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20 Dec, 2009

Exhibitionist: The best art shows to see this week

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

London stages Bob Law and Frank Auerbach retrospectives, videogame art invades Liverpoool, and Martin Boyce puts the terror in interior design in Dundee

Frank Auerbach, Courtauld Gallery, London

London looked to the future during the postwar years, as the bombed-out city rebuilt itself with towers of steel and glass. And it was precisely that heady moment of change which Frank Auerbach attempted to capture in his paintings, London Building Sites, on show in the city’s Courtauld Gallery. His vision is rooted in the mudbanks of construction sites that were disinterring the bones of London’s past. With a palette of blood-tinged ochre and sludge green, he built up layers of paint as churned and gritty-looking as the earth beneath the labourers’ feet. This was the decade in which the young Auerbach and his peers Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon emerged as figureheads of new British painting. These gutsy artworks demonstrate why.

Space Invaders, Fact, Liverpool

This timely exhibition at Fact in Liverpool explores the new frontier of the digital world. Hailing from a generation that came of age with globalised cyberculture, the eight artists and videogame programmers presenting their work here are a largely fresh-faced bunch. American Mark Essen, for instance, who is barely out of his teens, makes fierce, rudimentary games that strip back the medium to its primal essence. Acclaimed young Chinese artist Cao Fei explores a gentler culture of avatars in her video COSPlayers. Set in Guangzhou, teenagers dressed as their favourite anime characters reveal how old China is passing into new, virtual realms. But computer games aren’t just for kids. Having transformed lo-fi video art into a big-budget affair in the 1980s, even Bill Viola is getting in on the act. His “slow” videogame promises to take players on a transcendental journey.

Martin Boyce, Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee

In the hands of Scottish artist Martin Boyce, interior design becomes a fearful thing. His installations feature modernist fixtures and fittings, but conjure up an atmosphere of Romantic gloom and middle-class neurosis. In his earlier works, an Eames chair wedged against a door keeps who knows what terror at bay, ventilation grills carry forbidding labels such as “undead”, and wire-mesh fences transform gallery spaces into prisons. Conceived as an abandoned garden, his latest exhibition No Reflections has arrived at Dundee Contemporary Arts fresh from its debut in the Scottish pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale. It features abstract slabs of cold, grey concrete, a metal skeleton of a bed and a rusting bench, surrounded by a flurry of dead leaves. The organic world and this harsh man-made environment make melancholy companions. Definitely not a place to get too comfy.

Laura Oldfield Ford, University of Hertfordshire Galleries, Hatfield

Laura Oldfield Ford’s punky drawings interpret the new towns and leisure developments found at the edges of urban sprawl. Yet what this young artist creates in pencil, ink and ballpoint pen is far from the squeaky-clean structures you see on billboards, advertising a bright future for Britain’s poorest areas. Distributing work through her self-produced magazine Savage Messiah, alongside gallery shows, Ford taps into the mental landscape as much as the physical world. In her work, building projects such as the Olympic site and the gleaming apartment blocks of east London’s Lee Valley are shown as future ruins, cluttered with the waste they’re intended to cover up. Via layers of pencil palimpsest, she reveals the memories that still beset these locations. On show at the University of Hertfordshire, her latest works excavate the buried history of the 1981 race riots, with depictions of places such as Harlow, Stevenage and Hatfield.

Bob Law, Thomas Dane and Karsten Schubert, London

The late Bob Law was a frontrunner of British minimalism in the 1970s, but he is far from well-known today. Providing the chance to consider him afresh, this show of his work spread over two London galleries – Karsten Schubert and Thomas Dane – is quietly persuasive. Like his American counterparts, Law’s canvases strip back painting to monochrome stripes, blocky shapes and colour fields. Confronted with his “black paintings”, for instance, it’s strange to consider that his career began in St Ives in the 1950s, where he developed his skills alongside Trevor Bell and Peter Lanyon, painters whose abstractions were more obviously rooted in the Cornish landscape. In other works, Law’s use of basic geometric forms suggests landscape with brilliant economy: lines, squares and rectangles become horizons, houses and skies. His hand-rendered daubs of paint, meanwhile, are a long way from the industrial finish usually associated with the minimalists.

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