David Roberts Art Foundation, 111 Great Titchfield Street, London, W1W 6RY

  • DSC0612
    Title : DSC0612
  • DSC0620
    Title : DSC0620
  • DSC0623
    Title : DSC0623
  • DSC0624
    Title : DSC0624
  • DSC0630
    Title : DSC0630
  • DSC0633
    Title : DSC0633
  • DSC0642
    Title : DSC0642
  • DSC0649
    Title : DSC0649
  • DSC0692
    Title : DSC0692
  • DSC0693
    Title : DSC0693
  • DSC0695
    Title : DSC0695
  • DSC0696
    Title : DSC0696
  • DSC0697
    Title : DSC0697
  • DSC0699
    Title : DSC0699
  • DSC0701
    Title : DSC0701
  • DSC0704
    Title : DSC0704
  • DSC0712
    Title : DSC0712
  • DSC0716
    Title : DSC0716
  • DSC0721
    Title : DSC0721
  • DSC0722
    Title : DSC0722

Review by Maggie Gray

Thomas Houseago’s Striding Figure looks exhausted: head down, shoulders hunched, huge fists hanging heavily near the floor. The plaster-white goliath seems in danger of falling apart, rough edges revealing a makeshift skeleton of metal and wood. It is instantly recognisable as the child of art-historical greats (Rodin, Boccioni and Gabo spring to mind) but for all its august heritage, it limps, rather than strides, towards the door of the David Roberts Art Foundation, acting as a bulky focal point for entering visitors and offering striking visual expression to the show’s central concerns.

Curated by Vincent Honoré and Patrizio Di Massimo, ‘More Pricks than Kicks’ explores ‘how a notion such as ‘exhaustion’ can be formally enacted.’ The title is taken from an early work by Samuel Beckett, who made the inadequacy of human communication his unlikely medium and message: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ The current exhibition, featuring works by twelve contemporary artists, essentially operates on the same premise that any attempt at artistic expression must inevitably fall short. Refusing to paint over the cracks, instead they deliberately take up accepted modes of human communication, from painting to television, poetry to academia, before running them into the ground.

Nothing is quite safe. George Condo’s tragicomic painting of St Jerome, pierced with carrots of all things, is an absurd parody of its genre: a deliberate iconographical stumbling block and a farcically uninspiring icon. In the looped video Der Spiegel (‘The Mirror’) Keren Cytter recasts an essentially classical chorus as a bullying modern day clique that relentlessly deconstructs its own narrative, breaking up the flimsy story to directly address the viewer about the work. Simon Denny turns a boxy and obsolete television set into an empty aquarium, hazardously ornamented with broken lights and wires. Aquarium scenes used to screen when television channels had nothing else to show.

Words have a difficult time too. A set of hefty books details years of Bethan Huws’ theoretical and artistic research, but the sheer volume and density of her notes makes sharing in more than a fraction of it close to impossible. Paul Chan hands the poet’s job of manipulating language to a computer. He has created fonts which, instead of familiar letters and characters, generate whole words. The results are an enticing tangle of arbitrary metaphors, made fascinating by the knowledge that there is method behind their madness, and more than a little madness in the method.

Perhaps the most quietly extreme is Pietro Roccasalva. He leaves only a marble plaque on the wall - a gallery label engraved with the details of the exhibition. His deliberate retreat from the fray, his refusal to venture a voice, is a powerful statement in the wake of a chattering Frieze week.

There’s a hefty dose of irony in this exhibition’s attempt to express our inability to express. In a show which deliberately deals with the breakdown of communication, not all of the works will resonate with everyone, but the eclectic variety of creative and often witty responses to a difficult theme is ultimately a strength. Chaos, disruption and silence are allowed to encroach, and the works are allowed to defeat themselves, in order to challenge the complacency of our existing approaches to art.

Published on