One of the great things about the London gallery scene is its sheer diversity. Recently moved from their previous location on Vyner Street, Kate MacGarry's current exhibition showcases a solo show by New Zealand-born Francis Upritchard. Their affable gallery manager, who let me shelter from the wind despite the show not officially opening until later that evening, expressed her relief at having moved off the meat market that Vyner Street has become. “We had to stop taking part in First Thursdays, we were just getting swamped.” Their new location on the tranquil Old Nichol Street, a stone’s throw from Frieze’s offices, and a hop, skip and jump from Brick Lane, will surely entice a more dedicated crowd. Upritchard is definitely not an artist for the masses.
Now her third solo exhibition at Kate MacGarry, who have worked with the artist over a period of several years, Upritchard has had some solid success as an artist, having represented New Zealand at the Venice Biennale in 2009, and being awarded her native country’s Walters Prize for Art. She’s exhibited widely in Europe and beyond, with a forthcoming exhibition at one of the current hotspots for artists on the up, Nottingham Contemporary.
Echo returns to themes Upritchard has been concerned with before – human history, religion, anachronisms and diachronic interpretations of our past, the inversion of gestures or poses – producing a ‘curio cabinet’ of wonderfully weird sculptural installations, which seem at first glance to be desultory, and are certainly not attractive. A series of archetypes are brought under Upritchard’s microscope, ‘The Misanthrope,’ the fool, the jester; on ‘Weeks Table’ ‘Breath’ is a ‘kind of’ pyschadelic Jesus, a sculpted figure of a martyr in a classical pose, but this time dressed in bright reveler’s clothing, and surrounded by ‘Echo Cabinet’ – a collection of conventional and surprising miniature items, including a plastic football. These historical figures become mocked, lonely, and comical – paradoxically creating a sense of a common language, through the modern absence of a unified community or faith.
There are definite moments of humour, and a kind of jolie laideur emanates from the small-scale sculptures that are uniquely Upritchard’s own. But this exhibition seems to revisit themes the artist has explored in the past, in a less effective way. The poses and characters she draws on are not as evocative or recognizable as to really resonate with the viewer – to elucidate the Echos that are the crux of this exhibition. Therefore it falls short of creating ‘a semblance of shared experience.’
Compared with earlier works, such as Upritchard’s Sloth or Traveller’s Cabinet this exhibition does not offer as much to the viewer, it feels sparse, more erudite and obtuse – but perhaps pitched exactly right for MacGarry’s new dedicated visitor.
-- Charlotte Jansen, a writer living in London
All images courtesy Kate MacGarry Gallery, London.
Images: Francis Upritchard, Echo, 2011, installation view, Kate MacGarry, London, Courtesy Kate MacGarry.