Pick of the Galleries: Broken plates, neon and light rays

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The Independent Culture
Porcupines

291 Gallery, London

291 is sited in the shell of a Victorian Gothic church, and the space is an all-round experience: restaurant, bar and gallery. Right now, the whole building is playing host to "", an event which brings together artists, writers, designers and photographers in an attempt to create "a looking-glass world, a philosophical laboratory". The mastermind behind this project is the writer/ philosopher/ poet Graham Higgin, and the events coincide with the publication of his ingenious anthology of philosophical text fragments, also called . "" because Higgin is drawn to an aphorism of the German Romantic Friedrich von Schlegel to the effect that a fragment must be autonomous, "complete in itself like a porcupine".

The exhibition includes works by 11 artists who in one way or another engage in what Higgin calls "arthinking", a term which suggests that the art venue is to become a place not so much for looking as for reflection, for informal philosophising. This means that some of the work is resolutely conceptual and linguistic, not visual in any significant sense. The link to philosophy is made explicit in the works by Simon Patterson, one of which is a plain white canvas with the word "Wittgenstein" painted on it. Amikam Toren uses found amateur paintings into which he has cut pithy phrases so that you look at the sentimental imagery and have it cancelled or complicated by the words which literally efface it.

Other exhibits are more visual. Cornelia Parker shows a pile of the metal residue from etching words, and in another piece, fragments of chalk and brick taken from the cliffs at Dover are placed behind glass, setting up a complex weave of associations.

This is a thought-provoking exhibition, which shows that an evocative space and a curatorial concept can come into fruitful union.

: 291 Gallery, E2 (0171 613 5676) to 28 November

Richard Wentworth

Lisson Gallery, London

Richard Wentworth has something of the Baudelairean dandy about him. He seems to walk the streets of London with a detached, aestheticising gaze, someone for whom busy, stressful life must be stilled and calmed by the pleasures of witty juxtapositions. So he brings together familiar things, and by putting them into new relationships generates, at his best, that uncanny aura of the miraculous which was so keenly sought by the surrealists. At other times his works exude a kind of patrician wit, a cool engagement with objects by someone who will never need to use such things instrumentally.

The dominant work in this exhibition is a Richard Long-like circle of plates and bowls on the floor of the gallery. These are interspersed by three rather more noble and antique-looking pots. Two other works use the same raw material but have the plates cut in half and arranged in graceful curves across the walls. But this exhibition shows Wentworth ticking over rather than heading off in a new direction. Even so, this familiar fare is worth a visit.

Richard Wentworth: Lisson Gallery, NW1 (0171 724 2739) to 4 December

Natural Dependency

Jerwood Gallery, London

In this exhibition, 10 artists are supposed to have engaged with "excess". A slippery notion, certainly, as one person's excess is another's daily life. If this show is about extremes it is about how revolt (to borrow a phrase from the poet Thom Gunn) turns into style. Take Simon Periton's anarchy symbol, made in glass and elegantly lent against the wall. This was once the kind of thing that was daubed on walls late at night, but already with punk rock it was being incorporated into a certain kind of alternative chic, into fashion. This is what "Natural Dependency" is really about: how excess is absorbed into the status quo via the fashion industry. Fashion trivialises events and beliefs by removing them from the world of action and relocating them within the domain of the ornamental. Anya Gallaccio's work shows us the heart of this process. 200,000 5-rappen- pieces (Swiss currency) are laid out across the floor so that it is necessary to walk across them: the commodification of excess. Jason Brooks's photorealist drawing of a funeral bouquet trivialises the grief that lies behind such objects, using it as just another exercise in immaculate style.

`Natural Dependency': Jerwood Gallery, SE1 (0171 654 0171) to 12 December

Gino Severini: From Futurism to Classicism

Estorick Collection, London

Gino Severini belongs to the same generation as Picasso, a generation which experienced the excitement of the turn of a new century, but then grew to maturity in the shadow of the First World War. The Estorick has brought together 20 paintings and 16 works on paper from 1910 to 1920, exactly those years in which for a whole generation optimism turned to pessimism, or, as in the case of Severini, to a renewed sense of the urgency of holding on to the past. For Severini this meant Classicism, and this allegiance would lead to the renunciation of dynamic experiments in the language of Futurism (of which he was a founding figure), and the embracing instead of an art grounded in reverence for the Italian Old Masters: an art speaking of the need for clarity, harmony, stability, and authority.

The exhibition shows the transition from his explosive scattered-colour works to the adoption of a more linear, solidly structured Cubist language and then the refining (under the influence of Juan Gris) of this essentially fragmented style into images of purity and order. But the abstracting nature of Cubism proved too radical for Severini and already by 1916 he was experimenting with a more figurative, traditional-looking style. It was this that he would come to adapt in the 1920s.

He was not alone in making this journey; Picasso also produced classical works in the early 1920s. But unlike Severini, Picasso moved restlessly between apparently antithetical styles. The Italian seems to have felt an overwhelming need to find order and tradition amidst the chaos of the century.

Gino Severini: Estorick Collection, N1 (0171 704 9522) to 9 January

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