22 May, 2009

The best art shows to see this week

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Harland Miller brings Bad Weather to Newcastle, there’s a Funhouse at London’s Hayward, and the Serpentine gallery lights up with Luke Fowler

‘Bridlington: ninety-three million miles from the sun’ – could anything sound drearier? This is one of the fictitious book titles from Harland Miller’s Bad Weather Paintings, which can be seen in his show Don’t Let the Bastards Cheer You Up at Baltic, Newcastle. The paintings take their design cues from Penguin’s classic book covers, which famously feature plain bold lettering in a white centre panel, sandwiched by bright colour blocks. But these are muddier and drippier, and the colours are jellyfish, rust and seaweed. They give the impression of billboards left in the rain and battered by gales, but this creates a kind of humdrum beauty – of wind-whipped northern towns, more suited to a book and a cup of tea than a dip in the ocean.

Artist Matthew Darbyshire is also interested in the rebranding of Britain, and if you want to see how grating the ‘visitor-friendly’ design can be, you can enter his new Funhouse at the Hayward Gallery Project Space in London. A nymph bathes in a coloured ball pool, while a sculpture of a giant ear emerges from the wall. The aesthetic is both ubiquitous and instantly recognisable: lime green, hot fuschia and cyan blue, silhouetted figures reminiscent of iPod ads, zingy chairs based on modernist design classics. As these cliches seep deeper into public architecture and government buildings, Darbyshire’s Funhouse asks whether this ‘cool’, approachable design limits opportunities for real joy – or indeed political engagement.

Also seeking to awaken your political sensibilities is an exhibition, currently at Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art in Sunderland, called Rank: Picturing the Social Order 1516–2009. This critical and thoughtful survey features depictions of social class from six centuries, including William Hogarth’s satirical print envisaging England as a small parish church run by corrupt and foolish leaders; and Victor Burgin’s Possession (1976), an image that looks like a magazine advert for perfume, with a woman whispering rapturously into her lover’s ear. The accompanying text packs a punch: “What does possession mean to you? 7% of our population own 84% of our wealth”. Nina Beier and Marie Lund, Mark Titchner, Dexter Dalwood and Ruth Ewan are among the contemporary contributors.

Also this week, don’t forget to visit film-maker Luke Fowler’s beautifully delicate exhibition at the Serpentine gallery. Fowler focuses on counter-cultural figures such as psychologist RD Laing and ‘scratch’ musician Cornelius Cardew, drawing structurally and aesthetically on his subjects to create a poetic form of documentary. Central to each film is a core idea – madness, music, desire – that evades traditional documentary. His approach is encapsulated in Composition for Flutter Screen (2008), a graceful collaboration with Toshiya Tsunoda. Small clips of wobbling, flickering, gleaming imagery are projected onto a large screen that ripples in the breeze of electric fans. Every so often bright light fills the room, revealing the mechanics of the illusion.

Lastly, if you’re looking for cheap thrills this bank holiday weekend, think Arte Povera at Tate Modern’s Long Weekend. To celebrate the recent rehang of the Tate’s collection – a display entitled Energy and Process, emphasising artworks that employ simple materials and movement – the gallery is putting on an entire weekend of free performances, events and art to take part in. Highlights are sure to be a recreation of Robert Morris’ 1971 installation Bodyspacemotionthings, which features contraptions for visitors to climb on, roll about in, see-saw and slide down; while Michelangelo Pistoletto will be creating a giant boulder of newspaper and rolling it around the nearby streets – and finally over the Millennium Bridge.

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