BY Mark Godfrey in Reviews | 01 JAN 04
Featured in
Issue 80


Pearl, London, UK

BY Mark Godfrey in Reviews | 01 JAN 04

There has been a lot of fuss in London recently about a return to abstract sculpture. Trumping the spectacular mannequins and one-liner ready-mades of YBA sculpture, many young artists have veered towards an abstraction that lacks none of their predecessors' bravado - it's all pink Perspex and neon, fake fur and chrome, candy-coloured carved polystyrene. The materials are modern, tacky and functional - when not used as sculpture, their elements can be found in cheap kitchens, offices, IKEA or packaging. This kind of work has quickly become academic.

It is within this context that the use of the humble found object has become compelling. While Gabriel Orozco's curated section of the Venice Biennale, 'The Everyday Altered', has shown the way, this show, 'Retriever', has gathered together more refreshing work. The objects used by the five artists in the show were found on street corners, at flea markets, rubbish dumps and building sites. Though never casual (everything here is carefully composed), the work has a provisional feel - nothing too fixed, nothing too precious. Most of the artists animated the objects with paint, a strategy that raises certain spectres. If the object is not just retrieved but recuperated, rescued by paint from its base fate on the street corner, then the work risks becoming boringly traditional, à la Picasso's bicycle seat as bull's head. The street corner gets forgotten. However, this is not the case here - mainly because paint works to declare rather than conceal the object.

To make Vallance Road (all works 2003), Pedro Cabrita Reis took a section of wood that was once part of a boat's galley, and attached it to the wall. A rectangular hole around the size of a sink was drilled in its centre, the wood dirty and stained with glue. Nearby, a rectangular area had been painted green with smooth horizontal strokes. The area was approximately the same size as the sink hole, to which it provided a compositional balance. The colour was vivid and drew out the subtler shifts in the wood's patina. Some parts had darkened with years of damp, while others had always been covered and were paler.

Opposite it was When I Dance, I Dance, When I Sleep, I Sleep (Montaigne by Murphy), made from a whiteboard. Unlike the boards of my schooldays, this one has a roll-screen held in a ledge that could be pulled down by a cord. There were still some pen marks on the whiteboard, a large area of which had been painted orange, again in horizontal strokes. Though this popped forward from the white ground, like the rest of the board it was darkened at its top by the shadow cast by the upper ledge. The bottom tenth of the board had been sliced off and placed beside the top so that, far from being elevated, the painted section was rudely cut in two.

Jeff McMillan's work feels rude too. He takes cardboard boxes and dips each side in a tray of paint, often using a different colour for each side. Eker Furs was mounted on the wall, its four flaps continuous with the wall's surface, the box part shunting out. Labrador Sands (great titles!) was floor-bound. The wall box worked better, recalling Donald Judd's 'between painting and sculpture', revised with never-straight edges. The collision of painting and sculpture intensifies because of the way McMillan emphasizes the materiality of paint. Once the box is pulled out of the tray, paint settled into ridges and ripples on the cardboard surfaces, a terrain that the viewer sees in bird's eye and landscape alternatively along the vertical and horizontal sides of the box.

The best colourist in the show was Jefford Horrigan. He wraps leftover slices of carpet underlay around temporary supports and paints them in multiple coats of rich pigment. The paint dries and hardens the felt before the support is removed. This leaves a tubular, rigid structure. Long Yellow Painting (Pietà) consists of one such tube - measuring about two and a half metres - painted bright matt yellow, placed across the seat of a glossy blue painted school chair. The bold contrast of primary colours overrides the slightly anthropomorphic feel of the work, its absurd reference to Michelangelo's Pietà (1498-9). Bin Painting used another tube - this time an intense orange - placed outside the main gallery space in a corridor. It appeared like a part of the building - a leftover, dysfunctional pipe from a time much brighter than now. Floor (Black) Painting was smaller: a flat section of black painted underlay, propped up in a corner, slight but insistent.

If these three used colour to draw attention to materials, Armando Andrade Tudela eschewed paint but created a wall-based untitled work that, while referencing sculptural history, spoke to painting's conventions, specifically to perspective. He started with found sheets of linoleum. Though continuous, the sheets looked tiled, as they were patterned with joining areas of three different colours of wood veneer, the grain running in different directions in each area. When placed on the wall, the different grains suggested receding planes. The illusion of depth was convincing, but also as playfully paradoxical as an M. C. Escher drawing. The veneer had been cut into abutting hexagons, so the overall shape recalled Constantin Brancusi's 'Endless Columns'. It was anchored at the bottom by a base that made the entire form phallic.

The most fascinating object in the show, and the most strangely coloured, was Richard Wentworth's A Lot Hotter Than Blood. In a village shop Wentworth found two large rolls of adhesive tape that had melted in the summer heat. What once had been cylinders were now rippled, but the melting had stopped before the original shape became unrecognizable. The cardboard tube of the lower cylinder seemed to penetrate a hole at the centre of the upper one. The object seemed to encourage metaphoric thinking (sex, melting flesh) and to cut it short at once. Its colour was that of Eva Hesse's latex and fibreglass sculptures - beautiful, translucent and slightly repellent. The rolls were placed on a small glass plinth sticking out of the wall about two metres from the ground. Standing below, the viewer could see right through the hollow centre; but the placement also recalled Michael Craig-Martin's An Oak Tree (1973). Here Wentworth required no work on the viewer's behalf to animate the object; no semiotic shifts were involved. Wentworth retrieved sculpture from Formalism and cold Conceptualism, illuminating the everyday as a potential site of exquisite surprise.

Mark Godfrey is a curator and art historian based in London, UK. He recently co-edited The Soul of a Nation Reader (2021) with Allie Biswas, and co-curated ‘Laura Owens and Vincent van Gogh’ at the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France.