PICK OF THE GALLERIES Film sets and mad monkeys
Sunday 21 November 1999
Serpentine Gallery, London
Who is the real star of James Bond? Sean Connery? Roger Moore? The answer is . As production designer on seven Bond films (1962- 1979), Adam is responsible not just for creating some of cinema's most fantastic sets and gadgets - think Blofeld's lair inside the volcano in You Only Live Twice or the Aston Martin DB5 with all its hidden extras - but for establishing an iconic language, embedded in our imaginations.
Born in Berlin in 1921, Adam emigrated to the UK in 1934. At the outbreak of the Second World War he cut short his architectural studies and joined the RAF. In 1947 he entered the film industry as a draughtsman and 10 years on he received his first full credit as a production designer. He has subsequently worked on 75 realised film projects. Not only did he mastermind the Bond look but he has designed some of the most stylishly idiosyncratic films made. But it is ironic that a designer with such an inventive imagination and ambitious vision of the near future received his Oscars for Best Art Direction for the period dramas Barry Lyndon and The Madness of King George. Remember the Pentagon War Room in Dr Strangelove? Or the candle-lit Hogarthian interiors in Barry Lyndon? Or the magical flying car and the monochrome sweet factory (the only colour provided by the copper pots of brightly coloured sweets) in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? All these images first took shape on 's drawing board, and the selection of more than 200 drawings provide the focus for the Serpentine exhibition. As the Flowmaster pen designer points out: "The sketch is the designer's most important tool ... Even when a design is based on only one or two lines, it is often the incompleteness of these rough sketches with their bold chiaroscuro contrasts out of which an interesting composition or exciting atmosphere grows." For visual confirmation seek out the design for the brainwashing chamber from The Ipcress File, an organised riot of perspectival light and shade. The drawings are juxtaposed with film stills, and one gallery serves as a screening room projecting clips that reveal just how close to the original idea the completed films are.
This exhibition seems a fairly modest accolade for a designer who once built the world's largest sound-stage. David Sylvester has curated an extremely elegant exhibition, elevating production design to the realm of high art and emphasising Adam's role as a visionary auteur.
`': Serpentine Gallery, W2 (0171 298 1515) to 9 January
297 x 210
Arthur R Rose, London
There's never very much to see at Arthur R Rose - a fictitious name invoking the spirit of Marcel Duchamp - but the artists who show there capitalise on an intellectually loaded aesthetics of nothing. "297 x 210" could be described as an exhibition within a book; 297 x 210 are the measurements of a piece of A4 paper. Nineteen artists were invited to contribute a piece of work around the idea of the blank page as "the chance support upon which ideas come to be inscribed", and to create something that was cheap, ephemeral and easy to reproduce. The most appealing pieces display a trace of visual wit and engage with the dynamics of the space allowed: David Blamey has stapled the two-disc fall-out from a hole punch to his page; Karin Ruggaber has photocopied a sheet of speckletone watercolour paper, the texture showing up as minute flecks. Mark Titchner has covered a sheet of graph paper in manic op-art doodles; Elizabeth Price's Ten Folds provides instructions on how to fold the paper into an aeroplane so it will crash; Graham Gussin has designed a grey tonal letterhead called Nothing Nowhere ...
Some of the artists seem to pride themselves on being earnest, taking boredom to an almost obscene level. But if you are fond of jigsaw puzzles or have spent the afternoon arranging paper clips into epic minimalist sculptures, this could be for you.
`297 x 210': Arthur R Rose Gallery, SE1 (0171 378 7574) to 12 Dec
Sadie Coles HQ, London
Laura Owens is a young, much-lauded painter from Los Angeles. Two canvases depict a pair of mischievous monkeys lolling about on leaves, derived from 11th-century Chinese screens. I'm not sure what they're up to but I quite like them just hanging around, serving as a frame for the other painting on the wall opposite. Maybe this image - a detail culled from a larger painting installed in the office (all works Untitled 1999) - is what the world might look like through monkey eyes, where a line of black paint could fall hard on the side of representation - "its a seagull" - or flip into atmospheric abstraction, just being "a blob of paint".
Once you start looking, there's a peculiar depth to Owens's work: minute expanses of untreated canvas, turquoise stains, smeared impasto chunks of oil paint laid across air-brushed graffiti, while thin concentric squiggles squeezed from the tube bring you back to the surface again. Palomino, cappuccino, avocado; toothpaste and shower curtains; orange rainbows, turquoise pools - Owens's work comes as a brave and lovely breath of fresh air.
`Laura Owens': Sadie Coles HQ, W1 (0171 434 2227) to 27 Nov
Emily Tsingou, London
Sophy Rickett graduated from the Royal College of Art this year but she has already established a reputation with her photographs of night scenes punctured by slivers of light. Rickett's work is undeniably effective. A series of black-and-white panoramic images of motorway- bridge railings, picked out from the enveloping darkness by the light from passing car headlights, are meticulously crafted, fragile yet powerfully atmospheric. They hint at a cinematic narrative, an erotic tension. Occasionally populated by lone figures, these images become even more suggestive but somehow trite. Wested Interchange, a four-panel colour image, depicts a woman sitting in the middle of a grassy roundabout - the ultimate non place - lit from behind by headlights. Her back is turned to the camera and she faces the night. Simple can often be a little too close to safe.
These images push all the right buttons, but are bereft of any real charge, resting merely at a level of good taste. An earlier series, Pissing Women, was more interesting because of the (albeit heavy-handed) gender politics. I hope Rickett isn't getting lost in the void.
`Sophy Rickett': Emily Tsingou Gallery, SW1 (0171 839 5320) to 20 Dec
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