A versatile contemporary artist

YESTERDAY, WE ADMIRED paintings created by the Great Masters of European art, which hang on the walls of the rooms of 18th century Kenwood House in north London. Today, the 12th of April 2023, we enjoyed artworks of a completely different nature within the almost spartan spaces of the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey Street. Currently, three artists’ works are on display. Three areas in the gallery are dedicated to one of them – Marguerite Humeau. She was born in 1986 in France, and received her MA from the Royal College of Art in London – the city in which she now lives and works.

Humeau creates works in a wide variety of materials. She also makes video art, one example of which was on show in the smallest of the three spaces. A larger room contained panels made with one or more ceramic tiles. The glazed surfaces of these tiles are not flat but contain hand-sculpted three-dimensional features including textural variations and curvy striations, which protrude from the flattish background surface.

The largest room of the show must be seen to believed. Entering is like setting foot on an alien planet inhabited by weird organic shapes that suggested to me plants, fungi, and insects, but all of them greatly magnified. These shapes are sculptures created by Humeau. Some of them were emitting musical sounds. I found the sculptures both intriguing because of their allusions to biological structures and also quite satisfying visually. As to what led to their creation, the gallery’s website (https://whitecube.com/artists/artist/Marguerite_Humeau) explained:
“The artist was inspired by eusocial insects such as ants, termites and bees, whose complex cooperative societies enable them to build huge structures and to cultivate other organisms in symbiotic relationships. Reflecting on the ants shepherding their aphids and the termites tending their fungus gardens, Humeau found an equivalent in the place yeast has assumed in human societies, as the essential ingredient of bread and beer around which our human collective has gathered. Contemplating the probability of our imminent, self-inflicted extinction as a species, Humeau sees insect societies as both the inheritors of our ravaged environment, and a prompt to consider how interdependence and cooperation might offer a means to avert our fate.”
Fair enough; but even if the works are portents of a gloomy future, my spirits were uplifted by seeing them. The exhibition continues until the 14th of May 2023. If you plan to visit it, save a bit of time for the interesting and attractive, abstract paintings and sculptures by Samuel Ross (born 1991 in London), which are on show in another of the gallery’s spaces.

The thing that amazes me is that even though the paintings by the Great Masters, who painted many centuries ago and which we saw 24 hours ago at Kenwood are immensely satisfying visually, seeing the artworks by Marguerite Humeau today was an equally enjoyable experience. I wonder what it is that happens in the brain to produce the same amount of enjoyment from seeing such widely differing artistic creations.

Pioneers of making selfies?

THE LONDON-BASED ARTISTS Gilbert Prousch (born 1943) and George Passmore (born 1942) first met whilst they were studying sculpture at the St Martins School of Art, where, incidentally, my mother created sculptures in the 1950s and early 1960s. From the late 1960s onwards, most of their creations have portrayed themselves, usually together, in an incredible variety of poses and situations. One might say that they were pioneers of selfie-making.

On the 1st of April, Gilbert and George (‘G+G’) opened their new establishment, The Gilbert & George Centre, in London’s Heneage Street near Spitalfields and Brick Lane (see https://gilbertandgeorgecentre.org/). I have yet to visit this new gallery, and look forward to doings so soon. To coincide with this new venture, the White Cube Gallery in Mayfair’s Masons Yard is holding an exhibition of works by G+G until the 20th of May 2023.

Called “The Corpsing Pictures”, this exhibition at White Cube consists of G+G posing as corpses in a range of different settings. In each picture, the two artists are portrayed lying as if dead but fully dressed in their characteristic smart suits. In many pictures, images of bones have been included in the compositions. At first sight, these pictures, which look like stained glass windows, appear somewhat macabre, but soon the viewer becomes aware of the playful and often punning nature of the images. Each composition is compelling visually and together the collection is a stunningly beautiful sight.

I suspect that the crowds at the Heneage Street Centre will be great for the first few weeks after its opening. So, if you want to see some good examples of the works of G+G without being bothered by too many other viewers, I recommend that you head for the White Cube in Masons Yard.

Great expectations

I LOVE OUTDOOR sculpture exhibitions. Also, I enjoy visiting the exhibition spaces of the White Cube Gallery, which are located in Piccadilly and Bermondsey. So, it was with high expectations that we drove up to Arley Hall in Cheshire to view an exhibition of outdoor sculpture by artists with whom the White Cube represents.

The works on display until the 29th of August 2022 are by artists including amongst others Gormley, Noguchi, Tracey Emin, Mona Hatoum,and Takis. This is a formidable line up of artists.

Arley Hall and its gardens are magnificent. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the temporary exhibition of works by eminent modern sculptors. Unlike other outdoor sculpture shows I have seen (e.g. Frieze at Regents Park, Houghton Hall, and the Yorkshire Sculpture Park), what was on display in Arley Hall’s garden was unexciting despite the delightful setting. I felt that White Cube, whose exhibitions are, if nothing else, always dramatic, could have displayed a more impactful selection of artworks.

Exhibition aside,visiting the grounds of Arley Hall was well worthwhile as it has given us the opportunity to spend some time in Cheshire, which we do not know well.

Pictures at an exhibition

Overlooked by The Shard,the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey Street, near to London Bridge Station, provides wonderful expanses of well-lit exhibition space. One can explore works of contemporary art in an uncluttered, airy environment. This is so much better than many traditional exhibition spaces such as in 19th century galleries, or even in the relatively recently constructed Tate Modern. Visiting the White Cube in Bermondsey is a worthwhile experience not only because of its wonderful spaciousness but also because it often displays exciting works of art. And when you have had your fill of art, there are plenty of places in Bermondsey Street where you can find a wide variety of food and drink.

Here is some information about the building from https://www.dezeen.com/2011/10/14/white-cube-bermondsey-by-casper-mueller-kneer/:

144–152 Bermondsey Street is an existing warehouse and office building, set back from Bermondsey Street via an entrance yard. The building dates from the 1970s and has a modernist industrial appearance, with long horizontal window bands and a simple cubic shape. The outer walls of the building are constructed from dark brown engineering brick, with a concrete and steel framed internal structure…

The new gallery spaces were inserted as self-supporting freestanding volumes, barely touching the envelope of the existing building.The powerfloated concrete floors can take loadings up to 100 KN/m2. Walls and ceilings are constructed as steel cages allowing art to be installed at almost any point within the space. Structural exclusion zones allow the punching through of walls at selected locations to allow entry points into the exhibition spaces to be coordinated with the ever-changing displays.”

Images of Africa in south London

THE WHITE CUBE Gallery in London’s Bermondsey Street is overshadowed by the recently constructed (2013) glass-clad skyscraper, popularly known as ‘The Shard’. The gallery, a single-storeyed structure, contains a long wide corridor flanked by three vast exhibition spaces and a smaller bookshop.  The exhibition spaces are deliberately sparsely decorated so as not to distract viewers from the usually wonderful contemporary artwork on display. At the end of the corridor, there is an auditorium in which videos relating to the existing temporary exhibition are screened. The current exhibition, which fascinated me and closes on the 7th of November 2021, is dedicated to displaying works by Ibrahim Mahama.

Mahama was born in Tamale, Ghana in 1987. He lives and works in the country of his birth but has exhibited widely in Africa and Europe. Not only are the works, which we saw at White Cube, exciting and intriguing visually but they also provide an interesting insight into the artist’s perception of modern Ghana and its past, when it was known as The Gold Coast.

Many of the works on display are gigantic collages, which from afar look like interesting abstracts or even modern tapestries. Closer examination of these reveals that the artist has glued fragments of photographs onto a background of usually either old maps of his country and/or a latticework consisting of numerous production order dockets issued by The Ghana Industrial Holding Company. Photographs of fruit bats in various poses often run around the fringes of the collages or appear within their main body. Photographs of aspects of life in Ghana are glued onto the backgrounds. Often, they have been trimmed so that the backgrounds intrude, and the photographs appear to merge or mingle with them. I felt that this was particularly effective when the map backgrounds mingled with the trimmed photographs, making me think that the maps were being brought to life. Also, they give the impression of modern Ghana emerging from the out-of-date maps. I was also impressed by one collage showing images of flying bats glued onto a sea of old order dockets: wildlife contrasting with man’s industrial enterprise.

One half of the largest display space is dedicated to a fantastic art installation. About 100 old-fashioned wooden school desks are arranged in rows facing a line of black boards to create the illusion of an enormous classroom. On each desk, there is an old-fashioned electric sewing machine.  Every few minutes some of the sewing machines begin operating, creating a wonderful, loud noise, which varies as different groups of machines are activated and then silenced. Sewing machines, so the leaflet issued by the gallery inform us, were often used in Ghana by labourers wanting to learn a new trade. This exhibit aims, amongst other things, to resurrect the ghosts that Mahama feels reside within these discarded machines.

In the auditorium, a short video projected onto two neighbouring screens continues the artist’s interest in sewing machines. On one of the screens, the video shows in close-up the innards of sewing machines being cleaned and oiled. Simultaneously, the video on the neighbouring screen shows workmen doing messy maintenance work through a manhole cover and beneath the ground. The circular manhole cover is mirrored in the other video by the small circular orifice through which the innards of the sewing machine are maintained. Odd subjects, but well filmed and fascinating visually.

I am neither an art critic nor a sociologist, nor whatever it takes to ponder the deeper meaning and messages that the artist is trying to convey, but I enjoyed the exhibition greatly without having to worry about its deeper intellectual content. Visually, everything on display was exciting and often quite novel: a feast for the eyes and ears. If you can get to see this show, I am sure that you will not leave it unaffected by its impact. And, after feasting your ears and eyes at the gallery, I recommend a short walk down Bermondsey Street to treat your taste buds and olfactory sense to Vietnamese food, magnificently prepared, at Caphe House.