Phillip King

THOMAS DANE GALLERY
3 & 11 Duke Street, St James's
June 11–July 26

View of “Phillip King,” 2014.

While London-based sculptor Phillip King’s approach investigates the way form is created through material and process, his work’s appearance is not how one would imagine a process-based sculpture’s—cones, pyramids, industrial forms, even the grid all appear in his visual lexicon, as does sand, fiberglass, clay, metal, and foam PVC. For King, the means of bringing a form into being commences with its armature or structure. “I call sculpture the art of the invisible,” he once said, “because it’s below the surface, you can’t see what’s going on. The sculptor is the one who has to understand the inside.” Together with a small group of outdoor sculptures at Ranelagh Gardens in Chelsea, this exhibition—the artist’s debut at Thomas Dane—is compact survey of the octogenarian’s practice.

King’s career spans several major movements, ranging from Minimalism and Pop, and in retrospect, his work possesses qualities of both modern and postmodern art. The large, four-part, painted-wood Blue Blaze, 1967, for example, looks like a surrealist staircase that has been strewn across the room, yet its intense blue also recalls Yves Klein’s as well as the blue screens of film. Here, the low fourth element suggests a very flat plinth or canvas. These exhibitions point to the artist as less of a portentous modernist and more a playful inventor of form. In fact, the most obvious and consistent trait is predominately his bright color. Neither descriptive nor topical, color mostly suggests changes of edge or shape, or, as in Blue Blaze, also serves to unify separate parts. Ultimately, that is what keeps his work fresh and present.

Sherman Sam

“A. R. Hopwood: False Memory Archive”

CARROLL / FLETCHER
56 - 57 Eastcastle Street
June 6–July 12

FREUD MUSEUM
20 Maresfield Gardens 
June 11–August 3

View of “A.R. Hopwood: False Memory Archive,” 2014.

This installation of “A. R. Hopwood: False Memory Archive” at two sites—the Carroll/Fletcher Project Space and the Freud Museum—is the most recent event in artist Alasdair Hopwood’s ongoing exploration of the malleability of memory. Hopwood has been particularly interested in the research of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who since the 1970s has conducted experiments showing that with narrative prompting, subjects will testify to memories of events that never occurred.

In the hands of A. R. Hopwood—Alasdair Hopwood’s alter ego, a dry mischief-maker who operates via faxed contracts—the unreliability of memory creates an absurd universe in which a hired clairvoyant writes a subject’s past, fictions might be facts, and at a satellite of the exhibition at the Freud Museum, the father of psychoanalysis plays an apt host to the mischief. The works in the show result from Hopwood’s collaborations with various people, including psychologists. In Hot Air, 2013, Hopwood displays the photographic prompts created by psychologist Kimberley Wade of Warwick University for an experiment. The photographs themselves are typical of the visual material in the exhibition in their accidental absurdity: Tiny, imperfectly cut out people, often out of scale, clearly taken from family portraits and miscellaneous snapshots, have been shoddily glued into identical postcard-sized pictures of a hot-air-balloon basket floating into the air. The silliness turns sinister when one realizes that even these crummy, doctored pictures successfully implanted false memories of something as extraordinary as a balloon ride in the experimental subjects who viewed them. As if to repair the damage done to faith in photographic evidence, Hopwood sent Wade on a real balloon ride, strapping around her neck a camera designed for amnesiacs that takes a picture every thirty seconds.

In Wade’s case, the psychologist comes out from behind the one-way mirror of the laboratory, and as Hopwood recedes behind his contract-faxing alter ego, the line between a psychologist’s props and an artist’s productions appears as thin as the one between recall and imagination.

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

Rachel Maclean

CENTRE FOR CONTEMPORARY ARTS (CCA)
350 Sauchiehall Street
May 31–July 13

Rachel Maclean, Please Sir..., 2014, two-channel HD video, 25 minutes.

Among the coterie of contemporary artists embracing theatrical installation and narrative—Mary Reid Kelley, Allison Schulnik—Scottish artist Rachel Maclean is emerging as a politicized addition. The upcoming referendum this year on Scotland’s independence sets the tone for this exhibition where politics, celebrity, and the prospect of national unity in the context of the British class system are rendered as allegorical spectacle in luridly colorful CGI. Utilizing green-screen techniques common to film and television, Maclean constructs long-form videos with painstakingly detailed costumes and transformative makeup to invoke a cast of archetypal characters such as Oliver Twist, whose staying power in the popular imagination is nurtured by England’s diffuse pop-cultural influence.

Most beguiling here is a two-channel video, Please Sir. . ., 2014, a tour de force borrowing The Prince and the Pauper’s storyline (1881) wholesale and proceeding in entirely appropriated dialogue cobbled from sources well known in British popular culture. When the Pauper, whose poverty is hammed up by Maclean garbed in artfully ripped Adidas workout gear and greenish teeth, appears before a line of courtiers segregated by a screen at the opposite end of the gallery, his pose and speech are unmistakably ripped from Spud’s interview in Trainspotting (1996). The yawning middle space separating the two would seem to speak to a unbridgeable class divide, but there’s a scene where the Prince proffers the Pauper a goblet-like pipe, curiously assuring him in a velvet-smooth voice that it’s “smack,” then cutting to each in a throbbing club populated by the gyrating peers of their respective class tiers. There’s no difference in the staging of the two; only the cosmetic and prosthetic getups of the revelers differentiate them. Rather, what is performed is a grossly ironic unity engendered under the nagging, faded sign of empire.

Paige K. Bradley