13 Feb, 2010

This week’s exhibtions previews

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Fiona Crisp: Subterrania, Penzance

In Fiona Crisp’s spooky new series of photographs, tunnels lead the eye on and on, into the dark. Littered with decaying rafters and machinery, the rust-coloured dirt and stone walls of an old mine stretch downward into the womb-like earth in one image. Another shows the grim, sterile corridor of a German military underground hospital created on the Channel Islands in the second world war. In Crisp’s compositions, these moody locations – all tourist destinations – become psychologically charged inner worlds.

Newlyn Art Gallery, Sat to 17 Apr

Skye Sherwin

Don McCullin, Manchester

A retrospective of over 50 years of frontline photography by one of the most incisive war photographers of all time. While Don McCullin has distinguished himself in landscape and still life, it is human misery that appears to bring out the great in him. Who can forget the blank-eyed look of the Vietnam soldier, photographed in 1968, staring death straight in the face? Similarly, the agonised pose of a woman mourning the death of her husband in the Greek-Turkish war hits one with the force of a great pietà. It is McCullin’s ability to bring the news back home, to invest the particularity of a faraway individual’s loss with momentous yet intimate significance, that marks his extraordinary achievement.

Imperial War Museum North, to 13 Jun

Robert Clark

Candice Breitz: Factum, London

With her pithy samplings of celebs and their devotees, Candice Breitz has crafted a pop culture commentary with as much spectacular pep as anything Hollywood throws at us. She has remixed the likes of Whitney and Annie Lennox to howl “I”, “you” and “me” in a cacophony of self-love and emulation, and spliced actors out of context so their dialogue becomes a pantomime of gender roles. Yet Breitz’s projects with everyday people show we’re more than equal to mass media’s iron grip on individuality: like her videos featuring Madonna fans, singing in unison, but all adding their own quirks to the repertoire. In her new video series, Factum, the South African artist focuses on identical twins and musings on selfhood, doubling and culture.

White Cube, N1, to 20 Mar

Skye Sherwin

Ian Breakwell: Elusive States Of Happiness, Derby

This is the first major retrospective of the work of Ian Breakwell, who died just five years ago after establishing his reputation as the greatest artist to come out of Derby since Joseph Wright of Derby, and one of the most mischievously spirited artworld provocateurs of the late-20th century. Working in just about every medium, his deadpan take on the world amounts to a life long series of mundane epiphanies. One of the most engaging diarists of his time, he was arguably one of the last great diarists before the blog age. Typical is The Walking Man Diary 1975-78, a series of photographic and textual observations made from the window of his Smithfield home of a lone passerby imbued with pathos.

QUAD, Sat to 18 Apr

Robert Clark

Billy Childish, London

Pitched between misunderstood genius and stubborn bugger, Billy Childish is an awkward perennial of British culture who’s stayed true to his stripped back garage rock and defiantly throwback expressionist painting for three decades. If he’s never reached a broad audience, it seems largely because his anti-establishment stance, nay-saying contemporary culture’s power systems, would never allow it. When he recently created a cover aping an old Penguin edition for a collection of poems, the publisher slapped him with a cease and desist order. Billy’s response was to ceremoniously burn the offending copies at his own book launch. Yet now he’s got a survey show at the ICA, suggesting he might have finally found his moment. Painting, woodcuts, music and candid, autobiographical writings pack sincerity and obsession in equal measures, channelling a wistful yearning for a purportedly more authentic past.

ICA, SW1, Wed to 18 Apr

Skye Sherwin

Ron Mueck, Manchester

Any show of Ron Mueck’s hyper-real sculptural figures is bound to bring up the age-old artworld dilemma: can art this immediately attractive and intriguing really be much good as art? Does its very popularity signal an over-reliance on sculptural special effects? Does its considerable wow factor indicate a sensationalist and shortlived significance? And, indeed, are such questions, by their very nature, elitist? Whatever Mueck’s eventual historical standing, it is undeniable that his work has a great charisma. Walking into this show of three of his fleshy tableaux, one cannot be taken aback by their spooky embodiment of human magnetism. Irresistibly inspecting a semi-naked couple curled up asleep involves at least a twinge of voyeuristic guilt. Staring at naked strangers in public isn’t really on, is it? Mueck reminds us that embarrassment is a perfectly worthy response to art.

Manchester Art Gallery, to 11 Apr

Robert Clark

Jitish Kallat: The Astronomy Of The Subway, London

Jitish Kallat’s work has become as mercurial, big and bright as the city he draws inspiration from: Mumbai. He made a name for himself as a painter in the early noughties, with political subject matter hand-rendered in a pop graphic style, and has since produced video, sculpture and lenticular prints – as seen in last year’s survey of Indian art at the Serpentine and the Saatchi’s current show. In this exhibition exploring the relationship between the individual and the crowd, contrasts abound. A sculpture of a kerosene stove is enormous, while rioting crowds of tiny figures appear in danger of being trodden on.

Haunch Of Venison, W1, Mon to 27 Mar

Skye Sherwin

Party! Walsall

After a mixed history, New Art Gallery Walsall is back on track as a contemporary art venue of international significance. It celebrates its 10th anniversary with a flamboyant array of work ranging from the early-19th-century duende of Francisco de Goya, through the booze and dope sodden excesses of Michael Andrews’s 1960s demimonde. Martin Creed’s get-together of some 2,000 balloons updates the event with its hedonistic conceptualism, while Zhang Peng’s photo of a little manga girl slicing into a bloody birthday cake is plain queasy.

New Art Gallery Walsall, to 17 Apr

Robert Clark

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