Thursday, November 5, 2009
International group show at Lett
Angels & Demons
14 October - 21 November 2009
Ten artists make up this group concoction at Michael Lett’s. As some of them, being based in Europe or the States, are rarely shown in this part of the world, one would expect it to be memorable – but not so. A lot of the painting is peppered with references to modernist painting styles like those of analytic cubism (Hansjoerg Dobliar), Warhol and Basquiat (Chris Lipomi), or Larry Poons' poured paintings (John Armleder). While these art historical references are very knowing, many of the resulting images are not fresh. They don’t really add up to much despite the layering. They seem dry, tired and bookish.
Others are livelier because of their anger (like Manuel Ocampo’s scathing caricature of an Inland Revenue official) or adolescent shock tactics - Matthew Griffin has a turdlike waffle floating (but now disintegrating) in a bucket of water. A lot of it is forgettable.
The three artists who have created something that lingers in the mind are Dan Arps, Mike Parr and Jim Allen. Arps’ The Dark Times, made with what seems to be a photograph drawn over and smeared with acrylic umber and viscous resin, is beautifully ambiguous in its dark muddy confusion. It could be a doorway in a building, could be a newspaper title-face, might be a modernist mausoleum. The streaky image is graphically compelling and mysterious.
Down by the gallery entrance, Mike Parr’s three c-type photographs, based on films documenting some of his excruciating performances of thirty-seven years ago, still have impact – even when put in a row high up near the ceiling. Paul McCarthy’s performances, made around the same time as Parr’s, and videoed, also involve confrontational activities using his body parts - and body fluids too. These Black and White Tapes, were screened on Wednesday night.
In the front entrance by the big window, Jim Allen’s sculpture has an advantage by being isolated from the rest of the exhibition which is bizarrely hung and organised in strange clusters. His work shows a male puppet head on a stand looking at a music stand on which is played a large clumped lock of curly hair, nestling between open folds of two, thin, crinkled wax sheets. Behind the hair is a thin palm tree trunk in a narrow glass vase. From it are suspended various tinted photocopies of illustrated internal organs and viscera.
My theory is that the work is an ironic meditation on Courbet’s The Origin of The World. Hetero male sexual voyeurism (or desire for a fetish substitute) is mischievously conflated with musical pleasure, while the unseen bodily mechanics of a living female person are backgrounded, despite being inseparable from the genitals. As is usual with Jim Allen’s practice, the work invites speculation. It is the highlight of a largely humdrum show.