On Longing (Or, Modern Objects Volume II) | Huxley-Parlour

I’m not a very spontaneous gallery-goer, preferring instead to browse online, get a plan of attack, and then visit. But when I happened to pass by the gallery hosting Alexandra Barth’s Two Towels (2021), pictured below, I had to go in for a closer look.

The painting is part of a pretentiously-named group show that “seeks to explore modern objecthood”, whatever that means. Never mind. Barth, born and based in Slovakia, recently decided to paint a corner of a bathroom, then the work ended up in London, then it caught my eye, and I’m happy it did.

Alexandra Barth ‘Two Towels’ (2021)

I was so taken by the painting’s almost computer-generated creepiness, its sure grip on the uncanniness that lurks within the extremely banal, if you look hard enough for long enough.

Such as: the slightly off-kilter arrangement of the towels against the browny-beige tiles. The bridal veil-like translucency of the material. The lack of visible screws, joins, cracked caulk, mould in the grout - all things that would happen in the real world, in which people go to the bathroom, wash and dry themselves with towels. Nobody ever visited Barth’s bathroom though, and nobody ever will.

The total stillness of this space reminded me of the photographer Thomas Demand, whose work I’ve featured on here before. With both artists, the removal of people from the man-made scenes on display is part of the point. Demand also shot a very famous tiled bathroom once upon a time - empty of people, of course. I wonder if Barth thought of him while she was painting.

One thing is for sure. Her towels, suspended on their impossible rail and ring, won’t ever be used. They’re just there for us to look at.

On Longing (Or, Modern Objects Volume II) is at Huxley-Parlour (London). 02 June - 08 July 2023