“Progress”

THE FOUNDLING MUSEUM
40 Brunswick Square
June 6–September 7

David Hockney, Bedlam, 1961–63, etching, aquatint 17 3/4 x 11 1/2".

The eight-plate engraved series of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, published in 1735 and currently on view at the Foundling Museum, tells the story of Tom Rakewell, a merchant’s son who arrives in London to remake himself as an aristocrat but whose vanity and profligacy land him in debtor’s prison and the madhouse.

“Progress” brings together responses to Hogarth’s series produced between 1961 and 2014 by four artists, three of whom—David Hockney, Grayson Perry, and Yinka Shonibare—enjoy near-Hogarthian status in Britain. (The museum also commissioned a set of drawings for the occasion by emerging artist Jessie Brennan.) While this may seem dully straightforward as curatorial structure, it proves wise given the multiwork, narrative complexity of the responses, particularly Perry’s six-tapestry series The Vanity of Small Differences, 2012.

With Perry’s tapestries in such close proximity to the Hogarth work, it is an absorbing game to follow Perry’s symbolic substitutions—the French press for the gambler’s wine, L. S. Lowry for Titian, and the self-satisfaction of modern yuppies for the posturing of old-world aristocracy. In the eighteenth century Hogarth cannily exploited the Foundling Hospital, then a home for abandoned babies, as an exhibition site outside the typical channels of royal patronage. Perry, too, commits to expanding a public for art: His tapestries’ imagery resulted directly from “All in the Best Possible Taste,” the artist’s Channel 4 television exploration of consumption and identity in British households.

In contrast, Hockney’s A Rake’s Progress, 1961–63, transposes Hogarth’s morality tale into an abstruse private journal, in feverish etching and aquatint, of the artist’s arrival in America. As in the case of “Diary of a Victorian Dandy,” Shonibare’s 1998 series of photographs in which he casts himself as the rake surrounded by cheats and sycophants, Hockney identifies no less with Hogarth as master of ceremonies than with the vulnerable and vain arriviste.

Julia Langbein

Keith Vaughan

ROYAL PAVILION & MUSEUMS
4/5 Pavilion Buildings
June 10–November 9

Keith Vaughan, Two Interlinked Figures, 1965, gouache on paper, 21 x 17".

“A Volatile Medium,” the title of this exhibition, is also how Keith Vaughan referred to gouache, the material and technique he employed increasingly in the last fifteen years of his life, following his 1962 retrospective at Whitechapel Gallery. He would often mix his gouaches with other materials, such as vinegar, to further increase the process’s volatility, finding a new sort of freedom in chaos and uncontrollability. As journal excerpts included in the exhibition reveal, Vaughan was something of an automatist, producing inspired studies of the male figure faster than his dealer could sell them.

In Warrior, 1960, a male figure is depicted with his back to the viewer. The background landscape is smudged with swaths of color, as is the figure himself, his body nearly becoming one with its surroundings. Often, Vaughan depicted myriad figures in a single image, the delirious thick black lines that form their bodies intersecting and merging, one on top of another, as in an untitled gouache on paper work from 1975.

That there is a certain degree of gloominess haunting these late works is fitting and understandable, given the circumstances under which they were created. Vaughan wrestled throughout most of his life with depression related to his homosexuality and difficulties in sustaining long-term relationships, although these struggles never depleted the prolific outpour of his work. Indeed, his melancholy may well have helped feed his work’s increasingly expressionistic and dreamlike qualities. He was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1975 and committed suicide two years later, documenting the process of dying by writing in his journal as the pills kicked in. Yet the joyful and desirous frenzy of the line emerging in drawings such as Man Feeding Birds, 1975, implies that art was also, for Vaughan, a zone of happiness, and perhaps the sole domain where the potentialities of hope could flourish.

Travis Jeppesen

Barbara Kruger

MODERN ART OXFORD
30 Pembroke Street
June 28–August 31

View of “Barbara Kruger,” 2014.

With her characteristic font splashed across Modern Art Oxford, Barbara Kruger asks “IS THAT ALL THERE IS?” in her latest exhibition, which consists of a new installation, two video projects, and highlights of her early photocollages. This quandary is as pertinent to the level of critical discourse surrounding her career as it is to the fiber of that individual work. Despite her complicated output, Kruger’s practice often becomes buried under truisms of the Pictures generation—the male gaze, consumer culture, and appropriation. This exhibition of Kruger’s work adroitly proves that her output exceeds such truisms by allowing for an intimate and complex venue for viewing the breadth of her practice.

That Kruger has cited architecture as a major influence should not be disregarded when viewing these works. A variety of green and black words pointing to classes of people—intellectuals, survivors, artists, lovers—covers the gallery’s blistering brick walls from floor to ceiling. This massive spatial overload is followed by a presentation of Kruger’s photocollages. From time to time, pasted words might be slightly mismatched, some even coming over the paper’s edge, creating embodied spaces rather than purely linguistic ones. Similarly, Kruger’s videos Twelve, 2004, and Plenty LA, 2008, comment on the absurdities of human interconnectivity by capitalizing on the gallery space as a medium. Kruger projects Plenty LA onto the corner of a wall, for example, so that the video appears to ebb and flow in space. As this exhibition makes clear, to look outside simplified postmodern frameworks is to approach innovative and unexpected analytical spaces.

William J. Simmons