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April 29, 2016

Keith Coventry’s Pure Junk series takes on McArt

By Alec Marsh

Sophie McIntyre reports on Keith Coventry’s latest foray into Consumerist art and the inspiration of McDonalds.

PACE London, has just opened Keith Coventry’s White Black Gold exhibition – a slick exploration of Modernism and a nuanced bit of commentary on brands, advertising and the contemporary world.

The show includes the McDonalds-oriented Pure Junk series and an enormous bronze of a blown out shop window. Destroyed Shop Window is one of the largest sculptures to have been shown in a private gallery, at nearly ten metres long and four and a half metres tall.

The Pure Junk series comprises expansive, smooth, white sculptural paintings and smaller framed works in bronze and gold; both collections riffing heavily on the impermanence of the ‘McDonalds’ culture. The white, layered arches of the larger works are constructed from natural materials: wood, muslin, beeswax, gesso, glass and wood – which contrast the plasticy fast food aesthetic. The pieces’ silky finish lends an unusual objective permanence and quality to the innate disposal arch motif.

‘It’s developed from the previous series. It’s a little bit like Modernism where one idea comes out of the previous idea. The earlier one had large areas of white and in this series I pushed the colour out completely,’ says Coventry.

‘It’s like a ghostly or fossilised representation of something that was once virulent. Advertising itself or McDonalds’, he adds.

The smaller metallic works are straightforward contrast comment pieces. Gleaming and armour like, they literalise the golden arches euphemism and ‘ennoble the ignoble.’

And finally, and very much dominating the space, is the clearly titled Destroyed Shop Window. A cast iron and bronze homage to a transient moment in a building’s history. The time when it was blasted out and in a state of disuse, prior to repair or demolition.

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This piece is a playful take on the Modernist grid leitmotif. The sculpture highlights the lattice skeleton of the building, but forces this particular grid to be read in a specific context – contrasting historical notions of formalism and The Grid, where no narrative is needed.

Coventry says he based the giant bronze on a bombed out window in the Middle East, but the artist is keen that the work should not be read as geographically specific.

‘I didn’t want it to be particular. It’s a standard universal for destruction and carnage all over the world. Normally that grid is used as a Modernist device, which rejects narrative. But I have applied the narrative to the grid, flipping that on its head.

I inserted a narrative, a story of a destruction. It’s me just playing a game with formalism, modernism and real events in the world.’

‘My practice is that I look at the world through the veil of the history of art and I’m always applying the veil of that to the things I see all around me,’ says Coventry.

A favourite of Saatchi during the 90s, Coventry’s work has covered topics such as class (the White Abstracts), the failure of social housing (the Estate Paintings), drug addiction (the Crack Series) and hooliganism (the History Paintings). All of his subjects are seen through a veil of art history, in this case in the context of Modernism.

The exhibition will be on view at the ground floor galleries of PACE London, 6 Burlington Gardens, from 27 April to 28 May 2016.

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