This week a new art centre opens in north London in the premises of a former dairy in Bloomsbury. Two collectors of contemporary art, Frank Cohen, a home-improvements' millionaire from Manchester, and Nicolai Frahm, a Dane based in London, have brought it into being. Free to enter and not-for-profit, it will operate as a kind of kunsthalle for shows of emerging and established artists.
It will not be a home for art exclusively – dance and music will play their part. The first show consists of work by John Armleder, a multi-media artist from Switzerland whose practice ranges across sculpture, painting, installation and film.
Armleder is more than a mere exhibitor here. He has also helped to make this space what it is. He has given it a free-ranging, informal, anti-institutional atmosphere. The makeover still smacks of raw industry, from the painted grey concrete floors to the neon strip lighting.
Unlike so many other public gallery spaces, it doesn't have pedagogical designs upon us. Armleder has had a hand in the making of the milk bar and the cafe, and in the design of the furniture. In shape, the building resembles a long slice of cheese with wedgy ends, all cut up into spaces for showing art. Spaces peel off unpredictably. The main gallery is long and tapering, hung with paintings and glitzy mirror balls. A room once used as the dairy's giant fridge leads off it. There Armleder has created an installation which consists of a medley of small-screen projections, an in-and-out surf of noise (Hawaian guitars vie with the low thrum of a bass), plexiglass screens on the drunken tilt, fake flowers mixed up with genuine dying lilies, and all overlooked by a stuffed fox in a scarf.
Armleder emerged out of the fluxus movement of the 1960s. The work throughout is wild, funky, eclectic, fluid. He seems to drift through his influences, making of them what he will, playing games with his forebears, poking fun. His wall designs look like popularisations of Op Art. His drip paintings emerge out of Abstract Expressionism, but they look more casual, more approachable, more sleek, glitzy and commercially glossy than the Abstract Expressionists ever strove to be. A heap of neon strip lights put us mind of the minimalists' use of industrial materials - but they would never have heaped them up like this as if wildly copulating.
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