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Art review: Antechamber, Collyer Bristow Solicitors & Gallery, London


It’s a surreal experience to walk into a solicitors office near Chancery Lane and find a gallery filled with contemporary art trying to provoke, as contemporary art tends to do.

For instance, there is a photograph of a pair of shabbily decadent red velvet chairs, having sex. Of course chairs can’t actually have sex, but British artist Poppy Whatmore has arranged her subjects so that one chair is straddling the other, antique wooden legs akimbo (Champagne Days: 12:02 a.m., 2012). The innuendo appears obscene and funny in the context of this otherwise bland office environment.

Championing contemporary art and, at the very least, offering a talking point for clients, the law firm has housed a gallery on its premises since the mid-90s. This new exhibition of nine artists’ work – mainly photographs, but video and installation too – explores the theme of the antechamber. The latter is a “portal to another place.” If that sounds vague, it is. Some works in the exhibition are neutral enough to appear decorative, while others are witty and subtly transgressive. It seems as though art can actually be transgressive in this place of the law. There are rules to break.

Art is displayed in several immaculately sterile meeting rooms, where tea and biscuits and Collyer Bristow notepaper are laid out for clients, and the air-con whirs. The light is grey. In meeting room seven, a series of photographs by British artist Jemima Burrill called Secured Home (2008) shows a woman wearing a chic red ensemble of knee high boots and tight skirt, seemingly attempting to break into abandoned residential houses. The doors and windows are bricked up, the gardens are a tangle of yellow flowers and weeds. Like a sexy Red Riding Hood, minus the hood, the woman is pictured trying to prise open windows, standing on bins, pawing at doors. The images are tasteful but confrontational, and appear timely in light of recent squatting laws. They glamorize breaking and entering – which seems okay because they’re classified as art.

Around the table, there are a great number of vivid purple chairs, which the curators have matched to another photograph by Whatmore (Champagne Days: 9.42 a.m., 2012). Rather than mating, this one shows a solitary red velvet chair. It has been happily destroyed. Its legs are broken. The spirit of random defiance in this exhibition is appealing – but who knows what the lawyers make of it.