= The Crawford Arts Review: May 2014

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Chen Wei at Ben Brown Fine Arts - Until Thursday 5 June

Prepare for impact. Chen Wei, showing at Ben Brown Fine Arts, is a technical virtuoso with the camera, an artist in the way he composes his shots. He first works meticulously in draft form on paper and prepares his photographic canvas, the lighting. The result, to reverse the saw about a picture being worth 1000 words, is that he seems to be able to build 1000 narratives into a single photographic still life. 

Hours after I saw his show I was still working out the complexity and the gentle, philosophical finger-pointing of Anonymous Station Suppressed Scenery and its partnering work Anonymous Station Scratch Under the Shadow. These consist of life-size studio-built panoramas of a crowded then an empty edge-of-town bus station where the people wait but the buses never come. The image has never left me and I don't think it ever will. This image thus fulfills one of the requirements of fine art: each time you go to it you un-, re-, discover more.

Furthermore, in showing us how a crowd of Chinese commuters deal with the long wait for transport, the artist shows us ourselves. Britain has had a bus service since 1902 when the first motorized omnibus was introduced to London. We are still 'in the process of' organizing mass transit by bus.

Raw documentary seems to dominate our everyday experience of photography, Chen Wei's approach is to pass the onus back to us in terms of how we react. His Broken Tomato (2009) (below) seemingly replicates the scene of an execution. We are confronted with a tomato-splashed tee shirt draped over the back of a chair. The work is thus about the 'idea' of execution rather than death to camera. 
Chen Wei (b. 1980)
Broken Tomato, 2009
Archival inkjet print
100 x 130 cm; (39 3/8 x 51 1/8 in.)
Edition of 6 + 1 AP
image courtesy Ben Brown Fine Arts

With Household Telephone (2011), an ordinary rotary dial phone and the only installation in this show, a heavy brass cover has been locked over the dial to disable it. 'They' can phone 'you' but not vice versa.

Figured Cloth (2011) depicts a Chinese noodle bar where the diners have gone back to work and the table has been cleared. The single light bulb above each place marks the allotment of space unmistakably  the luxury of elbow space; the leisure to linger over a meal, is absent. In the image, the stains from the meals just consumed remain. The artist then stands back so that the viewer may come forward if they wish and make a more profound analysis.

The world Chen photographs is a world where China and its people endure the upheaval of modernization. Looking at Anonymous Station Scratch Under the Shadow again, may they not lose those inexpressible qualities that make them Chinese. 

Chen Wei's 'Slumber Song' closes on Thursday 05 June.

Ben Brown Fine Arts
12 Brook's Mews
London W1
Nearest tube Bond Street
Fri 116
Sat 10.30

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Josef Albers at Waddington Custot – Until Wednesday 4 June

Josef Albers (b. 1888, d. 1976), using the sparest of means, seems nevertheless to see into the depth of things. Using his pencil like an engineering tool, he draws a line across grid paper so precise it seems tensioned. Soon there are four lines and he has a square. From there he picks up this black ink pen or his paintbrush and his imagination seems to take flight.

He left his native Germany for America in 1933 and in 1950, as head of design at Yale University, he began his 'Homage to the Square' series, studies that were to occupy him for the next 25 years.

The Waddington Custot Gallery has the helpful habit of numbering the works. Look at numbers 1315, Albers's grey homage to the square. The light touch and the precision are enchanting here. Just as the ancient Chinese believed that black contained all the colours, Albers painted as if grey contained all the light.

His work is, of course, a mainstay of fine art and graphic design teaching. His work on the square and its projections are influential just about everywhere you look. It's work that continues to refresh as well as inform the vision.

Josef Albers 'Black and White'
Waddington Custot
–12 Cork Street, London W1 
Mon–Fri: 10 am–6 pm
Sat: 10 am1.30 pm


Saturday, 17 May 2014

Until Saturday 24 May

Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery
2A Conway Street, off Fitzroy Square, W1
Monday to Saturday 10am6pm

Closed Sundays and Bank Holidays

Barbara Hoogeweegen

Barbara Hoogeweegen's paintings, based on photographs she has taken of her subjects, seem to deal with the unsaid, perhaps the unsayable.

On the surface, they are well executed, small-sized (average dimensions 32 x 26 cm) works of mothers and their mostly teenage children in the idealized urban setting of Notting Hill. Using oil on board and a subdued palette, the artist shows us the immaculate interiors, the well-groomed Tabithas and Justinians, the light pouring in at well-scrubbed windows, the family dog and yet.

Underlying all this, written in to the calmly worked brush strokes, there is loss, whether by death (mother or child) or parting (grown up child leaving home, parents getting divorced). 

Hoogeweegen achieves this by overpainting sections of her child figures so that they appear to fade into the background. It suggests too that the mother figure might already be starting to calibrate the days before her child will be wholly gone.

The paintings depict happiness certainly - mother and daughter holding hands, heads together on a sofa, everything that parental love, Notting Hill and good schools can bestow. But what are we to make of the school satchel on its own, the abandoned toys, the set of Russian Dolls where the final, smallest one of the four has faded until only the pale outline remains? And what of the mother whose arms hold an almost bleached-out baby who seems to be reaching out through a window to the blue sky beyond?
The hang is awkward, a two-tiered arrangement that makes the top tier difficult to see. Perhaps the unsayable here is also the untouchable, the pain of child loss too great to confront directly.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Congratulations to the finalists and winner of the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2014

Richard Mosse Wins with The Enclave, landscapes, shot on discontinued military surveillance film which registers the invisible spectrum of infrared light, of war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

© the photographer. 
Image courtesy of the Photographers' Gallery


The Photographers' Gallery

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Work of Artist Miroslaw Balka at White Cube, Mason's Yard (until 31 May) and at the Freud Museum (until 25 May)

During May, Polish artist Miroslaw Balka's new sculpture installations appear in two places at once.

Both exhibitions are site-specific in that they are tagged with their AMSL, their height above mean sea level. 

The first is at the Freud Museum, The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung), 75,32m AMSL
The Freud Museum
20 Maresfield Gardens
London NW3 5SX
Wednesday–Sunday 12pm–5pm
Free but entrance fee applies
Outside the house, there is a black 8-metre high tower ("Y Chromosome Adam"). In the entrance, you will find the video "Night and Fog" (Nacht und Nebel). "We still need" sits in the main exhibition space and consists of painted plywood crates and a truncated trapezohedron that references Dürer's Melencolia 1 (1514). The final work is a recording of someone whistling Elmer Bernstein's theme tune from the Great Escape (1963).

Miroslaw Balka
100 x 100 x 20, TTT
Concrete and LED
Dimensions variable
© Miroslaw Balka
Photo: Jack Hems.

The second exhibition (part of which is shown above) is at White Cube Mason's Yard, The Interpretation of Dreams (Die Traumdeutung), 25,31m AMSL.

White Cube Mason's Yard
2526 Mason's Yard, London SW1Y 6BU
Tuesday–Saturday 10am–6pm
Sunday 12pm–6pm

Ground floor
One work,
"100 x 100 x 20, TTT", that consists of two parts (see pic above). On the left, there is a low, square concrete box set on the gallery floor. It could be an underground chamber; if you lean over and look through the two peepholes in the top, there seems to be a mysterious light within. Can you shelter and be safe here? Or is it a gleam from another realm, a last resting place?

On the right we find a truncated trapezohedron made of concrete with a fascinatingly radiant marbled surface (which may itself reference the remodelling of buildings brought down by war) and one facet open at the back. It could be a hiding place, a gun emplacement, a sniper's hide; it could be a prototype structure rising from the ashes. It also references the Dürer, just like the work in Hampstead. It also references the dwarf Alberich's magic helmet in Wagner's Das Rheingold, the helmet that, once put on, renders the dwarf not only powerful but invisible. 

Lower ground floor
Here the whole room is the sculpture, with the ceiling height drastically reduced by means of sections of steel chain lock fencing. The way the room has been left empty really makes this work speak, soundlessly, to the viewer. It references the long agony endured by war prisoners. Our imagination fills in their presence; their absence. The work
also references the low point: in the cage, real or imagined, neither fight or flight is possible.
Lower ground floor lift lobby
Echoing the work at the Freud Museum, here is the same sound sculpture, this time a many-voiced whistling of the Great Escape theme.

Curated by James Putnam