WINNER OF ART & CULTURE ART CRITICISM PRIZE VOLUME VII ANNOUNCED:
We are delighted to announce that Emily Burns, with her review of Mat Collishaw, THIS IS NOT AN EXIT at Blain Southern, London, and Jason Haynes, with his review of Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery, London are joint winners of the Art & Culture Art Criticism Prize Vol VII.
Patricia Bickers, Editor of Art Monthly and Judge commented:
I was impressed by the individual voices of each contributor, no two ‘sounded’ the same as or even similar to each other.
Emily Burns’ review of Mat Collishaw’s This Is Not An Exit at Blain Southern is impressive in both its breadth and depth: it manages to introduce some background information about the artist, showing a knowledge of his earlier work while managing to discuss the works in the exhibition in detail; at the same time, some historical and theoretical underpinning is introduced that gives – possibly undue – weight to the works under review (I am referring to the reference to Magritte, for example, whose work Collishaw has previously appropriated, and to Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, 1991, and Deleuze’s The Fold, 1988, both highly relevant in this context). The review is extremely well structured: it follows an arc from her opening remarks about the apparent lack of social comment in the new work – a characteristic which she associates with Collishaw’s work – through a closer engagement with individual works, to the conclusion that this apparent lack is itself a reflection of the emptiness of (late) capitalist society, of which the commercial gallery, with its seemingly ‘untainted white walls’ is a necessary part. This is elegantly argued.
Jason Haynes’s approach, in his review of Anish Kapoor at Lisson Gallery, is entirely different. Written in an apparently freewheeling diaristic style, its humour and lightness of touch are deceptive. In fact the review packs a lot in, drawing in references from art history while making knowing asides about Kapoor’s relationship with the gallery which, as he points out irreverently, has profited much from the immateriality of ‘Kapoor’s brand of mysticism’. The reader is carried along as he moves from one work to another, ‘diving into a Hockney Splash! and never coming up for air’ or ‘jumping into a thousand resort brochures’, which exactly describes the particular shade of blue in one of Kapoor’s ‘Voids’ (‘the upbeat understudy to Yves Klein’s IKB-54’), while the yellow of another looks as though ‘Mondrian has just vomited his palette into the bowl’. This is heady stuff. It is possible that this slightly flippant style could pall after a while, but it is so enjoyable to read that one’s critical faculties tend to become suspended which, arguably, means that it has failed as a piece of criticism.
Comparing the merits of Emily Burns and Jason Haynes is like comparing chalk with cheese. If I had to choose only one, then it would have to be Emily Burns, since her contribution is more easily categorised as art criticism. If it were possible, however, I would award the prize to both as they show the range of possibilities within the category of art criticism.
Winner: Review by Emily Burns
Matt Collishaw, THIS IS NOT AN EXIT, Blain Southern, London
14 February - 30 March 2013
Click HERE for more information about the exhibition.
As an original YBA whose repertoire boasts the image of a head wound inflicted by an ice pick and the prickly subjects of suicide, prostitution and torture, in his new exhibition at Blain Southern, Mat Collishaw might be accused of abandoning his customary, gutsy social statement. THIS IS NOT AN EXIT consists of two cavernous, white rooms containing a series of fourteen square canvases on which are painted the seemingly innocuous subjects of creased paper and glossy magazine spreads. When viewed as a group, the works transform into an arresting modernist grid of textured cubes – attractive but in no way shocking.
However, as the title implies, this show belies such a straightforward aesthetic reading. Echoing Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe (1928-9), the title and illusionist trompe l’oeil technique alert us to the possibility that all is not what it seems and that this is not a linear progression from A to B; from entrance to exit. Instead, Collishaw embarks on a trail that splits into tributaries of layered meanings that tackle deeper, darker dimensions.
First there are the titles, all names of sleazy ‘gentleman’s clubs’ such as Dusk ‘til Dawn, Dragon’s Lair and Night Moves. Through this seedy lens, markings on the monochrome surfaces in Room 1 take on new shape and significance: the meandering tan-coloured grooves of Whisky River and modular blocks of Metropolis morph into flowing amber liquid and looming moonlit towers.
The dialogue between content and title takes a more sinister turn in Room 2, where montages of magazine cuttings display sexually-charged scenes featuring women in sensuous surroundings. In Sinners, a tousled dark mane is splayed across the picture, alluding to the historic association of loose hair with female sexual appetite, moral abandon and, following the likes of Eve and Mary Magdalene, inevitable fall. Nearby, disconcertingly childlike blue-painted fingernails reach across the canvas of Forbidden Fruit, drawing the viewer into a murky underworld furnished by luxurious fabric from the pages of Tatler and Vogue.
Despite the apparently two-dimensional subjects – paper and magazines – the more we examine the works, the more they reveal the depth of Collishaw’s conceit. The seemingly inconsequential crumpled paper acquires a shocking significance when we realise that the folds contain traces of cocaine, inferring that they are in fact the ‘wraps’ for narcotics. This acts as a counterpoint, or perhaps a comment, on the superficial escapist glamour of the aspirational magazines and the fleeting pleasures of strip clubs: we are invited to compare three forms of potential escape or exit. But, as Collishaw tells us, ‘This is not an Exit’; the consumers become slaves to their habit. The simulated folds assume the form of prison bars, representing a trap or quasi-purgatory with no prospect of release.
The exhibition title is lifted from the closing lines of Brett Easton Ellis’s novel, American Psycho (1991), a satire of pre-crisis Capitalism. In the light of this association, a pattern emerges, connecting the excessive consumption of male-dominated establishments, from gentleman’s clubs to corporate banks, with the stimulating but exploitative underworld of drugs, crime and, by association, societal degeneration. Collishaw delineates a chain of causality that, rather than departing from his earlier socio-political commentary, shares his dystopian vision. The wraps are magnified, drawing attention to their agency in transporting the toxic passengers and, ostensibly, their shared culpability for the consequences. The audience is invited to contemplate the emptiness of the faux three-dimensional space where the drugs were once tightly packed, reflecting the unfulfillment of the faceless users.
Yet this show is more than a popular-culture reference; by focusing on the significance of folded paper, the artist makes tribute to the theories of the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze (1925-95), who speculates in The Fold (1988) that there is no single state of being, rather an origami cosmos constantly in flux, infinitely refolding and redefining itself. Collishaw’s repetitions of folded paper assume the role of earthly symptoms of a more universal state of being where there is no end, or exit.
THIS IS NOT AN EXIT both deplores and accepts the consumerist void in which we find ourselves. The implication is that society, with its base, capitalist impulses, will never be able to turn over a new leaf, but only fold and refold itself indeterminately. Collishaw may present a world of escapism, but neither he, his subjects nor his audience can truly escape: the vicious cycle of capitalism is ironically reflected in the paintings’ placement on the untainted, white walls of a commercial gallery, destined to continue the consumerist sequence.
Winner: Review by Jason Haynes
Anish Kapoor, Lisson Gallery, London
10 October - 10 November 2012
Click HERE for more information about the exhibition.
“Excuse me can you explain what the machine in the other room is? Is it art?”
“Sure, well it’s a replica, or an example of the factory engine which was used to plop-out these biomorphic concrete sculptures in this room. It produced them. You see. I suppose it’s about blurring creative dualities, natural with man-made. And the black hole in that wall there which looks flat, but actually isn’t? Well, that leads to the engine’s tube, connecting both rooms. It’s as if the concrete dollops were excreted out from it!”
“Ah so it’s ‘found art’ then, I see”
This line of questioning persists; “Can you explain this sculpture to me? I don’t get it...what is it?..."
If I’m honest, which I’m not just yet, I don’t really know myself. Not that I don’t feel I understand, but that I’m not sure it’s still relevant or refreshing. It feels tired in places, usual artificial processes denoting organic matter. Same universal contrasts. More expensive materials. A gift to the gallery, for supporting him all these years, up until the sacred power house he is today. They’ll sell every piece though (except for that hole in the wall). In fact if some vengeful God decided to destroy the gallery for profiting from the ‘immaterial’, but in his impish ways allowed only ONE piece in the room to be saved and only I could adjudicate, (seeing as I’d spent the most time around them; and because it’s my wish after all). Without doubt I would choose the hole. Obviously this would piss off the collectors, but for me it’s the best piece. I like seeing people’s reactions, similar, but no less rewarding, hesitantly wondering; bickering with a partner, until one bravely puts their hand in. It’s a scene of genuine curiosity, rarely available to adults and closer to the Kapoor brand of mysticism.
Tuesday. I like this room. Singular dishes, Voids, are mounted on walls; air bushed, each one hosting a different colour. They appear to float from afar like portals, but as you approach one and peek inside, it engulfs, and all sense of three dimensional form disappears. Collectors arrive and are devoured in them. Each disc has a different effect on me, which I can’t help but relate to past renowned Western painters. This perhaps is the real illusion to their brilliance:
Blue: The upbeat understudy to Yves Klein’s IKB-54, like diving into a Hockney Splash! and never coming up for air, just floating inside the canvas. This is where I go to escape the coldness of the room, jumping into a thousand resort brochures where everything is preserved in sun burnt promises.
Yellow: This is tilted on the wall, to resemble a sun emerging. Its name ‘sun rise’. But it’s too bright. I feel like my imperfections are exposed as it judges me. A Sun God burning wildly. A man driven to madness in The Yellow House. It’s a sickly yellow and Mondrian has just vomited his palette into the bowl.
Purple: Popular among visitors, luxurious and wealthy, I’m wrapped in a Sultan’s blanket. Also has an acoustic effect which transforms your breathing into a crisp rip of oxygen.
Plum: My personal favourite, feels like when you close your eyes and all that remains visible are the blood pumping vessels. If you stare long enough it becomes black nothingness, as if you are consciously sleeping, or unconsciously awake. Either way I think it’s great. Believe Rothko once made a painting with similar effect, but that doesn’t mean much to me right now.
Wednesday. A field group of well kept mature ladies arrive, a prominent clientele for this exhibition. They approach a corner in the gallery which contains aggressive black markings taking on an oval shape in-between the walls; “...and so in this corner here... called, ‘dirty corner’...is him taking control away from the gallery as he makes his mark with black spray-paint”
(Two approach me) “What do you think of this? Do you like his work?”
“Yeah elements of it, though it has quite traditional concerns with illusion and dualities. Like this corner which merges masculine expression with female imagery”
“You think? What does it represent to you then?”
“This corner, to me...” (I can feel myself burning up in premature embarrassment. Was hoping they wouldn’t ask) “...represents...” (Six of them are gathering, surrounding)...“to me, a lady’s, erm... vagina”.
It feels like I’ve just said that to my mother, times six.
“Ooh look you’re blushing now!”
Kapoor can still impact