gentle Collapsing II transforms the gallery’s waterside garden into a scene of poetic dereliction and decay. Built on the canal bank and into the water itself, the work encapsulates classic modernist tropes – the clean lines and horizontality of Bauhaus architecture as exported to the US by Mies van der Rohe in the 1930s and later exemplified by Philip Johnson and Richard Neutra, amongst others. Yet the structure and what it appears to portray – a home vacated without explanation, open to the elements, its white rendered walls peppered with black mould rising from the waterline – stands in stark contrast to images of domestic architecture and attendant aspirational lifestyles from the period. Instead, created especially for the garden, with its tree ferns suggestive of an ancient subtropical or temperate landscape, A Gentle Collapsing II looks to have undergone an accelerated process of ageing. It is as if we have been teleported into the future in order to look back at the present or very recent past.

The work offers poignant reflection on themes of entropy and decay. It is, in some ways, emblematic of a wider collapsing – of ideals or even spirit. Running contrary to such thoughts, however, is the undeniable aesthetic pleasure we find in ruins – their compelling, transportative quality. In this sense, A Gentle Collapsing II becomes a kind of time machine that frees the mind to wander, gently collapsing or dislocating a sense of linear time as it does so. The work chimes with the idea of the folly as a faux historical structure placed in the landscape to act as a conversation piece, with the real-life ruins that seduced aristocratic tourists on the Grand Tour in the eighteenth century, and with the tastefully timeworn abbeys and classical temples seen in works by JMW Turner, Francis Towne, John Sell Cotman and others.