Abstract Critical

abstract critical Debate at Mummery and Schnelle Gallery

Tuesday 26th July 2011

Audience members of the fifth free abstract critical event were treated to a lively and engaging debate between Robin Greenwood and Andrew Mummery at Mummery and Schnelle Gallery, London. The discussion was hosted at the gallery with an intimate audience, surrounded by extracts from the recent two-part exhibition What if it’s all true? What then?


The conversation was anchored on the exhibition, which had featured Simon Callery, Angela de la Cruz, Louise Hopkins, Peter Joseph, Ingo Meller, Avis Newman, and Rebecca Salter in part one, and Paul Caffell, Stuart Elliot, Alexis Harding, John Henderson, Ian Homerston, Oliver Perkins, and Jon Thompson in part two. Several of the artists were present and made enthusiastic contributions to the discussion.

Andrew Mummery began the evening by reading from the catalogue essay he had written for the show, predominantly speaking about the particular qualities he admired in the work of the artists he had selected. One key point he raised was the notion of what a painting ‘does’- the way in which it relates to a space, and the viewer within that space. On several occasions he referenced the work Barnett Newman, especially the way he wished for his paintings to be viewed up close, so that the material properties of the work heightened the viewer’s experience of personal space.

Andrew explained that he was not trying to ‘position’ contemporary abstract painting through his curating of this exhibition, but simply show a selection of artworks which for him were engaging in different ways, and continued to ask questions about the practise of painting.

Robin Greenwood, the director of Poussin Gallery and a practising artist then spoke of his response to the exhibition and his views more generally on the state of art: particularly abstract painting; today.

He felt that in all work in the show there was a lack of challenge and complexity- “there is something amiss when an artwork settles again for the minimal”, and that in order to be good, new art must adhere to the following two principles-

  • 1. Must find new form
  • 2.Must contain real visual achievement

In Robin’s view, for an artist to achieve this (something which he did not feel had been done in recent memory) required something beyond the ‘simplistic’ work on show in What if it’s all true? What then?

The discussion elaborated from these initial perspectives to encompass a range of issues and questions raised by the audience, including:

  • Whether or not painting could be considered a language or a means of communication
  • If a work could be viewed without the perspective of abstract or figurative
  • The relevance of comparing work between an old master and a contemporary artist
  • Whether contemporary work could ever escape the visual references to Modernism

Were you at the discussion? What are your views on the subjects discussed? Join the debate on the abstract critical forum

The next free abstract critical event will be a special abstract-focussed tour of the Folkestone Triennial led by Pryle Berhman. Meet at Folkestone Central Train Station at 11.10am on Tuesday 16th August 2011 and don’t forget to sign up first by emailing info@abstractcritical.com


  1. John Pollard said…

    I really enjoyed this entertaining debate, particularly the compare and contrasting standpoints of both speakers. I am intrigued by Robin’s ideas which, like the abstract painting he likes, are complex, and at times apparently (but mostly only apparently) contradictory.
    I think that it is ok to think and discuss how we look at paintings, the connection between abstract painting and being human, even using the term ‘language’, but what is most important is the work itself – ‘what it does’ sounds spot on to me. And this is really hard which is one reason artists get caught up with the kind of talk Robin doesn’t like. Another reason is that it seems to be bloody hard to paint good abstract paintings.
    There seems to be an awful lot of mediocre stuff which cannot be covered up by pseudo-philosophical/psychological /political rubbish. I don’t mind this rubbish if the work is good!
    I like Robin’s tough love honesty and dry enthusiasm and also hope for the future for abstract art. There is some really good stuff on this website; keep it going.

  2. Nikko Miladinovich said…

    I just watched an artist interview where a comment was made about Duchamp’s “Prelude to a Broken Arm (the snowshovel) that seemed to cut right to the heart of what Robin’s position is in this debate. The artist was talking about the opposite of building an image and using the physicality of paint and mentioned “The Snowshovel” saying that “it’s not a hell of a lot to look at, but it thinks good”. That’s all. I just heard that phrase, and I instantly cringed on Robin’s behalf.