Art & Photography

TIME, after TIME

What does The Simpsons have in common with the new Ronchini Gallery exhibition — more than you’d expect, argues William Kherbek

'Time, After Time' at the Ronchini Gallery, London. Courtesy of the gallery and Susanne Hakuba
'Time, After Time' at the Ronchini Gallery, London. Courtesy of the gallery and Susanne Hakuba

In an episode of The Simpsons titled In Marge We Trust, Homer discovers a box of soap with an image that almost exactly resembles his own face. Over the course of the episode, Homer tracks down the soap company in Japan and learns that the fateful soap box is not so fate filled after all; the image, known as “Mr. Sparkle”, is merely a merging of the logos of the soap company’s corporate predecessors, an industrial fishing concern and a company which manufactures light bulbs. Add a fish to a light bulb, and, apparently, you get Homer’s face, a chance confluence of icons. With this stark warning about the perils of attributing meaning to coincidence in mind, one can approach the exhibition TIME, after TIME at the Ronchini Gallery, which seeks out light hearted parallels between the work of young American artists and 20th century icons of Italian art.

There are certainly correlations to be seen, particularly between the work of Rebecca Ward and arte povera superstar Alberto Burri. Ward’s works in the show are modestly proportioned, but the tenacity and intensity of her investigations of the relations between painting and surface and the role of the canvas in art seem like an important step forward from Burri’s blistering — in some cases literally — deformations of canvas. Where Ward’s works are most powerful is in their ability to summon the spectre of figuration by using the conventional vector of painterly grounding. Whimsical titles like afternoon delight and tequila sunrise belie the seriousness of the
questions being asked and the subtle excellence with which the
works are executed. Ward is unafraid to wrestle with and subvert classic painterly subject matters like landscape and religious iconography with her work; she even manages to evoke the nude without representing the human form.

The display of Ward’s work is also one of the real victories of the show. Her smallish pieces dot the east wall of the gallery and are sprinkled beside some of Alighiero Boetti’s Cinque x Cinque embroideries which then give way to some riotous Burri’s. That’s a lot of narrative for one wall, but the careful attention to proportion and the interesting left-to-right chronology of the works offers genuine visual and intellectual engagement.

There are of course other works, and a number of them are by revered figures of Italian art like Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mario Schifano, and Dadamaino. The question, however with the other works is not one of individual quality, but of harmonics. At times, particularly with the pairing of Pistoletto’s mirror works with Davina Semo‘s own scoured mirror etching, the parallels can feel a bit literal for some tastes. But the works, particularly Semo’s pieces (here, I confess to being a Pistoletto skeptic) speak for themselves and sometimes what is lost in curatorial adventure is repaid in accessibility. Mr. Sparkle would be proud.

Time, after Time a project by ARTNESIA, at the Ronchini Gallery runs until 4 October