Gorgeous Ellie the Intern from Sweden and Minnesota is away finishing her dissertation. Incarcerated in New Cross. Twenty thousand words on memory and the family album with an opener from Anna Karenina. Nice. Plus a further twenty thousand words on various theory-laden Goldsmithsie topics. We got an email from her yesterday saying she thought she might be having a nervous breakdown. I hope she was joking, poor flower. Thank goodness those days are over. If I had the chance to be twenty-one again I wouldn't take it. Even the beauty and naivety of youth are no temptation. Thirty-something's okay. And seventy something's going to be a right laugh I reckon. The older you get the more outrageous you can be and nobody bats an eyelid. What's infantile at twenty-five seems sage at seventy-five.
But nothing could excuse the private view I went to last night in Kings Cross. It was terrible. I don't like to slag things off too unthinkingly, but really, this was terrible. It was beyond terrible. 'A cosmological ricochet which is conceptualised through repeated images of bananas...' I'm not even kidding. That's what the text says. An artist + gallerist showing her own work in her own gallery. Supporting texts by artists the gallery is showing later in the year. A tad sycophantic they turned out to be, rather unsurprisingly. I'll treat you to one Q&A.
Q: 'And now you have a new enormous gallery space in Kings Cross and you collaborate with all these different artists. It feels like a very exciting new chapter in the story. Do you ever feel so happy you could burst?'
A: 'Yes, all the time… Britain is the most civilized and polite places (sic) I've ever been. I like British people a lot. They are reliable, creative and exciting.'
For the love of God.
Warm white table wine served in a plastic cup for a pound. Bargain. And a bowl of pretzels. Yummy. And in the catalogue a photograph of the artist in 1992 with Lauren Bacall. A joke peut-être? A performance? I tried so hard to sniff out even a hint of irony but failed utterly. There was a great quotation from Albert Einstein on the promotional material. 'The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.' That was by far the best thing about the show. In fact it was the only good thing about it. But one good quote does not an exhibition make, unfortunately. If it did, the curator's job would be rather easier than it is.
By contrast there was a cracker on at Haunch of Venison in the ex-Museum of Mankind, now the Royal Academy. Or is it Haunch of Venison? I'm not sure - it's confusing. Anyway, it's 6 Burlington Gardens. No matter whose patch it is, this exhibition – Mythologies – was a delight. The only bad thing about it, and thereby also about this untimely 'review', is the fact that it's now over. I'm quite of a mind though that such details don't make the mention of it redundant. People are still talking about the seminal Freeze show they never saw and maybe Mythologieswill turn out to be another such myth – the show one never saw but never admits to not having seen! So in case you're in that slightly tragi-comic boat, here you are: a belated / pre-emptive heads up.
The fact that it was staged in an ex-museum and on/off Royal Academy venue presented a significant double-edged sword. It meant that an exhibition devised by a gallery that's ostensibly a commercial concern was competing, in terms of viewer perception, against publicly funded exhibitions that have no selling agenda at all. Haunch of Venison set the bar very high for themselves. The stunning location meant the work and the curation had to rise to the occasion in quite spectacular fashion. On this kind of platform they couldn't afford to put on anything even approaching a so-so show. Any hint of mediocrity would have translated immediately into a tremendous flop and staggering embarrassment.
On the other hand, the setting would lend vast kudos and seriousness, as long as the show had broad enough shoulders to carry it. Which it did. It was intelligently curated, visually beautiful, conceptually meaty, and incredibly wide in the range of work it delivered. Tony Cragg, Bill Viola, the magnificent Sophie Calle, Simon Patterson, good old Damo of course, still on the sparkly skull thing – now wall-based – but never mind! Some fascinatingly disturbing taxidermied Dobermans – 'archetypes of urban violence and disorder' so we're told – courtesy of German artist Jochem Hendricks, and relative newcomer Nicholas Hlobo in the wake of his solo show at Tate Modern's Level Two earlier in the year. And much, much, more to thrill and delight.
Art Rabbit described it as 'one of the most ambitious group exhibitions ever mounted in London by a private gallery.' It certainly catapulted Haunch of Venison up to a new level. I'd go as far as to say it rose head and shoulders above most exhibitions currently showing in public galleries in London, many of which you have to pay to see. For my money, it knocked the socks off theRussian Linesman, the Hayward show curated by Mark Wallinger, that plays an unsuccessful round of Russian Roulette with the always tempting but highly risky game of curatorial ego trip.
The only sad thing is I can't now recommend you go and see it. Have I let you down dear friend and reader? I feel the need to stick up for myself, to remind you that I'm not often bringing you a cup of tea that's already cooled. Forgive me, you know how insecure we arty types are! In my defence I mention that the 2009 Turner Prize nominees include Roger Hiorns' Art Angel commission Seizure, an installation bigged up in the diary by yours truly some six months ago. I risk life and limb in the Elephant & Castle to bring you the latest news. The Elephant & Castle, New Cross, even Fulham – surely a destination more than any where a balaclava is more or less mandatory in order to respectably disembark the tube.
Apparently one of the jury members, Guardian critic Jonathan Jones, is big into Enrico David, but that aside, my money's on Hiorns for Turner victory 2009. Twenty five grand for Hiorns and a first for little Ellie.