Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Golden Egg

John Armleder is a highly influential and respected artist, however even the largest artistic reputation can be damaged by the context in which their work is shown and it is within galleries in the chic and moneyed areas of the West End that can often unknowingly subvert any intentions of an artist. In the Simon Lee Gallery Armleder’s current exhibition is subverted by the surroundings of conspicuous wealth and temples of glittering consumption available on your journey to the gallery. On entering the gallery you are met with the smell of paint, always the smell of opportunism in many a gallery. Around the walls huge floor to ceiling two colour paintings dominate with simply rendered motifs or designs. The first wall depicts crossed skulls and another acorns, it is when you see the designs of lobsters on a further wall and cocktail glasses on another that doubts may surface, cocktails and lobster being quite culturally loaded foodstuffs. Facing them are gold painted egg forms and a wall of Hirstesque colourful spottiness. On all the surfaces of these wall paintings are a further selection of smaller canvases on which are painted gloopy, drippy, aggregations of glittery and muddy paint. Rough, ugly surfaces are given a sheen of glittery niceness, any depth in the collected installation of painted, designed surfaces are only lightly implied, Armleder’s huge expansive efforts are lost in an appearance of surface and potential insincerity. We might question that anything much lies beneath the surface of these smart bright art trinkets on show.

However, just as I am beginning to believe my assumptions about Armleder’s current collection in front of me and start to lapse into a sense of despair at this view of easy hit, camply commercial, art fair fodder I am aware of one painting, it’s surface cracked and disintegrating it is beginning to reveal its painted underbelly, beneath smudges of golden yellow paint is an unmistakable sense of revolutionary red.

In Armleder’s installation you might see an ambiguous world in which the forces of commercialism squash any harmful and unsaleable integrity, perhaps we are viewing the death of revolutionary ideals or a rebirth of a modernised upswelling of ‘nu’ revolution. Maybe it is the fight between practice and market, an affirmation of the right to be high and low at the same time. Perhaps it is a depiction of the imagery of the modern world, pragmatic, aloof and powerfully sure of its own right to exist free from any associations except those that it chooses to make, a responsibility free, pragmatic and ambiguous, surface sheen respectable, image led life of entitlement. Just like Berkeley Street and it’s surroundings in which this exhibition sits in fact.

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