25 – 26 Mason's Yard
London SW1Y 6BU
Ends 8 August 2020
TRAILER & REVIEW by SUSAN GRAY
Like Gulliver tearing off the ropes pinning him to the ground in Lilliput, Tuesday 16th June, I will break out of the confines of looking at art on my laptop, and see some IRL artworks at the White Cube, Mason’s Yard. In common with some other West End galleries White Cube is reopening next week, continuing its exhibition of Dutch American artist Peter Schuyff’s works from the 1980s. Having spent three months looking at paintings reduced to 10 inches high, the large canvases from early in Schuyff’s career, when he as at the heart of New York’s scene, will be the perfect tonic.
And having started this year exploring the Seventies in Britain with Them at the Redfern, moving onto the next decade and crossing the Atlantic will be exhilarating.
Of course the viewing will take place in a Covid secure way with timed appointments, hand sanitiser, masks and digital exhibition guides instead or paper. Whatever. I. Can’t. Wait.
Dutch Canadian artist Peter Schuyff was at the heart of 1980s art scene, a time when a robust art market fuelled an explosion of galleries, putting formerly industrial and run down areas of the city such as Soho and East Village on the map. The telephone number prices art market we have today, had its genesis in the New York thinly fictionalised by Wall Street and Bonfire of the Vanities. Schuyff worked at Studio 54, sat for Andy Warhol and lived for a time at the Chelsea Hotel.
Labouring over the context of White Cube’s exhibition of Schuyff’s post conceptual work from the 1980s feels more necessary than usual, as it is one of the first shows to reopen (June 2020) after London’s three month Covid 19 lockdown. And at times connecting with the mindset of Medici Florence feels less of a mental leap, after walking the spectrally empty Bond Street and St James, than immersing in the pulsing NY milieu of Warhol, Basquiat, Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel.
Schuyff says his works are about ‘nothing’, or rather he makes depth and space subjects in themselves. And following 12 weeks of only seeing paintings on a laptop screen, the first four works on White Cube’s ground floor are balm for the soul. Untitled, 1986 is a light blue square of squares, layering different intensities of colour, contrasting with a more loosely painted geometric background in browns, shades of straw, and grey. The second imposing work on the gallery’s rear wall is Untitled 1987, where vibrant orange geometric squares dominate and dazzle the viewer, fading to grey at the painting’s border. Each work occupying their own wall allows Schuyff’s early career audacity and massive scale to come through. Black Jack, also from 1987 is a lozenge shape of brown black squares, diagonally dominating the space, with the outer squares forming a serrated edge. Paint drips in the left hand corner reminding us we are looking at a deliberately created illusion, however perfectly executed. Viewed from a distance the intense darkness at the centre becomes a cross.
The final work on the ground floor, Untitled 1988, is my favourite. Green concentric rectangles fade out to nothing, to become a white edge. It feels like a doorway to step through, or a shaft to fall down. All these works are acrylic on linen, with the uneven texture of the linen pushing and pulling at the geometric precision of the painted image.
A small scale watercolour on paper Untitled, 1986, with dark pink overlapping rectangles, looking like empty picture frames hovering over a light pink, hangs in the staircase as an appetiser to the huge, vivid works on the lower floor.
The first four works downstairs are from 1986, all Untitled, with number 8 in the exhibition guide like a slightly crumpled tablecloth, with yellow and green checks defying the audience to maintain a belief in its flatness. The next work from this stellar year is on an even greater scale, where fuzzy yellow and electric blue grids, or an earth red background, form an eye-popping tartan. An Untitled work from two years earlier again plays with the overlapping grid theme, but this time in close up detail, in shades of blue, neon yellow and graduated palette of greens. From far away the blue and yellow grid points turn into stars. Nicotine, from the same year places overlapping translucent white rectangles over sludge coloured, geometric background, as if the smoke has lingered, but the smoker has long gone.
Untitled 1985 echoes the concentric rectangles of the later work of 1988, but this time they are light blue, horizontal, and come as a pair, over a green, brown and black heraldic-seeming backdrop. Superstar was made in acrylic and pencil the following year, with light blue geometric shapes fanning out to form an off centre star. The show’s final work is in the lift lobby. Untitled, 1985 has the viewer looking up at the ceiling for the special lights that are highlighting spots on a surface of green and dark pink checks. But there aren’t any. The spots of illumination are achieved by Schuyff’s paintwork: they are within the work itself.
Despite Covid 19 restraint outside the gallery walls, White Cube’s exhibition really does take the viewer to a pivotal moment in art history and in cultural history. Briefly you are in the New York of After Hours and Rocky, where anything might unfold, possibilities are infinite and the future is yours to shape as you will.
Covid Safe Gallery Etiquette
Book a time slot online.
Hand sanitiser at reception.
No paper exhibition guides, so bring an iPad to download QR code, as can be a little squinty on smaller smartphone screen.
Don’t expect a loo!
Peter Schuyff © the artist. Photo ©White Cube (Theo Christelis)