The difficult question of what should be the inaugural exhibition of the newly extended South London Gallery is cleverly resolved in Nothing is Forever. It is all about the building. The garden. The café. The flat for artists residencies. All have been treated to artistic intervention of the oldest kind, bringing together wall paintings, drawings and text pieces by 20 British and international artists. The original gallery floor was designed by Walter Crane in the 19 century and bears the inscription “The source of art is in the life of a people”. Although this is no longer on public view, its sentiment is reflected in the current exhibition.
Wall painting can be spontaneous or laborious and in modern culture has been extremely effective at conveying a social or political message – the graffiti in New York ghettos or murals in Northern Ireland. Nothing is Forever combines the socio-political with the imaginatively decorative, from Mark Titchner’s pertinent Let the future tell the truth. Another World is possible in the main gallery to Paul Morrison’s botanical motifs set against a shimmering gold leaf background in the atrium. In the Clore Studio Dan Perjovschi’s graphic spicing of the day’s newspaper content mix humour with unease next to Lily van der Stokker’s frivolous cartoon.
Upstairs, the Outset Artist’s flat is an opportunity to see a space which will be closed to the public and used for a series of artists’ residencies at the gallery. In this domestic setting, most of the works make more of an aesthetic statement than a political one, however Sam Dargan continues the latter theme with his comic strip a ‘brief and idealistic account of the Paris Commune 1871’ on the bathroom wall. Nothing is Forever is an opportunity to explore the gallery’s £2million development. The artworks form a backdrop to this, raising questions around cultural consumption and engagement. All of the work will be painted over after this exhibition, simultaneously embedding it in the building and erasing it forever.
-- Joyce Cronin
All images courtesy the South London Gallery
images: Black Hawk Down, 2004 (2010), Fiona Banner. Photo by Andy Stagg; Nothing is Forever, Installation View, South London Gallery 2010