ART / Exhibitions: To Jackson and Lee . . . a painting: What happens when you're married to your work? A new show at Annely Juda, London, looks at artists who keep it in the family

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The Independent Culture
ANNELY Juda's summer show this year is called 'Partners' and is a thoroughly enjoyable series of complementary paintings and sculptures made by husbands and wives, from Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Gontcharova in pre-Revolutionary Russia to Nigel Hall and Manijeh Yadegar, who present pieces made in London in 1993. I'd never heard of Yadegar, but her small abstract painting in cream and pale blue-green makes me look forward to a one-person exhibition. In fact, every artist in the Juda galleries could fill the whole space and still remain of interest. It's a show of genuine quality.

But not, I think, an exhibition that strives to make a point. Much could be said about the relations between these partners, their abilities and professional fortunes. Annely Juda, however,

offers no judgements along these lines. The general atmosphere is of creative understanding. I wondered which was the closest pair, in terms of the art produced, and suppose that Robert Delaunay and Sonia Delaunay-Terk are the most twin-like. Or perhaps Kenneth and Mary Martin? It doesn't really matter, and I for one felt relaxed about nearly all of these partnerships.

The exception is in the tension between those near-divorcees Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock. Their pictures are worth studying for many reasons. The first is that paintings by either artist are rarely seen in London. The second is that their paintings are so good. Thirdly, their life together was less a domestic arrangement than a turbulent way of exploring the nature of modern art. There could be no turtledovery when this was at stake. And so the Juda exhibition also hints at the tragedy of their marriage.

Pollock's Sun-Scape is (like the man himself) both intense and elusive. In 1946 it must have seemed very ugly and aggressive. It still does, to some extent; but the emotion of the picture turns out to be mixed - brash at first, then wandering, even frightened. The progenitor of Pollock's picture was Miro, but the American artist added something to the Spaniard's poetic view of the universe. It was a glimpse of terror. Whether Pollock was more frightened by metaphysics than by things in his own character we cannot know. But the force of the painting makes us ask such questions. It's like being on the edge of an abyss.

He must first have coated his piece of hardboard with this blistering yellow colour, the sort of yellow that no previous fine artist would have dreamt of introducing to a picture. Then he would have stared at the yellow until he saw the ragged images that populate this desert. The painting concerns his Arizona childhood, among other things; and the infantile drawing is part of Pollock's desire to cast himself back in time. Let it not be thought, though, that these scratches, dots and loops are truly like a child's drawing. They are the product of sophistication. Sun-Scape dates from the time just before Pollock's greatest period, when all the pain was converted into grace.

He had just moved with Krasner to Long Island and she had begun her series of 'Little Image' paintings. Annely Juda's example is a virtuoso amalgam of the two artists Krasner most admired, apart from her husband: Monet and Mondrian. It's also related to the beginning of Pollock's dripped paintings, but clearly she kept a distance from his innovations. 'I never became a Pollock.' She was inspired less by his art than by his conviction that to be an artist required the utmost one could give to art.

Apart from the Pollocks, the Annely Juda show reflects the traditional strengths of her gallery. Here are classic Russian and German artists of the Modern movement, some Dadaists and contemporary British abstract painters and sculptors. Larionov and Gontcharova's paintings represent the Russian feeling for Fauvist and other French art but are not at all derivative. Both artists were 30 when they produced these pictures and appear to have struck a kind of untroubled maturity, happy with foliage and fruit and flowers. A more strenuous type of Russian art comes with the Constructivism of Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, and then from Alexandre Vesnin and Liubov Popova. In all, then, a little retrospective of the artistic Revolution.

Anthony Caro's recent sculpture called Three Cubist Pieces is at first sight straightforward, then gives much to ponder. You might call it a table on which are placed three upright structures. However, as always with Caro, titles are more than they appear. This one reveals itself as part of the sculpture as a whole. The 'pieces' would not look right without the structure beneath them. Nor would these three forms look impressive if seen separately. Caro obliges the spectator to take a total view of his work. The result is unsettling, almost solemn.

I think he's been considering the tripartite drawings Picasso called 'An Anatomy', which came from a project for a funeral monument to Apollinaire. A monument by Caro might be a wonderful thing, and I believe he has a hankering for this most traditional form of sculpture. He should talk to his wife about it. Caro often acknowledges Sheila Girling and her importance to his work. He's referring to that invisible influence, conversation, surely the great gift that husbands and wives bring to each other when they are both innovative artists. Girling's paintings don't usually look as though they have been influenced by sculpture, her husband's or anyone else's. But her new picture does have a sculptural feel. Not only is it collaged, with some of the affixed canvas coming away from the painting's surface, but the bold and looming shapes are like cut metal, as though thin sheets of lead had been sheared up and then painted. Girling's paintings have never been very prominent on the British art scene. A pity, and she's obviously hit a productive streak.

Other marital teams on display include Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth (whose Discs in Echelon is better than anything of hers currently to be found in St Ives), Sean Scully and Catherine Lee, and Alan and June Green. Lee's piece is of patinated bronze, has irregular edges and hangs on the wall. June Green's meditative pencil drawing opens out in a butterfly shape. I don't quite see what either artist is pursuing but they've both found something. Their works are self-sufficient, at least in comparison with their husbands'. Scully is an artist who ought to have public commissions. Green too, especially since his painting is improving all the time.

23 Dering St, W1 (071-629 7578) to 18 Sept.

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