Review | The Essence of Things at 48 Albemarle Street

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Arriving at 48 Albemarle Street you immediately enter a stripped-back environment; surrounded by exposed brick, wood and metal. This industrial interior makes a refreshing change from the usual polished white-cubes of Mayfair and lends itself to ArtCircle’s second exhibition THE ESSENCE OF THINGS which features work by a number of artists associated with minimalism and post-minimalism.

Minimalism emerged as a form of abstract art during the late 1950s as artists reacted against and began to turn away from the gestural art of the previous generation. These artistic inquiries that developed throughout the 60s and 70s reduced art making to its essentials; they are typified by artworks composed of simple geometric shapes, attention to materiality, and a focus on the physical object in the space rather than any overt symbolic or emotional content.

THE ESSENCE OF THINGS brings together works by a diverse group of artists extending the narrative of minimal art to a wider circle of European and American artists, including work by Carl Andre, Richard Tuttle and François Morellet. While some artists focused on geometricity and systematic formal arrangements, others explored the poetic properties of materials like wood, iron or paper. The exhibition’s curator Berlin-based Daniel Marzona comments “the exhibition explores the essence of materials and forms showing that the formal clarity and simplicity of a work does not reduce the complexity of its perception.”

Robert Morris, Untitled, [Constructed Norman, Oklahoma], 1969, Ink on tracing paper, 55.88 x 76.2cm. Image courtesy ArtCircle
Marzona’s comments echo Robert Morris’s famous statement “Simplicity of shape does not necessarily equate with a simplicity of experience”. Morris was one of the leading theorists and practitioners of Minimalism. He often highlighted the process of construction above the final product; for example, this untitled ink drawing of 1969 on display in the exhibition acts as both a descriptive diagram for a sculpture and as a record of the impermanent installation. This allows the viewer to understand and envision not only the final structure, but also Morris’s process of making it and raises questions about the tangibility of art.

Günther Uecker, Plus-Minus-Nul (Objekt und Zeichnung), 1968, drawing, 62x62cm. Image courtesy ArtCircle

The process of making is also emphasised within the exhibition through Günther Uecker’s Plus-Minus-Nul formed of nails on tinplate wood. Uecker’s work is informed by his interest in repetitive practices and ritualistic processes, which culminate in his own practice of the lengthy yet meditative hammering of nails. These nail-relief works exceed two-dimensional limits and create a new plane to explore the patterns of light and shadow. The exhibition includes both the finished piece and preparatory drawing allowing the viewer to engage with the various stages of development.

Uecker joined the Zero Group in 1961 and the exhibition also includes work by a number of other artists associated with the Group such as Heinz Mack (who founded Zero in 1857 with Otto Piene) and Herman de Vries. The Zero Group advocated for a new form of art, in part to erase the violent forces that had conditioned human experience during the war, their approach aimed to open up new forms of perception often through experimenting with light and motion.

Focusing on light is central to the work of Heinz Mack, in order to explore reflection, movement and structure. On display in the exhibition is a work from 1958 which represents his desire to counter composition with the so-called ‘structural zone’. By layering wet paint, he creates this ‘structural zone’ through a rhythmic modulation of colour producing the effect of vibrations. Mack stated, “I give the colour a vibration, i.e. give the colour a structure” from which comes “the expression of a pure emotion.”

The experiments with light within the works on display extend to the play of light that takes place throughout the exhibition space. In the day, huge windows flood the space with natural light and as night arrives works such as Stephen Antonakos’s neon piece 8 Foot Blue and Red Incomplete Circle (1975) form an imposing presence. Rather than presenting us with a teasing phrase, Antonako’s neon exchanges the frivolous for the essentialness of form, a tenant inherent throughout the exhibition. The space itself is reduced to its bare essentials, providing an industrial yet intimate environment, a fitting setting to view this diverse group of works from artists hailing from both sides of the Atlantic.

Among the chaos of Frieze week, THE ESSENCE OF THINGS provides a serene and stimulating opportunity to engage with Minimalism/Post-Minimalism in new ways and in a unique setting. Artists featured in the show include Carl Andre, Stephen Antonakos, Bernd Lohaus, Günther Uecker, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Herman de Vries, Richard Tuttle, Jef Verheyen, François Morellet, among others.

ArtCircle was founded by Natasha Chagoubatova, Elena Sereda and Volker Diehl and collaborates with museums, commercial galleries, collectors and artists’ estates to stage short-term selling exhibitions featuring works by leading artists. Central to its philosophy is to work closely with internationally renowned curators and art historians, which enables the organisation to realise scholarly shows on a more intimate scale than might otherwise be possible.

ArtCircle co-founder Elena Sereda: “Until now, pop-up exhibitions have largely been focused on young and emerging artists. Our intention is to revolutionise this format, and present the type of shows that you might encounter either in blue chip art galleries or in the collections of major museums, displaying them in unusual spaces that transcend the conformity of the white cube.”

by Harry Dougall


THE ESSENCE OF THINGS will be on view at 48 Albemarle Street until 8 October 2017