Review: Modern Times at Kettle’s Yard

DAVID LOWRY explains how understanding well hung art can get you a well hung man.

Art Eggeling Kettle's Yard Klage Lowry Mahal Maliheh Afnan

16th January – 14th March 2010, open 2-4pm Tuesday-Sunday and bank holiday Mondays.


If I believe all that some say about the child abusing Tab readers, content to ogle the lassies of Homerton and chortle their way through the latest installment of Semengate at the Mahal, then you may well have already written off this review, it being about art. If this is indeed the case, then SHUT UP you little moron, and learn something about CULTURE and CLASS, two qualities which (I imagine) you noticeably lack.

Lonely Tab readers who don’t have girlfriends (or the equivalent), do you want to know why that is?  You’re not hanging out at enough art galleries. Art galleries are (and this is the third truism in this paragraph  – count them) primarily devices enabling anyone with the ability to spew pretentious jism to seduce a girl with skinny legs, freckles and a name like Isabella or Olivia (or the equivalent – Hugo?). This review will therefore take the form of clever things what I have thought up, which you can then use on either girls you find around the art gallery itself (although, as a word of warning, I should mention that arty men often have more than a hint of the ‘pinch of snuff’ about them and may be indistinguishable) or on girls whom you have conned into going to the art gallery with you under apparently innocuous circumstances.

Firstly, the exhibition itself. This is about MODERNISM (first art word), which should not be confused with postmodernism, contemporary art or indeed anything to do with the word ‘modern’ as we normally understand it. It just means that the drawings in it are MODERNIST. Get it? It is also important that they are DRAWINGS (probably not a new word, but remember the difference between a drawing and a painting, idiot). Here is a list of words you can use about drawings: primal, seismographic, temporal, intuitive, authentic, intimate (the last one with your hand up someone’s skirt as you leave). According to the reasonably priced CATALOGUE (art world name for guide – buy in advance if you want to seem smart), the drawings are “presented in a non-chronological order to explore contrasts, internal connections and conceptual affinities”, which means you absolutely must not say that you enjoyed the last ones in the gallery because you prefer more modern modernism. Instead, you must comment on the similarities and differences between the paintings as informed by the spirit of modernism, which you can contrast to REPRESENTATIONAL ART (shit what looks like stuff).

These drawings are explorations in technique, which aim to unsettle the viewer, whose dependence on representational art has left him veritably blind to the underlying importance of geometry, space, time and colour to his aesthetic sense. Take Otto Dix’s “Klage”, which appears initially to be a series of lines in which a few fat birds and sad faces are suspended. However, when we contemplate the lines as a movement (which is what they are, you clown), we see emerging from the work a spirit of motion, in which the bodies flow into one another creating a drawing whose temporal dimension and shifting representation evoke the upheaval of lamentation, which is, after all what the German title means. There – that sounded clever, didn’t it? The drawings around “Klage” are similarly concerned with the moving aspect of emotions: the fear of war, the terror of children and spirit of jazz music are embodied in the form of moving lines, each picture forming a comment on the other, highlighting that modern sentiments are perhaps unrepresentable within standard modes. So, you can say that the art is both WELL PLACED (i.e. they have picked well what ones are next to what ones) and WELL HUNG (i.e. they have put them close enough to each for us to see the links).

The exhibition also features some very rare modernist films. These may not look as good as Avatar to your eyes, dulled by constant television and from crying over your loneliness, but they are bloody good. Eggeling’s “Diagonalsinfonie” manipulates simple, two-dimensional shadows to produce a seemingly multidimensional dance of shapes subsuming and giving birth to one another, whilst the constantly moving eyeballs of Richter’s “Rhytmus 21” highlight the shattered notion of modern perception and our sense that the ultimate violation is now simply to be perceived. Fascinating pieces of very early cinema, back when people thought it would grow into something better than Street Fighter: The Movie.

Basically, you should definitely go and see this wonderful exhibition. And, if you still need tips, Rachel Howard’s “Untitled Drawing 5” is DERIVATIVE (nicked off of) Egon Schiele; Sol LeWitt’s “Working Drawing” is a powerful reminder of the simplicity of arithmetic progression underlying straight-line composition; and  Maliheh Afnan’s “Blackboard” evokes a language which is both unsaying and unsayable, the trapped condition of the modern subject. Now get your coat; you’ve a gallery to go to…