When you create a piece as iconic, memorable and unique as Marc Quinn did with his head during the end of the Twentieth Century, it can be hard to forge a path at the same stratospheric heights. Self was a life-size mold of the artist's head cast in his own blood, carefully transfused over a number of months and frozen. The sculpture requires a specialist plinth to help maintain the freezing temperatures continuously, not just when the piece is exhibited but during its storage and transportation as well. If it were to loose power the bust would be lost.
Quinn today casts a far healthier look than the bloody portrait now almost twenty years his junior. He has been photographed polishing artworks and interviewed about new themes for his first show at the Bermondsey galley of Jay Jopling and seemed relaxed at the preview on Tuesday (14th). Showing in the larger Southern Galleries, he is essentially displaying a series of wall based work and steel floor standing sculptures. The former circle all three spaces and around a dozen huge sheets hang not quite flush to the wall - a laborious series of processes creating a knocked, bent and dented sequence of aluminium panels bonded with distressed canvas.
The Toxic Sublime series, from which the show takes its title, takes seascapes and sunsets as a starting point. These images have been subjected to metallic spray paints, being taped over, sanded, trodden on and walked over, even pressed onto London streets and drains. The artist sees conflict not just in the creative process but so too in the harnessing of water in an urban context; channeled and controlled, instead of endless and open like in the oceans.
The more fully realised three dimensional pieces are stronger works. One measures over seven metres in length, it's huge. Frozen Wave (Conservation of Mass) lies in the middle gallery and as with the other sculptures has a magpie appeal with its highly reflected gleam coupled with the duller greyer sides. The conch based on a real shell, mapped with 3D printing software is so inviting it made you want to curl up inside it, even to sink in to its mercurial surface. These pieces steal much attention from the wall hangings.
In the Northern Galleries and better yet Inside the White Cube, the 9 x 9 x 9 space, Imi Knoebel is showing for the first time ever in London despite an international career spanning half a century. The German artist like Quinn above, is also using aluminium and presenting work that transcends merely painting or sculpture. The Drachen II set comprises of seven white geometric forms, mathematically clean, Modernist and entirely in keeping to the space they have been made for; surfaceless acrylic shapes the same colour as the walls they are just floating away from. It's a beautiful installation and belies the calmness of clear curation.
His other works are predominantly from the last couple of years and are displayed more singularly. There are pieces that could constitute more of what it is to be a sculpture but the overall effect is never as good as the clarity of vision in 9 x 9 x 9. There is still mastery on display though and it seems inexplicable that London has never hosted Knoebel before. Perhaps this exposure with encourage a better discourse with him in the future.