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Fiona Tan

17-18 Golden Square
May 1–June 26

View of “Fiona Tan: Inventory,” 2015.

Fiona Tan slows down time. Her film Inventory, 2015, tracks through London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum, scanning its eccentric nineteenth-century collection. Tan turns her eye to the artworks and fragments of the expansive and overflowing museum: crumbling portraits, disembodied limbs, and its strange architectural minutiae. Objects mutate under her languid gaze. Her camera is methodical and sedate. Composed from six projections—all taken with different cameras (both digital and analog)—the video peers over the collection as if it were evidence from a wreckage. The faces, objects, and fragments appear ruined, as if dissolved by the vicissitudes of time. “There is no antidote to the opium of time,” the film states in the prologue. Time is like a drug—it both seduces and ruins its subject.

No voice-over is present in Inventory, which effectively—and refreshingly—allows its spectator to look without prescribing how to look. We are shown multiple perspectives of the same object, and yet no angle is sufficient: Each camera appears to look at the world as though it were appearing for the first time, slackening our gaze to the pace of a single breath. Tan moves from the very close to the very far, without sudden shifts in scale. Inventory ends with a meticulous look over a severed limb (a leg), held up precariously by metal wires. An object like this limb does not go to the museum to die, but to be imagined anew.

Andrew Witt

Jo Baer

Arkwright Road
April 10–June 21

Jo Baer, Time-Line (Spheres, Angles and the Negative of the 2nd Derivative), 2012, oil on canvas, 73 x 73".

Jo Baer’s Towards the Land of the Giants, 2015, paints a weird cosmology. The artist cites world history in fragments, superimposing sketches of anatomy with aerial views of a landscape. Origins are figured as a type of sedimentation. Baer’s paintings are made with the aid of computers, but her language is much older, echoing the visual grammar and style of cave paintings. Weird connections ensue: Large rocks painted without shadows float on the surface of the canvas. The viewer experiences vertiginous shifts in scale, both temporal and topographical, bodily and psychological.

Sometimes it appears as if Baer’s paintings have been processed through a mesh strainer. What we are left to look at are partial objects, bits and pieces salvaged from the wreckage. It is no wonder that a raven—the scavenger—figures prominently in Baer’s work, and an ethos of carrion or ragpickers structures her mode of assemblage. What does it mean to make the association between painting and scavenging? In In the Land of the Giants (Spirals and Stars), 2012, a raven picks at what looks like a gnarled penis. The raven is methodical in its attack: Blood seeps from the tip. This aggression is specific and conjunctural, positioned within and against the patriarchal histories of painting.

In Time-Line (Spheres, Angles, and the Negative of the 2nd Derivative), 2012, Baer shifts perspective and intersects her terrain with dull blocks of color. Abstraction is deployed obliquely, described by dark black lines. And like the empty blocks of color, Baer’s cosmology (in a general sense) prohibits the formation of meaning. Baer’s worldview, if a cosmology at all, is one accentuated by blind spots.

Andrew Witt

Frances Stark

1a Kempsford Road, off Wincott Street
May 30–June 20

View of “Sorry for the Wait,” 2015.

“Bitch, I don’t give a fuck about you, or anything that you do,” lyrics from Big Sean’s “I Don’t Fuck with You,” blared out of Frances Stark’s exhibition “Sorry for the wait.” The four videos in Poets On the Pyre (I–IV), 2015, were displayed on monitors alongside images of signposts topped with the words “CLEVER” and “STUPID”—each designed to enable reversible reading as the other. The videos presented material collated on Stark’s Instagram, @therealstarkiller. This included a myriad of cultural imagery, both high- and lowbrow: art classics such as Isabelle Graw’s High Price, 2010; Mike Kelley’s early bird-box sculpture, sign-painted “The High Road” and “The Easy Road”; theoretical and literary works such as Fred Moten’s The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (2013); and Joan Didion’s We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order To Live (2006); all interspersed with pop-cultural references—such online headlines as “15 Shocking Celebs with STD’s [please confirm erroneous apostrophe (“STD’S”) in original]” and “Miley Cyrus Got a New Puppy and Shares Naked Selfie.”

The combination of Big Sean shouting “I don’t fuck with you, / you little stupid assed bitch” and Stark’s very popular public accumulation of imagery presented to be “liked” formed a potent contradiction. Stark’s feed contains material familiar to many of us working in art or related cultural fields, yet it would not be familiar to everyone. As such, Poets On The Pyre (I–IV) both reinforced and dissected the way social media constructs identity via a constellation of performed interests: We simultaneously create and validate ourselves in this virtual mirroring of presentation and affirmation. “Sorry for the Wait” is a sharp—and subversively funny—act of institutional critique of both art and life.

Kathy Noble

Richard Diebenkorn

Burlington House, Piccadilly
March 14–June 7

Richard Diebenkorn, Cityscape #1, 1963, oil on canvas, 60 x 50 1/2".

This historic exhibition highlights the development of Richard Diebenkorn in three steps. The first gallery shows works from the early 1950s, made in Albuquerque, Urbana, and Berkeley, where dramatic constellations of forms testify to his association with AbEx. The second gallery displays distinctive figurative paintings from 1956 to 1966, made in Berkeley. Cityscape #1, 1963, combines an aerial view of a town bordering a green landscape with an abstract division of color planes. The spatial depth of the landscape causes friction with with the flatness of the painted surface, resulting in an awkward but interesting painterly perspective. Such conflicts also increase the tension in some interiors with female figures from the same period.

The exhibition climaxes with large paintings from the “Ocean Park” series, made in Santa Monica between 1967 and 1988. Large rectangles of color are juxtaposed, usually without creating any kind of spatial perspective. These works don’t depict anything specific, but could be described as colored walls or boards with lines and (faded) drawing marks on them, reflecting a state of mind. The subjective expressionism of the early years has dissolved here, making place for a more reflective and lighter mood, possibly influenced by the artist’s move to a studio near the sea. Here, Diebenkorn has found his own spot, both geographically and in terms of art history. Whereas in earlier works a dialogue with modern painters remains visible, the pale light and palette of the “Ocean Park” series is unique.

Jurriaan Benschop

“Land Marks: Structures for a Poetic Universe”

Durslade Farm, Dropping Lane, Bruton
March 21–June 21

View of “Land Marks: Structures for a Poetic Universe,” 2015.

The one hundred pieces in this show, which include drawings and architectural models, offer a sophisticated reflection on the relationship between architecture and sculpture, and examine the gestural nature of drawing and its potential as a tool for visualizing an architect’s deepest intentions. The exhibition progresses through a series of sudden changes in scale and thematic conventions, proceeding from landscape to object. There are observations of nature (see Cedric Price’s competition proposal for Paris’s Parc de la Villette, 1982), interventions in the landscape (such as drawings for the Euro Disney hotel by OMA/Rem Koolhaas, 1988), and reflections on the city and the idea of the monument (for example, a plaster model for Le Corbusier’s Open Hand monument, 1956–59). Some works convey ideas about the house as a space of fantasy habitation, charged with possible transformations (as in John Hejduk’s drawings for the Bye House, 1972).

In addition to the high quality of the works and the renown of their makers, the meticulous private collection from which most of the pieces come corroborates the curatorial viewpoint of Nicholas Olsberg and Markus Lähteenmäki. The curation revolves around a discourse on the role of the predigital drawing in architecture as a terrain for speculation and poetic invention. Moreover, the drawings and models benefit from a state of uncertainty, occupying a dimension somewhere between the theoretical, the cultural, and the professional. This makes them both formidable tools for analyzing the world and autonomous works, open to new and infinite narrations.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.

Paola Nicolin

Bridget Smith

The Forum, Elmer Avenue
April 25–July 4

Bridget Smith, Blueprint for a Sea (series), 2015, four cyanotype prints on aluminum, five opaline globe lights, dimensions variable.

At the edge of the pale bay of Southend-on-Sea where this gallery is located is a blinking neon amusement park; on the other, an anodyne silhouette of smokestacks. The faint sensation of contained expanse seeps into Bridget Smith’s solo show, which is site-specific and curiously titled “If You Want to Talk About Light You Have to Talk About Waves.” Not ironically, there is no you here, and nobody is talking. What we face is a sequence of squares, in the form of cyanotype prints, photographs, and videos, depicting this small town’s places of pleasure, leisure, and listlessness, emptied of the human machines that drive them.

A vacant auditorium is rendered in four cyanotype prints, Blueprint for a Sea, 2015, that utilize light to mimic outlines of waves. At first, the four appear identical; then, a very slight shift in perspective is noticeable. The series thus seems to rise and fall in a rhythm of its own. Five opaline globe lights hang as celestial objects, so that the narrative of the interior washes up against the vastness of outer space. Places become psychological: in this situationist’s dystopia, architecture rid of function is of infinite discontent and infinite desire. Meanwhile, Mechanical Wave, 2015, a double-screen silent video, offers a repeating image of a coin pusher moving but not quite pushing coins forward—like light itself, traveling toward a future that is already the past. It is a pattern that does not break.

Himali Singh Soin