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Dorothea Tanning

Alison Jacques Gallery
16 - 18 Berners Street
September 1–October 1

Dorothea Tanning, Convolotus alchemelia (Quiet-willow window), 1998, oil on canvas, 56 x 66".

An artist’s final works invariably provoke morbid speculation—think of Philip Guston’s The Line, 1978, in which a monumental hand stretches from the heavens to score the earth. It’s trickier with Dorothea Tanning’s flower paintings, her very last works, because she was anything but melancholic about them: “In painting these flowers my reward, then, was the simple delight that came with making them happen.” Apparently, in 1997, having stopped painting some years before, Tanning found a dozen unused canvases and worked on them in intense bursts of energy . . . then nothing more until her death in 2012. Six of these midsize pieces are shown here, along with preparatory drawings.

Tanning’s delight notwithstanding, these are nightmarish plants, filled with malevolent languor—their widening orifices and fetid colorings of drained mauve, pink, and orange suggest carnivorous intentions. In five of these pictures’ backgrounds are stretched female nudes, mimicking landscape forms, in putrefying gray green, the bodies obscured (or perhaps consumed?) by the huge flowers. The dry and inexpressive brushwork annuls any reassuring painterly sensuality. Clearly, rules of predation and sexual satisfaction are rewritten in this realm; the paintings could easily refer to some of Charles Baudelaire’s bleaker poems from Flowers of Evil (1857). Fittingly, Tanning invited poet friends to name the flowers and contribute verse for each painting. For Convolotus alchemelia (Quiet-willow window), 1998, Brenda Shaughnessy, to describe an image of gray flesh dissolving into a bed of sharp blue petals, writes, “edges smudged to blur / the violetly-loved body.” Such effective artist-poet collaborations intensify these paintings’ troubling reflections on sex and time.

Mark Harris

Samara Scott

Pump House Gallery
Battersea Park
August 4, 2016–September 25, 2016

Samara Scott, Developer, 2016, NBS BIRU algae treatment dye, scaffold netting, damp proofing membrane, dimensions variable.

In 1951, the Pleasure Garden Fountains opened in Battersea Park, London, as part of the Festival of Britain to celebrate a brighter postwar future for the country. Arranged on both sides of the Grand Vista, leading down some stairs and toward the dancing fountains, is a pair of symmetrical mirror pools, in which Samara Scott has installed her site-specific work Developer, 2016.

In the eastern pool, which she has dyed blue, lengths of orange, yellow, and red netting are unfurled underwater and, from above, appear green and blue. Shards of white plastic sheeting are caught underneath, prevented from floating upward. In the opposite pool, dyed a rusty bronze, silver tarpaulins have been sliced into large, curving shapes and joined back together again, making a massive sheet. Where it rises to the surface and catches the sunlight, it flashes silver like a leaping fish, but where it falls away in underwater valleys, it turns a dirty-toilet brown.

In Scott’s hands, the mirror pools have been transformed into a diptych of abstract water paintings, their surfaces like undulating canvases. Scott has shown these sorts of works before, cut into the floors of an art fair or a gallery—but in those indoor environments, the liquids and objects stand eerily still. Here, they are animated by nature: a confetti of fallen leaves and seeds, buzzing dragonflies, and reflections of blowing clouds and rustling trees. Strolling along the Grand Vista today, it looks as though hundreds of pieces of Matisse’s gouache decoupages have been peeled off their canvases and thrown into the water, embellished by the weather and open air.

Dean Kissick

“Made You Look: Dandyism and Black Masculinity”

The Photographers' Gallery
16 – 18 Ramillies Street
July 15, 2016–September 25, 2016

Malick Sidibé, On the motorbike in my studio, 1973, silver gelatin print, 19 x 15".

This group exhibition explores the disjunction between the simultaneous visibility and vulnerability of black men in contemporary society. Curators Ekow Eshun and Karen McQuaid express that while black men may be lauded as globally influential and cultural trendsetters, the disproportionate rates of arrest and incarceration in both the UK and the US tell another story. In order to eschew the misrepresentations and stereotypes associated with the hypervisibility, or, indeed, hyperinvisibility of black masculinity—a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man has been stenciled on the wall—the curators have selected work that investigates the dandy, a figure of subversive politics as well as chic who destabilizes, in this instance, the subjugating white gaze, with sartorial exuberance and provocation.

The earliest work, from around 1904, collected by the Larry Dunstan archive, is unattributed. Depicting young Senegalese men in sharp suits with bow ties and boaters, these photographs appear to have been taken in deliberate resistance to archetypal colonial imagery. Similarly, Malick Sidibé’s iconic black-and-white images, capturing his native Bamako following Mali’s independence from French colonialism in the 1960s, offer insights into a dynamic and transformed society through their representation of individual and collective style. Self-portraits by a young Samuel Fosso, taken after hours in the photography studio he founded at the age of thirteen—wearing such things as platform shoes and cropped fringed trousers (from the series “‘70s Lifestyle,” 1973–77)—were intended to weaken the dictatorship of Jean-Bédel Bokassa, as these items of disco effervescence and gender play were banned during his reign. The show also features photography from Liz Johnson Artur, Hassan Hajjaj, Colin Jones, Isaac Julien, Kristin-Lee Moolman, and Jeffrey Henson Scales. The diverse selection of international portraiture and street photography shows men claiming and defining their image on their own terms.

Philomena Epps