Visible Invisible, Parasol Unit, London

Mind games, lies, deception – all are playfully and thoughtfully explored in this exhibition that sets off a new trend

How far exhibitions are creatures of their time is open to debate. Curators are as prone to personal history as they are to art history, the work they favour reflecting both the zeitgeist and their potty training.

Still, a show called Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real at London's Parasol Unit does make you wonder if there is something afoot in the world, the artists in it being uniformly concerned with deceit.

Art has always been tied up with deception. When Zeuxis painted grapes so real that birds were said to have come down to peck them, he was lying not once but twice: in trompe-ing the oeil in the first place, and in making up a story about it. (Birds cannot see in metaphor.) Abstraction, the varied squares of Malevich and Mondrian, set out to unshackle art from illusionism or, if you prefer, from lying. All painting sits on a line between Zeuxis and Malevich, between fooling the eye and refusing to do so.

So, what of artists who aim specifically for the mid-point of that line – who make work that flickers back and forth between illusionism and abstraction? In the days of high postmodernism, narrators of novels would stop mid-flow to remind you that they were narrators of novels, that what you were reading was fiction. The work in Visible Invisible does something else. Although pretty well all the artists in the show go in for pastiche, it is not with glib postmodern intent. Pastiche calls for an act of memory, a recognition of the thing pastiched. The best work in Visible Invisible – and it is a very good show full of very good work – offers you half-seen glimpses of things half remembered which prove not to be there when you come to look for them.

Take Katy Moran's Salter's Ridge, in acrylic on canvas and about a foot and a half square. It is intentionally overlookable – small, unframed – and yet its palette is reminiscent of Manet. Stare at the work and you expect to see a picnic on the grass. Except that you don't, because it isn't there: for all their hints at figuration, Moran's brush strokes are just that, sweeps of paint.

Much better known than Moran, Cecily Brown does the same thing in reverse. Her large triptych, Girl Eating Birds, looks at first to have been made in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, its mosaic of forms and colours mere mark-making and gesture. In fact, they are more in the way of collage. Woven on the picture's surface are motifs that read as hands with pointing fingers, a human figure, sprigs of greenery, some kind of vessel. The triptych's three canvases run together as if to suggest a continuous narrative that isn't there. As with Moran, Brown plays games with memory, using our memory of looking at art to raise expectations and dash them.

Why? The nearest equivalent I can think of to what Brown and Moran are doing lies in the work of a short-lived movement of the mid-1930s called Objective Abstraction, championed by artists such as Rodrigo Moynihan who would later sign up to the Euston Road School. The aim of Objective Abstract work was to hint at representation the better to be non-representational. Only by allowing the possibility of illusion could an artist show that he was having no truck with it – that his art was about painting paint, not painting bowls of fruit.

In this, Objective Abstraction was modern in an old-fashioned way. The territory it explored had already been mapped by the Impressionists, and playing around with representation meant avoiding the scarier modernity of painters such as Ben Nicholson. Like Moynihan, Brown and Moran and the three other artists in Visible Invisible seem to define themselves against the prevailing modernisms of our day, not by being postmodern and jokey but by opening the Pandora's box of history. Bound up in their work is the story of art and the story of our looking at art: a work such as Salter's Ridge is a kind of Rorschach blot, our reading of it shaped by our own experience.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the painting in this show (there is also strong work by the octogenarian Swiss sculptor, Hans Josephsohn) is just how painterly it is. For all their games with tradition, Brown and Moran handle their medium with a skill and sureness that buy into the past. Whatever questions they ask about where painting is going, they are certain that it is going somewhere. Objective Abstraction lasted a couple of years before hitting its own cul de sac. Let's hope this new trend lasts longer.

'Visible Invisible' (020-7490 7373), to 7 Feb

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders