From 24 carat-gold crackers to gum balls, fragmentary ideas suddenly become profound in Gomes’ exhibition
In these dolorous days of late modernity, you see so much art studiously masquerading as crap that it actually becomes crap. It’s one thing to make “Bad Art for Bad People” as the Chapman Brothers memorably put it a few years ago, it’s another thing to make Bad Art for Bad Art’s Sake. You see it in the meandering idea-free video pieces that are a staple of shows that are “engaging new media tropes”, you see it in the two-second sculptures of revolting self-regard that somehow find their way into respectable galleries, you see it in the work of people who think drawing a couple of lines on a piece of cloth makes them Donald Judd, or Matisse, or Agnes Martin, or whoever they’re “referencing”. Who’s to blame for this? Society? Thatcher? Art critics? I don’t pretend I have the answer, but I think I may have found the antidote.
As a couple of weeks ago in London when the sun came out and the Radiohead’s long-predicted New Ice Age cleverly conjured up by the British Museum to coincide with its exhibition on Ice Age art receded, all it takes sometimes is the littlest ray of light to make life worth living again – or at least seem like it is. Such is the case with Fernanda Gomes’ show at Alison Jacques Gallery. In the endless sea of lazy artistry dressed as new minimalism, Gomes’ work is an extraordinarily refreshing blast of silence. The show is both tiny and sprawling, works that seem barely finished dangle along walls, half-completed angles creak to life in corners. Gomes’ untitled pieces spring up around you in an almost organic way which makes them seem like exactly what they are, casual, fragmentary ideas that suddenly become profound, maybe even necessary. It’s Gomes ability to know just the right amount of paint to apply to a wooden block or how to flatten a cigarette paper so that it conveys both toughness and vulnerability that really distinguishes her work. It’s neither sloppy nor tasteful, neither meticulous or aleatory, not exactly knowing and not exactly caring. You’re never sure who the joke is on, or if there even is a joke, though a sculpture made of mounted gold-plated crackers (the kind you eat) suggests someone’s laughing.
Probably the best thing about the show is the fact that its best qualities can’t be conveyed in words. If words can contain an art work, then it’s probably not a very good art work. There’s no danger of encompassing the epic fragility of Gomes’ pieces in this little critical blip. You have to stand in its presence and let it get to work on you.
Fernanda Gomes runs until 17 May at Alison Jacques Gallery, 16-18 Berners Street, London W1T 3LN