Superabundant: A Celebration of Pattern
Turner Contemporary Project Space, Margate, UK
The title of the group show ‘Superabundant’ conjures images of overheated fertility. Exploring the use of decoration within the public sphere, the nine artists shown at the Turner Contemporary Project Space push beyond the formalist limitations suggested by the exhibition’s rather uninspiring subtitle: ‘A Celebration of Pattern’. The frisson of urban engagement is partly due to the exhibition’s location: a former Marks & Spencer store in which strip-lights and floor tiles are still, incongruously, in place. This proximity to street-level grit is only temporary: Turner Contemporary’s gleaming new gallery is currently being constructed on Margate’s desolate-looking seafront and is due to open in 2011.
Undoubtedly the best-known artists here are Richard Woods and Wim Delvoye, who both engage with notions of public signage and décor. Woods’ vivid patchwork, re-brand (2009), adorns the gallery/shop façade, but unfortunately looks closer to an ineffectual council-led beautification project than a socially purposeful artistic intervention. The artist’s ironizing approach is more evident in a work shown inside the gallery: Flat Stack Sculpture (2009), a scattering of faux-gothic flat panels made to look like three-dimensional wooden beams. Delvoye’s amusing Marble Floor #86 (1999) is a C-print that reveals itself, upon inspection, to be a carefully arranged selection of salami and cold meats.
The show’s most notable theme is of sudden sinister revelations within otherwise mundane surfaces. Wrapped around the space’s supporting columns, from a distance Jacqueline Poncelet’s kaleidoscopic images, Push-me-pull-you (2009), look like geometric abstractions. They are, however, based on images of balefully contorted wooden craft mannequins. Lesley Halliwell’s Fanatic 4,500 Minutes (2008), a drawing of a rainbow executed in Biro, took a tortuous 4,500 minutes to complete. Paul Moss’s ‘Danger Paintings 1-5’ (2003) are a set of Op Art-inspired wall units wrapped in red-and-white hazard tape. Yet these works are stiflingly safe. Both the edgy potential for the uncanny (already exhausted by 1930s Surrealism), and formal engagements with the public sphere - as developed by Daniel Buren and Richard Serra, for example - remain inchoate. Likewise, Daniel Sturgis’ pastel-hued paintings and Henna Nadeem’s photo collages, which oscillate mildly between abstraction and representation, seem unaware of rangier art historical legacies.
Of course, in many ways the show’s curators have attempted to satisfy two impulses here. What could be more crowd-pleasing (and please the Arts Council more) than an exhibition subtitled ‘A Celebration of Pattern’? Equally, what could be more current within art world discourse than a critical re-engagement with pattern? Emblematic of this duality is Jacob Dahlgren’s work, which seeks to readdress pattern’s tendency to slip into anti-social formalism: his Heaven is a Place on Earth (2006-9) is a sort of family-friendly Carl Andre floor piece made from Ikea bathroom scales. Another option is explored by Jim Drain, whose baroque sculptural assemblages are the only works here that really have faith in pattern as a transformative form of social agency. His Hex (2008) is a camp mannequin dressed in an outfit of gaudy sequins and an iron frame sculpture encrusted in beads and tassels. Clearly, pattern has a radical potential. Yet ‘Superabundant’ is caught between populism and the fuller development of this theme. It seems like a missed opportunity.
There are no responses yet for this article.