BERLONI is an art gallery situated in London’s window-shopping district: on Margaret Street to the north of Oxford Street. People troop up and down the road gazing at handbags, gizmos and exorbitant macaroons, and then they are confronted by an arboretum in the gallery’s front showroom.
This real garden is the work of Artists Anonymous, a collective split between London and Berlin, and it is the centrepiece of their new show ‘System of a Dawn’. The arboretum is a sight to behold. Trees, lawns and a twee footbridge over a stream are overlooked by Technicolor wallpaper, the detail of which is strange and varied as Victoriana competes with futuristic images. If Dalí, Banksy and Monty Don had collaborated, they might have produced something like this hortus conclusus.
The visual impact of the installation is nothing compared to the autumnal stench of damp turf and rotting vegetation. Robin Mann and Margherita Berloni, the directors of BERLONI, strive to keep the garden in decent nick. It is supposed to evolve; Robin anticipates that the grass will be shin-high when the show closes in mid-December.
Artists Anonymous specialise in creating ‘immersive experiences’ of sight, sound and smell. They have colonised this house in the West End and turned it into a surreal show-home. Viewers pass from the garden into the basement kitchen and then upstairs to the sitting rooms and bedrooms. Lewdness, darkness, humour, innocence and kitsch can all be found here, but rarely at a glance. Each item challenges the way we look at things. False perspectives and tricks of light and colour force the viewer to take a second look at everything, and then a third. It’s the sort of playful show that brings a smile to the face.
The most successful – and certainly the most beguiling – pieces are the larger paintings. The artists have mastered ‘negative painting’; applying a classic method of photography to traditional painting, enabling an exploration of colours and shapes. The paintings’ lapis blues and perfect blacks cast ‘negative’ after-images in various shades of beige, brown, white and so on. This is not a novel practice; but I can’t recall finer or more consistent examples than those at BERLONI.
‘System of a Dawn’ is mysterious. Yet the greatest mystery is that this shock of hip sensuality is found on Margaret Street, a stone’s throw from genteel John Lewis. Margherita Berloni and Robin Mann used to run EB&Flow in Shoreditch. They’ve moved west because buyers no longer travel to EC2. Could Fitzrovia be the new place to be?
‘Artists Anonymous: System of a Dawn’ is at BERLONI until 14 December 2013.