The Wreck of Hope
The Nunnery, London
Interest in the painting of German Romantic Caspar David Friedrich (1774- 1840) is the stated origin for works in this large group show. Friedrich's landscapes are famously imbued with religious aura, but without religious subjects. The artist's name is therefore current art code for meditative contemplation of the infinite, without the baggage of unfashionable religious institutionalism or new- age mysticism.
This show contributes to the evolving outlook among artists to explore religious impulse and related aspects, such as hope and redemption. Whether strategically or not, though, the show's failure to talk directly about God compromises its intent, God becoming conspicuous by absence. And, of the 36 artists included, about half, even if intrinsically good, fail to address the theme meaningfully in any sense, in spite of presumably gymnastic rationalisations to qualify their inclusion.
But although a bit tip-toeing and over-inclusive, the show is still a significant contribution to its subject, with much of interest. David Thorpe offers a deeply pretty landscape made of coloured tissue paper, sharing Friedrich's use of aerial perspective to convey wonder at the celestial miracle of light. Mark Dean joins song lyrics from the Sound of Music with a passage by Lucretius, in an eyebrow-raising text. Mariele Neudecker's romanticised landscapes, "painted" to enjoyably inappropriate scale on planetary orbs, hurtle towards each other on two monitors. Whether by chance or divine design is unspecified. Other dignitaries include Keith Coventry, Tacita Dean and Glenn Brown, as well as many new names, qualifying as a useful overview of developing current practice, particularly painting.
Recent shows elsewhere have been in ambiguous relationship with religion, exploiting its vocabulary of terms for camp effect. This one distinguishes itself by its relative sincerity and lack of irony. An accompanying essay by co-curator Simon Morley on their website addresses desire for redemptive transcendentalism as expressed in art, relative to our currently fragmented cultural negativity. The intelligent presentation of religious impulse is the last and greatest taboo in contemporary culture, a prohibition awaiting its violation by cool optimism in art. Perhaps, on the basis of beginnings like this show and work by artists elsewhere, similarly exploring the previously unthinkable, something new is imminent.
`The Wreck of Hope': Nunnery, E3 (020 8983 9737, www.wreckofhope.com) to 16 April. Panel discussion with art theorists and artists, 3 April, 7.30pm
Czech Centre, London
Just over 10 years ago artists in Czechoslovakia used to show their work clandestinely, in obscure barns and halls. Establishment disfavour for contemporary art has now been replaced by a positive regard,and the Czech Centre is honouring the kind of work that caused such despair to the grim communist orthodoxies.
"Konfrontace", curated by Andree Cooke, is a celebration of this artistic freedom. The show is also a history of the British Council Window Gallery in Prague where, since 1993, British and Czech artists have been given the opportunity to show to each …