Helen Marten at Sadie Coles HQ and Paul McCarthy at SPACE, London

31 January 2014 By

The first I ever heard of Helen Marten was in 2010 when distinguished critic and art historian Michael Archer literally came up and whispered in my ear at Frieze London.  “You’d better move fast” he said, “she’s going to be huge”.  And so it has proven:  the heat built up around Helen Marten is perhaps in inverse proportion to the opportunities we have had to see her work in London. Solos at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, Kunsthalle Zurich and Johan Konig in Berlin over 2011/12 have offered European audiences a far more extensive introduction to her work than we Londoners had until her show at Chisenhale two years ago.

So the show that opened two nights ago at Sadie Coles’ kunsthalle-like Kingly Street gallery is a not-to-be-missed chance to familiarise yourself with a whole new body of work by this very rapidly rising, or risen, star.  This new show opens with a spectacular wall-based three dimensional work and continues in the main space with freestanding sculpture and paintings that send you ricocheting between repeat motifs, and unexpected material accumulations. Early interviews with the artist reveal an enjoyment of slapstick comedy and there is something of this in the deadpan combination of incongruous elements.  Marten’s work has been referred to as “like good hip hop” in the way it co-opts materials and re-purposes them to her own will;  similarly her approach to three dimensional work has been compared to the way digital material is manipulated in contemporary film work. (Marten also makes digital moving image, though none is included in this current show). Clearly there is a fascination with the flip between the three dimensional and the super-flat, as evidenced by the numerous diagrammatic drawings that pepper the show. I was particularly intrigued by the repeat image of a tabby cat, walking in thin air on its own tail, that seemed like a neat metaphor for semantic acrobatics.

Moving east, SPACE on Mare Street in Hackney are offering a very rare showing of US artist Paul McCarthy’s Black and White Tapes from 1971-75. Thirteen separate short films are presented simultaneously on monitors in the ground floor gallery; in each one the artist repeatedly enacts a brief, ritualistic act, described in the press release as “psychodramas of the rawest nature.” McCarthy (b.1945) came to be known for his filmed performances in the 1980s, that satirised the infantilising nature of US popular culture and used foodstuffs alongside children’s toys to grotesque and comic effect. Here in deepest Hackney we have the opportunity to see the first films the artist made (with video equipment apparently borrowed from the dentistry technician at the University of Southern California) and gain a better understanding of the development of this controversial US figure.

Caroline Douglas



Helen Marten, Oreo St James, Sadie Coles HQ, 62 Kingly Street, W1B 5QN. Open Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 – 18.00, until 15 March. www.sadiecoles.com

Paul McCarthy, Black and White Tapes, SPACE, 129-131 Mare Street, London E8 3RH. Open Monday – Friday 10.00 – 17.00, Saturday & Sunday 12.00 – 18.00, until 16 March. www.spacestudios.org.uk