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London Diary

17 May 2015

Digby Warde-Aldam on London’s most interesting exhibitions

Establishing credibility as a reviewer is an ordeal. It involves developing a voice, not boring your readership senseless with it and most importantly of all, not straying into irrelevant, pseudo-intellectual cul-de-sacs or stupid questions of the rhetorical sort. Well, what little credibility I have is now on death row. Because, within moments of walking into David Hockney’s exhibition at Annely Juda Fine Art (until 27 June), I was spun around and boondoggled so dramatically that I am now left with no alternative but to ask, without hope of response: has David Hockney been at the ketamine?

(2014), David Hockney.

Perspective Should Be Reversed (2014), David Hockney. © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt

‘Painters have always known there is something wrong with perspective”, Hockney offered by way of explanation for the uncomfortable (and quite disturbingly twee) distortions of his recent photographic drawings. He’s cast something decidedly psychedelic into the water, and the result is both whimsical and utterly terrifying – like a retro bottle of ginger beer spiked with horse tranquiliser. This all swirls into a second stupid question, which I ask for no-one’s benefit but my own: did I like the show? I don’t know, but it will lace my nightmares for some time to come.

As I wrote in my last Diary, the heat has been off London this past fortnight. But this doesn’t mean we haven’t had our fair share of intriguing exhibitions. William Tillyer’s show at the new Bernard Jacobson gallery (until 30 May) is a knock-out, a wild, experimental hand from an artist who deserves far more recognition. Tillyer is well into his 70s now, and his unmistakeable, cross-hatched work just gets better and better.

I liked Thomas Struth’s show at the palatial Marian Goodman gallery (until 6 June), too. His images of Palestine tap into Victorian orientalist painting, and his eye for composition is masterful. We knew this already, of course, but it’s surprising that subject matter as contentious as this can throw up such beautiful detail; blue and white Israeli flags jarring against the lush green of a suburban garden, a crushed beer can still radiating colour from the top of a landfill site. It’s astonishing stuff.

(2009), Thomas Struth

Silwan, East Jerusalem (2009), Thomas Struth

Less successful are his images of machinery in a Californian lab. While there are some intriguing juxtapositions – is he riffing on Léger? – I couldn’t help thinking that in Candida Höfer would have done something much more interesting with the subject at hand. Indeed, of all of the great German photographers of her generation – Struth, Ruff, Gursky und alles – she’s by far the most interesting.

Meanwhile, across Regent Street, the Stephen Friedman gallery has an interesting experiment on the go. For the rest of the month (until 30 May), its Old Burlington Street HQ has become the ‘Galerie de l’Époque’, a cute and brilliantly-studied facsimile of an idealised 1950s Parisian dealership. From the furniture to the periodicals strewn across it, it’s a wonderful fantasy. The art isn’t bad either; there’s terrific stuff by the likes of Arp, Morandi, Schwitters and Calder, (and, of course, one of Fontana’s now-mandatory Concetti Spaziale – groan), alongside a smattering of contemporary works that fit the modernist theme. It’s all beautifully observed and great fun. Why doesn’t this sort of thing happen more often?

Installation view, Galerie de L’Epoque.

Installation view, Galerie de L’Epoque. Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Photography Mark Blower

Round the corner on Savile Row is my pick of the month. The James Hyman gallery’s ‘Andre Kertesz in Europe’ (until 13 June) is just fantastic. Broadly speaking, this small but abundant show splits the great photographer’s career into two thematic periods. The first covers his work up to the Second World War, when he was based first in his native Hungary, then in Paris. Many of these images are familiar; we see his famous shot of Mondrian’s glasses, and eerie, quasi-surrealist photographs of rooftops, artists’ studios and street corners.

The second room covers the photographs Kertesz took on his trips back to Europe from the United States, only one of which has ever been previously published. By this time, he was comfortably established as a master of his art, and it’s difficult not to suspect that he is playing on the themes that fascinated him as a younger man in Budapest and Montparnasse. Gratifyingly, given this diary’s theme, Kertesz’s images of London are up there with his best work.

He renders the city completely unfamiliar; a river view from the Embankment depicts Westminster and the South Bank as a kind of Steampunk metropolis, while a long shot of the Serpentine turns Hyde Park into a spooky, enchanted forest. You do a double take when you discover these otherworldly photographs were taken as recently as 1980. Having started by doing away with any pretensions to critical authority, I feel it’s safe to roll out the clichés: if you see one exhibition in the next few weeks, make it this one.

(1980), Andre Kertesz.

Serpentine, London (1980), Andre Kertesz. The Estate of Andre Kertesz, 2015. Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London