Exhibitions for Expotitions — 11 June 2019 Update

I used to maintain a list of exhibitions, because I kept missing stuff. I’m recreating this, as it went out of date. I’m based in the south-east UK so, with the exception of Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Tate St Ives, it’s stuff I can do in a day trip (unless I want to make an exception). I can’t pretend to completist (especially now I’m rebuilding) but let me know of stuff I’ve missed and I may add.

Information is presented in good faith — check opening days/hours before travelling and whether stuff is free.

I recommend the National Art Pass for discount — this and Tate/Royal Academy membership pay for themselves if London is getatable.

[Still to add: BALTIC 39, Courtauld Gallery, Fitzwilliam Museum, Foundling Museum, Gagosian Britannia Street, Gagosian Davies Street, Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, Henry Moore Institute, Hepworth, Herbert, IKON, Jerwood Gallery, Kettle’s Yard, Leeds Art Gallery, Manchester Art Gallery, Modern Art, Modern Art Oxford, Edinburgh Modern One, Edinburgh Modern Two, Museum of London, Museum of London Docklands, National Galleries of Scotland, National Media Museum, National Museum of Wales, National Portrait Gallery, New Art Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, Pallant House, Photographers’ Gallery, Queen’s Gallery, Holyrood, Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, RAA, Royal Pavilion, Science Museum, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Somerset House, Strawberry Hill House, The New Art Gallery, Towner, Turner Contemporary, Victoria and Albert, White Cube Bermondsey, White Cube Mason’s Yard, Whitechapel Gallery, Whitworth Art Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park.]

Closes June 2019

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What Does Red Mean to You?

John Logan, Red (Directed by Michael Grandage, Wyndham’s Theatre)

01FE5BEC-F32C-4B7F-8FED-92B5EFB5FB42There’s a room in Tate Modern that has to me the sanctity of a church. It is devoted to a group of multiforms by the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko. I feel them embracing me, a sublime experience I can never quite express. They were intended for a restaurant, the Four Seasons, in the Seagram Building, designed by modernist architect Mies van der Rohe and postmodernist Philip Johnson. I have noticed red paintings in Pizza Expresses … but these? Amazing.

They never went on display.

He withdrew the paintings, returned the cheque and, eventually, sent some of them to the Tate, where they arrived on the day of his suicide.

Red, originated with Alfred Molina at the Donmar Warehouse and now revived with him reprising his role of Rothko, is contemporaneous with that commission. He has employed Ken (Alfred Enoch) as an assistant, to prepare canvases, mix paint and buy cigarettes, coffee and Chinese takeout. Ken is an aspiring artist, but Rothko is clear he doesn’t want to mentor him and he doesn’t want to teach him. At the same time, he opines upon the generation of Cubists he feels his generation rendered obsolete and condemns the upcoming Pop Artists such as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Johns for being insufficiently serious. And he attacks his peers, especially the late Jackson Pollock, dealers, critics, buyers and gallery visitors.

He talks at great length about the ideas in The Birth of Tragedy by Nietzsche, and the relationship between the Dionysian and the Apollonian. Ken keeps trying to fit Rothko into this scheme, but Rothko resists his model, forever demanding his opinion whilst claiming he has no authority to speak to the master. Inevitably they discuss the significance of red and the many differing shades, and how it is surrounded by the tragedy of black.
What does black mean to you?

The one thing they don’t discuss is that Ken is black.

Is this a hole in the play or a work of genius?

Originally, the part was played by Eddie Redmayne, but presumably the script remains the same. There were African American artists, including Norman Lewis in the abstract expressionists, but in the late 1950s would it be unmentioned? Rothko is Jewish, and this is presumably something that subjects him to some discrimination, originally from Russia, where he saw (or remembers seeing) much violence.

At one point, Ken notes that Rothko has no idea where Ken lives, if he’s married or queer, anything beyond his origin in Iowa. I’m not even sure that the name Ken is used in the play. Is the silence over his ethnicity another aspect of Rothko’s focus on the purity of art? At the same time, we don’t know that Rothko is married — he was and had had a previous wife, but both go unmentioned. Art is all. We don’t, of course, know that he will kill himself, although he seems to have a drink problem. As the play proceeds, the works in progress become progressively darker, more black. Tragedy is coming.

The play lasts ninety minutes, without interval, as long as a single act of Angels in America and The Inheritance trapping us with the characters. The switch between canvases is choreographed, as Rothko and Ken raise, lower, remove, replace and raise them. We see the two prepare a canvas — stretching, stapling and then priming with a red the colour of dried blood. As the two paint, they reach a synchronised rhythm, Ken becoming like Rothko, despite the latter’s insistence he is not there to teach him. The music is mostly classical, aside from moments of jazz and a segue into minimalism, symptoms of the dominants of music to come.

Molina is fascinating as Rothko, a heavy presence, with no interest in demanding our sympathy for his ogreness and yet making us care the moment he falls apart. Enoch is alternately vulnerable and cocky and growing in stature. I haven’t seen his work in the Harry Potter films, and I didn’t realise he is William Russell’s son — yes, Ian Chesterton from Doctor Who, another protege paired with an ogre out of time. Remarkably he can hold his own with an actor of much greater experience and a lengthy script.

The two hugged at the end, in a performance that was interrupted by a fire alarm about ten minutes in. They took the decision, rightly, to start again, and I have to admire that they were able to regain their equilibrium, even if the safety curtain could only be inched up.

Americon Gothicon

I suspect I first saw American Gothic after seeing the cover of the British paperback of Philip K. Dick’s The Man Whose Teeth Were All Exactly Alike and then watching (or rewatching) The Rocky Horror Picture Show, which has a copy on the wall in one scene and I think has two characters dress up as the people in the painting. It was only then that I discovered who Grant Wood was (although I forget how) and the myriad parodies his masterpiece has inspired.

I don’t suppose I ever thought that it was on display somewhere, or that I would see it, but I once heard that it would be the centrepiece of an American painting in the 1930s exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts I knew it would by my chance to see it in the flesh. Although, it was with some trepidation – would it stand up to the hype?

So we have two people, a young going on middle-aged woman on the left, an older man on the right, a white board house behind them and a red building over his left shoulder. It’s not clear whether they are wife and husband or daughter and father, but he is in front, holding a three-pronged pitchfork. Their clothing echoes each other and the setting: her dress or apron seems to the blinds in the church-like window behind them, her collar and neck broach answers the button on his collar less shirt and his glasses. The curve of her neckline echoes the curve of his dungarees and the pitchfork. Meanwhile, the vertical tines parallel the lines on his shirt, the dungaree seams and the boards and pillars of the house and red building. The vertical leads to a lightning conductor, not quite above the tine and, what is presumably a spire in the distance.

He looks deadly serious, has a high prominent forehead and John Lennon specs, and grasps the tool of his work firmly, even as he may be wearing his Sunday best jacket, possibly his only jacket. If we take the picture to be contemporary with its painting, 1930, there is perhaps an old fashionedness about it, although I assume we still heft hay about. He’s not quite looking at us, he’s perhaps looking at the artist, or over his shoulder.

She isn’t looking at us or the artist – her head is turned, her eyes elsewhere as perhaps she wants to be? Her blonde hair is tied back, severe, and yet a lock has escaped, dangling down.

And behind her, the stoop, with cactus — mother-in-law’s tongue, a three-pronged echo of the pitchfork and a begonia. Cacti are prickly, not exactly welcoming, but are hardy and survive in the heat. There’s a window behind that, with green blinds, looking a bit battered.

The house frames the two heads – her eyes just above the guttering of the roof, his lips in line, the roof meeting the wall of the upper storey in line with his ear lobes.

Of course, what you never see in reproductions of the painting, is the frame. It’s a rather thick, grey wood, unvarnished, pitted with holes like it has wood worm. (I don’t know what that looks like, to be honest, but it’s how I’d imagine that.) It’s practical and not at all showy – the broach, the jacket, the plants, they’re showy.

There’s an echo of Northern Renaissance paintings – something like the Arnofini portrair but reversed and the couple here are closer together. There’s a cold, undead, touch to the skin. The enigma of their exact looks makes me think of this as the American Mona Lisa.

And so anyhow, it turns out that she is Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, and he is their dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, and they are envisaged as daughter and father. The apron was mail order, I think from Sears. The house is the Dibble House, in Eldon, Iowa, apparently built in the Carpenter Gothic style in 1881-82.

And yes, the painting is remarkable in real life too – worth the price of the ticket alone.

More than a Load of Pollocks

Abstract Expressionism (Royal Academy of Arts, September 2016—2 January 2017)

There’s a story that in the late 1940s, the CIA funded Abstract Expressionism. It was an exercise of soft power, from the people who funnelled money into the animated Animal Farm and exploding cigars. The Soviets were busy with their Socialist Realism, whilst the Americans were channelling the chap with the lily pads with bigger brushes. The AES paint big, really big, and it takes a lot to transport all those canvases around the world. In one version the Tate wasn’t able to afford a huge exhibition and an benefactor gave the money. The story is the money came from the CIA.

If Abstract Expressionism didn’t bring down the Berlin Wall, then at least it came up with pretty cool murals.

It’s the sort of thing that can leave you cold, but if you surrender to it it’s pretty amazing.

Just like capitalism.

The cavernous spaces of the Royal Academy seem appropriate, although they’ve never quite got the walk through right. These are huge, abstract paintings, determinedly non-representation, yet in theory expressing an inner emotion. Of course, we don’t always know what that emotion is, but you can always supply your own.

The first room was a kind of overture, showing paintings from many of the big names prior to the glory days. Some of these are portraits, few of them are great, but you can see the roots in Barnett Newman’s green stripes on dark red. There’s a curious Mark Rothko, Gethsemane (1944), presumably alluding to the night of Christ’s betrayal, and sort of cruciform, but it might be an eagle with an American football. And a weird cloud flag.

Clyfford’s Still’s PH-726 (1936) has wobbly male and female bodies inscribed within a block — a two dimensional version of what Moore and Epstein were carving at about the same time. A new name to me, I confess, but one I will return to later.

And so the various stars come out — and the rooms which focused on one or two artists were stronger than those which offered dubious thematic arrangements. That being said, I don’t get on with Arshile Gorky, having bounced off his Tate Modern show a few years ago. A numbers of them look like oddly painted figures in a room — say Diary of a Seducer (1947) — and I see I’ve made the note to myself, “bad photoshop”.

Jackson Pollock, on the other hand, is truly sublime. I never quite wrote up all my notes from Liverpool, but the late, black pour, works feel like the figurative abstracted. Like Rorschach tests, you can find the sail boat if you squint right. He gives in to the chaos of the drip, somewhere between randomness, automatic painting and the unconscious at work. There’s a huge mural, designed for Peggy Guggenheim’s New York apartment, with “a prancing, bestial presence” which maybe you wouldn’t want to live with. You don’t get a lot of help from the titles — even Summertime (1948) isn’t that helpful, with its wide, short overlapping of colours and drizzles. The trajectories of flies on a summer’s evening? There’s his Blue Poles (1952), with its striking, vertical totems, daring you to distinguish figure from ground. There are other colours, of course, (black grey white) but it’s striking how often he returns to red, blue and yellow, as if he’s unravelled a Piet Mondrian.

[and there, tucked on one wall, is Lee Krasner, not quite the token woman — though it does have to be said that AE is a very blokey genre with its SIZE DOES MATTER statements in oil — who takes four years to come to terms with Pollock’s stupid death in a car crash, who only then can “wrestle” with his ghost to produce The Eye is the First Circle (1960), which inevitably has to be read as homage and imitation rather than the work of an artist in her own right. Later, we’ll come across Helen Frankenthaler, whose exhibition I missed at the Turner, with Europa (1957) although I saw no bull.]

Mark Rothko is glorious, as always, and the room of his work at Tate Modern can reduce me to tears. As always the paintings seem to ride the walls, rather than be hung on the them, the layers, the laminates of colour lumess and dammit that is a word. You are surrounded by them in an octagonalroom, dwarfed, and I was annoyed to see people taking selfies against them — not because of any objection to such narcissism, but because my instinct is to disappear into these canvas rather than superimpose myself upon them. There are exquisite vertigo.

I don’t think I’ve come across Clyfford Still’s work before, but I’ve put his museum in Denver on my long term to do list (when the US is more sensible about the TSA…). These are vast canvases, representing vast landscapes, abstracted into colours. My favourite was PH247 (1951), also known as Big Blue, a luminous canvas of many blues, interrupted by dark brown and orangish vertical strokes. This, too, is a room to get lost in.

Less successful is Willem de Kooning’s work, here dominated by his paintings of women, of which he wrote “I wanted them to be funny … so I made them satiric and monstrous, like sibyls”. Gee, thanks. These are women as landscapes, rather than in, to my eyes deeply misogynistic. His other landscapes, notably Dark Pond (1948), which I misread as and viewed as Duck Pond, are better, but I don’t feel inclined to follow him up.

The shared rooms were on the whole less successful, with less of a chance to get to know the range of the artists’ work. A few women sneak in here — Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Janet Sobel — and I suspect the only Black artist, Norman Lewis. I wanted to know much more about his work. A room of drawings, books, prints and photographs got a little unruly, as the labels and pictures were not always as clear as they might be in the crowds. The final room gives space to Joan Mitchell’s four huge canvases of Salut Tom, echoing Postimpressionism as much as Abstract Expressionism, and represents late work of some of the big names — although of course Pollock was long since dead.

One final room to draw attention to is the one of Barnett Newman and Ad Rheinhardt, who interrupt swathes of colour with zipped colours or focal zones. Rheinhardt retreated into the Malevich black square for fourteen years — 60″ x 60″ canvases painted all back. The spartan austerity is striking. But Newman was the revelation, and I wonder if he was the inspiration for the Abstract Expressionist Rabo Karabekian’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony in Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions (1973). Eve (1950) is a mostly red canvas with a dark red stripe on the right hand side and its twin Adam (1951-52) is brown with three red stripes of different widths. I have know idea if they connect, but he somehow feeds into Bridget Riley‘s stripes. Newman writes “only those who understand the meta can understand the metaphysical and his paintings are as much their paint as anything else — the rich blues and reds.

Of course, these artists went through a whole range of political experiences from Pearl Harbor to Watergate, and I guess they mark the point when the art world shifts from Paris to New York, with Rauschenberg and Warhol waiting in the wings (and O’Keeffe‘s rather different abstracts predate, postdate and overlap with their heyday). They are, of course, always on the edge of being the emperor’s new clothes, just paint on canvas, randomness. But in the vast spaces of the Royal Academy most of the work transcends that caveat.

Beyond the Lady Garden

Georgia O’Keeffe (Tate Modern 6 July-30 October 2016)

you hung all your own associations with my flowers on my flowers and you write about my flowers as I think and see what you think and see of the flowers and I don’t”

“Miss O’Keeffe’s drawings … were of intense interest from a psycho-analytical point of view” Camera Work MDCCCCXII

Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing is a blistering anatomy of the ways in which critics dismiss female authors. I suspect the same is true in the way we treat female artists. So many of them are just plain ignored, not part of the history, whereas others get related to more famous (artist) husbands. The recent Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain is a case in point — the juxtaposition of her work with Ben Nicholson’s (much as I like him), risks privileging the influence in one way.

The muse is female.

And so we come to Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who I in my ignorant way had assumed was just a painter of flowers (see also Mrs Delany with her collages and Winnifred Nicholson). And those flowers were, well, obviously, yanno, well, um.

Yonic.

Vaginal.

If the pen is the penis, then the paintbrush might as well be a, um.

Flowers.

Lady gardens.

What should be immediately clear from this exhibition — too big an exhibition I suspect, as is often the Tate Modern way — is that there is much more to her flowers and indeed they form a tiny part of her output. Even, perhaps, the least interesting part.

She’s born in Wisconsin and moves to Virginia, but comes to the attention of photographer and curator Alfred Stieglitz, undeniably a fine photographer. He’s married, but tempts her across to New York and shows her work in the 219 gallery he owns.

Not only that, but he takes photographs of her — not all nudes, but a goodly deal of the ones on display were, close in on breasts, torsos, stomachs, belly button and genitalia. Great photos, yes, but a woman dissected for our pleasure, and apparently he’d done much the same to .

O’Keeffe’s work is largely abstract at this point — vertical ribbons of colour with curves or diagonals cutting across them. I always find myself in a Rorsach diagnosis with abstract, narrativising them perhaps, and you can read them as curtains (a domestic space) or even as legs or …

Quite.

A painting such as Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow (c. 1923) was in fact a response to head of the Teachers College, Columbia University, Alon Bement playing music, and a lot of these paintings seem to be responses. Meanwhile, another of Stieglitz’s protégés, Paul Strand is mixing street photography with photos of objects flattened into abstract patterns of black and white. Stieglitz was to turn more abstract and photograph clouds as part of his Equivalent States series — a homage perhaps to John Constable, but also an influence on O’Keeffe’s trajectory.

As Stieglitz and O’Keeffe set up life together, in a circle that included Paul and Rebecca Strand, John Marin, Paul Rosenfeld, Marsden Hartley and Dorothy Norman, the hunt was on to find a distinctly American artistic voice, a means of responding to New York, although the two aims were likely incompatible, at least for O’Keeffe. Strand went about it by sneaking photos of the passers by, but also with almost abstract images of commuters walking past Wall Street buildings. Marin produced a stunning painting of Downtown New York, whereas Stieglitz took photos from the various apartments in skyscrapers they occupied. O’Keeffe painted the skyscrapers at night, often from street level, but also elevated views across the city — Untitled (New York) and East Pier No 3 show the river, the factory, the cranes and derricks and a single church spire. It’s like an L. S. Lowry, although just predates them.

They had a holiday home at Lake George, where he took photographs and she painted (Strand took a great photo of a baby buggy there, but felt he was trespassing on another man’s territory.) O’Keeffe’s landscapes of the lake are almost symmetrical along a horizontal line, the hills and mountains reflected, the composition tightly cropped like a photo. There she could also paint flowers, the Jimson weeds, pansies, iris, poppies, huge, overblown, but almost cropped.

We might associate flowers with the feminine, although it was Blake’s rose that was sick, along with nature and domestic spaces, but we mare projecting. I don’t think that there is a single painting of a human being in any of the paintings on display here — her A Man from the Desert (1941) is presumably a scarecrow. There’s Lake George, Coat and Red (1919) which may include Stieglitz’S black cape with a red lining, but he’s not there. The body, that abject definition of the female, is absent and so perhaps we project that onto the canvases. Taking our cue from Stieglitz and the early reviews of her work, she is painting anatomy but sublimated. Clearly those flowers are —

Really?

I mean, I’m not exactly a connoisseur, but I think that reading takes a great deal of squinting, even if some feminist art critics seemed to follow that up. It seems a way of making her interesting whilst dismissing her; the paintings aren’t quite proper. Stieglitz as patron, editor of the journal Camera Work, boyfriend and husband, was managing her reception. O’Keeffe was to deny the interpretation and, despite the fact that she might not be best placed to perceive her own unconscious psyche, I’d take her at her word.

A wider world was calling. Strand takes her up to Canada and she paints Nature Forms — Gaspé (1932), landscape as abstract, a storm in a spiral, full of flow and power, blurring sky, sea and land. It’s sublime rather than frightening. And she follows Hartley down to New Mexico, where a wealthy woman on her second husband heading to her third, with an unlikely collection of surnames, Mabel Dodge Luhan, is collecting artists. The land is red and yellow, to my eyes barren and sterile, but I suspect to her utterly fertile. The churches and other buildings are made from clay, adobe, there’s a church that might date back to 1000AD (which definitely gives me pause). It’s a landscape carved out by indigenous people and Spanish colonisation and… she finds America.

Someone said that New York is not America, but an island off the coast of America. For O’Keeffe the authentic America is west of the Hudson River, into the south west, what she calls the Faraway.

(Wasn’t that Enid Blyton? Maybe it’s somewhere near Whileaway.)

Ansel Adams is documenting the people and the buildings in photographs, and snaps a few of her too. She’s a whole woman, even if she seems to be masquerading.

There are few flowers here, but there are lots of bones. There are deer skulls, mule skulls, and so forth, in European art language part way to a memento mori, the mutability of life, or part of a Dalí-Esther surreal juxtaposition of the skin beneath the skull. The juxtaposition of a white skull with blue and red stripes points toward an American symbolism. For O’Keeffe, the bones were more alive than the animals that they were once part of, they were solid rather than surreal. It’s hard to shake off the echoes, though, as a skull of a ram reminds me of the very European Herne the Hunter. But then there’s Mule’s Skull with Pink Poinsettia (1936) and From the Faraway, Nearby (1937) itself, stunning works, seizing control of scale and perspective.

Stieglitz was clearly trying to keep control. She decided to ship a barrel of bones back East, but Stieglitz co-opted them, photographing her hands and a skull before she could paint them. He tried to keep his territory marked.

He’s not a villain, of course, I like his work, but still. And from all accounts they remained in love even if she was moving away (and he toward Norman). Driving away, even.

At least this time it was her hands.

She’d rented a place in Alcade, New Mexico, and found a new landscape of interest, a set of limestone cliffs in the Chama River Valley near Abiquiú, known as the White Place, and in 1934 spends time at the Ghost Ranch, where she finds a rock formation that becomes known as the Black Place. She painted both locations, along with the ranch, repeatedly, although the exhibitions focuses more on the black than the white. Here we have clefts and vertiginous heights, again hinting of bodies and buttocks and, well, maybe, but it is a stunning set of works that continue into the Second World War.

Eventually she buys the Rancho de los Burros on the Ghost Ranch, because of the views from the patio, and an inspiring door in the wall in its courtyard. She is to return to this door — an echo of a teaching exercise she had set decades before about the use of painterly space: draw a square and add a door. Domestic space becomes abstract — in at least one painting, My Last Door (1952-54) becomes almost a Malevich black square on a terracotta background. She is also painting the cottonwood trees and the blue skies — a return to skies — viewed through holes in the bones. Oddly the bones are flattened — white with grey — with an almost concave sky visible in the space.

She is returning to her earlier abstracts, with vertical stripes disrupted by diagonals and smoke, such as Blue I (1958) and Blue II (1958). I want to read them as the sky viewed through drapes, but I’m domesticating them again. And then there are the paintings of native, local culture.

She has also seen this landscape from above, from a plane, and she paints this new perspective — desert and plain and sky. Sometimes it looks like airbrush or acrylic, Rothko as landscape, but it is her own language. Stieglitz had died in 1946, and she was definitely her own artist now.

The exhibition leaves her in the 1960s, although she has a decade of painting left, with failing eyesight and health. Like Hepworth, we don’t see the physical decline.

There is no need to sexualise her and there is no need to make special pleading for her as a woman painter. She is an artist. She made deals, she negotiated, she is more than “just” the flowers. And this show depicts her in a wealth of detail.

Beyond the Lady Gardens

Georgia O’Keeffe (Tate Modern 6 July-30 October 2016)

“you hung all your own associations with my flowers on my flowers and you write about my flowers as I think and see what you think and see of the flowers and I don’t”

“Miss O’Keeffe’s drawings … were of intense interest from a psycho-analytical point of view” Camera Work MDCCCCXII

Joanna Russ’s How to Suppress Women’s Writing is a blistering anatomy of the ways in which critics dismiss female authors. I suspect the same is true in the way we treat female artists. So many of them are just plain ignored, not part of the history, whereas others get related to more famous (artist) husbands. The recent Barbara Hepworth exhibition at Tate Britain is a case in point — the juxtaposition of her work with Ben Nicholson’s (much as I like him), risks privileging the influence in one way.

The muse is female. Continue reading →

Take A Chance On Me

Take a Chance on Me

Risk (Turner Contemporary, 10 October 2015-17 January 2016)

The Anthea Turner — a gallery whose Chipperfield design works better in Wakefield — is committed to always showing some J. M. S. Turner and contemporary art, for which read the past one year’s except when it suits them. They’ve had some great solo shows (Mondrian and Colour was frankly more interesting than the Liverpool Tate show), which are interspersed with themed shows. The second exhibition, about Youth, was amazing, Curiosity had some good items but wasn’t more than the sum of its parts and the Self left me a little cold.

So, Risk. Art which puts the artist at risk or may offend against dominant values?

Well, yes, Ruth Proctor films herself falling off a scaffold onto cardboard boxes (here is the scaffold, here are the boxes), Bas Jan Ader documents the start of his transAtlantic voyage that was never completed, Ai Weiwei gives various landmarks the finger. Meanwhile we have surgery footage of Orlan’s cosmetic surgery, Gregor Schneider’s faintly uncanny film of two neighbouring houses redecorated to be identical, Martha Abramovic leaning back from a bow and arrow pointed at her heart.

But then it’s extended to chance and fate. Gerard Richter scrapes back at his paint with a squeegee, post Minimalists let their art hang according to gravity, Marcel Duchamp drops string and Chris Burden drops steel beams into wet concrete.

And then, brace yourself, Turner experiments to see how different paints dry or soak into paper.

Careful now.

There’s a print of an old life jacket and a reconstruction of an ancient Chinese earthquake detector.

What there isn’t is any Jackson Pollock who also allowed chance into his aesthetic through pouring and dripping or Helen Frankenthaler with her too-wet paint or Frank Bowling’s dribbles. One might object that being open to chance is an abandonment of craft, but presumably there’s a selection process. There’s a film (whose makers I forget) which is a kind of mouse trap sequence, where rolling ball sets off a chain reaction. We don’t see however many versions didn’t work. And we don’t see what Duchamp did with the templates he made from the string.

There wasn’t any art that has been banned or challenged (Mapplethorpe’s photos, Magritte’s nudes might have been interesting, some of the vandalised art show at Tate Britain a couple of years back).

The biggest risk here, of course, is that there is such a show in a multimillion pound gallery in one of the more deprived corners of England — Margate was a Portas town, its twin industries of TB recovery and funfair being undermined by progress. Like Gateshead’s BALTIC, another venue which is curated rather than collected, it could simply do crowd pleasers (such as Grayson Perry), but instead challenges its clientele. It has to risk failure.

With a few exceptions, alas, in this it was a success.

Meanwhile, a ten minute walk, a megabaguette, a thirty minute bus ride and another ten minute walk away there is the UpDown Gallery, which specialises mainly in limited edition prints. ive not caught every show there, but those I have I’ve liked.

Upstairs, ending really soon, is the work of Loukas Morley, a ready-made artist in the tradition of Beauys with the colour sense of Hodgkin. Painting on various types of wood, either circular or rectangular or squaregular, clearly on the flat, he builds up layers of paint and resin, abstract yet active, usually allowing the ghost of the grain below. There are also witty sculptures – a board rubber, plastic lids from spray paints, crumpled metal á la John Chamberlain, a lemon as still life. He has been curated by Cedric Christie in the past and I suspect a cross-influence.

Meanwhile, downstairs, ending really soon, is Martin Grover and his (to be honest, annoyingly titled) The Peoples Limousine. It would be unfair to call Grover (like Magritte) a one-joke artist, even if it is a funny joke. He specialises in fake bus stop signs, wring out variants on the symbols, possible stops and kinds of route. One refer to Talking Heads songs, another to British movies set in London (Going Places: The London Nobody Knows/Meantime & High Hopes/Seven Days to Noon/The Fallen Idol/The Bells Go Down). Yes, it’s arbitrary, but it’s done with wit and charm.

There are also lists of lists, masquerading as compilation albums, depictions of famous musicians (Barry White, Marvyn Gaye) wandering around London or past CarpetRight. And then my favourites: The South London Procrastination Club (Established: not just yet). There’s a hint of the thirties railway destination poster about his more straight forward prints, but any of them should put a smile on your face.

It’s too late for this show — unless you go on Sunday — but keep an eye out.