Surface Work review

4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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The history of art is full of old dead white blokes. We’ve had centuries of western men dominating the stuff we put in our eyes. Modern and contemporary abstract art is no different – it’s all Kandinsky and Pollock and Rothko, as if a woman never picked up a paintbrush and did some squiggles on a canvas. But – guess what, bozos – they did. And this show of abstract art by women isn't just a powerful statement that women were there too, but that they were knocking up some of the best abstraction in the biz in the process. Just like Lee Krasner, an artist who is constantly relegated to a footnote in art history - she was Jackson Pollock's wife - but who with just one work here proves that her painting was probably just as vital as her husband's.

There is so much to like across the two Victoria Miro spaces. Over on Wharf Road it’s mainly recent abstraction. There’s the eye-bending warped op art of Loie Hollowell, the shocking fragility of Dala Nasser’s silver paper coated in druggy grime, the quiet elegance of Etel Adnan, the glossy cutesy sheen of Fiona Rae, Adriana Varejao’s gory slashed Fontana homage, a gorgeous pink and lilac Martha Jungwirth, a brutal Pat Steir, a great sloppy Gillian Ayres (who sadly just passed away).

In the Mayfair gallery, you get the older gold: that stunning Lee Krasner, the tiny geometric neatness of Lygia Clark and a huge glorious mess by Helen Frankenthaler. Breathtaking.

There’s plenty of underwhelming art here too, it’s not all great, but as a show, it just works. It has the feel of some lost rural museum, a secret private collection of abstract art belonging to some anonymous oligarch.

With the art devoid of context – there’s no conceptual bumpf to back up each work – you’re left to appreciate the paintings for their aesthetics, their surface, alone. It’s actually a really old-fashioned art-viewing experience, just you and the aesthetics and that’s totally lovely. Even though it’s specifically a show of art by women, you can’t really come away from it with any single conclusion about how women paint, you just come away thinking that it all deserves as much attention as any art by men.

And more than anything, there's something about the purity of simple abstraction presented with no BS that is just a total pleasure.



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