New York to London and Back – The Medium of Contingency

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New York to London and Back – The Medium of Contingency
Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery ‘Portrait of “The Sitting” (after Traversi)’, 2010, by Pieter Schoolwerth

If ever an exhibition was crying out for an explanatory text or catalogue, it’s this one. Its central theme, after all, is ‘contingency’, so some form of written back-up could hardly be amiss. Plus, that concept is pretty slippery and diverse anyway – beyond all hailing from New York, the relationship between different artists’ works is often obscure. And while there will eventually be an accompanying publication, it’ll be less a straightforward catalogue, more an ‘extension of the show’, full of artists’ interventions and philosophical debate (the show is co-curated by an organisation called Urbanomic, who explore links between philosophy, science and art).

Not that this sort of tricksy cerebration should necessarily put you off seeing the show. Just think of the contextlessness as a sort of intellectual challenge, something that requires your active participation. Indeed, that’s actually one of the main ideas in the exhibition, with a number of works implicating the viewer’s own presence – such as Liz Deschenes’s stained, yet still reflective, aluminium panel, or Pamela Rosenkrantz’s pigment-spattered silicone sheet, with its bottle of paint placed invitingly on the floor.

Another mini-theme, perhaps appropriately, is to do with language and writing; and there’s also a strand featuring various tacky, funky-looking pieces – from Rachel Harrison’s giddy, display-obsessed, sculpture/video assemblage, to a twinkly, chintzy striped pattern by RH Quaytman, where the perspective of lines suggests some external, beyond-the-frame point of origin.

Yet the exhibition isn’t entirely conceptual detective-work. One of the best pieces, certainly the creepiest, is a small drawing by Hans Bellmer from the ’40s – a symbolic, psychosexual vision showing a female body being grotesquely abused by its own, skeletal ghost, it presents their contingency as an act of sinister dependence, a form of tortuous, lecherous intimacy.

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