Summer/Autumn Roundup

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Claire Morris-Wright in the Wallner Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham

The back half of this year has been somewhat chaotic so I’ve had little time to reflect.  Along the way I made brief notes so here, for anyone following this!, is a brief round up of some of what’s been seen.  One or two shows have also been mentioned in my personal blog Plainly Painting so cut along there if you haven’t already.

See Here at the old Neale’s Auction House, in Nottingham way back in late June was a very welcome event.  Not least as it was good to see old friends still working away and a host of other artists not previously known to me.  Bill Ming and Nadia Nagual are amongst the best that the region has to offer. Bill showed his sculpture in the context of installation and alongside collage, an interesting and exciting development.  Nadia has always shown great sensitivity in her work and this was very much on display here.  There were solid outings from artists I’ve admired over the years, Carole Hawthorne and Roy Pickering, the guiding hand behind the show.  Not known to me was Mwini Mutuku, but whose work showed both sensitivity and energy nor Jim Jack, whose cultural pieces I’d like to see more of.

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Whispers Of Commercial Greed & Nature Balance by Sardul Gill, See Here, Neale’s Auction House, Nottingham

Also good to see artists willing to experiment in public…Roy himself in collaboration with Sardul Gill, Richard Perry with his daughter Josie, and several artists working outside their comfort zone, experimenting with the available spaces. Roy and everyone associated with this show are to be applauded. 

In the Henderson Gallery buried in the bowels of the Malt Cross in Nottingham, one of our best kept secrets here in the Midlands, Pamela Clarkson was showing her Mariam and Waleria & other prints.  One of, if not the, premier printmaker in the region…she exhibits a range of techniques, not in itself especially important, but put to really great effect in a very satisfying show.

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Miriam & Waleria, by Pamela Clarkson, Henderson Gallery, Nottingham

Early autumn saw a trip into the city to Lakeside. Ostensibly to see Rena Begum’s Space Light Colour, highly recommended by some this was something of a disappointment to me.  These were too slick, and seemed gewgaws for the rich (Dubai seemed to be, naturally enough, home for many of them), had little to say to me beyond retreading old modernist tropes – I felt it was faux Art as sophisticated interior design drawing on such hard working talent such as Yaacov Agam who has thoroughly mined this territory starting nearly half a century back (and still going at 90!)…still everyone to their own I’ve seen quite a few rave reviews of it.  

Luckily the Angear provided a little more meat with a selection of Steffie Richards recent paintings.  I’ve written about these before (though there were interesting new developments) so suffice to say one of the new works on the back wall was an absolute cracker.  Over in the Wallner Gallery Claire Morris-Wright showed her Hedge project – as its past now I’m not going to write extensively about this but I think its the best, most rewarding and meaningful encounter with quality I’ve seen over the late summer/autumn.  Luckily delay in posting this round up means I’m able to recommend the unabridged version of this show – on at Kettering’s Alfred East until 5th Jan. 2019.

Trix & Robert Haussman are architects, but are more often found in the design magazines on the continent where their playful ‘interventions’ have, particularly in the past twenty years or so, struck a chord with fellow professionals and public alike.  The show at Nottingham Contemporary was rather a delight bringing together a wide range of their work from conceptual art documentation through adaptations of modernist classics and onto shop fittings.  In the other two galleries an artist previously unknown to me Pia Camil presented a stylish and original installation that brought together textiles, ceramics and performance, through effective video presentation.  Her interests reflect aspects of mass consumerism, interactions between workers as producers and the audience as consumers, references to prior artworks and epochs and trans gender issues.  It might sound a bit scattergun but the artist had woven the elements together with some elan.  Both shows were full of interest and humour – and one imagines they reflect the new management at the venue…in which case things are looking up.

Coming into autumn proper it was up to the Walker, Liverpool to view the latest John Moores.  Actually this was rather refreshing with many painters I’d not seen before (and hardly any big names). I struggled to find much of merit in the first prize-winner but overall there were plenty of things that spoke of painting’s persistence in the face of institutional indifference. I especially enjoyed Black Star by Virginia Verran, from those I knew of and Kos Town Paradise Hotel Front Terrace by Gary Lawrence from those I didn’t.

And talking of really good painting a short while back we ventured into the New Art Gallery, Walsall to see the real tour de force that Elizabeth Magill has assembled of mainly recent, larger canvases but also encompassing a selection of her sublime small canvases over the past decade.  Magill is a quite exceptional painter, no doubt about it.  And her productivity over these past few years is impressive.  If I have a criticism of sorts it might be that the scaling up of the pictures could become formulaic, but it hasn’t yet and, given her pedigree, I doubt she’ll let it.

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Elizabeth Magill at the New Art Gallery, Walsall

A necessary trip up north, saw me visiting the gallery in the Creative Arts faculty at the University of Central Lancashire where Nottingham based Laine Tomkinson is showing prints and other works on paper in a solo show – Wiggle Whoogie til Dec. 6th.  These new works suggest the artist is pushing forward with both structure and, significantly, the sophisticated use of colour.  Where earlier work I’ve seen was vibrant and exuberant the palette seems to be cooling a little encouraging more ambiguous shifts in the register and reading of the imagery.  This aspect of the work intrigues the viewer, where seemingly form is often inverted by use of elements that are by products of the making  process.  The extensive use of layering of colour and form adds to their elusive qualities.  A most satisfying show from an artist who is maturing into a very distinctive voice.

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White Lines & Mr. Soft, by Laine Tomkinson, PR1 Gallery, Preston

And finally, back to a regular haunt over the years…Harrington Mill in Long Eaton.  Here Sheila Ravnkilde is showing the results of a three month residency Poured Lengths.  As always there is directness to the work, the titles that rarely brook any ambiguity being especially appropriate to the nine (as I recall) lengths of – what? – three by three timbers that have been subjected to repeated pourings of pure pigmented paint of a single colour each.  Where previous works rarely betrayed the hand of the artist recent offerings have made a feature of it, albeit in the form of process rather than signature.  A key, perhaps the key, aspect of the work is the interaction between the space and the interventions in it and as always this had been meticulously considered, especially with regard to the colour relationships.  This kind of minimalist work has to be well executed as it was here.  A fitting finale to shows at the Mill that is regrettably closing this December, a loss in an area where exhibiting opportunities (not to mention highly affordable studios) are at a premium.

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Poured Lengths, Sheila Ravnkilde, Harrington Mill

 

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On the sublime…

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It’s a simple enough trope…superimposition of one scale upon another…though I suspect quite a bit harder to pull off than one might imagine.  In Richard T. Walker’s video piece its used to quite powerful effect – regular readers will know I’m quite a lot harder own video – but the poetic narrative at work here is pretty mesmerising.  It lives up to the promise of the exhibitions title.  Sadly much else here doesn’t.  Mariella Neidecker’s piece here buries her characteristic vignette into a clumsy mis en scene that proves to be a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.  The other work in the space crowded out by this bombast.  Elsewhere nothing much lives up to the billing.

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Luckily outside the main galleries in the Angear space there is something of exceptional and exquisite quality.  The Nottinghamshire based artist Robert Hart has been given the opportunity to display some the exceptional work he has been engaged in over the past few years.  It is an astonishing display – perhaps a little overcrowded – of the drawings, prints and paintings he has produced over recent times.

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He has focussed a deal of his creative ambition on the Suffolk coastline – specifically the wastelands of Orfordness and, whilst many artists have chosen this unique landscape since it was released from the Ministry of Defence a few decades back, fewer still have done so to such exceptional effect.  Anyone who has visited this location (and if you haven’t I strongly advise you do) will testify to its unique character – an ambience that Rob has captured to perfection.  His forensic visual intelligence is coupled with a poetic imagination and has resulted in a wealth of material.  His show is a triumph – catch it in the few days you have left – it ends on May 6th.

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Gurminder Sikand & Sardul Gill

IMG_1884The recent show at Harrington Mill Studios gave one the rare opportunity to see work by two of the region’s more influential and talented artists, both practicing locally since at least the 1980’s but less often featuring in exhibitions outside Nottingham itself.  In this show Gurminder Sikand focussed exclusively on black and white drawings that, although markedly different in content and style, rather effectively played out against the more experimental approach that Sardul Gill adopted in his selection of mixed media works.

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Dying Star by Sardul Gill

To my eye it was the deliberation in Gurminder’s drawing technique that often complements as well as contrasts with the more organic marks that are very much the basis of Sardul’s pieces.  That his work is also predominantly in black and white, occasionally augments by naturally occurring pigments, further adds to the resonances between their two bodies of work.  Sardul talks of ‘a form of self-discovery’ whilst Gurminder suggests her process is ‘a journey’ – what is certain is that both artists are on a thoughtful, intelligent and ultimately rewarding voyage, both for themselves and the audience.

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Mothering by Gurminder Sikand

Sikand’s work is focussed on “the social conditioning that forces women, especially, to look and behave in certain ways’ and this is effected through the use of the house as what she describes as a ‘carapace’ that whilst protecting and comforting is also a burden and a restriction.  The juxtaposition of the building against the figures produces strong and powerful images that convey the metaphors most effectively.   The stylistic manners put emphases on some elements and line is used simply elsewhere to offset the narratives.

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Nature Print & Ink Drawing (2) by Sardul Gill

In Gill’s work nature itself is forced into action as both subject and method, although his subtle and thoughtful interventions steer the viewer throughout.  His interests include cosmology and scientific theories with the resulting works revealing their structure slowly and exquisitely.  The printmaker in him (he has many years experience in the medium) allows the lightest of touches in the methods deployed that include exposure to natural elemental processes that further assist in the revealing of the image.  The painter Sean Scully has talked of painting as having “something of the nature of nature” and that is very evident in these works.

Sadly this show is now in the past but I’d advise anyone to seek out further exhibitions by these two in the future.

 

Optical and Optimistic

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Works from the show at the Longside Gallery, YSP left to right Philip King, Tim Scott, John Dee, Tess Jaray, Barry Flanagan, William Tucker

Kaleidoscope – Colour & Sequence in 1960’s British Art at the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham

It’s difficult to argue with the curators sub-title viz. colour as the gallery is full of it – so much so that one imagines that a certain amount of ‘restoration’ (read that as code for a ‘paint job’) has gone on here. But its a very jolly romp through the early to late sixties of UK art with the focus on the New Generation sculptors (excepting the talented South African born Isaac Witkin, who – seemingly – is the one key figure written out of this narrative) augmented by a more eclectic selection of painters from the same period. This latter aspect rather jumbles up some of the argument being presented here (though in conversation Sam Cornish rightly makes as much of the idea of symmetry as sequence) with the notion that something deep connects artists as diverse as Riley, Steele (and apparently in the shows first outing in Yorkshire, Peter Sedgley) representing Op with Mary Martin the constructivist and the sculptor Philip King. Superficially there are connections but a quick glance at how careers advanced subsequently suggests that any connections are far more nuanced than that.

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However it warms my heart to see works that are optimistic and untroubled by post modernist angst – on entering the gallery one is confronted by Richard Smith’s painting Trio and what immediately sprang to mind was the double page bleed photo of the young artist in his hammock fresh back from the United States full of the new spirit of the sixties and casting off the dull grey of 1950’s post war Britain. But as I looked around I couldn’t help seeing the ghosts of the later works by many of the sculptors especially Tucker, King and Anthony Caro as examples of how their concerns turned inward, not only as regards form and materials, but ideas that seem more subtle, elegiac and even –  in a late work by Caro for instance – Shadows of 2013 – to thoughts of mortality. Of course the painters, by and large, cleaved closer to their initial interests or, perhaps most tellingly in the case of Riley, went far further in embracing colour wholeheartedly. Overall the show works well and brings a good deal of material into view that gets relatively little airing nowadays. Of course one thinks of omissions – I’d have loved to have seen Roger Cook’s painting brought out of the store – it is surely a close fit with the theme – as is Witkin’s Vermont 111.  But then there’s a deal of work that would equally fit the remit, Paul Huxley, Jack Smith and Noel Forster to name check just a few of the painters.  All that said…the show is fitted into the three spaces well and all the works need the space they have to breathe. And despite that they are all into their fifties now, by and large, most of them do.

Richard Perry

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5 ceramic sculptures, including 3 water columns and 2 marker pieces. Heights 4, 3, 2 and I metres.  Commissioned by Grosvenor Estates for Festival Square, Basingstoke, 2002

This is a rarity for this blog…let me explain.  I’ve known Richard Perry for over thirty years.  He got in touch with me not long after he graduated and had taken a loft studio in Newark, Nottinghamshire whilst I was working for the regional Arts Council.  From the off I recognised both his talent and his seriousness. Over the years he has developed a substantial reputation, mainly for a succession of major public commissions.  Recently we’ve become near neighbours and with his solo show in the Angear space at Lakeside coming up (criminally a rather rare event), he asked me to write a short piece for the text panel in the gallery.  So this is not a review  but the expanded text from which the panel in the gallery is abridged…

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Work in progress, studio

No surprise that in his public works the form of the tree plays a significant part of the repertoire: the sculpture of Richard Perry stands up solidly and elegantly like a fully grown English Oak full of surprising twists, turns and original features. Few contemporary carvers, especially those drawn to geometry, have been so cavalier with those most obdurate materials, such as marbles and that especially hard limestone from Kilkenny. A glance at, say, Interlocking Oaks, a piece at the old Boots HQ here in Nottingham from 2000 is indicative of the striking quality of the distinguished track record of public work right across the British Isles and beyond.

In this exhibition (a relatively rare opportunity to see a body of his work) the artist features recent studio sculptures, a few paintings and a suite of drawings, all of which in various ways touch upon ongoing concerns for the interactions and relationships of basic geometric forms in space. If there is a key component that best sums up the ambition in the work as a whole then poise might be it. Indeed this is a contemporary artist willing to engage in and admit to one of the greatest taboos in current art, beauty, and worse still for many so whisper it, craft.

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Perry is fully aware of the dangers that lurk in these waters. No-one visiting his lean-to studio, exposed to the elements and (one suspects) perishing in winter, could be in doubt that the artist (given to standing and pondering the work for long spells of time) takes very seriously the pitfalls that both form and material can easily fall into – that ‘homes & gardens’ aesthetic as it were. These are lovely materials and in Richard’s experienced hands, fashioned into just as seductive formal characteristics.

A great deal of deliberation is required – hard, painstakingly concentrated looking – to ensure that this plane, or that surface, set against another is ‘right’ or more precisely has that quality that the great ceramicist Bernard Leach called ‘thusness’ (after his studies on the work of Soetsu Yanagi) and yet is also full of surprises. Indeed it is hard to see how these interlocking forms, planes, surfaces and voids could be arranged in any other manner once they are frozen in space. Each work becomes a game of Jenga, that pastime where towers are constructed from regular wooden blocks and the removal of a single piece can bring the whole thing crashing down.

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To return to the notion of poise, and to use it in its archaic sense, it is the balance achieved in the sculpture (and just as surely in the paintings where colour is deployed with great sensitivity to both invite and contradict the sensations of moving through space) that solidifies the equilibrium of all the competing elements. That all this happens with material that is solid, stubborn and hard to fashion is a real testament to ability and durability in the character of the artist. Poise is also a technical term for a unit of dynamic viscosity, the act of resistance in shearing flows where layers move parallel to one another at differing speeds. This too seems apt in pieces where planes shift and tilt both in parallel and opposed to one another, and where the eye speeds across the surfaces but is then arrested by surprising conjunctions and original tropes.

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It is in the drawings that these twists and turns of expected and then wholly unexpected formal arrangements are sent racing along at astonishing speed. With a myriad of variated marks, tones and intervals the images reveal something of the artist’s endlessly inventive and quizzical exploration of what form and material might be able to achieve in space that is both real and imagined. Perry opens up possibilities for what sculpture might achieve were we to crack open our three physical dimensions and discover one, two, three or more that some physicists and mathematicians tell us are already out there.

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Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975

Of course geometric sculpture (emerging in the early twentieth century) went through many reiterations of all kinds over the succeeding decades but pretty much fell out of favour by the mid sixties as the minimalists boiled it down to its essences. But curiously a small late (perhaps the last complete) work by Barbara Hepworth – Small One, Two, Three (Vertical) 1975 – might be seen as something of a precursor to these pieces by Richard.  In it she precariously balances a group of planes across three blocks atop each other. It is intriguing to imagine how these might have been extrapolated and developed into more complex arrangements had she lived…I’m taken with an idea that they might well have resembled a Richard Perry piece in this gallery.

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Halley 3, 2013

 

Mela – HMS, Long Eaton

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Rob Van Beek

Drawing used to play a central role in any self respecting artist’s practice…I say ‘used to’ as it seems nowadays that much contemporary work makes very different kinds of statements about, and defines our relationships to the self and the world around us by other means, so that we certainly see less of it regardless of whether it goes on or not. Of course now we have a battery of other ways of recording or replicating our observations of the external worth or the interior worlds of our imaginations, and the advent of the digital age has exploded and befuddled our grasp on where those boundaries we thought existed. But drawing, on this evidence certainly does ‘go on’.

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Sardul Gill discussing his drawing

In the context of this relative ‘hidden’ life of drawing, the idea of what drawing is or can be has been mined in very novel ways several times over recent years, we have of course the Jerwood prize, the fascinating Rabley sketchbook competition, the utterly marvellous ’43 Uses’ show curated by Paul Curaton & Craig Staff back in 2011 that ought to have been seen and discussed by many more than it was, and in its modest way, we can now add this outing.

Stimulated by a conversation a year or so back at Backlit Studios between HMS’s Jackie Berridge, Rob Van Beek and Martin Lewis the idea of the MELA came up as a means to explore aspects of drawing in the region. One of the key notions behind the show was to bring in new artists to the venue alongside those above and others who have shown here before. Hence the first appearances at HMS of quite a few whom I am unfamiliar with as well as others I know quite well but have previously not shown here. The idea of the MELA is spelt out by the organisers here.

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Stephen Waterhouse

The illustrator Stephen Waterhouse is one of the new names to me. Stephen’s topographical study of Manhattan stretching northwards from the Twin Towers is both lyrical and poignant – he revealed, during a short ‘show and tell’ session that was a rewarding feature of the opening, that he had begun the work on site before returning home where, whilst continuing to develop it he heard the news of the 9/11 attack, whereupon he ceased working it up. Like much of the work on show there is considerable delicacy and deftness of touch at work here…and then passages that remain tentative or wholly undeveloped – a reminder of the horror of the event.

A quite other demonstration of this deft and delicate approach to the idea of a drawing comes in the form of a lovely abstraction by Sardul Gill. Sardul is an artist I’ve known for many years but whose work is much less frequently seen out and about than it ought to be (he isn’t the only one represented in this show). Sardul’s piece is playful, relying upon collage and accidental elements that he then riffs off of, and has a sense of balance and ‘thusness‘ (that Buddhist term beloved of Bernard Leach in describing ceramics of real quality).

Amongst the other ‘newcomers’ to the Mill is Gabriel Tejada who hails from Peru by way of the Royal College and, nowadays, Repton in South Derbyshire. There’s three smallish drawings here with considerable finesse – a lightness of touch that builds into dense, intense and atmospheric space within which curious figures are partially submerged. These figures have something of the bulbous quality one might find in the great Columbian master Botero, though there the comparison ends as these characters are dark, mysterious and somewhat threatening. If any other artist is called to mind its the feverish imaginings of Odilon Redon but here too the comparison doesn’t hold, if anything these are simply Tejada’s people coming at us tentatively, almost liminally, off of the page.

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David Willetts introduces his drawings

Facing across from Tejada is another artist whose drawings are worked up very sensitively indeed. perhaps not surprisingly as David Willetts is both one of the region’s most talented and most experienced artists with a reputation for impeccable draughtsmanship. Here he shows a small group of drawings of a plant to which he returns again and again discovering more about both the subject and the object, exuberant and luminous pastel and pencil pieces, and in the process, more about himself. Willetts is one of our best artists hereabouts and deserves to been seen more often. When his work has been shown in the past few decades it has often been in the company of Peter Cartwright. Cartwright is another of the more senior artists in Notts and has been painting and drawing fabulously strong work for many years. He says of his approach that “I make intense unpremeditated responses through drawing, to fragments, objects and situations, creating a stock of images that feed the working process.” Here he brings a counterpoint to much of the work around him in that there’s a raw energy to his drawing that contrasts with many of the other works on show.

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Martin Lewis

There are strong offerings, in quite different ways, from each of the show’s progenitors. Martin Lewis shows two small conceptually driven pieces…one a thousand white lines, that the artist rightly insisted were all there! Jackie shows a lovely piece that opens the show with a strong narrative element whilst Rob assembles a fine array of curious small plastic frames in which his equally oddball pictographic drawings sit on a shelf. I’ve not mentioned quite a few of the other artists here but suffice to say there’s a delicate and, simply lovely, work by Gurminder Sikand, a strong iPad drawing from Mik Godley and two especially fine observational drawings from Ian Whitfield, who is also from Repton by way of the Royal College. With another dozen or so equally strong offerings from other artists this show is well worth a visit.

Open
Saturday 23rd, April 1-3pm 
Sunday 24th, April 1-3pm
‘Measurement and Anti-Measurement in Drawing’
Sunday 24th April, 2-3pm
Talk and discussion introduced by Rob Van Beek

Grateful thanks to Maggy Milner for use of her photos of the show.

 

Gallerists should not (generally!) be trusted…

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Milena, WR:Mysteries Of The Organism.

As a student I watched a lot of film…cunning old fox Lionel Miskin (the famed “Holman Hunt’ lookalike!) ran a free mid week cinema show at college that seemingly randomly showed movies that turned out to be a great history of the medium.  Amongst the recent releases (there were a few) one that struck up considerable discussion and debate was WR:Mysteries Of The Organism by Yugoslav director Dusan Makavejev.

Dusan turned up in Monuments Should Not Be Trusted that ran at Nottingham Contemporary through the early part of 2016.  Not that surprisingly given that a good deal of the show comprised film and video…some part of the ‘Black Wave’ and some plain documentary material.  And to a degree this was a weakness of such a substantial exhibition, far too much screen based works of substance and far too few really significant and good quality art objects.  Indeed in the front gallery much of the space was given over to the admittedly quirky and to a degree interesting ‘votive’ folk objects sent to the communist leader Tito.  Though curious and quirky there were far too many really.  As for the other material much of it had the same whiff of the ‘curio’ about it, frail and indifferent ‘student’ works that, of course, represented the developing politicisation of these ethnic groupings emerging as the various ‘Student Cultural Centres’ began to push back against the weakening power of Tito’s Yugoslav state apparatus but often derivative and weak both conceptually and visually as well as being occasionally rather shockingly naive and puerile.  Overall the film and video material was much the stronger element here but whether an art gallery, with small monitors and darkened spaces with poor seating, is a sensible context for it is rather more debatable.

For me, once again, NC seemed over precious and rather arcane.  In a more concentrated form, edited carefully and presented in the context of a broader based programme, this was a show of some considerable merit.  But the scarcity of punters tells its own story – this is very tenebrous programming…continuing the ‘grand projet’ that has characterised this venue since opening  viz. the aggrandisement of the Curator in search of career progression (achieved in the case of the first Director) and to hell with the audience.  Why on earth a Labour council puts up with it goodness only knows…ignorance and stupidity can possibly be their only excuse.

Surely the purpose of a large, publicly funded contemporary art gallery in the provinces is to bring a rounded, informed, educated and entertaining programme of modern and contemporary work to its location?  When I worked in a largish space in another large provincial city we brought in adventurous programming in its day – it was not without its critics…but we took a ‘journal’ view of the mix of shows.  Alongside a ‘difficult’ major new work by a relatively unknown but highly critically acclaimed international figure we would pit an Arts Council touring show of mixed new work that otherwise wouldn’t have shown up within a hundred miles of us and gave a small solo outing to one of the more talented ‘local’ artists.  NC could easily provide something similar and almost certainly pull in bigger and better audiences, that might enliven the place and bring in far more of the people who pay for it.