Tuesday, 11 October 2011


Two and a Half Dimensions
Pangolin Gallery

But is it Art? What does the title tell us? Malevich was an artist who, almost a 100 years ago, painted Black Square on a White Ground : a pure black square with no picture, no perspective, no illusion. It was intended to cause a storm in the world of fine art – and it did.   Malevich wanted a complete break from old ways of doing art, to turn the clock back to zero and introduce a new movement in Russian painting: Suprematism.

He chose black - why is it so special?  Goethe called colour ‘troubled light’, and black is probably the most troubling colour of all. You could say it's just a surface which gobbles up all the colours of the visible spectrum.  But it seems to have a special aura: black market, black sheep, Black Death, blackmail. The artist Paul Klee wonders if our reaction is so deep because it dates from the time when our ancestors hadn’t tamed fire in order to use it to light up the night. They must have spent a large proportion of their lives in what is now unimaginable total blackness.  It suggests human vulnerability, times when we cannot see or control that which might harm us. If burkas, now banned in several European countries, were pastel coloured or prettily patterned would there be the same reaction?

So what has Adam Walker made of all this? he seems to find that even a totally black painting manifests too much order, too much simplicity, too much discipline for its own good. So the canvas is violently attacked and ruined (although it cannot help itself from forming out of the tatters pleasing silhouettes, shadows and shapes). And the paint is no longer applied by skilful hands. Instead it's released to spatter and scatter, skidding out-of-control down the wall.

But here comes the interesting bit. Paintings are two dimensional, sculptures are three  The exhibition at the Pangolin is called Two and a Half Dimensions, showing work which slips in between that gap. Malevich is not simply a painting. There's a glass 'vitrine' at its feet, reflecting back the painterly. It's a cube, the picture is a square; both are grappling with riotous black paint; both have been desecrated. This is especially shocking because a vitrine is usually found in a museum or laboratory or as a china cabinet containing something too precious for ordinary life.  It is intact, probably locked -  and never on the floor, the place associated with dirt and dog bowls; where broken pieces end up and dropped items need washing.

It reminds me of Armand’s Condition of Woman 1960 which I once saw in Zurich. The contents of his first wife’s bathroom bin are treated majestically, displayed in a glass vitrine on top of an ornate antique cabinet, shaped like a human body.

Is Malevich art? It’s conceptual art which at its best  need not offer beauty or majesty or permanence. On a good day it can re arrange the furniture in our minds.

PS When I was a student, social anthropologists were  fascinated by how some traditional societies viewed the pangolin, or spiny anteater. A nocturnal toothless mammal with scales, it existed outside  their normal categories and was given the respect (even worship) due to something so original.
A wonderful name for an art gallery.
Black Moods, article by Gabriel Ramin Schor in TATE ETC , Summer 2006

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