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