Standing out from the crowd

ART MARKET Down an insalubrious alley in south London, John Windsor sought the latest in audacious young art. The show's name is 'Multiple Orgasm'. Its theme? Innocence
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The Independent Culture
THE INVITATION cards, handwritten in felt-tipped pen, gave a Stockwell telephone number and said: "Bring a bottle". It did not sound like the most lavish of private views. But then, in pursuit of affordable art by tomorrow's generation of artists - which is what I had been promised - one must expect a few rough edges.

Neighbours in Lorn Road, in this less than desirable patch of inner-city south London, could not help me towards "Multiple Orgasm", the name of the show. I was relieved when two boys on rollerblades directed me down an alley beside a car breakers' yard. As I picked my way over broken concrete, a scruffy cat darted from behind creepers crawling up the breakers' security mesh and scurried through a wooden fence bearing a notice, "Lost in Space", the name of the gallery.

A glance through the gate made me regret bringing two bottles of German wine. There, in the backyard of a terrace of shops was a barman, hired by Tanqueray gin as I later found out, laying out 100 glasses of Maiden's Blush, a concoction of gin, cranberry juice and lemonade poured over ice.

The boozy sponsorship had been negotiated by the curator of "Multiple Orgasm", Martin Maloney, a 34-year-old graduate of St Martin's and Goldsmiths'. It was easy, really. One of the 20 young artists in his show, Matthew Brown, takes out-of-focus colour photographs of books, cartons, cans and bottles, glues them back on the products or dummies and sells them as artworks at pounds 25 to pounds 750. Ten Tanqueray gin bottles have received his treatment. Maloney explained: "The Tanqueray people want to associate their brand with young artists because their lifestyle is perceived as hip. I told them that there would be people hanging out being hip and cool and that we could do with enough gin for 250."

Martin Maloney paid pounds 31,000 at a repossession auction last year for the two storeys of former bedsits above a second-hand furniture shop where he now lives - another of London's growing number of home-gallery owners. This was his group's third show. Most of the artists participating in "Multiple Orgasm" ("the joy of making art again and again") graduated from trend-setting Goldsmiths' and many have neither studio nor commercial gallery, a combination guaranteed to build creative tension. These are hard times and young trend-setters cannot afford to scoff at being thrown together with lesser-known gin companies in their attempt to jump-start the reputation-making machinery.

I did not meet trend-setting gallery owners such as Karsten Schubert at the show, but he had bought at the first one, in April. The Saatchis have bought some of Brown's out-of-focus packaging. Lorcan O'Neill of Anthony D'Offay scouted the first opening, as did an inscrutable man from Waco Works of Art in Tokyo. Alison Jacques of Waddington, London's biggest gallery, has attended all three. She thinks Maloney has done "terribly well". Most luminous to have braved the alley in pursuit of cutting-edge art: Pier Luigi Tazzi, co-curator of the prestigious Dokumenta art fair in Kassel, Germany.

Maloney's winning formula? Innocence. "Irony is finished," he said, "that's to do with the older generation, with standing back from the world and refusing to show emotion - an Eighties thing. I don't think anything on show here is ironic. There is innocence, honesty, sweetness and romance."

The backyard and the narrow stairways of the gallery were filling up with hip and cool young people and the free triple-distilled gin was generating sweetness and romance. I found myself crowded into the lavatory where, on a tea chest draped in black silk-velvet, Lisa Snook had mounted a white plaster-cast of her hand. Sprouting from its palm was a clump of black bristles from a hair brush, clogged with hair. Price pounds 350.

Snook is 25, a Goldsmiths' graduate in art history, and looks the embodiment of innocence. "Would you like to talk me through this?" I asked.

She looked first at my glass, then at me, then at her exhibit.

"It's provocative," she explained. "The height it's displayed at is important. It's crutch height and the fingers are in masturbatory stance. It's pure but dirty. Pure, honest white plaster and dirty black velvet and hair. There are saw marks where the hand has been severed. It's a naughty hand. It's being rude."

Maloney chipped in: "Like a convent schoolgirl caught masturbating - innocent but sexy."

But it's hardly as provocative as James Huggett's computer-generated sex cartoons. One shows an incontinent nude, chained on all fours, her head in a box. Price pounds 400. Maloney explained: "When Jamie was at Goldsmiths', feminists there signed a petition to try to stop him working. His work is anti-PC - a sting in the tail of sweetness."

Snook's hand grabbed the attention of the Berlin gallery owner Rupert Goldsworthy when he viewed "Multiple Orgasm" the following day, and Huggett's nude caught the eye of Richard Flood, who is curating a show of young British artists at the Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis, next October. Then there was Europe's hottest contemporary art-show curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, who set up the Serpentine Gallery's "Take Me, I'm Yours" (pounds 1 to fill a carrier bag with old clothes) this spring. He took a shine to Mike Kruger's black-and-white photographs of the artist tangoing in his bedroom with his girlfriend. Price pounds 500 each.

Martin Maloney mused: "The most surprising thing you can think of could become art. Even guinea pigs."

There were guinea pigs in every room - nine meticulously painted A4-size oils by Dan Hayes, a 28-year-old from Goldsmiths'. Price pounds 350 each. The exhibition catalogue advertises paintings of pairs of guinea pigs, but Hayes's solitary specimens evidently lacked the urge to increase and multiply.

Maloney said: "It's kind of innocent to say, 'Hey, I like guinea pigs, I'd like to paint them.' No conceptual stranglehold there."

Hayes said: "I did a one-off painting of a guinea pig and Martin really liked it and asked me to do more. He must have thought it naive and innocent. Usually I paint tents with repeating images of forests in the background." Why no tents in the show? "Because Martin liked the guinea pigs. I had to adopt the personality of someone who paints guinea pigs obsessively. I have three guinea-pig books that I paint from. My life is too chaotic to own a real one."

A bit of a rebel, Hayes; not one to accept the new gospel of innocence without question. His catalogue statement on making art contains the seditious: "Irony is good fun to employ, and if it is done with finesse, people will think you are both clever and funny." The guinea pigs were his most innocent work so far, he insisted. But his flatmate, Diego Ferrari, sighed and said: "They've changed him from being innocent and angelic to being ambiguous."

Tongue in cheek, Matthew Brown, 32, creator of out-of-focus packaging, said: "I used to think I was ironic but I'm just innocent, really. I do find it difficult to keep up with Martin's sayings. What am I saying this week, Martin?"

Maloney told me later: "There's no pressure to make art in a particular style. For me, being a curator is not about setting up a group in opposition to others. It's more like being a DJ, bringing together different acts.

"I enjoy having a say in who's going to be among the next generation of artists. I'll show anybody to whom I can say, 'You could have a career as an artist and make money.' To end up with nine guinea pigs, you have to say to the artist, 'I think the guinea pigs will sell' and encourage him to develop a signature, a consistency of style. It's a bit like Marks & Spencer.

"Getting artists to recognise what people like about their work is not selling out. Instead of a messy show in which one artist's work runs into another's, I want people to say in the pub afterwards that they remember the guinea pigs or the hairy hand. In future, I would like Dan to paint ferrets."

His own exhibits are images drawn on household objects such as a plastic bottle, in Blue Peter DIY style, and flower paintings. As an art student he was impressed by Ivon Hitchens's early abstract flower paintings. Price pounds 400. "When I saw Hitchens's work, the hair stood up on the back of my neck. Then I found out it was considered naff to like that sort of stuff. A pity, because that's what I wanted to paint. That was the Eighties for you: you weren't encouraged to be organic or natural."

Woodchip wallpaper has been patchily stripped in one room and the walls decorated with tiny paintings of cherries, strawberries, a broken daisy chain and insects by 29-year-old Jane Brennan, a Slade sculpture graduate. "This is the hottest room in the house, really steamy," she said. "It used to be Martin's bedroom. When I painted it I was thinking of summer heat, lazy and sensual." She charges pounds 500 or pounds 70 a day to paint a room.

Then there are Jaspar Joseph-Lester's saucer-sized lenses set in window shutters, which make the outside world turn upside down and change colour. They have been shown at the Cologne art fair. Price: about pounds 300. Alexis Harding, 22, makes wrinkly canvases by dribbling paint from holes in a trough on to a wet surface. Oil and gloss paint congeal sumptuously. They take months to dry. Prices: pounds 300-pounds 900.

Absent from the party: Jun Hagesawa, whose four giant cut-outs of sexy women were propped on the outside of the gallery, on each storey and the roof. The Rolling Stones had taken a fancy to them at her degree show at Goldsmiths' and she was installing some at their rehearsal at Wembley Stadium. Pocket-sized, fibreboard versions are available for pounds 20 at "Multiple Orgasm" - a best buy.

By sunset, the gin had nearly run out and the barman was opening two bottle of Sainsbury's German wine. Among those I bumped into on my way out was the guinea-pig man, Dan Hayes. "Ever thought of painting ferrets?" I asked him.

"No," he said.

"You will," I said. "You will."

! "Multiple Orgasm" is at Lost in Space, 6 Lorn Court, Lorn Road, London SW9 OAA (0171-978 9107) ; open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays 12-6pm until 27 August; next show, September: "White Trash, My Ideal Home Exhibition"

; October - "Graveyard Gothic"; December - "100 Simple Christmas Ideas"; February - "Suicide".