Abstract Critical

Minimalism Redux

Written by Sam Cornish

Peter Halley: Paintings 2012–2013, installation view, 2013, Waddington Custot Galleries, London. © Peter Halley

Peter Halley: Paintings 2012–2013, installation view, 2013, Waddington Custot Galleries, London. © Peter Halley

At a talk at Waddington’s last week Peter Halley suggested that since the early eighties his work has developed from a ‘strong misreading’ of Minimalism. A few exhibitions up in London at the moment demonstrate that Minimalism still has a pervasive effect on attitudes to painting and sculpture. You would not need to visit too many art-fairs or be particularly observant to notice this, but I thought it was worth pointing out nonetheless.

Strikingly I am pretty sure none of the artists shown below had reached double figures when Halley was making his early ‘prison’ and ‘conduit’ paintings. At least one had not been born. I’m not suggesting that these artists share Halley’s self-consciously subversive semiology (Alex Olson and John Robertson come closest to this); nor even that their art has necessarily been formed by consciously looking back to the original Minimalists (though this is the case for Nathaniel Rackowe, and perhaps for Jodie Carey). Rather simply to note that the central parts of Minimalist aesthetics – simplicity, blankness, repetition, geometric regularity, the subsuming of the author within industrial or ‘commercial’ finish, an assertive or at least ‘over-sized’ physical presence – are all important parts of contemporary attitudes to abstraction. With the exception of Sophia Starling all the quotations below are from the exhibition press-releases. I certainly wouldn’t take them as completely describing how the artists view their work, but they perhaps give some indication of the general framework their ideas are moving in.

Peter Halley: Paintings 2012 – 2013 is on at Waddington Custot Galleries until the 3rd of May.

Alex Olson, Installation view, 'Bravo Zebra', Laura Bartlett Gallery, London, 2013

Alex Olson, Installation view, ‘Bravo Zebra’, Laura Bartlett Gallery, London, 2013

“Olson favors “stock signage,” meaning signs that are untethered to a single specific meaning, which encourage a desire to define them while sidestepping a narrow read. For this particular exhibition, Olson has employed patterns of dots, lines and textures for their extreme familiarity and simple ability to create an expectation of consistent repetition, only to be subtly undone by such means as a glop of paint overflowing its borders or by a collision with an alternative interpretation of the same marks.”

Alex Olson: Bravo Zebra is on at the Laura Bartlett Gallery until the 12th of May.

Installation View, Sophia Starling, Fluor Red, 2013. © Courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts. Photography: thisistomorrow.info

Installation View, Sophia Starling, Fluor Red, 2013. © Courtesy Jerwood Visual Arts. Photography: thisistomorrow.info

“They are less about destroying the painting in the way that Angela De la Cruz’s are. I hope mine look like they are expanding outward – that there are more things that can happen in abstract painting, and they literally expand out as well as questioning what can be done. I hope they are more positive.” Sophia Starling on her paintings. You can read the whole interview here.

Jerwood Painting Fellowships 2013 is on at JVA at Jerwood Space, London until the 28th of April 2013. After that the exhibition tours: 20 July – 24 August 2013 BayArt, Cardiff; 18 January – 1 March 2014 Aberystwyth Art Centre; 11 March – 5 April 2014 The Gallery at NUCA, Norwich.

' installation view, Fold Gallery. Paintings by John Robertson, sculptures by Toby Christian. Image courtesy Fold Gallery, London

‘ installation view, Fold Gallery. Paintings by John Robertson, sculptures by Toby Christian. Image courtesy Fold Gallery, London

” ‘ brings together work by Toby Christian and John Robertson. Using text as a starting point, both artists show a tendency towards linguistic abstraction, reconstituting language into form with physical material. Through the manipulation of the textual sources of the works, words become obliterated, reduced and obscured. The works that result are the residue of this process.”

‘: John Robertson, Toby Christian is on at Fold Gallery until the 4th of May.

Nathaniel Rackowe, installation view, Bischoff/Weiss. Photograph: FXP, courtesy of  Bischoff/Weiss

Nathaniel Rackowe, installation view, Bischoff/Weiss. Photograph: FXP, courtesy of Bischoff/Weiss

“Rackowe’s sculpture looks back to American minimalism, to Dan Flavin and Donald Judd. He engages with their rigorous aesthetic, and dramatic use of light… But we live in confessional times, and there’s a personal dimension to his sculpture that his predecessors didn’t go in for. His is a reflection of the contemporary life of the city, of wandering along empty streets at dawn, past construction sites where wires hang from scaffolding around skeletal buildings.”

Nathaniel Rackowe: Reflections on Space is on at Bischoff/Weiss until the 4th of May.

Jodie Carey installation view. Image (c) William Amlot, courtesy Edel Assanti Gallery, London

Jodie Carey installation view. Image (c) William Amlot, courtesy Edel Assanti Gallery, London

“Like much of Carey’s practice, the simplicity of the work belies a long, grueling process of creation: each of the slabs (mostly three metres in height) has been hand-cast by the artist, and meticulously coloured using pencil crayon, a medium chosen for its naivety and fragility. The backs of the slabs are purposely exposed to reveal hand-made hessian sand bags weighting the sculptures down.”

Jodie Cary: Slabs is on at Edel Assanti Gallery until the 11th of May.

  1. John Holland said…

    How one thrills to learn that not only did the artist “purposely” reveal the back of the (hand-cast!) work, but that he also used “hand-made” sacks.
    Are there no lengths he won’t go to in pursuit of his vision?

    • John Holland said…

      Sorry, HER vision. But you missed out the other highlights about “exploring themes of time, memory and materiality” (so much to fit in), and the ever-popular “subverting…traditions”. As well as liberal use of the word ‘practice’ as a noun.