We love compiling retrospective round ups as much as the next. Our aim at Artslant in London is to cover as much as we can with an open mind: from the institutional blockbusters to one-night-only backstreeters, and with an appropriate breadth of voices. Hence we’ve come up with an alternative list to trade in (and, alright, rebuff just a little) the predictable choices on this year’s ‘best ofs’.
Freud proved his place as one of the UK’s most treasured artists when he pulled crowds with his saucy, salacious brushstrokes displayed in a breathtaking exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in the first half of 2012. On show were 130 works, including the much-publicised final, unfinished portrait of his long-term assistant David Dawson in the buff. But a quieter affair was happening simultaneously across town at the Freud Museum (the former residence of Lucian’s grandfather) by an equally important artist of the same era, also recently departed. Louise Bourgeois’ ‘The Return of the Repressed’ was a far more modest presentation exploring the artist's fascinatingly complex relationship with pyschoanalysis, through a rare presentation of sculptures, drawings and writings.
No conversation about Hirst can end up in a good place. He is just annoying. Marmite-ish. We all saw the most-talked about exhibition of 2012 and yes, the shark is good. Really good. Another British artist who is good with big scale stuff is Houseago: vigourous, gutsy and macho but in a purely likeable way.
David Shrigley, Untitled, 2012; Image © the artist and courtesy of the artist
Funny art? Shrigley has become the everyman's artist in recent years, but the press hype, together with all of the ubiquitous merchandise that has been made out of his work – books, greetings cards, t-shirts – somehow leaves a stale taste. To refresh, Ryan Gander’s solo exhibition at the Lisson Gallery was the answer. Gander is funny in a subtle way, playful but not saccharine, rude but not bawdy.
Hockney’s exhibition was a more conventional ode to the British landscape, all glazed with a Californian patina. More experimental, and, dare we say, engaging, is the Barbican’s ‘largest and most ambitious installation yet’. Random International: Rain Room has been a massive success to date, and gives us all the chance to laugh at the irony of the Brits queuing for an average of two hours – to go and stand in the rain. The interactive installation invites visitors to control the wet weather, and see it as something magical, exciting and surreal. The best thing the Barbican has produced this year, and it continues into March of 2013.
We couldn’t even get a seat at the announcement of the Turner Prize 2012, and when we attended the press preview, I blushed with the deepest embarrassment, as my arm was almost literally twisted into taking part in a weird performance piece. This is exactly the kind of art I hate, self-referential, self-congratulatory and elitist. Ugh. Far more welcoming, with the energy and verve of youth, is the annual Dazed Emerging Artist Award. It speaks with authority of the very newest London-based artists, without taking itself too seriously, and it’s hip but not in a smug way. And no random rants from Jude Law; just a good party.
Frieze seems to invoke apprehension, fear and confusion. No one really knows if they belong there, or what they’re supposed to be doing there, but we have fun observing and writing about it. Frieze has spawned a nutty amount of new fairs feting various art forms and genres. In September, Peckham Artist Moving Image (PAMI) was a delicious alternative five days in South East London celebrating artists’ moving images. With a strong emphasis on independent practices, PAMI brings together a honey-pot of Peckham-dwelling curators, artists and organisations, and takes place across an assortment of venues. Now in its second year, it will hopefully grow and grow in years to come. Keenly anticipating next year’s line up.
OMG, we almost forgot to bring the Olympics into this. Tucked amidst the array of blockbuster exhibitions celebrating our nation, ‘London Bits’ was an alternative homage to the beauty of Britain, painted in detail that makes the eyeball water, with a soupçon of the noir.
From May to July, a plethora of graduate shows keeps art bods busy. Instead of trying to keep track of what’s on where, we’d rather head straight to the Old Truman Brewery, E1, where every Thursday to Sunday for eight weeks, you’ll find a well-structured gathering of the best graduate art, not only from London but from universities and colleges elsewhere in Europe and the UK, grouped comprehensibly by discipline.
Top calibre graffiti artists are frequently choosing London as the city to make their transitional debut into the gallery sphere. Lucky for us, now we can start to get selective. The mighty Lazarides’ The Outsiders – one of the dedicated mainstage players in the field, working with the most hyped names (JR, Invader, Banksy, Faile, Blu and every other obvious one) is a permanent mecca of art of this kind. But an increasing number of fresh independent pop-ups showcasing names are appearing all over the city. Peers bow to UK-based Roid, whose impact has been huge, and who is regarded as a worldclass writer. He put on his debut solo exhibition, More Than Ever, in May: it was a sell-out.
Susan Collis, Bespoke, 2012, lambs-wool and Alpaca hand woven herringbone Tweed, custom Formica laminate, pine, hand screen printed wool twill, screen printed envelopes, hand rolled, glazed earthenware tiles, vinyl banners, hand printed C-print, 337 x 225 x 140 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Seventeen Gallery.
I’d trade Ono’s fuzzy conceptualism for Hackney-based Collis’ fantastical creations in a heartbeat. Collis has a steadily growing list of accomplishments, and this small but confident show, presenting three new works, seemed to be a natural evolution of Collis’ practice. She is a marvellous innovator of all kinds of materials – from tweed and Mother of Pearl to Formica and ceramic. ‘That Way and This’ at Seventeen was surprising and exquisite – Collis, mistress of jolie-laideur, rendered the physical flaws of materials the centrepiece of the show.
(Image on top: Frank Laws, London Bits, 2012; Image © the artist and courtesy of the artist)