V22 Collection Show 2013
V22 Workspace, Bermondsey
9 June - 28 July 2013
Review by Nick Warner
Were you to imagine the day that contemporary art collections infiltrate the London Stock Exchange, you might prophesise large commercial galleries taking the helm. Or perhaps a collection that has affiliations with oil or arms money would lead the way. Instead, the first collection of contemporary art to be admitted to the stock market was V22 plc, an art organisation of humble beginnings whose aim is the collection of contemporary art, the provision of artists’ studios and the production of events, educational initiatives and, of course, exhibitions.
Currently seven years old, V22 started as a group of investor-patrons from a variety of backgrounds and occupations, who, as a group, collected contemporary art and, in the process, went about obtaining spaces in which to house artists. Soon enough the model adapted so that artists themselves could buy into the collection’s joint ownership by way of V22 shares, which could be exchanged for artworks that, ingeniously, would be assimilated into the collection. Where often artists watch powerlessly as their work becomes commodified by a system within which they have an increasingly marginal role, the model of V22 empowers the artist by way of a self-sustaining collection, with the shareholding artists spreading the simultaneous burden and benefit of middle-mandom, instead of a gallery.
Parts of this very collection are currently on show in the ‘V22 Collection Show 2013’, in the gigantic F Halls in Bermondsey. The exhibition, which is spread across several warehouse spaces, each variously monumental in scale, features the works of 26 artists. The first half of the space through which the audience navigates is broken up by blackout drapery, and so the navigation is done in complete darkness with only the faintest of white tape-lines on the floor as a guide. While at first this makes the works seem disjointed and the show like one large, immersive installation that stifles the art beyond comprehension, eventually the audience emerges, blinking into increasingly bright spaces, and the meticulous and measured variation of lighting becomes easier to appreciate.
LuckyPDF and Phyllida Barlow both feature works in the show’s first room, a giant, pitch black porch in which a pallid V22 representative hands you a map, which can only be read under phone light. Phyllida Barlow’s ‘SWAMP untitled: (parapet)’ (2010) makes for an ominous and enigmatic opening to the show. Looming over the room from high up, it surprises the viewer, whose eyes are not yet accustomed to the dark. Its very presence is alarming but its height, which is significantly greater than at its installation in Barlow’s V22 solo show of 2010, impresses upon the viewer the scale of the exhibition to come. LuckyPDF’s ‘S/S 2013 Young London Collection’ (2012) is a little lost in this first room, and while there is an admirable logic in its placement next to the desk, behind which the greeting invigilator sits, it’s almost too convincing, with the piece’s parody of a concessions stand or concept store becoming an actuality. This placement, along with the extreme darkness of the space, means that the intricacies of the work escape scrutiny and instead the only tangible element of the piece is an upturned flat screen, on which models including curator Attillia Franchini laugh and smile, modeling garments in photography studios.
Stumbling through the space the viewer finds a faint white line to follow on the floor, zigzagging through a curtain-lined walkway. The space is perfectly constructed in its preparation for the grand impact of Elizabeth Price’s ‘Welcome (The Atrium)’ (2013), projected high and large at the far end of a vast, pitch-black landscape. The installation is not only generally striking, but is impressive specifically in its treatment of the work, which as a predominantly unmoving video of a still life arrangement is barely discernable upon initial entry, but becomes clearer and cleared over the course of a long, gradual approach.
After a digression into a small side room where Eddie Peake’s performance ‘Contrapposto pause’ (2011) is shown on a flat screen, the show continues in to the fourth room, the largest so far by a considerable margin. This space remains untreated: there is no blackout drapery and no gallery walls; instead the concrete floor (which was partially flooded the day I visited) and walls are left bare. Objects of varying scale - including two further sculptures from Barlow’s ‘SWAMP’ series, as well as much smaller objects by Brian Griffiths and Alexandre Da Cunha, amongst others - litter the space, which is further punctuated by a predictable amount of two dimensional sculpture (Tomas Downes, Peles Empire, Fergal Stapleton and Vanessa Billy).
The fifth, and final, space is as humongous as the fourth and presents a third proposed methodology for exhibiting work in post-industrial buildings, this being the most drastically renovated to date. White-wall assemblages divide the space down the middle, and at either end two ‘black box’ setups show video works and projections by Lucy Clout, David Blandy, Conor Kelly and Sam Austen. One side of the space is dominated by Martin Westwood’s gigantic ‘Fatfinger [HAITCH.KAY.EKS]’ (2002), in which multiple hanging balloon sculptures are suspended over a carpet-tiled platform complete with chewing gum remnants. The balloon-shaped adornments and their suspending strings give the illusion that the whole tableau is presented upside down; that they are, in fact, helium filled balloons gathered near the tile ceiling of an office, perhaps after a boozy Christmas party.
The far side of this final room is occupied by many smaller works, the arrangement of which is hard to fathom, if very easy to navigate. Such large gallery spaces immediately bring Venice’s Il Palazzo Enciclopedico to mind, and I suppose it was comforting here to be able to walk from one work to the next in something of a linear fashion, without looping back on oneself or missing works. Alice Channer’s ‘The New Look’ (2007) presents itself perfectly in such a high-ceilinged space and works like Keith Wilson’s ‘Football in Railings’ (1998) seem apt alongside the concrete and steel.
It would be unreasonable to expect a neatly curated exhibition when the remit of the show is to exhibit works from the V22 collection; large public institutions can rarely curate ‘tight’ shows from their collections, which are many times the size of V22’s. What V22 have managed to achieve, instead, is the collection of some excellent works, and the production of an exciting and inspiring survey of post-industrial exhibitionary tropes. What would one do, given an unlimited amount of indoor space, and the opportunity to install loads of art in it’ Probably something not dissimilar to this. The one final shame, I felt, was that in what was otherwise a brilliantly arranged show, with an engaging and dynamic layout and variety of spaces, the viewer was required, after ascending into the light, crummy grandeur of the final spaces, to return the way they had come, retracing steps, eyes down, past the works they had just seen. The whole affair was not unlike alighting a bus and waving your travel companion a thorough, perhaps over-zealous goodbye, only to discover you’re both walking home the same way.