Nicky Bird

Art Monthly (1998-2009)

This page contains selected extracts and PDFs of reviews written for
Art Monthly. Taken together, these represent the range of practices and conceptual questions that I have encountered over a decade. The process of writing about these encounters was deeply informed by my own position as an artist, and a concern to enter into a meaningful dialogue with artists, artworks and audiences.


Willie Doherty

“Lonely country paths, shadowy figures, bullet holes: Willie Doherty’s first solo show in Scotland suggests an exhibition firmly in territory that the artist is well known for – his exploration of place, memory and legacy that evokes Northern Ireland’s traumatic history while also moving beyond it. Yet among a compelling selection of films and photographic works, the most telling aspect of this exhibition is a dialogue between two video installations that make a remarkable, uncanny ‘return home’.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.327, June 2009, p.32.


Christine Borland

“The trace of a human spine made with dust, bronze heads cast from unidentified human skulls, and jam-making: these are all featured in Christine Borland’s ‘Preserves’, a show that demonstrates the artist’s consistent exploration of the human body since the early 1990s. Even in new work, in which the artist appears to turn her attention to the natural world and influential figures of western science and medicine, the questions of what lies at the periphery of institutional knowledge and power are never far away.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.303, February 2007, pp.28-29.


Graham Fagen

“…Viewers may be thinking about, for example, Hitchcock’s Rope when they step into the next gallery, only to find themselves among the sets they have just been watching, along with live performers who resolutely ignore you – you’re not the one they are waiting for. It all adds up to an uncanny, disconcerting experience of performance and theatricality, in which space for the viewer’s thinking is never swamped.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.302, Dec-Jan 2006-2007, pp.28-29.


Barbara Kruger

“Where ‘Twelve’ is at its most powerful is in a scene that is the shortest of all: it is an exchange between two young men with no accompanying subtitles – one looks at the camera intensely and talks about the importance of belief in God. The other man projected opposite looks back and dispassionately asks ‘why, why is it important?’ Kruger’s words may be their mouths, but this understated scene invites the viewer, however briefly, to make their own connections between belief, ideology, and its consequences.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.289, September 2005, p.29.


Ellen Gallagher

“‘Orbus’ is a seductive encounter, in which Gallagher’s dexterity with her materials invites a surprising chain of associations. Sea serpents evoke Egyptian Queens, whilst black enamel invokes the figure of the black activist. Regency wigs and outlandish beehives are summoned up in plasticine, a material associated with childhood. The process of loss and disappearance hover over all these worlds: it is their trace with which the work of Ellen Gallagher responds to so poetically.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.282, February 2005, pp.24-25.


Terminal Frontiers

“Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, the subject of race and representation was a key critical debate to lens based practices and ‘new media’ technologies. In a sense ‘Terminal Frontiers’ returns to this territory, while at the same time, unashamedly engages with current political issues: asylum, migration and global manipulation.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.279, September 2004, pp.25-26.


Strangers to Ourselves

“‘Stranger’ is a duplicitous word. It evokes a range of connotations – from the visitor that is made welcome to those others who are regarded as alien, bringing with them the unfamiliar, and fear of the unknown. This assumes of course that we are never the stranger, or the migrant, ourselves.
The complexity of the migrant figure is key to ‘Strangers to Ourselves’, an ambitious project that sets out to explore ‘issues of conflict, migration, dislocation and exile’.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.273, February 2004, pp.35-37.


Christopher Wool

“‘Crosstown Crosstown’ may have painting hung on the one side of the gallery and photography on the other, but the work of Christopher Wool stages a much more complex, intertwined relationship between the two mediums. If you look hard, and attend to the terms of this dialogue, you can’t help but come against two figures: the abstract expressionist and the ‘vandal’.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.266, May 2003, pp.35-36.


The Lost Collection of the Invisible Man

“Municipal galleries up and down the country, of which the Laing Art Gallery is an example, emerged from a Victorian impulse to collect. To the contemporary audience of such collections, the artefacts and objects hold traces of a sensibility that sometimes seems sentimental or just plain kitsch. The process of collecting itself also has other connotations – from the harmless hobbyist, to the compulsive buyer (given perhaps its most iconic expression in Citizen Kane). This leads to other questions – how collections sometimes reveal more about the collector themselves, as well as how and why such collections come into public view.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.265, April 2003, pp.25-26.


Con Art

“Magic/Object/Action” is the subtitle of this show, in which magicians, illusionists, escapologists, and a flock of sheep all make an appearance. In ‘Con Art’, magic is not just the ability to cast spells, or to perform illusory tricks effortlessly before an audience’s very eyes. The magician, as a beguiling entertainer, is a pivotal figure for a number of artists, having the ability to create a willing, complicit audience. The success of this show lies not simply with its unabashed desire to entertain viewers with a new set of conjuring tricks, but to reveal in the process, some provocative questions of the subject of illusion itself.

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.255, April 2002, pp.27-29.


Trauma

“It is hard not to jump to the conclusion that the film and video works most compellingly speak to the theme of ‘Trauma’. This is in part given by the relationship that lens-based media in culture at large, has with trauma, which audiences will inevitably draw from. Yet familiarity with such narratives, and how these are constructed through the camera and the screen, presents the show with a tightrope not entirely of its own making.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.249, September 2001, pp.48-50.


Wendy Ewald

“A girl reaches to an imaginary red sky and a boy ducks from toy planes crashing around his head. A black child depicts himself as a white rock star, whilst his white classmate imagines being the first black president of the U.S.A. These photographs are from two series of projects that make up ‘Secret Games,’ an international touring show that spans 30 years of the work of Wendy Ewald. The results of her collaborative practice with children from cultural backgrounds as diverse as the USA, Saudi Arabia and South Africa are startling. In addition, the work raises a number of questions that are in the first instance, suggested to and explored with the child, which are then in turn finally posed to the viewer.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.244, March 2000, pp.39-41


Roderick Buchanan

“The poignancy of the amateur’s aspirations reverberates to another work, in which poignancy is also pivotal, but this time one created by defeat. In Deadweight 2000 Buchanan turns his attention to those who take centre stage: the professional boxer. However the spectacle of boxing is removed, with the body weight of George Foreman, or Mike Tyson, now translated into bean bags of low density vinyl, which bears his name, weight and the date of a lost bout. Up to 220lbs in weight the beanbags are immovable, but the final round, described in the text on the surrounding walls, tells a different story.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.243, February 2000, pp.37-38.


Atelier Van Lieshout

“Pigs, mortars and alcohol – all feature in the latest installation by Atelier Van Lieshout (AVL), which at first glance appears to be an array of equipment no distiller or lumberjack would be without. The gallery is transformed into part-laboratory, part-showroom by a range of industrial appliances: a large wood-sawing machine, a still, storage barrels and a cauldron. Why a mortar is included in AVL’s list is a question that comes later, but first the viewer must cope with an olfactory challenge from the overwhelming stench of fermenting pig meal.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.230, October 1999, pp.41-43.


Living Room

“Alison Marchant’s installations and site specific works have long been preoccupied with how contemporary art can map and excavate ‘the half forgotten histories’ of working-class people. Her first bookwork, ‘Living Room,’ is the result of working with people who live and work in the Holly Street Estate in East London, and continues the artist’s exploration of these themes. Her previous working methods are brought to the book, combining her use of oral histories and found photographs with Marchant’s own political motivation and class history. However it is in this particular artform of the book that issues of art, artist, class and community come to rub against each other in some unforeseen ways.”

Originally published in Art Monthly, No.218, October 1998, pp.49-50.


PDFs reproduced with the kind permission of Art Monthly
For full listings, see Art Monthly’s Index