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Deconstructing the Private View

The private view is a curious affair. An open invite to those in-the-know, it’s a chance for the oppressive and invisible gallery rules - ‘quiet and don’t touch’ - to relax for one evening. Drinks and snacks are laid out, and an increasingly tipsy group fills the gallery space. But like the lure of the Lotus Eaters, it’s easy to forget that you came to see the art.

Studying at the Courtauld provides every opportunity to learn about the art world and Freshers week is no exception, with a number of exhibition openings and their traditional art world christening. A PV for The ICA’s show on multi-disciplinary German collective, Honey-suckle Company, and on the same night 180 The Strand’s PV for the exhibition, TRANSFORMER: A Rebirth Of Wonder. Last but not least, Daniel Katz Gallery’s small and serious display of British artist James Pryde’s (1866-1941) paintings. Free PV drinks and then off to a Freshers event - seems like a plan.

The ICA is the first port-of-call. Honey-Suckle Company: Omnibus runs until the 12th of January, displaying the varied output of the Berlin movement, founded in 1994. Honey-suckle is derived from a plant remedy with properties that induce a greater awareness of the past, present, and future. Emerging in a reunified Berlin, on the verge of a new internet culture, the collective works with this social context as its backdrop. “A hundred years of Bauhaus and thirty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” ICA Director Stefan Kalman says the exhibition is “as timely as it is long overdue.”

Honey-Suckle Company: Omnibus (2019) at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (Photo: ICA)

The Main Gallery space greets you with a large inflatable globe, dressed-up mannequins and other works created collectively by Honey-suckle Company; these sit on a terrain of sand and rubble piled on the floor. The room is, according to the artists, a space without time, and will stage performances and installations. In the Upper Gallery room lies ‘Materia Prima’ (2007), an edgeless white space creating an illusion of infinity, its emptiness presenting an idea of the future. With such a diverse body of work on show, it was a shame that people mostly congregated around the bar, arms outstretched for their ICA provided remedy: Peroni. On the other hand, those that were engaging with the work did so with obvious delight. A few beers down and the curved edges in ‘Materia Prima’ are now slopes to slide down. The abundance of sand is much more fascinating than the art dotted about the space, and everyone leaves with an ICA tote bag.

A short walk away, a very different show awaits: Transformer: A Rebirth of Wonder. The Second Major exhibit by The Store X Vinyl Factory at 180 The Strand combines visuals and immersive environments to captivate visitors as they make their way through the cavernous space. Fourteen artists including the brilliant Harley Weir, Doug Aitken, and Donna Huanca have created works that respond to the themes of identity, representation and self-image. As storytellers they are sharing a personal take on their communities and how they adapt to and are adopted by culture. Curator Jefferson Hack says: “We didn’t want people to have to understand it, to get it. We wanted people to feel it to get it.” The PV offered more than just the multi-dimensional experience of the art; the food and most likely the drink will have added to the feel Hack describes.

Transformer: Rebirth of Wonder, The Store X Vinyl Factory (2019) at 180 Strand (Photo: The Vinyl Factory)

A step-up from the ICA, 180 The Strand was an operation. Everyone seemed to rush through the exhibition, eventually reaching the opening of a heavily crowded bar. In the next room, the DJ faced a sparse crowd lurking in the corners of a dimly lit space, all sipping on craft beer or one of the three cocktail choices. One by one, people ventured into an illuminated area where doorstop slices of sourdough bread could be found in large wooden bowls alongside crumbled cheese and olives. The olive situation presented immediate difficulty for the uninitiated - as in how on earth to fish one out from the bath of brine, those that tried were then scrutinised as they backed away carefully, wet-handed. Similar to Honey-Suckle’s meditations on time, Hack says “The artists in Transformer look deeply into the present to see the future.” Time certainly sped up on the way to the food.

A couple of days later, Daniel Katz Gallery presented a more classic PV of A Quixotic Vision: James Pryde at Dunecht, which closes on the 1st of November. This was a quaint exhibition to highlight the work of an understated and intriguing artist. This delightful Mayfair gallery is based in a large town house set back from the street; perfect for a private PV. The exhibition is rather small, but the real spectacle is the gallery itself, stretching up multiple floors with a beautiful collection and library. The gallery director and assistants were keen to engage with younger student faces, perhaps overly aware of the more select and older individuals present. This sophisticated bunch came dressed in suits with scarves and umbrellas, these aren’t the tote types.

The Daniel Katz Gallery hosts a quieter PV, but it followed the same handbook. On offer were every variety of cheese twist you could imagine to accompany the white and red. I left this PV feeling satisfied after an enjoyable evening, but also concerned about the inaccessibility of the space compared to the other two.

London’s rapid pace can wear you down, but with a nearby PV for entertainment, one’s thirst for artistic adventure can be reliably quenched, There is no end to the stimulation of the senses and a range of experiences. The ICA’s public exhibit saw all kinds of people and is genuinely fun. 180 The Strand attracts the contemporary art and fashionista crowd, where the party proves to be the real event. Katz Gallery is at first glance more contrived, yet the openness and generosity of the people I met was a pleasant surprise (I successfully secured a free ticket for art and design fair PAD), as was the frequency of refills. All in all, the PV is not that private, nor that much of a viewing. Each visit crystallises the awkwardness of looking at art: where you look and for how long, the slightly too pretentious conversations and sideways glances. Without them, the more relaxed experience of the artwork and the gallery visit as polished social experience would be sorely missed.

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