Thomas Demand

7A Grafton Street
October 13–December 19

Thomas Demand, Publishing House 64, 2015, pigment print, 40 x 53”.

Thomas Demand’s distinctive process of producing photographs that plumb terms of representation has long engaged architecture. This current exhibition features a series of pictures of models found in the Tokyo offices of SANAA. With a blanched palette, they’re almost black and white, save for a stray lilac or marigold scrap of tape here and there. In contrast, the gallery is darkened by a trompe l’oeil of chocolaty wrapping paper covering the walls, its creases partitioning them into a grid. By installing this wallpaper, Demand ensures that illusion and material presence come into close dialogue, even in the background of the exhibited works.

Art historian Michael Fried has interpreted Demand’s work as an attempt to wrestle intentionality back into every detail of the photograph; however, here, the artist bypasses his own hand. The SANAA maquettes exist as readymades that closely resemble the sculptural re-creations Demand has long constructed himself, and this series highlights unintentional accidents that befall the models. As enlarged close-ups of scaled-down miniatures, these works hover between documentation and images of pure form. Although the titles are generic—“university,” “museum,” “plaza”—the tight-angled framing and shallow depth of field unhinge the paper constructions from the architectural project, creating a virtual realm that doesn’t automatically implicate the human figure. Photography ratifies the existence of these concrete materials while deracinating and derealizing them. The otherworldly atmospherics of Publishing House 64, 2015, evoke an exquisite state of collapse—but of what? There’s a utopian dimension to these quasi-abstractions, which picture no-places that are almost no-things.

Phil Taylor

Rosalind Nashashibi

Lambeth Road
October 1–January 3

Rosalind Nashashibi, Electrical Gaza, 2015, HD video, color, sound, 18 minutes.

Rosalind Nashashibi’s new film Electrical Gaza, 2013, recasts Gaza as an enchanted place behind sealed borders, codified through danger and division, bristling with beauty and life. Shot prior to the most recent Israeli assault on the area in 2014, it images scenes of the region where violence is, for once, not at the center. The camera luxuriates in quotidian life: Kids play in an alley, horses are washed in the searing blue Mediterranean, and men prepare falafel and sing together in a living room.

Every so often, Nashashibi’s footage morphs into computer-modeled animations resembling children’s stories. The music—uplifting synth—that frames certain scenes feels foreign to the context and calculatedly cloying. Fixed in these filters, brushed with a knowing sentimentality, Gaza seems an impossible fiction. Nashashibi’s films have a tendency to twist back on themselves, showing artifice by way of cinematic construction. Whereas in her other films, her slow, probing camera can inject magic into seemingly routine activities, in Electrical Gaza there is another force at work. These scenes are threatened by tragedy implicit to this region, which loops back upon questions of exoticization bound up in Nashashibi’s own gaze. One final shot pans across the Rafah sky looking toward Egypt, resting at the border crossing. Accompanying this scene is Benjamin Britten’s Fanfare (1939), an operatic adaption of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations. Its words translate to “I alone hold the key to this savage parade.” But this work, if any, knows the falsity of this sentiment.

Alex Davidson

“The Gap: Selected Abstract Art from Belgium”

14 Wharf Road
September 9–December 6

View of “The Gap: Selected Abstract Art from Belgium,” 2015.

Curated by Luc Tuymans, this selection of Belgian abstraction spanning two generations and fifteen artists—hence the “gap” of the title—is not what is to be expected. The Belgian painter describes the works as possessing “an element of concreteness.” This notion embraces both the physicality of Pieter Vermeersch’s Untitled, 2015, where swipes of rich oil paint are dabbed on a slab of striated marble, and the witty, vegetable-sized bronze cast Brussels Sprout, 2012, by Gert Robijns—perhaps a play on the name of their capital but certainly reality made abstract by casting.

Tuymans anchors his exhibition with Francis Alys’s television-test-pattern paintings and several Raoul de Keysers, including a standing work derived from the lines of a soccer field, Zevende Linnen Doos, 1971. These pieces counterpose the exhibition’s nonrepresentational centerpiece, an installation by duo Carla Arocha & Stephane Schraenen, Column, 2015, a matrix of mirrored squares hung around a painted column, situated on the gallery’s two floors. The work resembles a glittering, reflective piece of optical geometric abstraction in three dimensions, while its colors and structure echo the adjacent Philippe Van Snick geometric wall painting, Transition, 2015, also sited on both levels. Transition consists of a single column-width line bisecting a rectangle, which suggests day and night with bright and dark colors respectively. Despite the visual richness of his selection, Tuymans’s selection veers towards a more cerebral rather than an expressionistic sensibility.

Sherman Sam

John Riddy and James Castle

60 Frith Street
September 18–December 18

John Riddy, Peninsula (Ocean View 3), 2015, archival pigment print, 7 x 9".

In the abstract, it seems merely provocative to pair John Riddy’s recent photographs of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula with drawings by the self-taught American artist James Castle. Riddy is a British photographer of exquisite technical precision, while Castle, deaf and illiterate, worked in almost complete obscurity until his death in 1977, turning found materials such as packing boxes and kitchen twine into sculpture, books, and drawings.

Castle has been the subject of two major retrospectives since 2008, both of which struggled with the influence of his biography on the reading of his work. Focusing on just one vein of Castle’s prolific output here—his “farmscapes,” depictions in soot and saliva of the land around his Idaho home—foregrounds the formal qualities of the eleven drawings themselves over questions about the shuttered psyche behind them.

These pieces share a vocabulary of barns, gables, pilons, and power lines; yet in both, banal subjects viewed dead-on can remain strangely unknowable. In Castle’s Untitled (farmscape with forms) (all works undated), we can easily read picture-book trees and rectilinear sheds; but beneath them, wet squiggles repeat a form resembling a letter from an unknown alphabet. Riddy’s unrelentingly sharp focus articulates too clearly, compressing space and warping objects. In Peninsula (Redhill 7), 2014, trailers in a valley have diamond-cut contours but uncertain weight, dimension, or distance from the viewer. Of course, this pairing shatters expectations of photographic objectivity or “outsider” subjectivity, but better yet, the formal enigmas of Riddy’s floating trailers and Castle’s squiggle symbols will find their partners if one looks close enough.

Julia Langbein