Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Hodgkin & Karin Ruggaber Tate Britain



Howard Hodgkin is the general public’s idea of a Real Artist. A painter, naturally, who makes colourful abstract basically expressionist works and has done so consistently for his entire adult life. Hodgkin himself has no problem with this, and is equally unaffected by the waves of postmodern French theory that have made less confident artists tremble. In Hodgkin-world feelings and ideas are unproblematically translated into abstract brushmarks, and colours essentially act completely mimetically to conjour up a blurry scene from memory. Blur your eyes at half of these paintings and you might be looking at a photograph of a garden or bourgeois holiday scene.

Having said that, it’s one of those exhibitions which the Tate does brilliantly. The huge gallery walls are given a 1980’s style scumbled paint finish to create sympathetic backgrounds for the paintings. The work itself is arranged chronologically, hung with plenty of space around it, and given room to breathe. How could it fail? I’ve not read anything bad about the show since it went up and the public seem to be enjoying themselves – walking around with headphones on squinting at the blobs and streaks, getting off on the general painterliness of it all.


Putting Karin Ruggaber in the Art Now space next door is an illuminating bit of curatorial thinking, too. Once known for her dry-as-dust furniture constructions and faux-sculptural objects, she has evolved into a textile artist with an interest in touch, much in the vein of Richard Tuttle (some of who’s work is referred to here, if I’m not mistaken). Small plaster and concrete wall reliefs merge gradually into fabric pieces held together with pins and loose stitching. It’s visual, it’s highly tactile, and it’s pretty while also giving off an air of intellectualism (because of her refusal of Howard Hodgkin-style colour). Pairing her up with the elderly painter brings out the aesthetic tendency of her work, which I feel doesn’t really work in her favour. I found her a much more interesting artist a few years back when she was showing metal sheets with horse’s hoof prints in them, nice little stacks of wood and lath, and even homemade stationary products like notebooks and A4 folders that seemed to be all about the act of folding, scoring, cutting and gluing. The aesthetic fetishisation of texture was always present but she had not yet given herself over to it completely. Still, it’s worth going to have a look and there are a couple of really nice plaster wall pieces.

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