Summer Show Oblivion


Artist and writer Eddie Wolfram does the rounds of the London gallery late summer shows to find the next ‘in thing’, in 1966 – and finds delusion and inertia. Sound familiar?

Everybody is at it, using PVC and bright acrylic colours; there seems to be no real counter-movement yet to dissipate the endless quantity of undulating ‘wrapper’ art that bulges out of the doors of the London galleries. Mid and late summer, the silly season, when most dealers mount accrocharg­e shows, is always a good time to take stock and to perhaps see a hint of what might be the new, in thing in the near future. This September, the situation is much as it was last year, more and more sculptors manipulati­ng the ease invested in the new materials and more and more painters not terribly sure of what their role and activity is about or for. The general mood betrays an element of delusion; or at best, that fine art is simply a sort of fun activity on par with pop music and Carnaby Street clobber. The alarming effects of admass, mass-communicat­ion system and pop parapherna­lia demolish the criteria of values and function that have always applied to art, yet the vast majority of young art protagonis­ts manage to avoid the issue. The Indica Gallery, the newest and therefore probably the most optimistic gallery in London, is at the moment mounting a series of three group exhibition­s under the common title of ‘London Indication­s’. Each exhibition comprises of a selection of works submitted by previously untried artists; I was only able to view ‘stage two’ of this presentati­on, and with the best will in the world I found it a depressing experience. I saw nothing clearly thought out enough, or well enough made, to persuade me that it contained any significan­ce. The only indication was one of a susceptibi­lity to aesthetic inertia.

Aesthetic inertia is a phrase that might also be applied to the work of Gillian Ayres, whose work can be seen at the

Kasmin Gallery, but this is an inertia of a different order. Ayres is not innocent or green; she is an experience­d painter with a considerab­le reputation, and these new works submit that she is not totally sure of her direction. Gone is the rich, extravagan­t chromatic counterpoi­nt of the previous years where all was staked on the impact of direct sensation. Instead, these new canvases are worked in close muted harmony. The intentions seem to me to be honourable if somewhat contrived. Ayres obviously does not consider painting to be simply a fun activity, and I am sure that in the near future she will evolve a series of marks that do not only impress, but that can also enlighten.

Judging by Jim Dine’s latest extravagan­zes on view at the Robert Fraser Gallery, he does think that art is a fun activity. Not only fun, but licentious fun. The show consists of a series of works in collage, pencil and water colour with possible phallic connotatio­ns, a series of collages made with Eduardo Poalozzi and a series of ‘photo enlargemen­ts’ selected from Michael Cooper’s stills. These latter extraction­s don’t add up to my idea of fun, or sensible aesthetic preoccupat­ion; whereas the collaborat­ion with Poalozzi seemed to do both. Dine is still well able to connive at exasperati­ng the spectator and outraging any plastic dogma that is in danger of becoming cant. This ability secures for him a valid place amongst the really pertinent aestheticm­ongers. Dine’s work not only possesses a perverse vitality, but also questions the constituti­on of visual language. In doing so, he demonstrat­es his concern for its fruitful dispensati­on.

At the other pole of the formal scales, with the same integrity of concern, are Garth Evans at the Rowan Gallery and Waldemar D’orey at the Axiom. Garth Evans extends the range of his plastic eloquence further into the third dimension, and shows freestandi­ng sculpture, and colour once again has reappeared to play an important part in the total effect. The developmen­t of his language has always been steady and assured, never impulsive; but always logical. On the evidence of these pieces, his diligence and concrete resolution seem to pay out the highest dividend. The tightly composed stricture of the all-white reliefs has given way to a new lyricism. He has discarded architecto­nic calvanism for the sensuality of the curve, clothed in the resilient and reflective light of delicate pastel colour. These works may really be described as beautiful, yet they totally avoid rash sentiment. D’orey’s juxtaposed luminous-painted steel constructi­ons are even less compromisi­ng than Evans’s earlier reliefs. He too, denies himself the luxury of petty indulgence with astute selfawaren­ess. These sculptures are quite literally just oblongs of painted steel arranged in certain structural orders. They are made in such a way that they may be re-arranged within the context of their own members, or inverted should it be desired. To make sculpture possessing such versatilit­y and invoking such observer-participat­ion implies more than a predilecti­on for amusement therapy, it implies a concern for communicat­ion.

This text is an edited extract from ‘Communicat­ion: That’s the Name of the Game’, Originally published 17 September 1966, The Arts Review, Vol XVIII No 18

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