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Review: Strangely drawn to surreal spaces

Nigel Hall, The Economist Plaza, London
The Economist building houses probably the least-known public exhibition venue in London's West End. Open every day from 10am until 8pm, the gallery space on the ground floor has plentiful natural light, while outside on the plaza is a self-contained sculpture court.

Currently on view in both spaces is a fascinating exhibition of work by the sculptor Nigel Hall. Neither a retrospective nor a show of purely recent work, the exhibition juxtaposes two separate periods - the Sixties and the Nineties. This meeting of past and present is a fruitful one, not least because comparison throws more light on the strengths of each group of work, but also because a continuity of concerns can be seen emerging from what superficially seem to be very different kinds of art.

Nine drawings from 1964-5 form the bulk of the exhibition. These feature interiors lit by baleful lightbulbs, with over-large matches springing from tabletops, a sculpted head or a sitting/leaning figure sculpture. Often an electric fire plugged into a light socket heats the room; in one, a nude is sprawled. The imagery is almost surreal, half-observed and half-imagined, and shares a similar inventive quirkiness with early Hockney drawings. Three versions of the same scene called Loud Interior depict an old-fashioned cistern lavatory. Hall makes one drawing with pencil, another with vivid orange crayon, the third with collaged wallpaper.

All these drawings are concerned with the positioning of objects in space, and with relating one thing spatially to another. They are far more figurative than the sculptures, which appear almost abstract in comparison. The pieces from the Sixties are mostly suspended or leaning forms. They are very much about the space around them, the space between their largely linear elements, but their subjects are still based in the real world. One of these fibreglass Sixties pieces, for instance, is called Goldstone Lake, after a dry lake in California's Mojave desert. Another, entitled Magnet, is two clouds suspended over two greeny carpets of countryside like doormats placed on either side of a large standing arch.

Contrasting with this early work are three recent drawings. These are elegantly rigorous abstract shapes, and there is an astringent richness to this new work. On the plaza, two naturally rusted cor-ten steel sculptures rest lightly. These employ forms based on sections through a cone, with wedges or struts. Passage, which looks like a bottomless bucket welded to an arc of steel, is particularly serene. Hall has achieved a satisfying balance of dynamic form and stillness. All these works, but particularly the drawings, fit well with the architecture. The Contemporary Art Society should be praised for such an excellent project.

Nigel Hall: Sculpture and works on paper is at The Economist Plaza, 25 St James's St, London SWI, 0171-830 7105, until 26 Oct.