The intention always was, whatever the thought on the show after the hoopla of the opening night, the intention always was to go back without all the noise and the distraction, to go and quietly look again in the cold light of day, to this time watch the film and to actually sit and read the purposely avoided exhibition statement or the tittles of the paintings, to quietly go look at the art without the impossible-to-ignore distraction of the opening night and all the conversations and the arms and legs and the greeting of people and the rest of the collateral whatever. The opening night felt like a real event, it was exciting, we said all that already last week, saying that seemed to annoy some people, there’s a bag-load of words and fractured photos over there in terms of a review – opening nights are never the best times to really properly see an art show though, they’re mostly about grabbing a flavour (and a beer and seeing people and talking and the rest of it), they’re mostly about seeing if its worth going back to see the show properly. The intention, whatever the thought on the open night, was to return for a second look, it was there in the diary, “go back to White Cube on the night of the John Crossley opening at Eames”, one week on, how is it looking? Like it or not a Tracey Emin solo show is important, it needs to be viewed properly
One week on and we’re back at the big White Cube for a second look at the just opened Tracey Emin solo show (very busy in here for a Wednesday afternoon), In the week since the opening night there’s been a barrage of vitriolic social media comment from people, well mostly from other artists, slightly jealous artists maybe? A barrage of comment from people who clearly hadn’t been anywhere near the show and had seen little more than one out-of-context shot of that room of a very big selfies up above people’s heads. I guess that room of very big selfies was always going to be contentious, it was always going to push buttons, the White Cube themselves aren’t helping with the constant advertising on social media feeds with that one shot of the selfie room, a room that was always going to add fuel to the fire. I guess the easy option would have been from Emin to just fill the gallery with paintings but then who wants to see an artist take the easy option? There’s been some very annoying opinion posted from people who really should know a lot better over the last week – indeed, as an amusing aside, I’ve had people taking the time out of their day to tell me I haven’t got a clue in response to the original review, I’ve had people insult my own art as some kind of reaction to my positive thought on the Tracey Emin show and to my reaction to those paintings (bring it all on if you have nothing better to do, all part of what we’ve done for years with this Organ thing, kind of makes you artists look silly though, come on, at least respond with an intelligent argument). We’ve seen people really have a go at Tracey Emin in the last week in a way that goes well beyond constructive thought-out criticism of her art or intelligent comment on her as an artist, and the argument offered that she can’t draw or paint is just stupidly ridiculous. It isn’t all one way though, there’s been some very positive well reasoned reaction. Clearly, like her or not, like her art or not, this is an important show both in terms of her as an artist and in terms of British art in general, this is an important show in terms of many things. Before the show I wasn’t really that sure about where I stood or indeed if I needed to even have that strong an opinion either way, I wasn’t really that bothered that I wasn’t sure, it didn’t really matter. Eight now one week on from the opening, I almost feel like going into battle for her, to argue on behalf of her and her art, and now, after that film, a film that really does spell it all out if you didn’t already get it from the paintings – well no, you couldn’t possibly get it is such cold hard terms from the paintings alone – that film is raw, brave, tough, difficult, it really is a little bit jaw-dropping. I want to call her up and see if she’s okay, I’m really genuinely worried about her, not that she needs anyone going into battle or worrying about her or anything else, or maybe she does? That film is a tough watch, the complete silence from the sixty or so people who I watch it with spoke volumes, the stunned silence at the end of those twenty two minutes, no one said a single word, no one really could.
Yes, it was possible to get a lot of what she was saying from just standing in front of those paintings, the hurt and the pain is quite clearly there in the marks and the colour and the decisions made in terms of the actual mark making – the constant revisiting, the hurt of a now not quite so young woman is clearly there, the defiance not so much, but that film is so powerful, so so private, it did feel like we were intruding, it was shocking actually. Did she really go through all that? Was she really strong enough to talk about it like that? How could all that really happen? Really? Yes I am really bothered, I’m concerned, I’m worried about her, I really was already affected by those paintings and then that film on top of it all, you quote my companion for the second visit, “whoooooooooooooooooosh, wow!”. Kind of pleased I saved the film until the second visit (and until the end of the second visit) I do worry, I worry that she is sitting there alone is a studio (we all do anyway, without all that). I’ve heard people say she’s attention seeking, but no, come on, that film isn’t about attention seeking, and anyway, isn’t any artist who hangs a piece on a gallery wall or paints on a street or makes a film or places a sculpture in a field miles from anyone, isn’t every artist ever seeking some kind of attention? “Hey, look at what I painted, look at me me me up on this wall…”, Okay so some of us keep what were doing to ourselves or leave you to read the art we make of it whatever you want, and yes some of us do make “stuff” and ask you to enjoy it or react to it, and I didn’t say “just make stuff”, no “just” right there (go watch the film). I t is hard to really enjoy this Tracey Emin show, well you can if you just throw away everything you think you know and just celebrate the energy of those paintings, the economy of marks, the power of those movements, those brush stokes, that is very enjoyable, you have to admire those paintings, but once you start reading the paintings and you take a look at the tittles it is hard to enjoy it, and then you see the film and it really is hard to even talk about it all. My companion was a fellow artist, we had to walk straight out after that film, I did take one quick look at one particular painting, just one painting and then we had to walk out in almost stunned silence. We debated going to the pub, we agreed we didn’t feel like it, we stood in the street for a bit. not quite sure what to do, do we want to go see any more art today? Can we possibly?
So those paintings and the marks and the intensity of those larger canvases were just as powerful the second time around as they were on the opening night, the selfies not quite so much once they’ve been seen and bitched about and the rest, it was about seeing them without knowing they were going to be there and then putting what was found in that one room with the rest of the exhibition – It really is all about those paintings, got to go see those paintings again before it closes – don’t really get the idea of a piece of sculpture that the artist hasn’t been hands on with, no, it really is all about the paintings. Didn’t see the film until the end of the second visit and well, I stand by everything said about the show last week, it really is painfully brilliant.
Pretty much impossible to walk out of the White Cube and especially almost directly from that film and a couple of minutes later walk into the opening night of a show in what is essentially a very commercial gallery on the same street, to walk into an unapologetic sales room where the art is very much “more stuff” (go see Tracey’s film and the nature of being an artist and what you/we do and make and how could she possible just make stuff and how she’s questioned if she should even be an artist). The John Crossley opening is the main reason fro being in Bermondsey this evening and well, beautiful stuff but “stuff” all the same, and with respect to the people who run Eames Gallery in such a friendly inviting way, to be greeted by salesmen and women trying to politely sell a piece of “stuff” is tough. Hard to follow the intensity of the Tracey Emin show and the shock of that film, with someone trying to tell you what the instalment payment plans options are a piece of art you’re quietly admiring – and I was quietly admiring what is essentially very pretty piece of bright colourful art stuff when the sales pitch closed in None of this is fair on the gallery and I was rather looking forward to seeing this latest body of John Crossley work in the flesh (the photos here or anywhere else really do the works very little justice)
Borrowed Light is a politely exciting show, actually there’s some delicious pieces in here, beautiful pieces of art, one-off prints, work alive bright bold colour, pieces jumping with life, for once that annoyingly overused vibrant word really is the right one, for once describing work vibrant and exciting really is appropriate – these latest John Crossley pieces are vibrant, they’re exciting, they’re alive, they’re probably refreshing, the best of them really are beautiful and this is an excellent show, a beautiful body of work. There’s a wonderful textured balance to each piece, an instinct for just the right colour in just the right place, that one carefully placed shape that brings the whole one of printed piece to life. There’s an argument that the unframed pieces are freer, that the formality of the frames restrict things, for once I have to disagree, for once the formality of the framing brings something, the simple frames bring some kind of positive order to the work. I can’t afford the payment plan but I do love these new pieces, do love this show, no, nothing wrong with more art stuff, nothing wrong with a pure excitement of colour and composition, with abstract texture, with a piece of art just for the hell of it. As tough as it might be after the powerful emotion of the White Cube, John Crossley’s Borrowed Light is an excellent show, an exciting show, a polite show on a formal commercial gallery maybe, a rewarding show all the same, they always have good art stuff at Eames…,. .
“Please join us for the opening of Subversive Stitch, a group show of textile-based works, incorporating embroidery, weaving, carpet, tapestry, clothes and sculpture. The title is taken from the 1984 book by feminist art historian Rozsika Parker The Subversive Stitch – Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine. For centuries embroidery had been a craft most closely aligned with women, and the book explored its use in the 20th century by empowered women artists. Today although it is still heavily, if no longer solely, a woman’s medium, its subversive legacy continues; embracing the political, the innovative, the technical and often unconventional, whilst redefining its status as a serious art form”
The evening’s explorations are continuing at a rather busy group show in the West End, a rather interesting space called TJ Boulting, (wonderful sign above the door) and yes, of course Textile-based art can be exciting, something about the colour getting inside the skin (or the fabric) rather than just existing on the surface of the canvas, something about how a piece of textile hangs or folds or fits or feels or falls. The show is busy, not sure how “subversive” any of it really is or indeed if it really is meant to be (it is apparently more about referencing the book than being subversive or so it would appear). Polite embroidery on a Nike logo? Maybe it wouldn’t have been quite so polite in a different show? Yet another yellow acid house smiley face? Surely by now another yellow smiley face is about as exciting as another soup can? “TJ Boulting is proud to present ‘Subversive Stitch’, a group show of textile-based works, incorporating embroidery, weaving, carpet, tapestry, clothes and sculpture” – there’s a big crowd packed in here, not seeing anything to rival say Jessica Scott and her punk rock quilts or Riot Grrrl cushions or Lou Baker’s big red fabric installations or that multi-logo’d shirt we saw hanging on a gallery wall in a recent show, we were really hoping for something a little more, something a little more hard hitting, something a little more subversive maybe? Of course textile art can be as empowering as any art form, at times it has surely been the most empowering of all? Of course textile-based art is as serious as any art form, of course it is, I always through the textile departments of art schools to be by far the most exciting and alive, really wanted this show to explode with woven excitement, with…, well with something a little more than…. oh look, there was one or two things, one or two names to go find out a little more about, we’ll leave it with you and go have that pint we didn’t have after the Tracey show… on to the next show, on on on on… (sw)
Tracey Emin’s A Fortnight of Tears is on at the White Cube, Bermondsey, London SE1 3TQ until April 7th.
John Crossley’s Borrowed Light is at Eames Fine Art Gallery, 58 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UD until March 3rd
Subversive Stitch is at TJ Boulting, 59 Riding House Street, London W1W7EG until March 23rd
Click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured slide show