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My doubts about Blain/Southern’s artistic integrity violently emerged last year upon reception of their invitation to Matt Collishaw’s appalling show. If I am not mistaken, it expressed the gallery’s delight to present such an, how to call it, ‘ordure’. A few months later, they continued taking the viewer’s for granted displaying an art show with ‘objects’ by Damien Hirst (which were presented as paintings) and which were presented as framing the rather anachronistic candy ready mades by Felix Gonzalez Torres. Now, it is the time for Kosovar artist Sislej Xhafa whose first London show might easily be the worst I have seen in a long time and let me tell you something…I have seen a lot of shit recently.

Upon arrival, the visitor is confronted with a rusting football goal from which a fridge, a taxidermy cat, a pack of cigarettes and a radio suspended by wires from a rusting iron frame in the shape of a football goal mouth. The (rather literal, it has to be said) idea is that these consumer objects have historically been promoted as goals to which everyone should aspire. So the football goal becomes an allegory for ‘a personal goal’, etc. I cannot even start to express how insulting is for the viewer’s intelligence this level of literality.

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Gone are the times when the mechanics of allegory were presented deconstructed as a riddle to test the viewer’s wit and erudition. For example, in Diego Velazquez’s ‘Mercury and Argus’ (1656, Museo del Prado) we are, at first, shocked to see that a beautiful courtier takes the place of Argus, the giant (with a hundred eyes and who, consequently, never sleeps and who had been sent by Juno to keep an eye on the cow Io, a nymph that after having had an affair with Jupiter was transformed by him into a cow in order to escape Juno’s jealous wrath). It must be said that this is an interpretation of one of the episodes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses in which Mercury (sent by Jupiter) decapitates the giant of the many eyes who, eventually, becomes a peacock. If we bear in mind that in Spain, courtiers were called ‘peacocks’, we can appreciate how Velazquez disassembles the narrative through its allegorical components in order to test the viewer and provoke wonder through humorous play.

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Now, let’s come back to reality and Xhafa’s ‘Merry Go Round’ (2013). Although, it is formally presented as an allegorical salad, the gallery makes sure that the viewer does not make too much effort trying to extract meaning from it.  In fact, every visitor is handed out a leaflet which says: ‘The taxidermy cat, in particular, indicates the absurdity of recycling an animal’s body, in the hope of capturing the animal’s essence even after its death. This network of juxtaposed signifiers is suspended in front of the football goal, a potent symbol of aspiration and success that is now in a state of decline and neglect – indicative of an eventual collapse. The installation thus illustrates the jarring difference between the dream and the reality of contemporary socio- political aspirations, invoking the ‘merry-go-round’ concept in order to convey a perpetual cycle of consumption and decay’. Why are these objects hanging? Is he alluding to XVII century Toledo artist, Sanchez Cotán? If so, the association is only aesthetic because there is nothing metaphysical going on on Hannover Square?

It would certainly be incorrect to call this an allegorical exercise because the allegories are actually presented as symbols in front of the viewer which meaning is given to them as if a visual glossary was needed.   The aesthetics of the whole exercise are of such poverty of means that one asks oneself whether this is not just an excuse to have a zero cost show during Xmas and save some money which in the case of such a blue chip gallery like Blain Southern would be the beginning of the end. Furthermore, if there is any intention to be humourous, the joke evaporates in thin air without even having to enter the gallery because the ‘ensemble’ can be seen from across the street. I am struggling to come up with ideas that justify such an appalling show and to be honest, I don’t think it is worth the effort. Just a thought.

BLAIN/SOUTHERN
W1 London
until January 24th