The London art scene gets a shake-up with the second edition of Condo, as 36 international galleries descend on the capital. In the first of a 3-part series, we review its East London highlights
Condo is out to shake up the art fair model. The main draw of the typical fair is its internationalism, bringing together galleries from all over the world. Nestled under one roof, it is enough of a convenient set-up for most to overlook the inherent blandness of the inevitably homogenous setting. Condo does it differently. 36 galleries have been invited to display work across 15 London galleries, in an international exchange programme that defies the corporate edge of the art fair booth. Set up in 2016 by Vanessa Carlos of Carlos/Ishikawa gallery, the DIY initiative has grown in its second year to include a number of blue-chip galleries such as Sadie Coles and Maureen Paley. Its freewheeling approach remains however, as emerging artists from younger galleries rub shoulders with well-established names.
Described by Carlos as a collaborative exhibition, the exact input of multiple galleries within a single space is frequently left ambiguous, allowing the lines between them to blur. Meanwhile, the Condo website is stripped of any details on participating artists and limited instead to the visiting information for each venue. At a time in which image sharing platforms are saturated with the visual arts, when it is easier than ever before to eschew a visit to an exhibition in favour of surveying it online, this is a deliberate push to get out and explore the city on your own terms. London’s diversity plays a key role in Condo, and each exhibition is shaped not only by the host gallery’s architecture but by its surrounding area. Visitors following the Condo trail will find themselves in Peckham, Lambeth, Soho and Whitechapel, to name a few.
To reflect Condo’s unique tour of London, we have divided our review of the exhibition highlights by area. First up, we visit East London. South London's highlights can be viewed here. Central London will follow on Thursday.
Herald St hosts two galleries for Condo, Tanya Leighton and The Modern Institute from Berlin and Glasgow respectively, and it would be unsurprising if the focus of the group show was somewhat lost between the two. Instead, the diverse works rub against each other in such a way as to almost hum off-key, and it is these frictions that produce the brightest sparks. Each raises questions about our engagement with architectural and interior space, frequently recasting ordinary objects and materials.
The body is set in new context with its surroundings in Amalia Pica’s sculptures assembled from found materials, the interplay between the two made explicit in her titling of the works: Head of the broccoli and elbow of the pipe; Tongues of the shoes, legs of the chair, legs of the table, teeth of the fork and arm of the chair. Bruce Mclean’s playful photographic series Pose Work for Plinths continues this connection, while Pavel Buchler’s empty slide projectors literally cast light on the building’s framework. Architect duo Robert & Trix Haussmann’s angular mirror installation, placed in the centre of the single room, reflects visitors as they move around the gallery and anchors the exhibition situationally. The piece offers an alternate vantage point on the room, unifying not only the works that circle it but each person’s presence among them. It is a dynamic and thoughtful gesture, reflective of the show in more ways than one.
Entering Carlos/Ishikawa through a long corridor, it is possible to catch a glimpse of the people crowded into the gallery ahead. Are they here for a reading or performance? It is only upon entering the large, brightly lit room that these figures are shown to be static, their bodies stuffed like scarecrows and their heads made from papier-mache. They are effigies made by Oscar Murillo, dressed in brightly coloured overalls and wellington boots to resemble Colombian workers. Soft and malleable, they perch propped on temporary wooden seating stands, a captive audience to the central sculpture by Yutaka Sone. Murillo, who is represented by Carlos/Ishikawa, personally selected the guest artists who participate in the gallery’s Condo presentation alongside him, and this influence is evident in the impressive cohesion of the exhibition.
Sone’s sculpture depicts an Aztec theme park, crudely fashioned from wood and polyurethane foam, while women preen and strut under stage lights in oil paintings by Chinese artist Ouyang Chun. Murillo’s makeshift arena, Sone’s miniature roller coaster and Chun’s thickly painted bustiers and high heels all suggest varied forms of entertainment, each with their own audience and performers. Amidst the stands, visitors to the gallery fluidly assume both roles, raising the question: how complicit are we in the making of the spectacle? It is a timely sentiment in the countdown to Trump’s presidential inauguration, and particularly in reflecting upon the climate that led to it.
Maureen Paley’s east end gallery space is bookended by two group shows, each of which would be worth the journey in their own right. The first, curated by writer Michael Bracewell, is encountered immediately upon entering. The gallery walls are stamped with quotes by such philosopher figures as Walter Kaufmann and Soren Kierkegaard, including an extract from the Stephen Spender text from which the show’s title - ‘Hounded by External Events’ - is also taken. Each quote articulates at turns the repudiation of all belief systems, despair and the rejection of history. Set amidst paintings, photographs and sculptures, they show how language can act as a direct slap or a piercing shriek: loud and immediate; personal and highly subjective. The exhibition offers a bleak but quietly honest outlook, in which John Kelsey’s delicate watercolours depict a series of street fights, and Andrew Miksys’ photographs of empty eastern European nightclubs sit alongside Gareth Jones’ now-prescient 1994 memorial to David Bowie. There is beauty and horror and political anger here, with much of the frustration directed at the inadequacy of our creative outlets for not only expressing discontent but making real change.
The second show is the guest at the gallery for the month, and occupies a room reachable only through the first. It would be difficult to view the exhibition, presented by Brussels’ Dependance as part of Condo, without some influence from the other. Works range from pieces by the gallery’s excellent artist roster, including Richard Aldrich, Thilo Heinzmann and Nora Schultz, to 17th Century paintings by Dutch Master contemporaries Adriaen van de Venne and Hendrick Dubbels. The walls of the space are painted a pale grey, punctuated by blank squares of white suggestive of the sun-stained imprint left behind by a painting. Once displayed, now discarded. The design reveals a careful interplay of overlapping elements, as works are hung in dialogue with the empty rectangles. Time is seen in layers. Paintings by Aldrich and Heinzmann are splattered and smeared, filled with such movement that they seem almost still in progress. Meanwhile, the physical traces of imagined former works suggest a cycle of creative production already spent. Here, works appear and disappear as if their entire lifespan had been acted out in an instant. Like in Bracewell’s exhibition, the passage of time is shown ultimately to be cyclical, delivering at once a painful and uplifting notion of redundancy and renewal, and of loss and gain.
The face is the central motif of this group exhibition, taken as a starting point to explore the impulse to conceal and to reveal. A sculpture by The Grantchester Pottery suspends ceramic eyes, nose and mouth from thick cords, rendered as hollow outlines that sit like cartoonish sketches in the air. A trio of sculptural pieces hang adjacent on the wall, as if they were masks or grotesques peering from the sidelines. The first by Melvin Edward is made from welded steel, the next by Daiga Grantina in an assortment of plastic cast, string, wire and silicone, and the third rendered in a distinctive blue ceramic by Matthew Lutz-Kinoy.
Mixed media abounds throughout the show, most notably in the central video installation by Shana Moulton. Mannequins flank a small CRT television as it plays Sand Saga, in which an alter-ego of the artist enters a parallel universe after experimenting with mud masks and other new-age treatments. It is a psychedelic take on the beauty standards that many women contend with, one that is extended to the miniature video monitors embedded in the voluptuously padded behind of each mannequin. The show is undoubtedly a lot of fun – a child visiting with her father is entranced by the many shapes, colours and textures of the works – but it lacks a deeper intent. Like the many disguises of the face that it sets out to explore, the exhibition remains only skin-deep.
Condo is on display until 11th February 2017. For more information, click here.