Hermann Nitsch, Das Orgien Mysterien Theatre, Massimo De Carlo

Blood-soaked, viscous, charged with a crazed religious ecstasy  and ardour, this show devoted to iconoclastic Austrian performance provocateur Nitsch is hardly the sort of material you would expect housed within the confines of an elegant Mayfair gallery, transformed now into a hedonist’s den of sombrely gleeful blasphemy and impiety (Nitsch was an instrumental figure in the Viennese Actionism movement in the 1960’s, a practice steeped in the confrontational use of the artists’ own bodies and with interests in the achievement of transgressive states of absolute being-in short, rigourous pioneers in performance art). The ground floor displays a series of altar-like pieces, incorporating smocks, priests’ vestments, religious iconography, canvasses that drip in vivid splashes of red-a queasy combination of blood, fluid and paint-and huge thunderous works of roiling, swirling oils that suggest the miasmatic heart of apocalypse. A shocking, bracing video in the bowels of the building reveals the origins of the works presented upstairs, as conceived in a six-day spiritual and ritualistic experience staged within the grounds of what appears to be a farm (truly awe-inspiring in its organisational scale), incorporating a cast of actors (who, with alarming alacrity and commitment, throw themselves passionately into crucifixion and -simulated?-sexual acts), animal sacrifice, orgiastic bathing in eviscerated innards, drinking of blood-you might think George Romero is somewhere just off camera orchestrating the frenzy. Another room offers the opportunity to immerse yourself in the fever, a psychedelic play of video images and discordant choral sounds collaborating to unmoor a spectator. So close to the beating heart of viscera, thrilling to its vitality and warmth, its immediacy, Nitsch locates the mystic centre of life, the act of being alive. Through 25 May

Richard Serra, Rifts, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill

Sheet-metal titan Serra modulates his material (but not his scale) in this show devoted to these imposing ebon paper canvasses (with a dense, pungent tar-like pigment, quite elemental) troubled by sharp, elongated torn horizons (salvations) of white, as if small, sudden rips into otherwise hidden dimensions. They project a woozy, late-night mentality, pitch-black stretches of road illuminated only by fragile headlight, or lane lines extending into infinity. A hypnotic effect is achieved as you move about the vast space, the black conspiring to consume-body and mind bend towards the warm white crevasses. The black surround-inky, mammoth, uncertain-needs the healing incursions of the white shafts. Through 25 May–april-11-2018

Rachel Howard, Repitition is Truth-Via Dolorosa, Newport Street Gallery

Howard means her series of large-scale abstract works as an allegory of the Stations of the Cross (the first painting inside the exhibition references the horrifying, now iconic, image of Abu Ghraib detainee Ali Shallal al-Qaisi trussed up, Christ-like, victim of torture, the Via Dolorosa element of the show’s title), but they work most profoundly and excitingly as explorations of the painting process itself, each piece a painstaking combination of both intention and chance-mixing and manipulating varnish and pigment, pouring the blend in weeping rivulets down the canvas (using ladders and scaffolding), pushing and prodding the material to layered effect (Howard allowed for a month’s drying time between each application) and at times rotating canvasses 180 degrees to create opposing and conflicting striations. This approach creates great animation and generates tremendous drive in the works-a paintbrush occasionally appears as detail or prop, which explodes into abstraction the nearer a viewer gets. The pieces become about the way the paint has fallen, the stroke of the brush (sometimes intemperate, sometimes benign), the way the gloss has taken hard hold, the tensions and anxieties and strife implicit in the process that created them. Wounds and seams are present-there’s even what appears to be a clean, surgical cut in one work (stigmata, perhaps), out of which a universe of holy black hell slowly leaks, gathering its forces towards eruption. Through 28 May


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s