On ViewVarious Galleries
January 11 – February 8, 2020
When CONDO first appeared in London in 2016, the idea behind the collaborative show envisioned by gallerist Vanessa Carlos was to provide galleries losing out to an increasingly return-on-investment-driven art market with a platform that would foster creative collaboration and experimental daring. Each year, galleries with access to one art center would invite visiting counterparts from abroad. Together, either by dividing up and allocating space or co-curating a show, they would put up exhibitions defying the crunching yet conservative logic of the art fair and, in so doing, benefit from the resulting exchange and exposure. Now in its fifth edition and with independent iterations happening year in, year out also in New York, São Paulo, Mexico City, Athens, and Shanghai—CONDO 2020 is to see that once budding idea in full bloom.
To visit to the 17 spaces on the trail is not only to take a one-of-a-kind tour of London—from Soho boutiques to the back doors of Whitechapel restaurants—but also to take stock of what’s buzzing regarding contemporary art on a world scale—from Los Angeles to Tokyo, and Istanbul to Jakarta. Given the sheer number of participants—36 galleries in total, and the fact that the platform spurns curatorial direction, one would expect CONDO 2020 to be so various as to be almost impossible to summarize, unplaceable. Yet, though the offer is diverse and even disparate, the works on view seem traversed by undercurrents, echoes, and affinities that testify to the staggering extent to which contemporary art is by now a wholly global (and globalized) affair.
That there are a few recognizable trends at work is clear as soon as one surveys the first few galleries on the recommended walk-round. Soho galleries Pilar Corrías, Southward Reid, and Arcadia Missa all feature naïf, dreamy figurative works reminiscent of 1980s Transavanguardia and picturing imaginary creatures and fantasy worlds. Figuration rife with symbolism also takes center stage at the end of the trail, too. Among these works, the large canvases from Patrick Jones’s series “Glum” (2019), on view at The Sunday Painter, stood out. Overflowing with human and equine limbs, lines overlapping and seamlessly meshing, they recalled deconstructed versions of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam (1508–12) and Paolo Uccello’s The Battle of San Romano (1435–60) but drawn in the delicate yet precise manner of Leonardo.
As expected, lots of artworks engage with new media and technologies. At Mother’s Tankstation Limited, for instance, Japanese artist Yuko Mohri, a recipient of the prestigious Nissan Art Award in 2015, toys with magnetism, gravity, temperature, and lights to create hypnotic self-sufficient assemblages and energy circuits. On the whole, though, the most interesting works—in addition to being generally presented by hosting galleries—have more to do with looking back to the past than trying to conjure up future worlds and alternate realities (real or imagined).
Works that try to aesthetically recuperate or conceptually reconfigure waste in a time of impending catastrophe take the front stage at both Shoreditch galleries Kate Mcgarry and Emalin. In their fifth solo show for Kate Mcgarry, R.O.I./J.O.M.O, American artist J Blackwell creates canvases out of white-and-blue-striped plastic carrier bags kept together by red thread and knits, embroiders, darns, and weaves together the most disparate pieces of cloth to create indefinable thingamajigs they call “Neveruses,” as if to underline their purely aesthetic value. A few streets away, at Emalin, Bjorn Copeland—one of the two artists presented by the Toronto-based Cooper Cole—steals the scene with two bulky canvasses protruding off the gallery walls which he created by folding together vinyl and a found billboard with golden grommets.
Cast-off detritus—in this case, scraps of day-to-day low-fi urban interactions—is also the starting point of Person to Person (2019), the site-specific installation by art collective Lloyd Corporation taking up the main space at Carlos/Ishikawa. Comprised of reclaimed British Telecom telegraph poles on which the artists affixed adverts and street notices collected around London for the past six years, this artwork, like a puzzle, pieces together an overlooked world of impromptu social justice campaigns, dubious financial opportunities, and personal messages written in ugly fonts and glaring colors. Be they advertisements of “get-rich-quick schemes” or “dodgy university qualifications,” the notices often offer quick, if improbable, fixes to real-life needs and concerns while hinting at a backdrop of chronic lack of affordable housing, living-wage jobs, and truly formative educational options. As explored in an accompanying booklet with a particularly strong essay by Karin Bareman, Person to Person not only gives a glimpse of an invisible community but also stands as an account of the all-too-palpable consequences of austerity and its impact on the lives of those excluded by the regime propped up by the City and 10 Downing Street.
As to pieces that take the past as an inextinguishable reservoir, the selection of artworks Greengrassi and Corvi/Mora arranged to maximum effect in their shared space in South London is another highlight. Showcasing a ground installation comprised of 196 ceramic pots grounded in the Welsh landscape of Pembrokeshire by Adam Buick (2020); a circular net knotted from thin jute rope laid on the floor suggesting a religious site by Juha Pekka Matias Laakkonen (2019); and a polished white stone hand-carved with incisions suggesting a runic language to be deciphered by Gretchen Faust (2007)—the room would give off a definite Arte Povera feel if it wasn’t for the bug-ridden embroidered tapestries by Pae White that immediately catch the visitor’s eye once they enter the space. So refined is the craftsmanship of these two pieces, respectively titled Bugs w/ Blue Abrashes and Bugs w/ Silver Abrash (2018), that one wishes touching was allowed.
A few galleries also made the decision to feature work by lesser-known artists from a previous generation. The approach presents a selection of abstract paintings and wood sculptures by Rubem Valentim (1922–1991)—an institution and artistic icon in Brazil at his first-ever solo show in the UK. In the gallery’s annex, Chicago-based Corbett vs. Dempsey presents a selection of sui generis portraits by Chicago Imagists Robert Lostutter (1939–), Barbara Rossi (1940–), and Karl Wirsum (1939–). Talking about artists going through a belated revival, though, the real surprise is definitely the relatively unknown British artist Paul Anthony Harford (1943–2016), on view in the main space of Sadie Coles, an exceedingly luminous two-floor gallery in Mayfair. Visual equivalents of a Raymond Carver short story, Harford’s graphite drawings render with quasi-photographic accuracy anonymous people absorbed in daily tasks the artist observed while living and working as a schoolteacher in English seaside towns. Exceedingly mundane, these works nonetheless often verge on the ominous, the surreal, the macabre. Seagulls cross them like in a Hitchcock movie; human figures unravel as if in a Francis Bacon painting; a bare-chested laborer is caught at rest leaning on his shovel, a skull in his wheelbarrow…
Harford led a private, secluded life and generally eschewed opportunities to exhibit while alive. That rediscoveries such as that of the English artist will increasingly provide an alternative to the slick standardization and more-of-the-same regime imposed by a profit-driven, globalized art market.