New Pictures From Milano Centrale: Jesper List Thomsen | Hot Wheels

The grotty industrial inner suburbs of Milan have featured on here before, in my frequent effusive posts about the early 20th century Italian painter Mario Sironi. He loved the glittering train tracks, the slab-like apartment blocks, the pavements of those new parts of his adopted hometown. A century later, the Danish-born, UK-based artist Jesper List Thomsen has a very different view of the place, according to this new exhibition of his.

List Thomsen’s ways of working begin with writing, and end up with paintings that use a broad variety of media: for the five on show at Hot Wheels, these include aluminium, enamel and water colour paints, along with aluminium, varnish and “traces of antibiotics”. The essay included in the show notes - which I assume reflect the views of the artist - is a proper rant against “abusive” “gaslighting” gentrification. It contrasts two termini: London’s Kings Cross St Pancras, where the gentrification process is “complete”, and Centrale, where it is “still underway”.

Jesper List Thomsen ‘Untitled (NPFMC)’ #8 and #9 (2024) ‘Untitled (NPFMC)’ #8 and #9 (2024)

It’s a gentrification that’s certainly apparent in the shiny and expensive renovation of Milano Centrale station in recent years. But I have to say, I’ve rarely encountered a sleazier atmosphere during daylight hours than when I last walked out of Centrale a couple of years back, on my way to my Airbnb. I can’t imagine things are sparkling clean these days, regardless of the renovation efforts.

List Thomsen’s paintings, looked at one way, reflect this kind of sleaze. His smudges of paint, across flat colour field backgrounds, seem like stains, or bruises. Splashes of food, vomit, footprints, sweat marks - the layers left behind by a huge amount of human traffic that passes through any train terminus. The artist doesn’t object to these. Instead, the contention comes from what the notes term the “signs” of gentrification: global branding, global capital.

“Our physical inhabitation of these environments props up the edifice, and our participation is remedial, adding to the productivity and functioning of it,” the notes huff. Ramming the point home is a little surprise, which we can find by peeking behind one of the canvases, mounted on the gallery’s mantelpiece.

We see a bottle of the expensive water brand Acqua Panna, which is presumably marked up in price still more viciously if you’re caught short and thirsty at the station. It’s half full of - well, talk about caught short. The list of works confirms it: piss.

Right next door on the mantelpiece are two little metal blobs. They’re monkey nuts, the ones you can buy in the ubiquitous burger chain Five Guys, branches of which are in stations across Europe. To make it art, they’re cast in bronze. Collectively, along with the paintings, they’re an expression of a place that meant progress and power to Sironi, but something dirtier and more compromised to List Thomsen.

Either way, it’s artistic fuel. Both artists feed on Centrale like a hungry traveller buying expensive nuts and water. Or as the notes have it: “The station and the life it insists on seeps into the body and the body expunges the station into the material of the work.”

New Pictures From Milano Centrale: Jesper List Thomsen is at Hot Wheels (London). 13 April - 03 June 2024

Correction: Hot Wheels have been in touch, pointing out the show notes I quote from contrast the relatively ungentrified Milano Centrale with the much more tidied-up Kings Cross St Pancras. I originally didn’t mention the London terminus when quoting from them. This was misleading! I’ve edited the post, with my apologies.