Magazine article Art Monthly

Still Life

Magazine article Art Monthly

Still Life

Article excerpt

Lismore Castle Arts Co Waterford 9 April to 30 September

Lismore Castle Arts presents an uncommon and, perhaps, beckoning challenge to guest curators. On the one hand, the gallery--opened by the Devonshire family in 2005 in a renovated wing of their eye-smashingly beautiful castle home an hour or so from Cork--attracts an art-savvy audience for its annual exhibitions by artists ranging from Richard Long to Ai Weiwei to Gerard Byrne. On the other, whatever is on show ought to avoid alienating the castle's primary clientele: tourists who don't typically wander the precincts of contemporary art. Polly Staple, who helms Chisenhale Gallery in London, has responded with a conceit that is, on the face of it, obvious: a show about still life, the genteel artistic genre you'd be most likely to find in a castle outside of formal portraiture. (To the next curatorial incumbent here: that one's on me, and good luck.) But how to also make still life smart?

Staple's response veers off in several directions. Her six (very much art world-approved) artists--Gillian Carnegie, Anne Collier, Mark Leckey, Sherrie Levine, Seth Price, Richard Wright--are unified, according to the accompanying literature, by their explorations of 'the status of images as objects'. This proves to be a fairly broad liminal realm, one that within 'Still Life' is further focused by attention to appropriation, popular culture and art history. The show ends up not espousing a particular thesis so much as waving a flashlight around a conceptual territory that feels surprising in its scale, in its relevance and, to an extent, in the number of bedfellows it contains.


Leckey's looped video Made in Eaven, 2004, which opens the show, lays out the latter's ramifying take on the genre straightaway. Widely seen (though perhaps not by the tweed-clad burghers of Lismore who attended the show's opening), it is a piece of pointedly baroque mediation. We're toured, by a restlessly panning and zooming camera, around a white-painted Georgian room--part of Leckey's own home--in whose centre is Jeff Koons's iconic 1986 sculpture Bunny. The camera moves stealthily towards its mirrored surface, leaving no reflection; the room's contours, meanwhile, echo on the bunny's curving facades. Made in Eaven, its name filtering a Koons title through Leckey's northern subjectivity, is a kind of cryptogram of desire, simulation and possession whose shearing away of authorship and inhuman perpetual movement feels both thrilled and anxious. And it's a still life, of sorts, a very 21st-century one begun as virtual reality, turned into 16mm film and then transferred to video, passing through stages of materiality on its way back to a spectral near-irreality, a semiotic mise en abyme.

Leckey's work also has a hypnotic slowing effect that makes it ideal as an opener here. By the time a viewer reaches Gillian Carnegie's paintings, the heartbeat has slowed appreciably. (To the point that one might not get antsy about a third of this exhibition being thus devoted to artists represented by Cabinet Gallery; that might come later, though.) Here Carnegie's paintings of cut flowers look even less tethered to referents than usual, though it helps that one in particular, Popol Vuh, 2003, is vigorously impastoed. Here, as an image becomes an object--in an outward push of agglutinated paint--it also unhitches from what it represents: it feels more real as a thing in the world, less so as a representation. …

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