Chris Sharp

June 21, 2012
Galerie Chez Valentin, Paris
June 7–July 28, 2012

This is a strange exhibition. Not because it is bad, by any means. Even if it might not succeed at what it sets out to do, it nevertheless manages to achieve quite a lot. The continental sequel to a group exhibition that took place last summer at Bischoff/Weiss gallery in London, curated by the artist George Henry Longly (as is this one), “Glaze” features much of the original and multitudinous cast from its former flowering as well as some new additions. But just what does the show set out to do? Judging from the press release, a lot. Maybe even too much. References range from Foucault’s notion of heterotopia to postmodern design to the radically analytical French painting movement from the late 60s Supports/Surfaces. (Nevertheless, I should state that this show rapidly evolved beyond my dismissive first impression of it, which was: “Artist curates friends,” and which is, just for the record, not necessarily a bad premise for a show). That said, the general gist seems to be a bid for a domestic art which willfully inhabits a grey area between decoration and utility and which is somehow context specific. Whether or not all the more than twenty-five pieces featured in the show fully jibe with this criteria is debatable, but a fair amount of domestication does take place. From a boîte-en-valise-sized Carl André brass floor sculpture to two unstretched paintings by key Supports/Surfaces figures Claude Viallat and Patrick Saytour, the works are weirdly housebroken and reduced to such qualities as scale, pattern, and decoration. As an admirer of Supports/Surfaces painting, I confess to a certain ambivalence about such a deliberately superficial treatment of a theoretically complex movement—especially when you see Saytour paired with a relatively campy boudoir-esque desk by Marc Camille Chaimowicz, and tangentially reprised in a series of similar paintings by Matthew Smith whose higgledy-piggledy motif issues from a cartoon—but at the same time, such an unorthodox recontextualization does not come without a sense of renewal. Something unusual happens here, but it is not entirely clear what, nor are its intended critical implications.

If the domestic theme doesn’t literally play out in all the work, which tends to be pictorial and two-dimensional with a handful of sculptures, it certainly plays out in the scale of the show. With the exception of three site-specific interventions by Helen Marten, the collective Am Nuden Da, and Kate Owens, the show can be more or less carried away, occasionally even venturing off into functional decoration, such as in case of Edward Cotterill’s three handmade bathroom-sized foot carpets (Jetée or Louis Vuitton Spring Summer 2012, 2012). All that said, one place where the show manages to succeed, and whether this is intentional is unclear, is as a relatively comprehensive survey of the current scene in London—and this despite the inclusion of a number of non-Londoners. A whole new generation is presented here, from slightly more established figures such as Daniel Sinsel, Helen Marten, and Anthea Hamilton to up-and-coming artists such as such Nicolas Deshayes, Oscar Murillo, and Eddie Peake. In this sense, this show feels busy and energetic, able to impart a sense of excitement and experimental optimism that characterizes new waves of art. But the domestic implications are left hanging. For instance, is this new wave intrinsically domestic? Or was this a quality imposed upon them by the curator? Or, more uncomfortable still—let me ask this while dodging an egg or two to the head—does London-based art have a general proclivity for the domestic? Which is to say, is it often of an intimate-scale, decorative, homey, and weirdly Victorian? (By Victorian, I mean the compact, insulated, and well-ordered interior). It might sound pretty damning, but I must admit: well-behaved proportions are the legacy of London art. Although this legacy has been disrupted and critically examined elsewhere, it feels more celebrated than questioned here.

Decoration & Ornamentation

Chris Sharp is a writer and curator who lives between Mexico City and Los Angeles. He is the cofounder of Lulu, Mexico City, LA MAISON DE RENDEZ-VOUS, Brussels, and Feuilleton, Los Angeles.

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Galerie Chez Valentin
June 21, 2012

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