Art

CABINET ART Jason & Rhodes, London
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The Independent Culture
During the 16th-century, patrons of the arts who grew tired of the endless round of Michelangelo's latest monumental sculpture or another massive state portrait or Madonna by Raphael could take solace by retreating into private studies - their "cabinets". Here they would keep a collection of smaller, more modest pieces whose sole purpose was personal contemplation. They would be diverse in character, sacred, pastoral or erotic, but what they had in common was their size.

Popular for some 300 years, but over the past century largely neglected, this noble tradition has now been revived in an inspired exhibition at the Jason & Rhodes gallery. Over the past few months the gallery has invited some 50 contemporary British artists to submit a work of art not more than eight inches-square. The result is a fascinating distillation of the current condition of British art, varying in style from the minimal and conceptual to abstraction and traditional figuration, in age from late twenties to early seventies, and in price from pounds 12 to the mid-thousands. For the collector with a few pounds to spare there is a bewildering choice. For the more ambitious, a judicious purchase of works by, for instance, Helen Chadwick, Eileen Cooper, Rose Warnock, Alison Wilding, John Goto, Bridget Riley and Michael Sandle would, for around pounds 12,000, yield an impressive ready-made collection small enough to fit into the spare room.

For those who are not looking to buy, however, this show can be no less rewarding. Of course, looking at Rachel Whiteread's small but perfectly formed "Switch", a plaster-cast of a domestic light switch in an edition of 25, hardly rivals the experience of standing before her ill-fated "House" or even looking at "Ghost", her Turner Prize-winning room-cast. It does, however, communicate the essence of her art; that, at its best, this exhibition achieves.

There are some artists - namely Gwen Hardie, Jock McFadyen, Sarah Raphael and Anthony Caro - whose work does not necessarily work small scale. This in no way reflects a lack of talent, merely a mind-set too long accustomed to the more monumental. Other artists have exceeded the eight-inch guidelines and some, like sculptor Michael Sandle, offer not a specifically created piece but a maquette for a larger work. Where scale and intention do come together, success is immediately apparent.

John Goto's tiny nude female study from his "Scar" series is a quietly erotic tour de force. Similarly, Australian David Keeling's "Stand", a wooden model of a house, its exterior painted with fields and hills, is a neat encapsulation of our essentially domestic perception of the landscape. In contrast, Helen Chadwick's "Cameo II" is quite as enigmatic as any of her larger installations, and at the same time a nice example of spontaneous and assured draughtsmanship from an artist better known for her conceptual work. Whatever your taste, in what must be the capital's most engaging summer show, there is much both to delight the eye and stimulate the intellect. Small is beautiful.

n Until 16 Sept: 0171-434 1768

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