For the first time since early March (nearly four months ago) I’ve visited an art gallery. There were several differences to the usual experience. (1) I had to pre-book a timeslot. (2) I had to wear a face mask – which made my glasses steam up. (3) I had to follow a one-way system around the gallery. Apart from that it was business as usual and the restriction on visitor numbers meant the gallery was much quieter than usual – not a terrible thing.
This is an exhibition of new work by Cerith Wyn Evans, the Welsh conceptual artist, sculptor and film-maker. The show opened way back on 7 February but, like all London galleries, was shut down just a few weeks later. It was scheduled to close in April but it has been extended to August.
So what’s it all about? The first gallery space has four black and white abstract works on paper on the walls and two rotating trees, their moving shadows projecting in overlapping discs of light on the wall (see photo above). The second gallery contains a vast installation – ‘a celebration of aerodynamics in neon’ – and the largest gallery space is filled with smaller neon sculptures, a suspended wall of neon lettering (see photo below) and glass flutes playing random sounds that seem to emanate from sheets of actual glass that hang from the ceiling. The final gallery is filled with panels and screens (in some cases literally windscreens suspended from the ceiling) all artfully shattered to greater or lesser degree (see photo below).
It is beautiful and immersive. I’ve been deprived of art for so long it’s hard to know if that explains why I liked it so much. The suspended neon sculptures are filled with hard lines and soft curves, complex shapes and zigzags. There’s plenty of references to Duchamp here I think – his Bicycle Wheel and The Large Glass play a role, and I later discovered that the neon curtain made of Japanese kanji is a translation of a Proust description of a fountain – which itself is a reference to Duchamp’s famous urinal. The sound of the glass flutes creates an eerie yet compelling contrast to all this. The apparently randomness of shattered glass takes on an intriguing ‘designerliness’. I’ll never look at a broken window in the same way again. Maybe I should examine the chip in the car windscreen more closely.
But it’s the abstract ‘indeterminate paintings’ that have remained with me. Like a Rorschach Test I can stare at them and find familiar shapes and contortions, even murmurations. For the art-starved this is balm for the soul,