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On the List: the great national eight


Anj Smith

Oriel Mostyn, until March 1

Anj Smith appears equally intrigued by the histories of art and fashion. A veritable modern master, her finely detailed, often textured paint application and chosen palette render these works equally at home in the National Gallery as any white cube. This solo exhibition of works from the recent past showcases the wide range of Smith’s references – as indebted to Renaissance painting as the pleats and folds of mid-20th century French couture and the pioneering drawings of early naturalists. Pushing the limits of the medium’s tropes, her compositions feature many curious and seductive details. Expect extraordinary women, creatures and objects in surreal sets and circumstances.

The artist will be in conversation with Alfredo Cramerotti, Mostyn director, on 25 January at 4pm


Tate Liverpool, until March 15 and May 3, respectively

On a light-challenged week day the hot and heady colours of Central America are a huge draw. Walking among the 53 works of this immersive Vivian Suter installation is to experience the act of painting from many different referential points, simultaneously. Her unstretched canvases have been plastered, hung, placed and domestically arranged around the space so that every step in any direction or slight movement of the head offers a new, deliciously layered vista of many colours. While Suter’s palette, motifs and imagery belong to the lush landscape of Guatemala, the presentation of her unstructured paintings – the allusions to the flag, for example, as tool of both protest and conquest – connects the history of art with that of anthropology, in ways that prompt questions about the symbolic languages and cultural lenses implicated in the writing of both.

Conservation talk on the work of Vivian Suter, with conservators Rachel Scott and Harriet Pearson 23 January 2020 at 6pm-7pm

Image: Vivian Suter, Nisyros (Vivian’s bed) 2016–17 © Courtesy of the artist and Karma International, Zurich and Los Angeles; Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels; House of Gaga, Mexico City; and Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City.

There are many materials and processes that make up Theaster Gates’ ‘Amalgam’, as the title of his extraordinary exhibition suggests. Most of them are associated with the building of civilisations and societies. Light appears the medium that binds them all, illuminating the murky corners of a rarely recounted and shameful history – of Malaga, an island off the coast of Maine that was once home to an interracial community. The made and found art objects/artefacts shown here appear bathed in a museological glow that perfectly accents their forms, while associatively connecting the ancient and the plundered with current modes of presentation and new ways of processing/reclaiming the past.

Image: Installation view of ‘Amalgam’ at Palais de Tokyo © Theaster Gates. Photo: Chris Strong


Amalia Pica: Private & Confidential

The New Art Gallery, until February 2

Amalia Pica’s own fight to become a British citizen and the deeply personal business of Brexit form the basis of her recent research into bureaucratic systems and their associated ephemera. Pica was born in Argentina but now lives and works in London. She is known for her socially engaged works in many media – from sculpture and drawing to live performances and photography – that expose (and subversively mine delight from) the machinations at work within processes used under the guise of governance. ‘Private & Confidential’ includes new works and the first UK presentation of her ambitious project ‘Joy in Paperwork: The Archive’, originally shown in full at the 11th Gwangju Biennale in 2016. Pica’s vast series is comprised of all manner of familiar administrative paraphernalia, poetically adapted to reveal so much more than anyone might expect from the everyday ordinariness of the average office.

Performance: Thursday 7 November, 6.15pm. Contemporary dance students from Walsall College will develop a performance in collaboration with the artist.


France-Lise McGurn: In emotia

Tramway, Jan 18 – March 22

With a graphic, colour-savvy hand, France-Lise McGurn fills her paintings and the painted surfaces of her installations with human details that bring to mind many model muses: from the sculpture court as much the designs of great fashion houses and their runways. From classical antiquity to the Pop era via Picasso and Marjorie Field, a host of reimagined nude and clothed subjects appear to emerge from, only to disappear back into, a sea of colourful linear arcs, flourishes and doodles. Though static, each representation is imbued with a sense of the artist’s hand in motion, like a dance of partially configured signatures. Following her solo exhibition in Tate Britain’s Art Now space last year, loosely informed by the cult specifics of nineties rom-com ‘Sleepless in Seattle’, McGurn plans to create several multimedia installations at Tramway that explore the body as a moving house of many complex emotions, and highly susceptible to the spatial dynamics of its setting.


In the Castle of my Skin

Eastside Projects, Jan 25 - April 11

‘In the Castle of My Skin’ is a group show built around some seminal works by Sonia Boyce OBE, whose investigations into social histories, memory and the built environment are often made manifest through collaborative projects. The list of artist contributors includes: Anna Barham, Harold Offeh and Flora Parrot, alongside an eclectic mix of works from the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern art by the likes of Bridget Riley, Frances Alys and Andrew Logan. Skin is of itself a living housing system; a means of protection, but also the easily injured covering by which we might be judged. Boyce will show a new video work that considers what happens to social barriers when disparate groups of people are brought together – culminating in a performance of variably skating characters with ukuleles. A central structure will be built to host many of the works in the exhibition, made from a material based on the mineral pyrite, or ‘Fool’s Gold’. The project will be reconfigured for display at Middlesbrough’s MIMA this summer.

Event: Lindsey Mendick, Sonia Boyce: From the Artists Mouth, Saturday, January 25, 2pm-3.30pm

Image: ‘Dada Migrant Wallpaper’ © Sonia Boyce

Bexhill, East Sussex

Zadie Xa: Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation

De La Warr Pavillion, Feb 1 – May 4

Hopefully this curious-sounding installation won’t involve the same length of queue as the last art ‘sub-aquatic marine environment’ I visited – Laure Prouvost’s audacious takeover of the French pavilion in Venice this year (well worth the wait). South-Korean artist Zadie Xa is another multi-disciplinary creator of moods and magic whose beautifully styled and choreographed performance ‘Grandmother Mago’ also lit up the (Giardini byways of the) 58th Biennale. The eponymous granny is the central protagonist of ‘Child of Magohalmi and the Echoes of Creation’, the latest vehicle for her journeys into her home country’s myths and legends. Centred around its historical deities and the gender-specific nature of their ancestral responsibilities, the project will feature a surround-sound video projection, ‘a pod of orcas’ and the exquisite masks and costumes used in the Biennale performance.


Phoebe Davies – Points of Rupture

Site Gallery, Feb 21 – May 17

Welsh artist and researcher Phoebe Davies is interested in social frameworks, how they shape us, how we operate within them, and how we might free ourselves from any constraints they impose. Known for her collaborative project approach, Davies has worked alongside sports professionals to create the brutally titled ‘Points of Rupture'. This ambitious film/installation/sound work exploring the body, identity and the culture of athleticism in the arena of contact sports has been specially commissioned by Site for its spaces. Of particular focus here is the nature of intimacy in such physically demanding activities; whether during game play, in training or rehabilitation. The work will be premiered on Feb 20.


‘Pine’s Eye’

Talbot Rice Gallery, Feb 29 – May 09

The news makes for particularly grim reading at the moment, so to see ‘ecological’ written in a press release is to expect it to be partnered with the word ‘crisis’. The current psychology of our collective response to the increasing level of threat we face is perplexing to say the least, particularly when it comes to the obstructive nature of political discussion. This group exhibition of international artists takes the long view on the issue of ecological change, focusing on the accrual of earthly knowledge at particular points in history – whether empirical or more esoteric investigations – in terms of its perceived validity at the time and relevance to today. ‘Pine’s Eye’ boasts a stellar line-up that includes the late Mexican artist Ana Mendieta, whose ritualistic performance-based practice explored connections between bodily sites – the corporeal kind and of the natural world; Taryn Simon of the US has worked with a botanist during her research into the significance of floral bouquets to the image-making strategies of historical political campaigns; while Europe’s indigenous culture comes under scrutiny in the work of South Korean artist Haegue Yang, who has created amorphous sculptural forms designed to destabilise our preconceptions about particular making traditions and ways of thinking about identity, place and belonging.

Installation view of Haegue Yang: ETA 1994–2018, Museum Ludwig, Cologne, 2018. Photo: © Museum Ludwig, Saša Fuis, Cologne

All photos copyright and courtesy the artists, unless otherwise stated.


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