Top 5 of 2022

Another year, another 50 or so new posts about some art show I’d seen that week. Following the pandemic, which put a major dampener on the Artangled project, things are pretty much back to normal on here.

That’s reflected by the numbers. I saw 220 exhibitions in total this past year, practically the same as 2019 (221) and well up from last year’s 141 - a drop almost entirely attributable to lockdowns.

Just as in previous years, the last post of 2022 will start with a recap of five shows I featured on here this year that I loved.

‘Light Holding: Jenna Gribbon’ (Massimo de Carlo, London)

Jenna Gribbon - M in Blinding Light

I was so impressed with Jenna Gribbon’s vigorous handling of oil paint in this tight, tense exhibition. Her virile brush strokes mercilessly expose her main subject - her partner, and according to Twitter, soon-to-be wife - in full-face portraits.

The thing that brings all the works together is their shared, abiding sense of intimacy. And, of course, those virile brushstrokes. I’m looking forward to seeing some similarly merciless paintings from her again soon!

Elwin Hawthorne - Bow Road, 1931

This show wasn’t intense at all - instead, the East London Group’s quiet, weakly-lit paintings of the inter war years were derided by one critic of the time as “prim” and “worthy”.

But I was bowled over by both the familiarity and strangeness of these scenes, from Walter Steggles, Elwin Hawthorne and the rest. Maybe it’s because I live in the same general area in which the Group worked. Or maybe it’s something about that cool London light that these painters capture so well…

‘Alejandro Cardenas: CALYPSO’ (Almine Rech, Paris)

Alejandro Cardenas: CALYPSO - installation view

Chilean artist Alejandro Cardenas based the works in this exhibition around a story in Homer’s Odyssey. It was a mind-bending visual treat.

For his paintings, Cardenas employs lush, verdant backdrops, structures the scenes with rigorous perspectival clarity, and features in the foreground wild robot-like beings. Similar figures were also on display as metal sculptures: with their birdlike heads and spindly limbs, they were unforgettably weird - sensual and strange.

‘Alex Margo Arden: All Clear’ (Ginny on Frederick, London)

Alex Margo Arden - The Days Before The Time After

In an old sandwich shop-turned-gallery next to Smithfield meat market, Alex Margo Arden piled up a heap of detritus, and captured something nostalgic and thought-provoking. Mixed in with the furniture, all part of the same pile, are candles, scissors, a tin opener; weirdest of all, a couple of plates of “replica museum food” in plastic.

Arden has her roots in theatre: this small room is her stage, this pile of objects her players, the careful painted signs on the gallery windows her show bills. She tells us a tongue-in-cheek story of a delicately reconstructed past, here for a short while before being left behind forever.

Felipe Rezende - De norte a sul das ausências (2021)

Felipe Rezende is an artist of unusual sensitivity who lives in Salvador, Brazil. He paints people at work, people with hard, physical jobs: takeaway drivers with massive backpacks, muscle-bound baseball-capped mechanics, middle-aged nurses in scrubs. He paints on the most workaday fabric imaginable: truck tarpaulins, distressed to provide a more textured surface for the artist’s oil paint.

This show, in a tiny gallery overlooking the White Cube brick monolith in Mayfair, exemplified what I most love about this gallery-going hobby of mine: that on a humdrum weekday afternoon, I can enter an unfamiliar room and be transported somewhere new, propelled there by the force of a stranger’s artistic imagination. What a treat!

Other highlights

Here are five other shows I saw and loved that didn’t quite make the cut - in each case, I wish I’d featured them on here rather than whatever it was else I wrote about that week!

  • Hilma af Klint: Tree of Knowledge (David Zwirner, London)
  • Graciela Iturbide: Heliotropo 37 (Fondation Cartier, Paris)
  • Gallen-Kallela: Myths and Nature (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris)
  • Cornelia Parker (Tate Britain, London)
  • Soheila Sokhanvari: Rebel Rebel (Barbican Curve, London)

Disappointment of the year

There’s a runaway winner (or loser) in this category: Al rio, an enormous show of photographs taken along the US/Mexico border by Zoe Leonard, held at the Musée d’art Moderne in Paris. Though I’ve admired this artist’s work on here in the past, this show was a gigantic turn off: interminable galleries of small, samey documentary-style photos.

More than once I turned a corner, only to be confronted by yet another endless vista of photos evenly spaced on the white walls, stretching away into the distance. I didn’t bother with the last third or so at all - hustling through the galleries to find something more interesting. Leonard had a potentially pertinent point to make with these works, but she should never have been allowed to stage them in this over-the-top way. (Hilariously, this show made Frieze’s list of the top 10 European exhibitions of the year, in what I can only assume is some kind of advanced irony I’m not cool enough to get.)

To 2023!

I’m not planning any massive innovations for the Artangled project next year, beyond continuing to post each week about an art exhibition I’ve seen recently, just as I have since January 2018. I enjoy the constraints imposed by this site; by writing these short, almost unread posts, I’m forced to think more about what I’ve seen. The process boosts whatever value there is for what is after all a frivolous, time consuming and professionally useless hobby. Beyond simply enjoying it, of course.

Anyway, the moment it stops being enjoyable, I’ll stop. That isn’t looking likely at the moment though!