Hobson’s Choice: Karla Black at Modern Art

8 March 2012 By
Hobson's Choice: Karla Black at Modern Art

Paul Hobson, Director of the Contemporary Art Society, recommends his favourite exhibition of the week.

23 February – 24 March 2012

Modern Art, 23/25 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DF

Tuesday – Saturday 11am – 6pm and by appointment


Scottish artist and recent Turner Prize nominee, Karla Black is well known for her instantly recognisable large-scale sculptural installations that combine traditional art-making materials with those associated with cosmetics and nursing – talcum powder, nail varnish, Vaseline and lip-gloss – in abstracted pastel formats assembled from cellophane and polythene. Referencing the history of painting – especially action painting and abstract expressionism – and drawing on feminism and performance art, Black proposes an expanded idea of sculpture as primarily an intuitive and sensory encounter with pure materiality.

She describes her work as ‘being physical explorations into thinking, feeling, communicating and relating’ and is influenced by the pioneering work of Melanie Klein (1882 – 1960), the Austrian-born British psychologist who advanced the field of child psychology by devising therapeutic techniques where children were invited to experiment and play with materials, asserting the importance of non-linguistic (i.e. Freudian) responses to our relationship with the world.  Accordingly, the viewer is often either immersed in a space where the work compels a visceral experience of its physicality and materiality – to touch, to smell or even to taste the work – whilst being made aware of its fragility and improvised nature.

Whilst Black denies the gendered nature of her sculptures, it is difficult not to interpret her work as overtly `feminine’ in a traditional sense – materials associated with house-keeping, beauty and nursing recur within her work, along with formal motifs like bows, canopies and nests, in pretty fondant colours – suggesting an oppositional stance to the traditionally masculine, monumental and heroic idea of the history of sculpture.  Black is one of the most innovative and challenging sculptors working today, certainly a show not to miss!

Image: © Karla Black, For Instruction, Pick Apart, 2012, cellophane, sellotape, paint, plaster powder, powder paint, 214 x 416 x 620cm, image courtesy the artist and Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London and Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

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