Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Art Weekend

Went for a troll round Zoo Art Fair last Saturday, the smaller, once so-called 'edgier' sibling of Frieze. But it's no longer at London Zoo, where it started, having relocated to the former Museum of Mankind in Burlington Gardens, now part of the RA building or perhaps it always was. And it's got bigger and more international (which is probably a good thing), but doesn't quite feel as vital as it did two years ago. And you can't go off cooing at Meercats afterwards. Anyway, as regards the art I thought the best stands or 'booths' belonged to out of towners. Of the London contingent shamefully two London galleries that share the same building in Vyner Street looked as though they had merely unpacked the same work as last year and most of the others were not much better. But no matter... onto the good stuff...

The marvellous Workplace from Newcastle were showing one of Marcus Coates' madcap shamanistic investigations and also 26-year old artist Laura Lancaster. Laura makes paintings lifted from random anonymous photos found in junk-shops, and has built up a battalion of painted memory belonging to others. Laura showed a wall of white canvases, painted (or rather lightly sprayed or 'touched' as they're hardly there at all) with ghostly impressions of faces in silvery grey taken from a school photo. The canvases were all different dimensions, some stapled some pinned in up the sides, but all whitewashed to uniform funereal effect. It's one work. But in the crowded small space it didn't look like that. I could only see them separately, but I'd love to see it in a big sympathetic room. The gallery showed me more of Laura's work, secretly stored in a draw behind the scenes. In colour this time, on small tablets and MDF boards, forgotten holidays and beaches, dead family scenes unearthed. The drawer felt fitting for such sensitive stuff. The assistant should really have been wearing autopsy gloves, lifting out memory tablets with hushed reverence: 'and here are two more forgotten lives, from, we think, Weymouth, but one cannot be sure...' . I'd like to know Laura's intent in this work, whether it's a removal of long-forgotten people from their dusty junk-shop homes for a new lease of life and a second chance or whether the work assists Laura in an examination of her own origins and place in the world. Or perhaps both.

I also enjoyed the 'The Happy Lion' from Los Angeles who were showing Tabitha Morris, an LA artist who paints sylvan glades and rolling landscape in pleasing greens and pastels, with just a touch of acidic yellow and lime, crowded with roaming maniacs with gurning faces and lolling tongues raving or drugged like they're on the run from the local asylum. The pictures are made in sensitive watercolours or inks and painstakingly detailed on paper sheets, and from ten feet look like the trad landscapes your Mother likes, but take a step nearer and its bedlam with an injection of Otto Dix. I enjoyed the view. But my God, those colours! Like dropping an acid tab in a Lovehearts factory. 'The Happy Lion' were also showing Thaddeus Strode's works on paper, similarly peopled with strange beings and fantastical imaginings. My favourite was an evil pumpkin perched on a post called 'The Haunted Mailbox'. I'd like to see his larger mixed media pieces.

After that I dropped in on the 'Pop Art Portrait', at the National Portrait Gallery, worth the £9 entry alone to see Ray Johnson's 'Oedipus' : a treated magazine page of Elvis crying blood. Also worth the dollars are Warhol's 'Screen Tests' playing continuously and opposite Peter Gidal's 'Heads' in a darkened middle chamber. I also enjoyed two great Rauschenbergs, and a Warhol 'Double Elvis'. I simply MELT in front of Warhols.

On Sunday we went to Freize, having giving it a wide berth in previous years. Freize was huge, and overwhelming. We did it in three hours. When you arrive you take in a massive amount very quickly, but after an hour and a half of seemingly endless 'high-end' international galleries you start to get a kind of art-induced selective fadeout, and instead of taking in as much as you can with wide-ranging parameters you just start looking for punchy things that grab and missing out on sensitive quieter things. Or at least that was my experience. At Zoo I found it easy to find things that interested me and that I still remember but Freize was serious overdose. Although I've got a list of scribbled galleries, I can barely remember what I liked about them.