Gatsby

The New Lansdowne Club, 12th April – 5th May

Once in a while, the art world throws a party that you don’t forget easily. The best of these aren’t the corporate PR exercises of big galleries and big exhibitions, well organised and anxious to flatter, but the ones put together by ambitious people on the margins who want to change the art world landscape, if only for a little while. ‘Gatsby’, an exhibition put together by three ex-Slade graduates, was a great example of the DIY art show run riot; sixty young artists found themselves in the remarkable venue of the New Lansdowne Working Men’s Club, in London’s east end borough of Hackney. Themed on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel ‘The Great Gatsby’, the opening night saw the Lansdowne heaving with over 500 revellers; opening night and after-party merged with visual art, live music and performance, flappers and cocktails, ‘Gatsby’ exuded it’s namesake’s flair for a great party, whilst the novel’s sense of nostalgia and loss was reflected in the faded charm of the Lansdowne’s 60s wood-effect Formica and red leatherette.

So it was a great night, and the art was mostly lost in the crowd. But coming back to the empty club on a sunny afternoon, the work dotted around the now quiet bar, lounge and dance floor, was an engaging experience. Big shows of young artists can merely be the stepping-stones by which the few lucky ones are cherry-picked to join the ‘real’ artworld of commercial galleries and institutional recognition. Yet there’s always more to such DIY shows than self-promotion, because these opportunities to show add to the sum of what’s going on in art. Instead of select gallery spaces looking to promote a handful of artists, ‘Gatsby’’s inclusiveness offered a raw snapshot of London art’s current urban culture, rejecting exclusive curating in favour of a easy sociable excess of work by a young group of less established artists.

Consequently, there were broad extremes of taste and engagement on offer. The ‘Gatsby’ theme rubbed off worst on the works most easily fascinated by easy glamour, fantasy and escapism, those kitschy fads now also gripping the commercial artworld; there were plenty of forgettably oddball creations, fun but trivial interventions, and those works that, by trying to maintain the decorum of pristine gallery art, just couldn’t survive the Lansdowne’s aging ramshackle congeniality. Yet for all these there were as many works that offered interesting takes on the dialogue between glamour and failure, sincerity and corruption that relates the tragic Jay Gatsby to the fading Lansdowne, and art’s shifting position somewhere between the two, between glamour and realism. Eva Rothschild, one of the few more established artists present, hit the right note with her Untitled glitter ball, each mirrored facet resurfaced in wood veneer to match the surroundings, the previously magical disco-effect reduced to a gloomy orb. Looking on were Brian Moran’s equally dark Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring canvases- four oil portraits of masked Ninja assassins, each inflected with a different seasonal mood, a strange mismatch of references that kept the subjects’ motives and identities unexplained and disturbing. The cloying excess of vacuous celebrity was sharply brought to life in Lucy Hugo’s Schmoozing, an endless collage of grinning C-list party-goers clipped from the gossip rags, and photographer Jamie Robinson’s casual, voyeuristic snaps of sweaty dressed-up Party People, whilst time, decay and luxury were also present in Susanne Kohler’s photo-booth memento mori still-life arrangements, items vanishing from each progressive snap.

And these were just a few of the many artists here with something curious, engaging, funny or disturbing to offer; some better than others, yet all enjoying the casual respect of a venue that wasn’t there to explain to you what good art should or might be. The best parties, I remembered, are always the ones you throw yourself.

 

 


First published in Contemporary, June/July/August 2002 back to top

 

all material copyright JJ Charlesworth 2009 and original publishers where indicated