Originally published by this is tomorrow on 28th July 2014.
The Zabludowicz Collection’s latest exhibition sees the highly ambitious convergence of not one, but four solo shows by sculptors spanning continents, decades and varying degrees of experience. Each artist is given their own distinct space (save for Michael E. Smith whose work is strewn almost haphazardly around) in the cavernous surroundings of the Zabludowicz gallery. This compartmentalisation allows each the room to breathe, exist and flourish as individual exhibitions.
Sam Falls’s sculptures are big and bold, demanding attention. They are are all clean lines, and their surfaces seem to sparkle with a ‘brand new’ brilliance, making for a very clinical feel. The materials Falls has chosen to work with, steel, copper and marble combined with their scale gives them a monumental quality. The exhibition notes remark that each of the three sculptures contain untreated surfaces which would cause them to age if exposed to the elements, hinting at a fragility. What exactly these intentional vulnerabilities mean in the protective confines of a gallery space is not clear, bordering on absurd. The sculptures are flanked by canvasses, which have been covered in dye but then left outside to create pieces with a sort of ethereal beauty. The juxtaposition of canvasses, usually left inside that have been exposed to the elements, and monumental structures which seem to belong outdoors but are instead trapped inside a gallery, seems poignant; perhaps a comment on the self-restrictions artists impose to make their work gallery-friendly?
Adriano Costa’s work feels right at home in the more diminutive Middle Gallery space. His quaint, slightly ramshackle but nevertheless endearing pieces give the impression you are looking round someone’s living room. Indeed, there’s a very domestic feel about his whole installation entitled ‘From My Body Comes, Through Your Body Goes’ (2009-2012). ‘Study for a Tropical Boredom Monument’ (2012) consists of a ladder with towels hung over each rung. It’s sublimely simple, bordering on banal and yet with a strange allure. This exploration of the extraordinary within seemingly quotidian objects is replete throughout Costa’s work. There’s a teasing ambiguity about it all which imbues these otherwise commonplace artefacts with a sort of mystery and intrigue. These practically worthless objects – soiled t-shirts, empty petrol cans, umbrellas – nearly all served a very functional purpose at one time and Costa has reanimated them to give them a new value. It seems to critique our modern sense of value, so bound up in monetary worth rather than more intangible qualities.
Samara Scott’s work has a real immediacy with vivid colours and large scale pieces. Her massive mural ‘Food and Wine’ (2014) somehow resembles a giant pasta-painting of the type you probably did in nursery, depicting a wine bottle and pizza, with an infantile simplicity. On closer inspection (the smell gives it away) the piece is actually made of toothpaste applied to the wall, it’s lurid colours derived by sticking trashy magazines to the paste before peeling them away to leave residual dyes. A huge hanging watercolour piece, ‘Paris Melts’ (2014) is done on toilet paper woven together giving it an other-worldly fragility and carrying on the theme of the use of everyday domestic materials. Scott’s ‘Gastebuch’ pieces – huge sheets of glass with random everyday objects stuck to the underside and placed at ankle level – are the most striking of all. The childlike quality is still apparent, as the glass is fastidiously decorated using makeup which has been applied with the artists fingers, giving the impression of finger-painting. There’s a sort of simple pleasure derived from trying to decipher what the various upturned detritus is, but you can always cheat by crouching down and looking underneath.
All of Scott’s exhibited works feel like they could be display pieces in a primary school lobby, such is their innocence. They need little mediation. But the materials used, from the trashy magazines to the makeup, hint at a critique of a vacuous culture infected by vanity. Scott’s pieces themselves are outwardly pretty to look at, their meanings relatively simple, as if reflecting the fleeting and fickle nature of celebrity culture itself.
Michael E. Smith’s ‘interventions’ that are dotted around the gallery are altogether more understated. As if providing a perfect counterpoint to the immediacy of Scott’s work, Smith’s pieces have a haunting quality that linger with you long after you’ve left the exhibition. Smith’s work could be considered morbid such as ‘Untitled’ (2014) which consists of discs of human skull wrapped around the handle of one of the gallery doors. Smith’s pieces are nearly all similarly unassuming, almost hidden around the gallery and yet each seems to respond to the space he has chosen to put them in. A rudimentary doorstep is keeping the door to the mezzanine level open in the next room. It’s actually the body of a goose relieved of its head and limbs. Whilst it all sounds macabre, Smith’s treatment of dead creatures is interesting in that it is so inconspicuous; he doesn’t fetishise or glorify death in any way, which is refreshing.
Considered separately, each of these individual exhibitions is successful, but taken together as a kind of random collage of contemporary sculpture, makes for a really magical experience. You get a sense that the artists themselves have had a lot of space to curate their own little sections of the grandiose space which adds to the efficacy. With the exception of Sam Falls, the other three artists share the practice of taking seemingly worthless or throw-away items and repurposing them to give them a new value. In turn, this process reveals the absurdity of our system of ascribing value and of subjectivity itself; what is perceived as valuable is really a matter of context and perspective. All four artists seem to engage with the notion of the artist as alchemist, as one able to transmute material and transform it into something different entirely. It’s pure gold.