Shit Head is a sculpture (a lump of elephant dung studded with milk teeth and topped with dreadlocks) that mocks the standard media stereotype of young black men. The teeth form a wide-open mouth that I imagine to be quoting its maker: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you."
Most of the show is paintings, propped up on lumps of dung. In The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars, an exclusively white audience is reaching out to a black performer. In the background are black star-shapes, from each of which a pair of anonymous black eyes stares out inscrutably. The flesh of the superstar's torso is shaped by his spandex jacket into a phallus that stretches all the way from his waistband to his pouting lips. Several reviews describe this picture without mentioning the giant prick. Is it only me that sees it? "And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man or a fool."
But it's another painting I focus on: Dream, a portrait. She's in the west gallery, in profile, facing right but with her large eye closed, outlined in pale green. Her skin consists of hundreds of circular beads of near-black acrylic paint, each bead all the darker for the tiny dot of white light that reflects on it from the Serpentine's windows; all the darker for the tiny pieces of glitter that crop up.
The invigilator tells me the artist used a syringe to paint the spots: syringe-tips rather than brush strokes, then. There are also four pastel shades of bead. Pale blue, pink, green and yellow in strips of clothing here, and patches of lace there, each colour separated by a pale green outline. Pink occurs on its own in her wide pouting lips, each of the many spots individually enticing. "There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labour."
It's a many-layered work. The woman's skin is sumptuous, but also transparent - in between beads the painting's backdrop shines through. White and light- turquoise have been coated with a glossy resin - the surface shimmers. Throughout the well-spaced wavy lines of a multi-coloured net are circles divided into segments of bright colours in the middle of which are black faces cut out from magazines. This dreamer is linked to her tribe. Apparently there is another background layer which is only visible in the dark. So at night she dreams of her black lover. "My soul. wait thou only upon God: for my expectation is from him."
Although it's hot stuff there's something exquisitely cold about it. The snow-white, glitter-covered background and those coloured balls bring Christmas decorations to mind. And the great lump of elephant dung which is the jewel in the woman's throat-decoration looks like a Christmas pudding. The dung is glazed, generously-glittered and decorated with rows of coloured map pins which echo the acrylic beads on the painting plane itself. I'm imagining a kitsch black Christmas: happy children throw hot wet dungballs at Santa's sleigh which is driven by zebras ... no, wildebeest ... no, a double-decker of giraffes (on top) and cheetahs (in first gear). "Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun."
Only one thing bothers me about this stunning show. There's been only one black person in the gallery while I've been looking round. Maybe that's not a problem - there are lots of exciting places to be in London. But if there is a problem it's not mine. Or Chris Ofili's. Or maybe it is: "Cursed be he that maketh the blind to wander out of the way."
Chris Ofili: Serpentine Gallery, W2 (0171 402 5075) to 1 November; Tate Gallery, SW1 (0171 887 8000), Wed to 10 January.
'Personal Delivery', Duncan McLaren's book on contemporary art, is out now from Quartet (pounds 12).Reuse content