Art Chronicles: This Side of Paradise

Sotheby’s newish gallery for showing contemporary art, S/2, rather than being in their main building, is discreetly across from their rear door on St. George Street; still Mayfair, but less obviously so – especially now that Hanover Square, at the head of the street, has been turned into a giant Crossrail excavation site. You can, though, should you wish, approach it from the decidedly posher New Bond Street side, traversing the building and enjoying the whiff of money rising up from prospective buyers seated in the café – vibrant and contemporary, offering superb service, light breakfasts, delicious lunches and traditional English afternoon tea.

The current show at S/2 – a selling exhibition as it notes on the door – is This Side of Paradise, a selection of contemporary European figuration painting curated by Jane Neal. Taking its title – as, presumably, did F. Scott Fitzgerald for his first novel – from Rupert Brooke, the artists whose work Neal has chosen “share”, she says, “a fascination for society and human nature in all its messy imperfection”, and a “paradoxical ‘double vision'” that, like Fitzgerald, takes them “into the very heart of society, while secretly assuming a detached position that allowed them to analyse and criticise those who sustained them.” Perfect for Sotheby’s, then.

Amongst the Germans, Czechs, Moldovans and Romanians – the New Leipzig School and Cluj School are well represented – is the Scottish artist, Caroline Walker, whom I’ve written about on this blog a couple of times before. Walker has three works in the show, two smaller paintings – ‘Between Mirrors’ and ‘The Dance’, and a far larger one, ‘Interval’, which takes its inspiration from Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère’. Walker describes it thus …

A female subject, possibly a domestic employee, is standing in the dining room behind the bar. The opulence of the decoration is overwhelming, reducing her to another object, an effect repeated and fragmented through the mirrored surfaces surrounding her. As in the Manet painting, ‘Interva’l is really about looking and the relationship between the viewer and the subject. That’s also true of the other two works I have in the show.

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‘Interval’ Caroline Walker

Recently, Walker has been working from photographs, and had become involved in a project, which, as can be seen, made her a perfect fit for the show …

At the time Jane and I discussed what I would make for the show I was starting to work with photographs I had taken inside a multi-million pound London mansion. The house (complete with plasma screen TVs in every room) embodied the kind of lavish aspirational lifestyle my subjects seem uneasy inhabitants of, and one equally alien to me as an artist, but which could be the house of a potential collector.

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‘Interval’ Caroline Walker

It’s great to see the work of an artist whose career I’ve followed since she graduated from the Royal College of Art expand and develop and be a part of shows such as this, even though that means her work is now sadly, for me, priced out of this particular potential collector’s reach. The catalogue is great, though, and, if you ask nicely, it’s free, and the show, which is on till the 2nd of May, is very well worth seeing.

Caroline Walker’s statements are taken from a nice little interview on the Sotheby’s site, which you can find here …

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