Review: New talent at the Kerlin and 23 artists at Ellis King
From absinthe inflected star gazing to shy violets, two shows capture the spirit of art right now
Ernesto Caivano - Nocturne 27 (Cataract Nebula), 2016, at Ellis King
Kerlin Gallery, Dublin
A friend once proposed a game, or perhaps an app, called “Art Snap”. You’d put in an image from whoever is the latest hot thing, and Art Snap would spit out all the other artists making similar-looking work. It’s undoubtedly true that there’s very little new under the sun, and it’s equally true that newness itself isn’t necessarily the most important thing. But I often find myself at exhibitions thinking “ahh, but that looks just like . . .” or, worse “who on earth is it that this person’s work reminds me of?” At the Kerlin gallery’s more-or-less annual exhibition of new talent, I got into the search in earnest.
As one of Ireland’s most successful galleries, both at home and abroad, the Kerlin definitely has its instincts honed when it comes to spotting artists to watch. The first such show it selected, in 1995, included Willie McKeown, Ronan McCrea and Walker & Walker, all of whom went on to have significant careers. This year, the work of three Dubliners, Áine McBride, Hannah Fitz and Marcel Vidal (all born between 1986 and 1989), and Texan-born Daniel Rios Rodriguez is on display.
It’s a brilliantly laid out, energetic exhibition, but your first sight is of a blank white barrier. This, Untitled (wall) (2017), is a partition by McBride. It consists of pieces of wood, set in an L-shape on ceramic feet, but it’s worth pressing on.
Hannah Fitz’s sculptures are a particular delight. Art Snap brought me straight to the work of Spanish sculptor Juan Muñoz, though Fitz doesn’t stop at figures. There is a man in a suit, a mirror, and a small vase with a flower, all deliberately un-sleek, and all coloured with the same murky ochre which adds a nice layer of nature to the cultured pieces she has produced.
My favourite is Table (2017), a witty, slightly wobbly-looking occasional table, on which stands a reading lamp and ashtray, a curl of white smoking up, beguilingly fragile yet solid. Fitz also works, more exuberantly, in video, though this isn’t on show here.
Rios Rodriguez’s work has the richly impasto feel of Paul Mosse’s paintings, coupled with a bit of Braque collage, although his tactile pieces (oh, how you want to touch them) are more figurative. Look closely to discover there’s much more than paint going on. Shy Violets (2017), is a delicious little oval of thick oil paint, with nails, rope and glass all in the mix. It’s a pleasure to make out the delicate little flower heads, struggling for being among all that material detritus.
Vidal presents more of a conundrum. There are the hyper-real, nicely strange paintings: pared back images, closing in on the trellis of an orchid, a woman in a red dress, the knobbled leaves of a cactus. In style its reminiscent of American artist Alex Katz.
But then there are the sculptures. These are black constructions, set on castors, studded and towering-like maquettes for hideous futuristic prison towers – except for on top where you find a frond of black flowers (Black Roses, 2017), or little furry legs, ending in cloven hooves (Balcony, 2017).
It’s difficult to see the two sides of the work together without one inflecting the other. The wild chaos of the sculptures made me want more to lurk within the pared-back, cold clarity of the paintings; while the presence of the paintings seemed to call for more restraint within the floor pieces. I can imagine when this tension is resolved, wonderful and entirely Art Snap-resistant work might follow.
McBride’s barrier is joined by more sculptures made from mundane materials. Untitled (square slot) (2017), is cast concrete, MDF, plywood, timber and tiles, sitting squarely on the floor. It has pleasingly minimalist lines, and does that thing that reminds you of how objects can start to seem oddly valuable when they come into the rarefied confines of an art gallery. I can imagine it in a modernist home where guests have to be constantly reminded not to put their cocktails on it.
Overall, the Kerlin has captured the creativity and expressiveness of the next generation in a balanced show that, knowing previous works by some of these artists, tends to opt for safety over out-and-out creative risk. It’ll be fascinating to see where they go next.
Kerlin, Anne’s Lane, Dublin 2. Until August 26th. kerlin.ie
Ellis King, Dublin
Putting 23 artists together is always going to be somewhat chaotic. Add an overarching conceit that covers the biblical Book of Revelation, absinthe, mystical abilities, Chernobyl and decaying timber, all under the umbrella of wormwood (look it up, it really does include all five), and you have quite a recipe.
Break this exhibition into its constituent parts and it’s an eclectic show in which some pieces sing among the visual noise. First up, and then out, are Ryan Estep’s Flood (2014), and Untitled (2014) – a pair of installations, one in each of the gallery spaces. In the former, handmade balls of soap, black with charcoal and dirt, spill across the floor. In the latter, the balls are off-white, made, more purely, from antibacterial soap. Dirty soap and clean soap: once you’ve got it, you can move on.
And it’s worth it for Oscar Tuazon and Elias Handsen’s Hadlock Boomlog (2016), a pair of wooden panels seemingly distressed by giant burrowing worms. Next, Ernesto Caivano’s Nocturne series of delicate drawings are absolutely gorgeous. Night-time supernovas, astral dreams or genuine star studies, it doesn’t matter. You can fall into their small circumferences and get happily lost for a wormwood eternity.
In the back room find one of John Gerrard’s delicious real time 3D Flag simulations, four of which are on show at the Galway International Arts Festival (until August 30th). Gerrard is the only Irish artist in the show, and this time it’s the river Danube, complete with simulated oil spill, floating iridescently on the river surface, as the landscape is gently reflected back on the ripples. It’s time to stop worrying what the wormwood connection might be and just enjoy the quiet beauty of the work.
Thaddeus Wolfe shows a pair of glowing sculptures made from argon gas, illuminated within blown glass, set in wood and silicone. Log Piece (2017), and Untitled (fluorescent light structure) (2017), satisfy the requirement I’m suddenly feeling for shiny art pieces. And then the presence of a pink-touched wood panel by famous American artist Sherrie Levine, and a duo of oddly organic works by fashion designer turned artist Helmut Lang, crystallises what the whole show keeps bringing me back to – the Frieze Art Fair.
Selected by American gallerist and collector, Todd von Ammon, Wormwood is like a microcosmic version of the endlessly sprawling halls of art-things, some forgettable and some highly wantable, that takes place in massive tents in London’s Regent’s Park each year. Here, you get lots of it, and all in a much more manageable space.
Ellis King, White Swan, Donore Avenue, Dublin 8. Until August 12th. ellisking.net