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December 2022: A month of exhibitions. The good, the bad and the … really not so good.

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Rather like christmas shopping I like to do gallery visits in short sharp bursts and in December I had at least four to go to : The RWA Annual show, Arnolfini, VIEW and That Art Gallery, all in bristol and reviewed by order of enjoyment ( least to most).

If youve been to any of these, let me know if you agree! So, first is::

RWA :169th annual autumn open exhibition:

Having previously had works in three consecutive years ‘Selected, but not hung‘ at RWA annual shows, I have decided to devote energies elsewhere.

The annual open exhibition should illustrate both contemporary art practice in Bristol and its artist catchment area while encouraging comparison with national and international submissions; critical appraisal leads to artistic growth.

However each year, it seems that the RWA policy of allowing automatic entry to three works from past and present academicians and presidents irrespective of quality, (ostensibly as a means of selling their work) and their selection processes which seems to favour more ’commercial’ work distorts the view of what is actually happening and this year’s show was no different.

An overwhelming crush of despondency descended almost the moment I walked into the newly refurbished gallery with the salon approach crowding the space to such an extent that it was difficult to comprehend what was being offered. After a brief walk around to understand how the exhibition worked I then chose to walk slowly around the show to look at specific pieces in more detail. To say that pickings were slim would be an understatement this year with only the side rooms, of sketch and line work combined with more abstract pieces holding my attention.

The show did have some highlights(shown above) but in future, it would be good if the selection panel cut the crap and behaved like a gallery that warrants international attention not a local saleroom appealing to a preconceived monoculture of potential art buyers.

Having assuaged my despondency at the RWA with coffee and cake in the lovely St. Georges hall café ( designed by PatelTaylor Architects) I then considered the other offerings ; two private views and a new show on at the Arnolfini.

One show currently on is by Bharti Kher and called ‘The Body is a Place’, a notion of which I did not doubt but was prepared to be instructed further.

Claiming to be a major solo exhibition of drawing, sculpture, and the spaces that lie between I was initially excited by the variety and scale of work shown although immediately irritated when approaching a room full of pieces on pivoting stands entitled ‘Links in a chain’ to see notices plastered on columns advising not to touch. Considering that it was the reflections between the pieces and how they interacted with each other that made them act as a single piece I ignored the sign and enjoyed playing, setting up my own relationships, only to be disappointed by the banality of some of the individual components.

I believe that this was deliberate but it’s hard to excuse splashing some paint on an assembly of magazine cut outs (apparently pages of educational children’s books from the 1930s combined with an eighteenth-century medical book of drawings of the brain) in the hope that art is created. I know that some artists say ‘ I am an artist, I did this piece, so its art’, however a bit more deliberation would enable a viewer to take the work more seriously and make more of the connections that Bharti Kher wanted.

However, proceeding to the upper rooms in the Arnolfini, the scale of the work overtook this minor disappointment with some wonderful freestanding objects and assemblies of objects alongside and framing huge works (the ‘Heroides’ series), incorporating thousands of different size and colour Bindi. I was advised that Kher uses bindis as a language to create fictional love letters inspired by Ovid as “they carry memory and narrative sleights of hand…a leftover of some experience”.

I left not feeling any more enlightened about the ‘body as a place’ nor understanding what the ‘narrative sleight of hand‘was but excited by the scale of the show and in awe of the herculean effort required to achieve the larger pieces. A show worth seeing.

The show is still on until January 29th 2023

Then, there was a private view at the recently reopened VIEW gallery

‘Out of The Dark’: is a group show curated by Gallery owner Nick Waugh of work by Michelle Dash, Rodger Williams, Matt Hardman, Fran Williams and Caroline Watson. It is described as 'a show of sculptures and paintings that carry a deep narrative' and are ‘ beautifully disturbing and delightfully engaging’, and they were.

It was a lovely show , the group show format ensures that private views are busy and full of a variety of people and this one was just that . A show worth visiting and I hope Nick puts on more soon.

So, finally to a private View at THAT ART GALLERY.

Andy Phipps the owner of that Art Galery frequently curates lovely solo shows, primarily work by painters, so his end of year private view of ‘FURTHER’ showing the work of nine artists promised to be both stimulating and busy, and it was.

The work on show by Kay Bainbridge, Andrew Carr, Martin Cox, Ava Haggas, Kirsty Lackie, Max Middle wood, Rosanna Morris, Kai Ohlsen and Jim Pilston was everything that the RWA was not. It was carefully curated to show contemporary art practice on uncrowded carefully lit walls and in considered juxtaposition to each other. Throw in a load of people from different artistic backgrounds with a glass of beer and you have the basis of a great private view.

It was a really enjoyable evening and I left feeling that I really wanted to try something new (although I haven’t and probably wont).


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