Damián Ortega at Fruitmarket Gallery

States of Time

 Installation view of  Altocumulus , Fruitmarket Gallery upstairs, 2016

Installation view of Altocumulus, Fruitmarket Gallery upstairs, 2016

Amid the bustle and chaos, flyering and performance of the Edinburgh Festival, its Fringe and the accompanying circus. The Fruitmarket Gallery is exhibiting a modest and rather quiet exhibition of recent and purpose made work by Mexican artist Damián Ortega. When I first came across him, Ortega had split a Citroën 2CV in three lengthways, removing the middle third and rejoining the two remaining halves together - what with that and confusing him with his friend and fellow countryman Gabriel Orozco and his suspended 14m replica whale skeleton, I came to this exhibition expecting something as varied and exciting as the festival outside.

However for this exhibition in Scotland the work is far more domestic and immediate in scale. In fact, instead of complex resin based materials and industrialised ingredients, here the artist has returned to one of the simplest and most basic of artistic mediums: clay. Across a series of vitrines upstairs there are a collection of tools and household items; a TV remote, a cassette, pliers, a saw, various DIY and leisure materials drawing all the way back to the Stone Age and including arrowheads and simple corn grinders. All sculpted life size in clay, fired unglazed, naturally off-white; perhaps unwittingly, very close to bone.

  Abrasive Objects , 2016 (detail)

Abrasive Objects, 2016 (detail)

Elsewhere crevices and shapes depicting erosion caused by geographical processes are laid out, like giant three-dimensional geological diagrams. Made of stacked bricks a 'V' is cut (formed?) and expands. That it has been chipped away by a grinder, another tool, is reference to the extension of our abilities through manipulated materials. The earthen and orange vibrancy of the series makes a connection with terracotta and by extension, to the Terracotta Army, its power more implicit than the dead skeletal white hinted of above.

Eroded Valley, 2016 (detail) and Atmospheric Pressure, 2016 installation view

Ortega has also, as so often is his want, suspended a number of works from the ceiling. Where as in previous works these have been every last chrome element of a giant truck, all hung in precise location - or the implication of presence of a VW Beetle - in this case the artist has pursed and kneaded unfired clay into imperfect spheres. Blobs of raw malleable earth, attached to string, visible string not invisible fishing wire, hung like notes of music above the stairs. A darker version, more random, hangs in another small room allowing one to walk fully around the mobiles as they flit between flat and having depth. 

 From  Lava Waves , 2016

From Lava Waves, 2016

A further sequence of works display ceramic waves. Detailed study of wave photography has allowed the artist to capture the breaking of white horses, to bring permanence to the least permanent of things. One wave is followed by a second similar wave, and that by another into infinity but to harness the form as something sculptural is a tricky task - restricted perhaps by the size of the kiln, these waves, like the display cases behind them of everyday items, are uniquely domesticated despite the threat and power of the water they are based on.

http://www.fruitmarket.co.uk/whats-on/current/ until October 23rd

Dóra Maurer at White Cube, Masons Yard

6 out of 5

Honed through a half century of practice, this exhibition shows a range of investigations and experiments by the Hungarian artist. Measured, tonal process informs many of these works and the final results often directly hark back to their creation. With the IXEK paintings it is not just the geometric shapes that are contorted, bent and layered but the actual paint as well. Using numerous transparent layers to build up the colour blocking of certain areas, a mid-tone shade is brought into play when they overlap other colours previously painted. 

 IXEK 15, 10, 13, 11, 2013 - 2015

IXEK 15, 10, 13, 11, 2013 - 2015

Like technical drawings, there are invisible horizon lines and vanishing points from each of these images around the gallery. With two there are even charcoal lines drawn on the gallery walls to continue and extend the forms and rhythms of the work. 

Hung slightly protruding from the walls the three dimensional element of the work is confirmed further by each pieces' shadow; it is an important extension of the theoretical dimensions portrayed in the images themselves.

Departing yet further from the single plane is a giant four metre long mobile at the rear of the downstairs space. It is largely static but varies from the wall pieces by overlapping in reality, each of the five panels supported just behind the one above, having a combined mix of paints over the layered area. A Venn diagram of sorts, a zone of both above and below, in front and behind. And by Maurer choosing to use such bright and bold shades, the interlocking hues hark back to another simplistic and recognisable device, that of the artist's colour wheel. 

 Overlappings (irregular) 4, 2009 - 2010

Overlappings (irregular) 4, 2009 - 2010

Elsewhere in the show there are examples of older work - photography and video, both adhering to the sense of repeated action and procedure. There are also works that have been imbibed with a more political stance. Pencil works done in such a manner as to highlight folds and creases in the paper have often been thought to allude to the restrictions put upon those of her generation at the time when Hungary was under Communist rule. The revolutionary idea that an artist could create these potentially radical modes of self-expression behind the Iron Curtain sits uncomfortably with the reality of her scholarship to Vienna in 1967 and subsequent regular access to the West.

Her work has seen a new level of interest in the last decade or so, particularly by large institutions but it has largely focused on the pieces made in the previous century. This exhibition acts as a timely warning not to overlook the visually striking creations she is working on now.

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/dora_maurer_masons_yard_2016/ until July 9th

Deutsche Börse Prize at the Photographers Gallery

Each year, when this prestigious prize returns to the Photographers Gallery I am reminded of a friend of mine, a good amateur photographer. He is almost always dismissive of the show because he feels it strays too far from the art of taking a picture. At this exhibition there is always more involved than a person simply using a camera. And so it is this year as ever; upon exiting the lift on the 5th floor you are immediately presented with a half re-built vintage Fiat 500. 

 Unfinished Father, 2015 installation view - Erik Kessels

Unfinished Father, 2015 installation view - Erik Kessels

The car sits central to the room surrounded by meticulous photographic studies of its renovation. Erik Kessels' father used to restore them as a hobby and in one of the series of photographs there is a record of his former work. That Kessels' father died suddenly mid-restoration of this model is the basis of the project. The series represents the relationship of the artist and father; unreconciled and forever incomplete. It works as a very poignant legacy and personal shrine.

Working on a completely different scale, Laura El-Tantawy's inclusion in the show revolves around the Arab Spring and the Egyptian civil unrest in Cairo between 2011 and 2013. As a document to a time it is a vital political record. Over a number of videos and smaller works some of the imagery comes across as painterly but despite its worthiness there is an over-familiarisation to some of the scenes. The revolution was televised. Looking at much of these presentations is a reminder of the TV coverage of the time more than a re-evaluation of the events and how they ultimately played out. 

 From  In The Shadow of the Pyramids , 2015 - Laura El-Tantawy

From In The Shadow of the Pyramids, 2015 - Laura El-Tantawy

Tobias Zielony's offering is equally political but hits the mark by both being more timely and using a little humour. The plight of African refugees and their journeys and resettlement in Europe is a hot potato being juggled as the exhibition shows but what is more unusual about this reportage is the way Zielony has turned a cliche on its head.

So many stories and so much literature exists proclaiming that the grass is greener on the other side; alternatively here the artist has published heartbreaking interviews and first hand accounts of the struggles and violence befalling the refugees that risk the Mediterranean crossings. These newspapers focused on the risks not the rewards. And uniquely they were published in the very countries so many of the refugees were coming from. It's a confrontational exercise. 

 The Citizen, 2015 - Tobias Zielony

The Citizen, 2015 - Tobias Zielony

The final photographer melds the personal and the political. Though often travelling alone and at the very fringes of the classified world, Trevor Paglen captures images of government buildings and projects involved with mass-surveillance and data capture. On one level it is a fascinating glimpse into the depths the military and government agencies go to secure global safety, in another it is a terrifying display of the extent of this pursuit. 

 From  The Octopus , 2015 - Trevor Paglen

From The Octopus, 2015 - Trevor Paglen

The winner has yet to be announced but the range and flow of this show is of as high a quality as any year. The viewer is brought to the most personal reflections on loss to the most extreme military capturing of information, via displays of great unrest and huge unhappy resettlement. There is much to think about looking at these displays and the judges will have their work cut out.

http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/deutsche-b-rse-photography-foundation-prize-2016-5 until July 3rd

George Shaw at the National Gallery

My Back To Nature

In 2014 the National Gallery took George Shaw on as an Artist in Residence for two years and in a wonderful 15 minute documentary accompanying this show, he is shown as an everyman coming to work on a daily basis. Unlike the commute most of us take, Shaw reached his studio after walking past paintings by Titian, Turner, Caravaggio and Poussin. The works on display by Shaw, numbering at least a couple of dozen paintings, are the artist's response to the unequaled hangings across the other galleries. 

 Study for Hanging Around (Landscape without Figures), 2014

Study for Hanging Around (Landscape without Figures), 2014

The foyer to the exhibition proper contains a number of sketch books, pages held open at drawings made at the National over various visits - though not recorded, some of those earliest visits mark Shaw's first exposure to art as a child and young man. There is also a vast preliminary black and white study of three trees. 

The collection at the National Gallery is largely Western and by extension, Christian. For someone to have seen three trees in a picture would be to reference the three crosses and Christ's crucifixion - this has become somewhat of a recurring theme for Shaw and the entire series and response to the works at the National are set in the woods.

For Shaw the woods are an obvious extension to his work, the downtrodden Coventry estates, graffitied walls and broken fences familiar from his former practice. They are also, he points out in the video, the setting of many of the paintings in the gallery. Poussin in particular has a couple of works on display with a shocking sexuality - transposed to the late twentieth century and these scenes are paralleled in pornography littered in the forest. 

Shaw speaks of the woods as a place of transference, a no mans land ripe for exploration and exploitation. A world away from the world that invariably sees the illicit maturing of so many teenagers across the country. It might be where a first cigarette is smoked, or alcohol is consumed without the prying eyes of parents and authority figures. The woods may even be where virginity is lost. Captured here, all of the works are where people have been or will return - they remain empty of figures, this is not where people are.

 The Rude Screen, 2015 - 2016

The Rude Screen, 2015 - 2016

Amongst the trees and roots, leaves and branches are plastic sheets, litter and detritus of irresponsible activity and a modern day Bacchanalia. These humble scenes have been rendered meticulously in the artist's famed enamel paints and sit in the shadow of the masters they hope to emulate, to his great credit it is a highly measured reaction. 

Where initially the artist was intimidated by the works surrounding him, ultimately over this residence he has risen to the challenge. He has created a body of work with subject matter entirely comparable with the myths and fables chosen by the artists of old. Should these contemporary works be hung alongside the centuries old masterpieces next door? No, perhaps not. But do they work? Infallibly yes. 

 Möcht' inch zurücke weider wanken, 2015-2016

Möcht' inch zurücke weider wanken, 2015-2016

Over the period Shaw has worked at the National his practice has advanced significantly. There is no doubt of the artist's hand and these new works are clearly from the same brush as the Turner Prize nominee (2011) but what has grown out of his daily audience with the National Gallery collection is a more nuanced and skilled painter. These are the best pieces Shaw has ever produced. 

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/George-shaw-my-back-to-nature-11-may-2016-1000 until October 30th

Jeff Koons at Newport Street Gallery

Now

Balloon Monkey (Blue), 2013 is one of the most expensive pieces in Damien Hirst's collection. It is presented here in the second gallery, allowing a captivating circuit, at arm's reach and under the constant watch of numerous gallery hands. But this space also benefits from the viewing balcony and looking down on the sculpture you are able to witness others study its reflective form as you had yourself just moments before. It adds a further layer of reflection and refraction, it affords you another way of looking at it. 

 Balloon Monkey (Blue), 2013

Balloon Monkey (Blue), 2013

Its surface brilliance is perfect. It is a fingerprint-less metallic blue mirror, curving the gallery walls and staring public back on themselves. It is also, even from a child's party, the least convincing of all the balloon animals. This is not the incredible dog, nor even the recognisable snake. It fails as a monkey but mesmerises as engineering. Koons has reached a level of finish unimaginable in his earlier career.

Even the first gallery's ready-mades are crude in their construction, despite the Hoovers never having been used, merely re-boxed in perspex and either paired up or illuminated with strip lights. They date back to the early 1980s when the artist was working on Wall Street, just the beginning of his self-perpetuated mythology. The early work references Duchamp and Flavin, Minimalists and Pop but despite such overt hereditary art history this show does not come off as stale. Rather, it more tellingly paves the path that so much contemporary art has taken. 

 New Hoover Convertibles, 1984 and New Hoover Celebrity QS, 1980 - 1986 in the background

New Hoover Convertibles, 1984 and New Hoover Celebrity QS, 1980 - 1986 in the background

The Bowl with Eggs (Pink) is a parallel of one of Hirst's giant ashtrays. Looking at the work Koons made in his earlier career could be Richard Prince. Younger, fresher work alludes to very modern mores - seemingly inflatable throwaway pool toys and crass kitsch children's balloons are, like the giant monkey, extraordinarily well made and stylistically, in complete contrast to their materials and workmanship. 

 Bowl with Eggs (Pink), 1994 - 2009

Bowl with Eggs (Pink), 1994 - 2009

Play-Doh is a mountainous sculpture based on a simple thoughtless heap created by the artist's son - only scaled up to an impossible height. Instead of the putty mimicking nothing but coloured dog shit, it towers above the visiters of the gallery and is faultless in its execution. The work is made of aluminium and is in fact made from twenty-seven separate pieces, each colourful torn blob an entirely individual metal cast - impossible to challenge, the great frustration of the show is being unable to touch so much of this work which directly challenges the way it looks. 

 Play-Doh, 1994 - 2004

Play-Doh, 1994 - 2004

Far too much criticism is levelled at Koons for his immediacy and lack of depth. It is an argument that holds little weight here when over the course of half a dozen galleries and more than thirty pieces Hirst has selected and shown, it is a fantastically broad range of work spanning more than three decades. Some is pornographic, some is appropriation, others even straight off the shelf but there is also, regardless of his titillation and fascination of low art, a pursuit of perfection - and at times, once or twice he achieves it. 

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/dora_maurer_masons_yard_2016/ until October 16th

Dan Flavin at Ikon Gallery

It is what it is and it ain't nothing else

The works of Dan Flavin most recently received large audiences at the Hayward's The Light Show on the Southbank a few years ago. The Modernist concrete building was the obvious setting for Flavin's strip lights and they illuminated the spaces there wonderfully. Birmingham's Ikon Gallery is a different setting altogether; a converted Victorian school building, the vaulted ceilings and non-industrial design allow the glow of these pieces to light up all manner of different surfaces. 

The title is a quote from the artist, purposefully and consistently distancing himself from the 'art speak' and complexity of numerous art theories, structures and beliefs. Though he may not have liked it, he does fit into a number of movements and the minimalism of his constructions cannot be undervalued any more than the merging colours of their illuminations can be considered anything short of beautiful. 

This is not a wide ranging retrospective and the curation of pieces have largely been selected from a few ongoing groups. Untitled (In Honour of Harold Joachim) 3, 1977 is present and correct - arguably his most recognised work, it stands at a 45º angle in the corner, three blue and green lights bouncing and merging their colours on the walls, while three each of pink and yellow strip lights face forward, contrasting the colours behind them. It's simplicity and success never fail to leave me in awe.

The Monuments series is more simple still and it's effects are more measured and less emotional; in fact it is the titling of these pieces to his friends and peers that add pathos to what cynics could argue as just fluorescents on a wall. Four of them reside in the final space. 

Prior to that, a larger installation nominated to Barnett Newman pits four corner elements facing one another in the extremities of Gallery 5. The subtle variations of light here are more like the tonal shifts of James Turrell's work, effecting the walls both immediately by the lighting strips and the contrasting warmth and cold in neighbouring galleries by extension. 

Untitled (to Don Judd, colourist), 1-5 (1987) take up the third room omitting an over all pink glow to the opposing wall and structurally they are most familiar and appropriate to the artist they reference. Perhaps the oddest work here is bequeathed to one of Pop's shining lights and his wife; Untitled (to Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein on not seeing anyone in the room) from 1968. It is a piece not as regularly displayed and adding a further dimension to Flavin's output by introducing the theme of a barrier. Bars of strip lights block a wall and facing inward, illuminate a space no one is able to get into, that is in fact sealed by the very elements revealing it. A conundrum less obvious than many of his outwardly facing lights; the idea of a cage or prison and reflection more prominent than refraction or enlightenment. 

But maybe that is all too much conjecture and projection, after all, It is what it is and it ain't nothing else.

https://ikon-gallery.org/event/it-is-what-it-is-and-it-aint-nothing-else/ until June 26th

George Baselitz at White Cube Bermondsey

Wir Fahren Aus (We're off)

Jay Jopling has done well to secure two of Germany's post war titans to his roster. Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, seven years his junior at 71, represent painters and artists still capable of creating vital seismic work. There are gargantuan canvases here exploring in numbing repetition the harsh realities of ageing and the acceptance of mortality's inevitability. Both artists are seen as weighty, serious and moody but like laughter in the dark there is a subtle playfulness on display in these huge works that challenges that stance. 

Baselitz has been painting his figures upside down since the later 1960s; here the forms are of his ageing self and wife. There is a tenderness shown, clearly evident in the proximity of the bodies but there is also something decrepit that I imagine is taken differently by the varying generations viewing these pieces. To a younger viewer these forms, gestures and poses may appear more grotesque and less idealised but to an older eye there is an accumulative knowledge in the rehashing of the image. 

Night after night, if we are lucky, we settle down on the same bed with the same partner and though there may not be great excitement in this act after many years or decades there is great comfort. It is how the world is for Baselitz and as such how he depicts it. 

 Zero Dom, 2015

Zero Dom, 2015

One sculpture's high heeled legs reach up to the ceiling, characteristic of a motif employed many times before. Another vast 3D bronze work cast from roughly hewn wood lies horizontal - depicting the intertwined bodies we see all around the walls in each of the many galleries; physical love, despite the seniority of its constituents. This may be a theme or reality that the immature would not wish to dwell on but it serves the more open and hopeful as a reminder that a partnership can work for long after the skin has wrinkled or flesh starts to sag.

http://whitecube.com/exhibitions/georg_baselitz_bermondsey_2016/ until 3rd July