The acutely unsexy nature of Body Shop, the current group exhibition at Michael Werner Gallery, could only be intentional. Parinez Mogadassi has curated a space which seeps reluctantly with eroticism, focussing instead on the body beyond conventionally sexualised art. This is perhaps a bold gesture compared to far lewder shows like Paul McCarthy’s at Hauser and Wirth last year, and is suited almost too predictably to such a conservative space. Basically, they haven’t gone in for that glossy Instagram-destined provocation.
Walking into the entrance hallway is like walking into the rather sterile reception of a private doctor’s practise. Those beige carpeted floors stubbornly defy the polished concrete and glassy walls of other Mayfair galleries, and signal a manicured, almost tight-arsed realm. Up a grand wooden staircase and into the lighter first floor rooms, which look like a plush apartment recently bereft of its Modernist furniture.
Don Van Vliet’s larger canvas Beezoo, Beezoo (1985) is first, a scratchy painting of various figures approached from an almost ethnographic stance, yet somehow remaining tasteful. Opposite is Francis Picabia’s 1940s Nu de Dos — perhaps the closest and most literal the show gets to seductive — which shows a woman half-glancing over her shoulder towards the viewer, apparently unamused. The mixed-media Allen Jones work Bra-La-La (1974) is in poor condition with a distorted surface and dirty edges. Is this presentation merely to underscore the seedier subject matter: a man peering vacantly through an open window at a scantily-clad woman – perhaps a prostitute? Or does it echo the rather clunky collection of artworks that are to be found here generally? It seems unclear. This work is surprisingly refreshing however, never having been a particular fan of Jones’ paintings. In the centre of the canvas a plastic bag sags like a crinkled scrotum, sheltering various hanging items of lingerie. There are still the tacky ice cream colours but they are solid and intoxicating unlike some of his washier canvases, and characteristic of the tiled linings of scrappy bathhouses.
Jean Arp’s beautiful and fleshy bronze in the second room, Figure Recueillie (1956), straddles an interesting territory between bulging phallic totem and delicate pregnant nude, and seems so foreign here that it skipped my consciousness at the small opening. Peter Doig’s 2015 nude, Night Balcony Painting, is a little more disappointing — straining for that same atmosphere typical of his other works, and somehow eerily nostalgic. Downstairs in the wood-panelled ground floor space, the paintings and sculptures mirror their gloomier surroundings. The general palette is insipid, and the body conveyed here has morphed into a disfunctional and impersonal object. It’s no longer a familiar organism, but a bizarre phenomenon that bears distant relation to our everyday sweat and saliva.
The mechanisation and deconstruction of Frederick Kiesler’s mixed-media David (1964-65) stands in bleak contrast to Pierre Puvis de Chavanne’s wonderfully organic L’Éte upstairs, which, executed in 1890, seems to pre-empt the sultry societal liberation of Germany and the resulting movement, German Expressionism. L’Éte shows nude figures frolicking in a woodland, a fairytale world severed from the rapid industrialisation of urban Europe. Yet it is still controlled. The Kiesler work by contrast is chilly and lifeless, belonging to the vacuous anonymity of corporate lobbies.
Mogadassi’s space is tense with prudishness and its message clear: patrons should exercise sober restraint, even in the outfitting of their own homes
Until 5th December.
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