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October 12, 2009

Art London looks up

By Spear's

Art London had too much drawing-room art last year. This year, Art London moved out of the drawing room and into a more daring room.

The Frieze Art Fair is a little too contemporary for some tastes: last year’s smoking booths are not what most of the patrons of Art London in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea would consider art. Not art, at least, that one could hang in one’s drawing room. That was the problem Art London had last year: too much drawing-room art. This year, I’m pleased to say, Art London moved out of the drawing room and into a more daring room.

Don’t get too excited – we are still not in a world of neon tubes leaning against white walls or projects so large they have to be installed in a separate building (as at Art Basel). But some of the 60 galleries showing had evidently striven to avoid the staid and give buyers a more exciting choice. (Having said this, there were still a disturbing number of Monet-lite works this year.)

Piers Bourke’s Bhutanese Monastery (Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery) was a tall digital print which seemed to have gone through a shredder before being roughly reassembled in three dimensions. It was challenging in a Cubist manner – the angle of approach is always changing, there is no way to see it all – and looked like it might fall apart at any moment, which gave it a nice tension.

Galerie Olivier Waltman, from Paris, exhibited three interesting artists: Jean-Pierre Attal, with his external photos of occupied office buildings, looking in on at activity within; Tali Amitai-Tabib, showing from her series of libraries, geometrical yet humane in their emptiness; and Charles Fazzino, whose lurid decoupage scenes of metropolitan life seem like novelties but are actually rather neat social commentary.

Irish artist Marty Kelly had a one-man show at BlueLeaf Gallery. His work is Uglow-like and arresting: roughly-painted grey, yellow, blotchy orange humans are caught in black backgrounds. He told me that “there’s an automatic assumption that the paintings are gloomy, but for me the black just serves to illuminate the figure.” And it does: they look like they have been caught in a shaft of light, just beyond our reach. His best painting on show was of one figure turning through five stages, where he convincingly captured the motion of his ballet-dancer models.

There was also a large presence of the work of Frederic, Lord Leighton, a Holland Park resident whose house is now a public museum (closed for refurbishment until 2010). Many Leighton paintings – including a fine and sombre Clytemnestra – were on show, giving the fair an excellent anchor in a serious piece of art history, just in case it ever threatened to blow away in the stormy October weather.

Finally, it is impossible to forget the Tatler stand, which may have been a post-modern joke or indeed a serious business proposition (they were flogging the new issue, out the day after the private view). Celebrating its tercentenary, the magazine displayed some of its finest covers, which really say quite a lot about the modern world – more than many of the other galleries.

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From the full-text first cover, promising the best gossip London’s coffeehouses had to offer, through those featuring notable women of the twentieth century to the bland blondes on today’s, you saw the past three centuries flash before you, and the ending wasn’t pleasant.

The art world may have suffered along with everyone else, but it seems to have brought out a little bit of fighting spirit in Art London. It is not meant to be avant-garde – it never has been – but at least it now looks beyond the heavy curtains of Carlyle Square.

Top picture (c) Piers Bourke/Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery
Bottom picture (c) Marty Kelly/BlueLeaf Gallery

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