Enjoyable aesthetics at the New Art Gallery Walsall

This weekend I visited the New Art Gallery Walsall and had the pleasure to see two great exhibitions: ‘Anti-Scrape’ by Andrew Gillespie and ‘A World Within’ by Idris Khan. First one was curated by Zoe Lippett and latter one by Deborah Robinson.

Andrew Gillespie ‘Anti-Scrape’

First, I went to see Gillespie’s show on the 4th floor. His minimalistic installation caused instant errors in my brain because I didn’t understand why these elements were combined: construction fence with pieces of Hokusai’s Great Wave, King Kong holding Empire State Building and some clothes in concrete.

The fences mark out space, but act as a screen too. They are objects to look through, but they also momentarily obscure one’s vision. The cast concrete fragments have a definite front and back; a crisp, legible facade, disguising a roughly textured reverse.(Exhibition guide, Zoe Lippett interviewing Andrew Gillespie)

Regarding homage to Hokusai’s work: Gillespie took a photograph from the reproduction, enlarged it, transformed the sections into silkscreens and printed them onto the concrete elements. The original image was a woodcut colour print (c. 1830-1833) and now, enlarged many times finds itself on the part of an urban construction.

The dual surface was through element within the installation, with one side showing one image, but reverse totally different. For example like with the large King Kong sculpture which was missing its front, although the viewer cannot tell this looking at this work from one angle.

Andrew Gillespie ‘Anti-Scrape’, installation view. The New Art Gallery Walsall

The exhibition spoke with me on the printmaking level first and foremost. I was fascinated with artist’s interdisciplinary approach, silkscreen print on concrete.  In the age of constant reproduction, usage of traditional print techniques only as a craft is not respected anymore. A technique is just a means to achieve the idea and not the central figure, but it is always great to see when good quality traditional technique supports the concept.

 

Idris Khan ‘A World Within’

I walked down the stairs to the third floor just to be stunned by the aesthetics looking back at me in the first gallery room. Idris Khan grew up in Walsall, and therefore it is an important exhibition both for the gallery and the artist. He is currently living in London and represented by the Victoria Miro gallery among other galleries.

The artist depicted various key texts and sound pieces of our times by entire overlapping content of the book. And again, as a printmaker, I melted, because the artworks looked so beautiful, genuinely enjoyable aesthetics. Idris Khan used texts like Roland Barthes’ ‘Camera Lucida’, Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ and The Holy Qur’an. A time-consuming technique of photographing each page and then digitally overlapping them produced a mesmerising effect.

But the most impressive work is probably Khan’s installation ‘Seven Times’ (Sandblasted oil-sealed blue steel cubes, 2010). I was so tempted to touch the surface of those cubes…

The scale, aesthetic and presence of the sculptural cubes directly reference the Kaaba, the huge black square structure in the heart of Meca that symbolises a conduit between heaven and earth. (Exhibition guide, Deborah Robinson)

I enjoyed the variety of cultures within Khan’s show. Considering the uncertain times within the global politics, it is great to see that art in the exhibition space is not influenced by this. It is a shame that not all visitors had the enthusiasm which I tried to project. I had a pleasure to speak with several of them and the feedback wasn’t what I expected. Mainly because of the lack of focus and willingness to read and immerse oneself into the explanation text by the curator.

 

Both exhibitions were visually pleasing and thought-provoking. I did find myself asking more questions then I found answers to, but it didn’t stop me from truly enjoying myself during the visit.