The presentation of the Arts Council touring show – Breaking The Mould – at Lakeside is pretty exemplary – in the online guide (made at YSP’s Longside)it looks a tad haphazard and the long run of windows doesn’t help. In the Djanology it runs smoothly through, initially chronologically and then thematically as it gathers pace. THe long barrel shaped room focusses the works in there and the controlled lighting picks out the work beautifully, especially the wall mounted pieces. It might well be a function of my age but to my eye some of the best work comes from the generations nearer to me. I particularly love the Untitled pieces by the late Shelagh Cluett and that of Alison Wilding, whilst both works are open to interpretation, each has a precision in material choice and execution that make them especially satisfying. Neither of these artists have gained quite the kind of reputation they deserve but one suspects that such purity of visual thinking sits somewhat at odds with the current zeitgeist. That is amply represented in the selection, Helen Marten, Phyllida Barlow and Holly Hendry (a new name to me) all throw a lot at the viewer and again its probably just my taste but I find it too much. Of the works from the past decade I was drawn to the works of Rana Begum and Alice Channer that share something of the same clarity as Wilding and Cluett. Of course most of the bigger names are here, but the nature of the collection focused on smaller more portable works doesn’t always show them off to best effect, Cornelia Parker and Rachel Whiteread, in particular, work much better in environments they are able to exclusively control.
One of the precepts of the exhibition that didn’t come across to me perhaps as strongly as was intended by the curation was that of the ‘challenging of male-dominated narratives’. I recognise that sculpture in the UK in the post war period well into the 70’s was ‘male-dominated’, almost exclusively so (take away Hepworth and Frink and it looked dire, although the early part of this display shows there were quite a few others battling away against this tide). But what some of the particular ‘narratives’ were is harder to clarify…take for example the work of Katherine Gili, that to my mind is as powerful as her male contemporaries and colleagues but how far it is possible to drive a clearly alternative reading of her work from, say, that of Anthony Smart, a colleague at Stockwell Depot in the 70’s, is harder to see. The same might be said of Emma Park, Shirazeh Houshiary and Wendy Taylor’s pieces. That said there are of course several artists included who make very explicitly alternative and polemicised readings, Mary Kelly, Helen Chadwick and Sarah Lucas very much so. But overall it’s hard to know what, or indeed why, much of the work (particularly by many of the younger artists) needs to challenge any narratives other than the viewer’s own preconceptions. Certainly by the time we come into the work made in the 21st c. binary narratives seem rather quaint – one reading of that selection might suggest that the gender of those chosen is immaterial – they just happen to be sculptors who are women. That carping aside (and from someone who identifies as male) a super selection. I was especially taken with the piece by Alice Channer that seems to have a specificity in thinking and a generosity of expression that encompasses both a gender particularity with a strong sense of embodied absence.
Out in the Angear space Louisa Chambers seems an apposite choice for a solo outing in her show entitled Criss Cross. Much of the work draws on folded constructed sources she invents herself. Yes it is painting, often morphing into a devised 2d space that might or might not be recognised from its source, but is often fairly clearly declaring its origins. This is especially so where a surface on which the forms sit is evidently presented. There is a strong painterly presence at work here, indeed a precision, not entirely remote from that of say, Cluett & Wilding, although a nearer comparator (generationally and aesthetically) might be Begum. What the paintings do suggest is that a very sophisticated colour intelligence is at work allied to a deft and elegant reading of space and questioning of the way in which it is depicted.
If one wanted to mildly critique the work on show it might be something of a lack of risk taking…Louisa amply demonstrates that she can master these pictures and can build complexity into them as they are scaled up. Plaza, the largest canvas here, is a good example. However the clutch of works on paper show that a more questioning aesthetic may be on the horizon where a greater sense of freedom and originality of approach shows through. Chambers has also played with pattern making in the space in which work is displayed in other locations…a show with colleagues at The Harley Gallery comes to mind…and does so again on the Angear back wall – but here too there’s a certain tentativeness. Given the oddity of this wall with its peculiar recessed circle it is perhaps an opportunity missed to go for broke. Nonetheless this show is very compelling and offers a strong and satisfying unity with glimpses of new directions also being forged.