Pick of the Galleries: Little trains of thought

A Shot in the Head | <i>Lisson Gallery, London</i>; Father, Son and Scary Ghost | <i>Nylon, London</i>; Sean Landers | <i>Greengrassi, London</i>
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A Shot in the Head | Lisson Gallery, London

A Shot in the Head | Lisson Gallery, London

The first thing to be said about this show of more than 40 artists is that the work of one, Koen van Mechelen, is given disproportionate space. His Cosmopolitan Chicken consists of live poultry in a large cage, studio portraits of the individual birds, an incubator full of eggs, and some genetics. This work tries to be many things, and really needs to be seen in a different context than a group show. The impression is gained that this is the most substantial work in the gallery, simply because you have to spend so much time taking it in. And it skews your viewpoint: the next piece I focused on was Jeroen Offerman's live fly in a miniature budgerigar cage.

Artists who claim to be doing off-beat things is the second attention-grabbing element. Hayley Newman made a walk from her studio to the gallery on the day of the opening in a pair of new shoes. When she arrived, she cut the soles off and nailed them to the wall, scuffed side out. But, since a series of her documented performances recently presented at the ICA were spoofs, did she really do the walk? Simon Wood wants to be turned into an industrial diamond when he dies. The details are being thrashed out in a series of public discussions, and inserted in his will. But is he serious? Jonathan Monk's text piece is a commitment to meet its purchaser on the rim of Mt Fuji on 14 July, 2010. But will he really be there? You can't know for sure, but it's interesting to speculate about all three of these artists' sincerity and motivation.

In the above work, succinct use of words plays a part in catching the viewer's eye in a gallery packed with visual competition. Most of the floor-based work doesn't make such a strong impression. But there are striking photographs by Jemima Stehli, her naked body being viewed or, rather, self-consciously not, by male art world luminaries.

'VERY INTERESTING' says Gary Rough's neon above the door on the way out, the first word flashing. And so this show is, but it takes a while to get those chickens out of your mind.

'A Shot in the Head': Lisson Gallery, NW1 (020 7724 2739), to 9 September

Father, Son and Scary Ghost | Nylon, London

Most boys, until fairly recently, would be given a train set by their father, and many would be bored with the gift inside 10 minutes. John Strutton, for example. But he rediscovered his train set in the family loft recently, dusty and derelict, surrounded by paintings he'd done as an aspiring artist. Suddenly the train set seemed full of poignancy and possibility.

Images of the neglected model railway, with fragments of romantic portraits appearing at the edges of the photographs, are part of the Nylon installation. But the star of the show is the train set itself. Two trains circulate in opposite directions around the gallery, along a double track supported on a shelf. They travel slower than normal, passing the brooding photographs - of ghost trains and even ghostlier figures - that lean between shelf and wall. The viewer is seduced into confronting layers of someone else's past.

The trains also pass paintings on little self-supporting blocks of wood. The images - individual units from a train set, such as goods carriages - are painted square-on, with centrally-placed names like "Suffragette City" and "Don't Look Back - Sodom". Aspects of a teenager's personal heaven and hell, reduced by the artist in his maturity to bite-sized icons. Maybe there isn't such a difference between building up a set of cult records and films and customising a train set.

By distancing yourself from a set of values once adhered to, it's easier to come to terms with another's. The show opened with a performance by the artist and his father which suggested that both individuals had managed to achieve just that.

John Strutton: Nylon, W14 (020 7602 6061), to 29 July

Sean Landers | Greengrassi, London

Sean Landers made an impact at Saatchi's a few years ago with his huge paintings filled with closely-written words in which Sean bared his sensitive soul, tongue in cheek. At Greengrassi, the first thing you come across is Sean's voice "I strive for greatness ... I love myself for it," talking over Holst's stirring "Jupiter" from The Planets. As he goes on about what a true genius he is, you're faced with a couple of large paintings full of multi-coloured lines, one with the word "Sean" written boldly across it in script. The facing picture has a more subtle and abstract motif, but it's difficult to investigate these qualities with the artist constantly declaiming his talent in your ear: "I mean every word."

The soundtrack is piped upstairs too, where the pair of facing paintings are an approximate copy of a particular Picasso painting, and a pastiche of the latter's cubist period, with New York references thrown in. Both feature a seated male. In this room it's difficult to say who is the greater genius, Landers or Picasso. "Thank God for me," says Sean, and that seems to settle the issue.

In the gallery office is a third pair of paintings: figurative, with lots of writing in the background. The usual combination of Landers' self-righteousness, self-pity, and with an edge of the genuinely confessional. Its uncomfortable reading, partly because of the omnipresent verbals, partly because its a working office, but also because of the often intimate disclosures.

Many of us take ourselves too seriously in these egotistical times. Sean Landers takes himself more seriously than most, but has the humility to mock himself from one end of the gallery to the other.

Sean Landers: Greengrassi, W1 (020 7388 3555), to 31 July

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