Clarence Mews review by Rebecca Newell
Curator Martyn Richard Coppell has opened his Hackney apartment as an exhibition space for a series of contemporary solo commissions. His hope is this: that over the coming months, the unimpeded domesticity of an inhabited studio-flat will rub alongside painting, installation, film and performance by artists based in Frankfurt, Berlin, Copenhagen and New York. That the project will be episodic, both polysyllabic and durational: a single, evolving conversation in distinct chapters.
The inaugural instalment, ‘The Document and a Dream’ by painter Seth Pick, opened with December. Pick’s works are united by material gesture, a complex conjugation of coincidental, accidental and determined application of both oil paints and solvent resulting in works that hesitate between figuration and abstraction, between planned intervention and fortuitous interruption and between process and presentation.
Of the three small-scale works currently on show, ‘Two Boys Masturbating’ (2011) hung over Coppell’s central white bed, demands most scrutiny. Two adolescent figures sit languidly beside a rocky pool; the figures are restless and languorous, sexually poised and distracted. Pick uses both his subject matter and material to create a pervading sense of agitated longing and recall one of the most trumpeted of art’s grand canonical themes. Think of Caravaggio’s ambiguous, open-lipped boys and then of Watteau’s charged and innuendous fête galantes characters. The exhibition publication tells us that the loosening solvent splashed across the surface occur as drops of ejaculate. This is witty: Pick deliberately blurs pictorial representation (determined by the images and clippings he finds in flea markets and newspapers) with the physical, material experience of painting. Aligning solvent and semen, he brings his canvasses as scratched and spotted material objects into dialogue with the physical world of the exhibition space and viewer.
Pick’s works in this way are a succinct response to the exhibition setting: the series, named ‘Clarence Mews’ after the blind alley of its location, will be inextricably linked to the site. While the commissioned artists may choose (or not) to respond directly to the domestic situation of show, the series - the idea - can only be understood, in both practical and abstract terms, by appointment at the space.
And this is what is especially interesting about this project - it exists in relation to this space and because of the inhabitant. The current trend to reform paradigmatic display is relevant here as is the private process (visible in Pick’s painting) by which public presentation is reached. But the Clarence Mews exhibition, notwithstanding each chapter’s individual merit, will also be about ‘Clarence Mews’ the exhibit. A narrative will emerge between the consecutive installations, but also between the space and the whole: this is inescapable. The scattered things - a discarded coat, an interesting book and the white bed - will always contribute to the shifting ambiguity that will emerge as the common theme between the works. Clarence Mews here exists as a domestic space and as an innovative - and inescapable - curatorial expression and not a simple, perfunctory ‘somewhere’ outside the gallery space.