Camden Arts Centre * Studio Voltaire * Maureen Paley * Dilston Grove * David Roberts Foundation
As this year's Frieze Art Fair opened, the obvious trend afoot was the accelerated blue-chipping of London's art world. This was discernible not only in Frieze's 'ancient to modern' spin-off, Frieze Masters, but in the simultaneous opening in Mayfair of outposts for David Zwirner and Michael Werner, big foreign galleries launching safely with heavyweight painters Luc Tuymans and Peter Doig. One perhaps visits Zwirner more to see the sumptuously remodelled architecture than to be surprised by the art; meanwhile--and, to hear the curators tell it, partly in deliberate reaction--intransigently unglamorous activity studs the city's fringes.
Most of Camden Arts Centre's spaces are given over to Eric Bainbridge's lusciously askew sculpting. Why Bainbridge, in his first London show for over a decade, wants to pick a fight with 1950s and 60s sculpture is not entirely clear, but in any case the steel constructions of David Smith and Anthony Caro are here metaphorically kicked through mud and reset at comic tilts. The opening cubic structure is draped with polyester and wool blankets, while a brown length of old-fashioned audio tape runs to it from a reel on the floor, the label suggesting Messaien: the title is 'that TURANGALIA SYMPHONY really rocks man!', 2012. (One thinks, unexpectedly, of Rodney Graham's wry take-offs on bohemianism.) Elsewhere girders, L-beams and steel plates, scratched or painted in warm and dirty shades, are fused in offbeat equipoise and draped with dirty tea towels. A quiet, amused showmanship is evident; while the works' besmirched formalism suggests, as this approach is wont to do, an exiling from Modernism's ambits, it also calls out Smith, Caro et al for unrealistic distance from the messy real world--a gap Bainbridge closes while maintaining an abstractionist grace.
Down in Clapham at Studio Voltaire, meanwhile, one might reasonably expect painting from Nicole Eisenman: after all, the American artist was presented as an elder stateswoman of the medium in this year's Whitney Biennial. But in one corner a little sign on a dowel insists 'NO 2D' and Eisenman's work here accordingly tumbles outwards as a roomful of unruly, made-in-situ plaster giants. A figure in Y-fronts stoops over a desk, regarding a pile of solidified dust; a female nude bends to flaunt her backside; a central figure slumps on a mattress; a top-hatted man pushes his foot into his face. For Eisenman, quoted in the press release, the centrality of touch in this mode of sculpting suits the work's iconography of scruffy sensuality, its refusal to make the body decorous. As with Bainbridge, this is sculpture getting somewhere by pushing off against an earlier manner--in this case the classical one--and the pointed aesthetic degrading again feels more honest and rounded than what it burlesques, if still strangely magnetised to old battlegrounds.
North, South, then East: at Maureen Paley, Liam Gillick seems in some ways to be transforming himself into other artists, with his Margin Time Cinematheque Structure, 2012--the 'infinitely expandable seating system' of criss-crossing wooden beams he designed for viewers of his video Margin Time (Chapter 1), 2012--resembling a domesticated Oscar Tuazon. The 'infinitely expandable' bit is funny and perhaps deliberately so, since Gillick's video hardly courts a vast audience. Set in New York, it is a series of slow shots of Roosevelt Island, its aerial tramline and an Amtrak train ride, overlaid with quotes from Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, which posit the tramway as metaphoric for a journey between states of selfhood. …