Poussin Gallery, London
11 February–12 March 2011
by ANNA McNAY
Nevertheless, with signs of a resurgence of interest in this genre, and as the result of a series of conversations bemoaning the paucity of shows, discussions, and sponsorship, the Poussin director, Robin Greenwood, an abstract painter and sculptor himself, and John Pluthero, an art collector and the chairman of Cable and Wireless, have founded abstractcritical, a not for profit initiative aimed at providing a forum for debate, with live and on-line critical discussions and salon events, sponsorship for exhibitions, and, later in the year, the abstractcritical newcomer awards, both for artists, and also for writers.
“Art is a very lively activity and it lives in the discourse around it,” Gooding asserted, as chair of the inaugural panel discussion held at Goldsmiths on 22 February. “Painting is itself a philosophical activity, a non-verbal activity, which leads to the necessity of applying a language to it.” But does this not contradict the very nature and goal of abstract art, namely to produce work which eludes the order of thought and which, in contrast to the figurative, engages the viewer first in seeing (the involuntary experience of the sign, enjoying the media and colour for what they are, and not for what they represent), and only then in looking (the cognitive recognition of the signified)? This is, perhaps, an oversimplification and false dialectic, since cerebral pre-planning and raw spontaneity need not necessarily be mutually exclusive.
“Every decision [made by the painter] is a critical decision. But that’s a different kind of critical decision from trying to make references or allusions.” An artist might use quite deliberate images in quite an abstract way. Indeed, panellist and artist Katie Pratt maintained that abstraction, for her, has a very specific linguistic structure and lexicon which, to a great extent, is provided by its history and theory, “the substance of which,” according to abstractionist Alan Gouk, “comes from what artists themselves have said.” The three progenitors of abstraction, Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944), Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), and Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935), were most articulate about their art and ideas, and, through this, they opened up a discourse about the direction of painting and the development of new forms of art in the 20th century. Early modernist ideology, as espoused by its pioneers is the starting point for abstractcritical in an attempt to define abstraction in the 21st century.
Threesome and 3X3
Curator Anna McNay has put together two exhibitions – Threesome, a collaboration between three female painters, and 3X3, photographic self-portraits by nine queer female artists – which explore the female gaze with the aim of ‘making people question how they feel looking at these works and how it makes them look at themselves’
Anish Kapoor: Flashback
Kapoor, who represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1990, won the Turner Prize in 1991, and was the first living artist to be given the entire Royal Academy main gallery space for his 2009 show, attracting a record 260,000 visitors, is renowned for his use of vivid primary colours in pigment form: “Colour is stuff.
Mary Kelly: Projects, 1973
There is a lot more to Mary Kelly’s work than just dirty nappies. Nevertheless, no retrospective would be complete without the inclusion of Post-Partum Document (1973–1979), notorious for causing a ruckus in the British press when exhibited at the ICA in 1976.
Ellen Bell: Camera Obscura and Other Stories
Ellen Bell’s work has all too often been side-lined as craft rather than art, and, indeed, the painstaking methods by which she selects, cuts, pins and pastes sometimes minutely printed words and strings of text from dictionaries, plays, and novels, requires a most artisanal skill and precision.