The games we make up as children aren’t that different from those we play as adults. I was an avid story-teller as a child and would make up all sorts of fantasy worlds for my toys, imagining epic adventures and the type of glamorous life I thought I might one day lead. Only children are programmed to make their own fun. When we’re older, we play different games, and they stay predominantly in our heads. My favourite is “If I could eat anything on this menu, what would I have?” in which I relive my pre-dairy allergy days and argue the merits of tiramisu over crème brulée. The second is called “If I had £5,000 and a big white wall, which piece of art would I buy?”. The Woolff Gallery in Fitzrovia is my favourite location for this one by far.
I first came across this small gallery last autumn when it showcased a series of works by Clay Sinclair, a New Zealand artist who seeks to highlight the attitudes and ego inherent within our society. His pieces perfectly capture the modern inclination to turn society’s issues – religion, politics, fine art, the cult of celebrity – to its own advantage. If I started a religion, for instance, is a large acrylic on Perspex work based on Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Painted in blocks of colour, Sinclair has filled all the remaining space with text reflecting the idea of his starting a new religion, such as “it would soon be used to justify wars” and “I would borrow the best bits from the other ones”. His humour and observations are so accurate that you leave his work both enriched by the quality of his pieces but also ashamed to be part of such a fickle culture.
Although the works on display are always guaranteed to distract you from a grey day with wit and talent, what really sets Woolff apart is its unfailing ability to make you feel just as valued for having a wander around in your lunch break, as they would if you were a prospective buyer. Very few galleries in London put the experience of art over the hard-sell, in much the same way that you are visibly shunned if you go anywhere near a New Bond Street store in Sunday afternoon clothes and trainers. Sadly these galleries, and indeed these shops, lose a bit of heart through this practice.
Woolff has just dismantled its excellent USA 2010 exhibition – which juxtaposed Sinclair’s work with Russel West’s amazing multi-coloured drip constructions, and Susila Bailey-Bond’s three dimensional wire and paper butterfly pieces, amongst others. This week Marcus Egli’s solo show opens, displaying tiny aluminium figure sculptures that explore how individuals and groups interact. If Clay Sinclair has taken over my imaginary big white wall, perhaps an Egli sculpture will look amazing on my imaginary display plinth. You have to aim high in this game.
-- Alex Field
All images courtesy the artist and the Woolff Gallery
Images: Clay Sinclair, ‘Beautiful People’ , 100cm x 125cm (framed), Acrylic on perspex; Clay Sinclair ‘Be still’, 100cm x 100cm , Acrylic on perspex