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Picture This Radical Figures: Painting in the New Millennium, Whitechapel Gallery London

Striking images in eclectic exhibition

WITH painting, like most art, the less said the better.

That possibly applies to the words of this exhibition's curator Lydia Yee. There is little evidence here that “these artists are challenging and expanding the canonical Western painting tradition,” whatever that may be.

The large paintings assembled in the spaciousness of the main galleries are what paintings have always been — a mix of the familiar and the unexpected, the intriguing and the not-so.

Thematically, they respond to a plethora of social, political, philosophical and personal concerns, with varying degrees of success.

Tarifa, Berliner Daniel Richter’s dramatic depiction of boat refugees, is the outstanding painting on show. Uniting form and subject to terrifying effect, the brush strokes rendering the menace of the dark sea and the contrast of the horror-stricken faces are exquisite in their mastery.

Sanya Kantarovsky, Letdown, 2017; Daniel Richter, Tarifa, 2001
Sanya Kantarovsky, Letdown, 2017; Daniel Richter, Tarifa, 2001

Sanya Kantarovsky's Letdown is a stunning diagonal composition. It assaults the viewer with a hardship that can only be guessed at, eliciting empathy for the Madonna-like figure of mother and child.

The textures and subtle colour palette are immensely arresting and it's no surprise that Kantarovsky has, refreshingly, a history of wearing his political heart on the sleeve, see http://www.kantarovsky.com/letdown.html

Harlem-born and bred Tschabalala Self’s fascinating and colourful collage creations, like  Koco at the Bodega, project a zest for life and are laced with good-natured humour.

She says that she is “attempting to provide alternative, and perhaps fictional, explanations for the voyeuristic tendencies towards the gendered and racialised body; a body which is both exalted and abject” and she's succeeding, see pilarcorrias.com/artists/tschabalala-self/

Dana Schutz’s disquieting vision Imagine You and Me is delivered in an expressionist-surrealist style of her own. It unsettles as much as it captivates and is painted with energising gusto and abandon which reveals a commendable confidence.

Painting, as evidenced by this engrossing exhibition and contrary to rumours, is in rather rude health and appears immunised against the impact of dodgy influencers, commercial fads or corporate kisses of death.

Runs until May 10, box office: whitechapelgallery.org.

 

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