Each first Thursday of the month brings the art world alive in the form of First Thursdays, a night dedicated to bringing spectators to exhibitions they might not normally see, and most are free for the evening. Our art critic Dan Udy gives us his review of last July’s art scene.
Having concluded that any self-respecting art critic would not, in fact, use any maps or recommended routes for Time Out’s First Thursdays, I selected a few shows from the online listings and headed off to The Nunnery for the annual Bow Arts exhibition. Lesson one: thumbnails can be deceptive.
An array of neon strip lights hang above the aptly named Bow Arts Lane, and whilst I love shiny things as much as the next impressionable victim of the advertising age, it doesn’t appear to do anything new. Grayson Perry once said that neon was ‘the bronze of the 21st century’, and the man has a point; now totally ubiquitous (thanks, Tracey Emin), the medium seems to be getting tired. Inside to an empty gallery and awkward conversation with the staff, where I avoid the bar (impossible to escape the ‘recommended donation’ conundrum when there’s no-one to hide behind) and speed round a strange collection of disparate works. Again, more neon, and in the end Sooim Jeong’s paintings of inter-species animal orgies are the most memorable in a group show which lacks any sort of focus.
Next is Union in Bethnal Green for artist/shaman Matthew Stone’s Rules Forever (Part II). No throngs of spiritually enlightened art enthusiasts, no drinks and no ventilation whatsoever. In fact, there’s no-one at all and I’m alone with an overweight, barefoot gallerist who won’t shut up. The photo-collages are quite beautiful – if a little Pantene Pro-V – and the sculptural work shows a clearly maturing practice, but I find myself overheated and frustratingly sober. In a moment of desperation I grab a map and make for the cluster of red dots in Shoreditch, where the trail of top knots leads to Redchurch Street and The Outside World Gallery. Kellykiwi’s Desire_ smacks of a GCSE art project when she asks if desire can be ‘something abstract’, but the largely Japanese audience don’t seem to mind and some of the illustrations are just the right side of saccharine. Another case of overheating (when will galleries learn to invest in air conditioning?) leads me across the road to studio1.1 and the opening of 119 by Neal Morley, winner of the gallery’s 2010 Lottery Show draw. The demographic swiftly ages 30 years and the works are plucked straight from the Robert Rauschenberg school of mixed-media abstracts, with the few mildly interesting pieces lost in a swirl of pastels and beige.
A short wander down the street to Aubin Gallery and the crowd of smokers is vast and, most importantly, drunk. Halfway up the staircase a dripping mural proclaims that this is Leather Bitch by Danny Sangra, ‘one of the UK’s most celebrated creative polymaths’. The works range from video to found objects, with Sangra’s drawings – incorporating pen, photographs and porn cutouts (vintage, obviously) – showing moments of clarity that are often interrupted by adolescent scrawls. Whilst edging through the scowling audience I realise they probably know what a polymath actually is, and it’s at this point I’m wishing for a companion with which to tilt my head and nod or have obnoxious conversations about institutional critique.
Back up the road to the launch of the Duffy retrospective at Idea Generation, where mumbling something about an editor miraculously gets me past the guestlist-only door policy and into the hallowed company of Gok Wan and Nicky Clarke. A soundtrack of Joplin and Bowie blares alongside the vast array of photographs, adverts and record covers, whilst an audience old enough to remember them make every effort to drain the free bar. It’s an ambitious show and a worthy climax to the evening, but one which would be more enjoyable if I didn’t have to fight my way through a collective nostalgia trip circa 1965.
(taken from Duffy, published by ACC Editions, © Duffy Archive)
The shows still running are:
Leather Bitch by Danny Sangra at Aubin Gallery – 7th July – 11th August
Rules Forever (Part II) by Matthew Stone at Union – 2nd July – 30th July
119 by Neal Morley at studio1.1 – 8th-31st July
Duffy: A visual record of the photographic genius at Idea Generation – 8th July-28th August
Duffy runs until 28th August 2011 at Idea Generation Gallery, www.ideageneration.co.uk. The first ever book devoted to the work ofBrian Duffy will be published by ACC Editions in July. Duffy: 9781851496570, £45. To order a copy call 01394 389977 or go online atwww.accpublishinggroup.com.