It is rare that an exhibition will have no false notes, that the totality of works across different media, the subjects covered and the location will combine without there being a single thing that jars. Them Who Dwell On Earth, the inaugral exhibition by Mottahedan Projects of work by Reza Aramesh now showing at One Marylebone, is possibly one such occurrence.
One Marylebone is a deconsecrated church designed by Sir John Soane. In its own right it is a beautiful and intriguing venue. Into this space, Aramesh has brought seven sculptures and six photographs. The sculptures follow the stylisms of Catholic icons but are presented here with human suffering and pleading rather than divine forbearance. These are then given further context by the photographs: monumental black and white images in which the subjects gaze out in variations of judgement or misunderstanding. The whole feeling is one of profound ambiguity.
The exhibition takes as its starting point words from the Gospel of St John and aims to reveal the impact of systemised ideology upon people, especially those who do not follow that ideology. As such, it could properly be termed a sort of humanist expressionism – referencing Islamic and Christian art traditions but ultimately showing the weakness of the faith that inspired those traditions if that faith is used only to control and deny freedom.
There was a steady stream of people when I went in – it is near the Frieze Art Fair centre – but it is only here for a few days before disappearing. Given that the commercialism of Frieze can sometimes leave you wondering whether anyone actually simply likes art without a price tag it was reassuring to come across work that is not only intellectually strong and well-realised but that is also drawing an audience.
Want to surf the zeitgeist but don’t have the connections to get in via a Deutsche Bank pass or a free invite from the right gallery and you don’t really want to part with £27 to look at stands from private galleries whose work you can’t afford anyway? Then why not loiter outside the Frieze Art Fair proper and take in the dozen or so free sculptures they’ve kindly plonked on the western side of Regent’s Park. It’s on my way to work so that’s what I did. So, is this modern art dozen any good?
My photo shows the installation of Alicia Framis’s Cartas al cielo (Letters to the Sky). It’s one of those pieces that’s just going to get the veins popping but also bring out the sneers of “Grim Up North London” crowd towards those who don’t get it. I really want to call it a big marble and encourage passing schoolkids to play with it. It has precisely none of the fun that a previous Framis project, Lost Astronaut, which I’ve just been checking out thanks to YouTube, has in spades. It’s all a bit dull. It is however the nearest to my office which is why I’ve been considering it closely.
Another one drawing a fair amount of attention is Kiki Smith’s Seer (Alice II) which comes via the nice folk at the Timothy Taylor Gallery. The work dates from 2005 which is positively prehistoric by Frieze standards but we’ll allow it because this venerable work is kooky in a kinda fun way, combining what appears to be well defined specific girlish details (face, hair, feet) with rough n ready aspects. It both settles into the setting at Regent’s Park and also looks uncomfortable there. I like it.
The most striking work and my personal favourite though is Icon by Will Ryman. It’s very now – 2011 y’know – very red and very tall. It’s a several metres high bright fibreglass recreation of roses. It probably means something but I sincerely hope not. It’s brash, balls-out and beautiful. If you’re going to plonk some out of place art in a manicured park make it like this.
I’m not going to tick off the remaining nine, suffice to say that they will form the backdrop to many tourist pictures taken in the park over the next few days. Gavin Turk’s Ajar is the most disappointing of the rest (it’s a door, ajar) as it’s not amusing enough to catch the attention nor bland enough for wry recognition but I fully expect it to be embraced by strolling German exchange students and passing dogs.
So a dozen works for the masses left outside the gates of the contemporary art market. Sculpture isn’t my thing so I couldn’t say whether these are good or important works but they are diverting and, mostly, entertaining. They’re not worth a special journey to see but if, like me, you work in the vicinity, they enhance a lunchtime peramble or a charge across the park to the station.