Now in its sixth year, this programme features pieces by noted contemporary artists (2016 offers 16 total works across 19 locations, from luminaries like Gavin Turk and Sarah Lucas, and in great variance of scale) arrayed around the Square Mile, incorporating in its trail such iconic architectural landmarks as the Gherkin, the Cheese Grater, the Lloyd’s building and Leadenhall Market. This wide-ranging installation makes an adventure of roaming through an area of town usually blighted by commuter crowds and urban noise, allowing the visitor to reflect closely upon the spaces (plazas, squares, corners and passageways) that are normally traversed with thoughtless speed. Although this year’s collection isn’t as impressive as in previous incarnations (Ai Wei Wei’s colossal bicycle construction, the Chapman Brothers’ playful steel dinosaurs, Damian Hirst’s unsettling and towering figure of a broken and scuffed charity girl), the path offers continual surprise and discovery, and is an exciting way in which to interact with a quarter of the city in which all eras of construction coexist with impossible aplomb. This runs through 17 March 2017
I should mention London’s other great public art trail, The Line, born in the cultural wake of the Olympics, running from Queen Elizabeth Park to the O2 Centre along the Meridian. I visited last year just after its inception and found it a bit ropy in organisation-there were a few wide gaps between clusters of works, and sometimes transportation was the most efficient route between sections, which was a bit of a discouraging surprise. By now many of these issues have been resolved, I imagine, as a year of streamlining has taken place, and a few more works have been introduced. It’s well worth a visit, and will guide you through both the emerging cultural spaces of East London (Cody Dock, Royal Docks)-shining examples of the legacy of 2012-as well as the established Three Mills studios. The outstanding work is Abigail Fallis’s DNA DL90, a spiralling double helix of shopping trolleys, a wry statement on the genetic imperative of consumption and consumerism.
Like the Chapman Brothers’ provocative series of Victorian paintings (which, sometimes gratuitously, reveal the steady,wounding rot and ruin of time upon the sitting figures), this new collection from artist Wood-Evans notes the sad elisions of history on its subjects, as once vibrant individuals and objects lose definition and resonance within the frame, reduced to ghostly, weightless versions of themselves. A monumental melancholy vibrates off the works as, the people especially, labour with futility to defy the harsh step of history, the insistence of their transience. Wood-Evans takes as his source vigorous works of 18th century masters such as Sir Joshua Reynolds and Henry Raeburn, lightly distorting their idealised images of the gentry and military might and pomp. Hung on the walls of the Unit gallery in Soho as if on display in the grandest hallways of a stately home, severely low-lit as to render the spectator reverently silent as he or she moves about the space, the pieces achieve uncanny resonance. For an unsettling moment, you sense the spectral darkness moving inexorably towards us all. The show runs through 11 September. Unit itself was established in 2013 by two young artists, now both 26, a true entrepreneurial success story, especially given its location in the heart of one of the most competitive and expensive areas of the city.
Further evidence that the Elephant and Castle area is the new epicentre of creative enterprise is the establishment of this 45000 square foot space (encompassing the buildings and grounds of a former paper factory now owned by the Peabody estate) patterned after the grand food halls of Naples and Turin. Founder Andrea Rasca is the man behind the well-regarded Eataly empire with several international locations. The design of the space is a no-frills, clean industrial look, plain, soft wood fronting for the stalls, and chunky, solidly rustic trestle table seating. It’s very open plan, encouraging families and groups to mingle in convivial rapport. Emphasis is on fresh and authentic Italian ingredients-you may wander with a wide palate, as everything from pizza to pasta to fish to wine to gelato to charcuterie to cheese is on offer, and in a separate courtyard a menagerie of street food is available from a host of trucks (serving an international smorgasbord of delicacies). Look out for the impressive raised seating area composed structurally of steel girders-a deferential gesture to the history of the site. Also central to this new development is the supermarket Prezzomolo e vitale, a Palermo-based grocer specialising in imported meats, cheeses and packaged products. The organisers promise an ever-expanding schedule of activities and events, with cooking demonstrations, dances, eventual cinema screenings and a boxing gym in the works (there is even a plan for a pop-up hotel!). The official opening is 15 September, so now is a good time to sample this new venture, before the tourist crowds and hipster hordes colonise the grounds. This past Saturday afternoon was modestly populated and relaxed, the floor easily navigable-some of the business space has yet to be inhabited. Yet it is breathlessly apparent that this has the potential to develop into another dynamic destination market on the London culinary scene. Its neighbours are the venerable nightclub Ministry of Sound and the Southwark Playhouse (recently relocated), so a fledgling social quarter is definitively in the process of birth.
The predominant image in Mr. Duwenhogger’s work is that of a rather louche, slightly dissipated male figure, oftentimes languorously hitched against a doorway, surrendered to a fugue state of homoerotic reverie, caught in a longing for a promise just outside the frame. Given the unnaturally enchanted skies above, their impeccably styled wardrobe, the precision of their desire in posture and gesture, the picture itself may be a representation of the fevered inner life of the central figure. The framing and imagery speak to the high style of the French salon, although the occasional tremor of the Orient announces itself in certain horizons and background detail. Hints of the magical continually violate the more realistic elements. Most striking is the architectural piece “Celestial Teapot”, an anxious nine-tiered dizzying staircase to the seeming nirvana of a tea house refuge that then reveals yet another staircase, suggesting that peace and contentment is merely transitory, and fraught journeys must continue. There’s a bit of the Wiemer era around the edges of these works, as if the characters are awaiting, with mounting trepidation, the end of abandon and sensual thrall. Amidst the elegant Georgian rooms of Raven Row (originally built as homes in the late 1600s, Alex Sainsbury, scion to the grocery empire. combined the two addresses into the gallery space in 2009, with some modern additions), the slightly naughty nature of the paintings playfully tease the environment. Even in the less overtly suggestive works, there exists the tension of the held, a restless anticipation for the roar of what is advancing, whether personal or public, liberating or damning.
An adjunct to Second Home, the creative business hub directly across the road founded by erstwhile Parliamnetary policymaker Rohan Silva and partner Sam Aldenton, this bespoke space devoted boldly to the printed product is a direct, defiant gesture against the digital monopoly. Its design, based on the central spatial imagery of Jorge Luis Borges’s story “The Library of Babel” is a marvel of sinuously curving, softly-shaded wood shelves, sudden snug alcoves and skilful use of mirrors to open what is essentially a fairly narrow, tiny expanse. The ceiling is wholly mirrored, as is the entire back wall, which has the peculiar optic effect of doubling the space (even standing in front of it, with my reflection in full view, I had the inclination to continue walking forward-my brain couldn’t seem to resolve the solidity of it, where it actually began). A melange of desk lamps are irregularly clipped to the shelves, providing warm spheres of light. Books are grouped according to theme rather than category, so that browsers may discover unexpected connections across a vast space of writing and disciplines-between poetry, fiction, history, psychology, science, in what can be regarded as a more personal, thoughtful and tangible example of the algorithmic patterns of the Internet search. Authors and creative figureheads from various fields will make routine appearances, performances will be frequently scheduled-it’s the founders’ remit to have the store reach full community potential (just this past weekend they remained open for 24-hours to celebrate the start of the Night Tube with dj-sets and readings). Visiting artists will be invited to curate temporary shelves and collections, and an in-store printing press located in the basement of the building will publish on occasion limited-edition, customised titles. The management, themselves fully immersed in digitally-driven industries, recognise a growing desire of the population to disconnect from their devices, to seek moments of breath and reflection, a contentment not fed in the least by the continual barrage and distraction of information online. Libreria is seen as a momentary refuge from this deluge. Silva (along with design firm SelgasCano) already have plans for similar spaces in Nairobi and L.A.-his goal of finding an equilibrium between the technical and the elemental is to be celebrated and appreciated. Cell phones are verboten-make sure you turn off or set to vibrate before you enter.
Most remarkable for their utter and blissful disengagement with any mote of turbulence or turmoil, even as later works grow to directly address loss, artist Heilmann makes a great case for the possibility for serenity to achieve notable weight and dimension in the frame. It’s a brave and resolute soul who can defy the humiliations of time, not allowing it to perturb her canvas with a darker palette-bright and vivid colours, great and open splashes of brushstroke, are a consistent hallmark of all eras of her work. The clean, clear hues, the easy breath and space of each painting are indelibly grounded in her time spent on the West Coast of the States, informed by the psychology and landscapes of California. Early pictures study the sturdiness of the square, or examine the boundless potential of the grid-wobbling, wavering, they tease the eye. The most recent works, although maintaining their abstract nature, resolve themselves into more coherent scenes. Heilmann began her career as a ceramicist, examples of which are interspersed among the paintings, a practice out of which she transitioned due to difficulties of attaining traction in a very male-dominated environment. She moved to New York in the late-sixties and became immediately involved in the burgeoning Pop Art scene, rubbing elbows with most of its major players. Watching a video interview with the artist, Heilmann remains an inveterate hippie, an inviolable and insurmountable optimism and contentment present, which directly spills over to her work. Her work does not heave like Goya nor sweat like Pollack, but it doesn’t need to do so to earn a deserved place in the firmament-it has a tranquil profundity all its own.
From March through October, on the first Friday of each month, Lambeth Palace, usually inaccessible to the public, opens its gardens to the curious for a nose around the courtyard, the quite extensive grounds (replete with various plantings and statuary, as well as a charming terraced plot), all culminating in an impressive green which offers such surprises as a pond and a beautifully landscaped Victorian pathway along its perimeter. Just outside, traffic roars along the bustling Lambeth Palace Road, yet within a serenity and tranquility wholly envelops the visitor. Each month is sponsored by a different charity (in my case, Catholic Aid hosted on the day), the admission fee is £5, and a refreshment tent has been erected on the edge of the green offering drinks and homemade cakes for a suggested price. There was even entertainment in the form of a musical artist leaning heavily on Ed Sheeran’s catalog of hits. 2016 is the inaugural year for this new venture, as Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury (the resident of the home around which these grounds sprawl) has declared his interest in having the public share in the beautifully cultivated space on a more frequent basis. Some of the trees date back to the 1500s, so there is an astonishing brace of history inherent in the gardens. Once organised around the principles of a private garden, it was Archbishop Moore who transmuted the space into the structure of a parkland, which today is widely apparent. Procrastination nearly derailed what will remain in mind an engaging, graceful experience for 2016-you have two more chances this year to indulge before the long wait for next Spring. If you go, make sure you stroll Archbishop’s Park and visit the Garden Museum, both of which border Lambeth Palace.