London Series // No.1: Blain Southern, Hanover Square

Article by Harriet Thorpe // Sept. 10, 2014

Although only relatively recently established in 2010, Blain|Southern, it seems, already has its longstanding reputation in place. With locations in Berlin and London, and Blain|DiDonna in New York, the gallery represents some of the most recognizable names in contemporary art including Lucian Freud, Mat Collishaw, Damien Hirst, Michael Joo, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Bill Viola, amongst others. Founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern were previously at the helm of Haunch of Venison which opened in London in 2002, occupying the prestigious Burlington Gardens address just behind the Royal Academy of Art. Eventually the gallery was bought by auction-house Christie’s, yet it suffered from this sale losing recognition by art fairs who considered the gallery “unfair game.”

Both men have long careers of art world involvement, with Blain founding the digital art platform Sedition and Southern formerly heading up Christie’s Post-war & Contemporary Art Department and Anthony d’Offay Gallery. In a merging of minds, and contacts, Blain|Southern opened in London in October 2010 initially on Dering Street, and then moved to its purpose-built Hanover square location in October 2012, just a stones throw from auction-house territory New Bond street.

In April 2011, Blain|Southern moved in on Potsdamer Strasse, Berlin, into a bright, 1,300 square metre space formerly the location of Der Tagesspiegel‘s industrial printing presses. Their neighbouring gallery, Nolan Judin, was launched by Juerg Judin who initially scouted the original Haunch of Venison Berlin space on Heide Strasse. The Potsdamer Strasse art hub in Berlin is also home to established dealers Isabella Bortolozzi and Klosterfelde.

Pitching up in another strategic location, New York gallery Blain|DiDonna opened April 2011 on Madison Avenue opposite Gagosian, surrounded by smaller art dealerships and also within a five minute walk from the Whitney. This venture, with Emmanuel DiDonna formerly a vice chairman at Sotheby’s worldwide, covers impressionist, modern and contemporary art.

Blain|Southern
“The Space Where I am”(current show)

Group show, featuring: Carl Andre, Tom Friedman, Lucio Fontano, Rachel Whiteread, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bill Viola, Keith Coventry, Donald Judd, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Lucio Fontano, Rosy Keyser, Michael Joo, Gerherd Richter, James Turrell, UVA, Rachel Whiteread and Tim Noble & Sue Webster

The title of the exhibition, The Space Where I Am, is taken from Gaston Bachelard‘s Poetics of Space, written in 1958. Within this philosophical study, Bachelard placed poetic importance on the notion of the physical void created by the “home”, which allows space and shelter for dreaming from the earliest age. While spanning movements and challenging the meaning of materiality, the works in the exhibition all explore elements of the void with originality of concept.

Blain|Southern’s expansive and glass-windowed gallery is a beautiful frame for Carl Andre‘s floor sculpture, ’36 Aluminium Lock Square’ (1968), which paves the central space in smooth metal slabs. Approaching the space architecturally, Andre celebrates the airspace in the gallery preserved for free-thinking and ideas. Bachelard similarly viewed the home-space as a comfortable void for poetry to develop. He believed that poetry and creativity came not from life experience, but from an inner emotion that could be nurtured through the safe space of the home. In an interview with Michèle Gerber Klein and Phong Bui in 2012, Andre said his childhood experience of poetry began with his mother writing poetry in rhyme and his father reading aloud from Shelley and Keats after dinner at home. He continued to describe writing his first poem when he was seven or eight years old, in third grade, observing nature from his bedroom window.

In ‘Untitled (A Curse)’ (1992) Tom Friedman also reserves a void in the gallery, this time above a white rectangular podium where an invisible globe cursed by a witch floats. As well as an understanding of conceptual art, a bit of humour and imagination, which Blain|Southern describes as “faith and belief”, is required to actually see this work. Although this work can be seen as important, as a fairly religious Tate-goer I wouldn’t say I’m totally convinced by the piece, but his work ‘Circle Dance’ (2010) displayed in the sculpture parks at Frieze London 2011 and Frieze New York 2013, an impressive sculpture inspired by Matisse’s ‘The Dance’ constructed with tin foil trays, has convinced me of his talent. Rosy Keyser is an artist that also uses found objects within an imagined space. Her work, ‘Eve’s First Confusion Between Penises and Snakes’ (2012) is formed of different materials – string, sawdust, wood, enamel, dye and snakeskin – which are mounted on a wooden frame. Her work uses sculpture in a similar gesture to the Abstract Expressionists, yet it is the absence of the canvas that is radical.

In an inverse appropriation of this idea, Lucio Fontana‘s work ‘Concetto Spaziale’ (1964) takes the flat form of the canvas and creates sculptural possibility. This work is part of a series known collectively as “Tagli” or “cuts” made between 1958-68 in which Fontana slashed brightly coloured canvases to open up their surfaces. Michelangelo Pistoletto, too, uses a notionally two-dimensional object, the mirror, in his work creating an almost architectural experience for the viewer as they see themselves reflected in the gallery space. Similarly, James Turrell creates a three dimensional void for the viewer in ‘Pullen (Red)’ (1968), where a triangle of aggressive orange light beamed inside it’s own room in the gallery. Here, the viewer enters a space of pure creation where the mind opens up to embrace any concept imaginable, as described by Bachelard in The Poetics of Space.

With a little consideration to art historical movements and concepts, this exhibition unravels like a well-written essay and the central thread of Bachelard’s work runs throughout the exhibition. You can hear children’s voices and the whispered stories of adults collected by Bill Viola in ‘Presence’ (1995) echoing in the staircase like the sounds of the home. Rachel Whiteread‘s ‘Untitled (Paperbacks)’ (1997) explores Bachelard’s written format. Lawrence Weiner’s ‘ROLLED INTO & ONTO THE SEA’ (1999) which is typed high across the wall of the gallery invites new ideas as to how art can be perceived as a non-fixed and non-unique form, such as literature and poetry. Bachelard’s recognition of the void as a meaningful and compelling space or object provokes the viewer to invert their understanding of the practice of “viewing” inside the gallery, allowing the void to become the subject.

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Additional Information

BLAIN|SOUTHERN, LONDON HANOVER SQUARE
“The Space Where I am” – GROUP SHOW
Exhibition: Jul. 17 – Sept. 27, 2014
4 Hanover Square
London W1S 1BP

Reference link: Carl Andre interview 2012

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