Pick of the Galleries: Strange, cluttered and overwhelmed

Sexy | <i>Houldsworth Fine Art</i>; <b>Robert Melee</b> | <i>White Cube, London</i>; Wellcome Wing | <i>Science Museum, London</i>
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The Independent Online

Sexy This group show has a catchy title that promises a bit of feel-good summer titillation. Curator Neal Brown is keen to point out the linguistic ambivalence of a word like sexy - that as well as sex, it can mean good or groovy. So far, so clear. If you are expecting a bit of porno action though, the closest you'll get to seeing someone's pink fluffy bits are in Chantal Joffe's jittery paintings of girls fiddling with themselves, or David Medalla's homoerotic homage to sailors. Otherwise, the emphasis is on suggestion. Some are not very subtle, like Bella Freud's fetishised high-heeled shoe shaped like a vagina, while David Falconer's tie-dyed canvas, scented with patchouli oil, relies too much on its title - Nocturnal Emission - for effect. With James Moores' painting, you just had to be there to get it: the swirling shapes on the abstract canvas which look surprisingly like he's lathered his own skin up with soap, is actually the shapes he and girlfriend made during a bit of coital obli

Sexy This group show has a catchy title that promises a bit of feel-good summer titillation. Curator Neal Brown is keen to point out the linguistic ambivalence of a word like sexy - that as well as sex, it can mean good or groovy. So far, so clear. If you are expecting a bit of porno action though, the closest you'll get to seeing someone's pink fluffy bits are in Chantal Joffe's jittery paintings of girls fiddling with themselves, or David Medalla's homoerotic homage to sailors. Otherwise, the emphasis is on suggestion. Some are not very subtle, like Bella Freud's fetishised high-heeled shoe shaped like a vagina, while David Falconer's tie-dyed canvas, scented with patchouli oil, relies too much on its title - Nocturnal Emission - for effect. With James Moores' painting, you just had to be there to get it: the swirling shapes on the abstract canvas which look surprisingly like he's lathered his own skin up with soap, is actually the shapes he and girlfriend made during a bit of coital oblivion. Some work is too wishy-washy to be here, like Max Wigram's vacuous vanitas veiled as an ironic James Bond tribute. The best piece is the simplest. Emma Cox uses a little surveillance camera placed between her legs, which follows her pulling her knickers up and down. It sounds banal, but by repetition, moves from being sexy to funny to strange. 'Sexy', like many group shows, is flawed. The problem here is that the curatorial boundaries are too tight to let each work breath on its own. What's more, it feels it was curated with publicity in mind. Neal Brown, who as well as writing (often for these pages) and curating, has penned lyrics for Fat Les, and was responsible for 1999's 'The Temple of Diana' show. That, too, lured in the media. If he wants to be a curator - and with this he is definitely selling himself short - then he should forget what the media might think. 'Sexy': Houldsworth Fine Art, W1 (020 7434 2333), to 9 September

Robert Melee How well do you get on with your mum? New York artist Robert Melee's relationship with his alcoholic mother has become the stuff of his installations and films, so much so that she is the star. For White Cube's St James gallery, Melee has made three veneered units with lots of cubbyholes and shelves. In these recesses he's created an unsettling dystopic view of life behind the curtains, with a mix of Super-8 video footage screened on ancient TV sets sitting alongside groups of photos in naff gilt frames. The videos have a home movie feel to them. Some of the images are pure porn, involving Melee's friends, but the most lasting images are of his mother. In one we see her being washed in the bath by Melee himself, who, with his yellow Marigolds, has the detached air of a social worker. In another we see her trying out some exercises, wearing nothing except a face mask. It sounds confessional and self-indulgent, but there is enough humour and grotesque spin to make this more of a fantasy than it actually is. It is a cluttered installation. Suburban dystopia is an overdone subject these days, but Melee cleverly avoids making us feel sorry for his mother, despite her clear descent into self-parody. Robert Melee: White Cube, SW1 (020 7930 5373), to 2 September

Wellcome Wing | Science Museum, London The new £50 million Wellcome Wing which was launched by the Queen last month is filled with lots of techno gubbins aimed at seducing even the most disinterested of daytrippers. There's Digitopolis, a floor that focuses on interactive technology; the seven-storey IMAX cinema where you can virtually immerse yourself in images of the sun's surface taken from space satellites. And among all the sound and fury are a series of quieter art exhibits by a number of high profile artists including Marlene Dumas, Marc Quinn, Antony Gormley and Angus Fairhurst. Some of these, like Quinn's sunflowers suspended in silicon, stand on lonely plinths. Others, like Dumas' sketch of a face, sit in themed display cabinets that explore broad topics like communication, gender difference or phobias. It is hard to find these exhibits, and when you do, some are not working properly, while others have not materialised. Perhaps this is an appreciative nod to chaos theory and there is some kind of order here but I never worked it out. In theory, mixing art with hard scientific facts has symbiotic potential but it just does not work well here. Quinn's work looks so redundant in here, placed next to an exhibit of a giant pin, which is one of 18 that apparently hold up the building. Nearby sits the largest tyre in the world. Dumas' image of an anonymous person is put in a display case about cloning (her piece is taken from her "rejects" series, so there is the connection). Next to all the scientific knick-knacks, her work looks weak. Much has been made about how art and science link up, but it usually entails artists skimming the surface of science for their own very different ends. Only David Shrigley's contribution feels like a cosy integration. His work is in the display case exploring language and communication, which is perfect, as his forte is exploring the hairy underside of how we talk and perceive each other. He has made his own cabinet of curiosities that includes a pot of "conversation cream", "brief and to the point for dry or dull conversation". Next to that is the British Swearing Challenge Cup that comes with a question: "swearing is bad language, but winning is supposed to be good. How would you feel about winning a swearing competition?"

The Science Museum, along with its primary educational role, is partly about spectacle. It is also a place to wonder at the sheer imagination behind invention. Put in that context, any artist has to fight to be seen. Wellcome Wing, Science Museum, SW7 (020 7942 4455)

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