The world turned the right way up

Visual Arts
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Indy Lifestyle Online
IN THE visual arts, it is whole shows that usually get reviewed. But when it comes to reviewing the year, things can be different. The shows have closed and faded. It's single works that glow in the memory. Here are a dozen from 1998, in no particular order. They were all shown in the UK.

The first was a show in itself. The Palace of Projects by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov, erected in London and Manchester, was a make-shift labyrinth, filled with masses of earnest, ingenious schemes for the world - a method of punishing household objects, a plan to raise all the dead. The Palace was a great joke and more: a work in praise of human wishes, a monument to optimism.

The last paintings of Pierre Bonnard went beyond beauty to new intensities. Nude in the Bath and Small Dog (1943) in the Tate retrospective, show his now dead wife, Marthe, still bathing as ever. Her imagined body floats corpse-like, dissolving into its liquid cocoon and the painting's sour metallic hues. The whole picture feels drowned. The only clear image is the basset, heraldic on the bath-mat. Everything may be lost - the dog at least is faithful to the memory.

Caius Cibber's stone sculptures of Melancholy and Raving Madness (1676) once stood before Bedlam. They were shown in the Science Museum. These powerful, tormented figures are astonishing, not just for fusing nobility and wretchedness, but as reminders of what public art could once be: an open recognition of life's terrors.

Gloss over the subject of Renato Bertelli's Continuous Profile of Mussolini (1933). This object, in "Speed" at the Whitechapel, performs a spectacular paradox. It looks like a big chess-piece. Then you see that its turning edge, all round, is Il Duce's silhouette. Suddenly it's a spinning blur. Or rather, what's odder, there's no deception. It's clearly solid and static. It's a sculpture of a blur.

The glimpse through a doorway to a sun-lit room was the most piercing trick in Pieter de Hooch's domestic interiors, shown at Dulwich Picture Gallery. A Mother and Child with its Head in her Lap (1658) is its loveliest example. The front room is shady: a flash of light hits the open door: a square of light spreads on the floor beyond. The device goes deep - into early feelings about the big world opening out beyond you. At the same time it's only household magic. The promised land is the room next door.

Susan Hiller's Wild Talents was a haunting video piece, installed in darkness at the top of Berry House in Clerkenwell. It played a dreamy sequence of film-clips showing paranormal happenings, sampled from movies such as Poltergeist. All questions of reality were suspended. The special effects became pure wonders.

Though she just missed the Turner Prize, Tacita Dean's chalk-on-blackboard drawings, The Roaring Forties: Seven Boards in Seven Days, stole the show (Tate). These pictures of sea and ships have a remarkable presence. Their secret is using chalk and blackboard as a tonal medium, as light and dark. The images are phantoms, flashing out of darkness, on the verge of erasure.

Bridget Riley's four screen prints, Nineteen Greys (1968) were the real eye-catchers in her show at Abott Hall, Kendal. They're simply grey spots on grey, but masterfully judged to create multiple surface illusions - of shadow-fall and smoky film, shiny mirroring and deep-cut holes. The effects are lucid but elusive. You can analyse, but you can't blink out of them.

Seen at Art TM in Inverness, David Connearn's ink drawings are philosophical investigations, studies in intention. One free-hand straight line is drawn under another, over and over. Each line tries to hug the wandering path of the last, but wanders itself. So a Chinese whisper picture accumulates, whose beautiful patterns are quite unintended, generated only by the hand's error.

Marion Coutts' London Leisure was shown and played at Riba. It was a set of playable table-tennis tables, but remade - green for green - into the shape and plan of London's central parks: an indoor public sculpture, a knockabout map, and (rare today) an artwork that affirms everyday life. Marc Quinn's Study for Approaching Planck Density 66 Kg was a small mound of metal on the floor of the South London Gallery: a lead cast of the artist's skin, compacted like dropped trousers. You made out a face and foot in the squash - a folded bog-person, the body reduced to a tablet of itself.

My full stop is Piero Manzoni's Socle du Monde (1961), seen at the Serpentine. It's an iron cuboid, on which the title, "world-plinth", is embossed - upside down. And with that inversion, the world itself is turned upside down. This block at our feet is the planet's pedestal. We stand towards the whole earth as its spectators and makers. In a few square feet it does what a certain dome, opening a year from now, can only dream of doing.

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