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Review: Beauhemia

Exhibition: Beauhemia

Nettie Horn, 25b Vyner Street, London E2 9DG, 6 July – 12 August

I want to write about just one work in Beauhemia, the current show at the new Vyner Street Nettie Horn premises.

I’ll do my best to sidestep the press release’s generically grand claim that the exhibition “explores themes surrounding the loss of and search for identity and meaning in our post-modern society” and concentrate on the actual work. But the phrase adds an interfering note of faux urgency to the show, and I wonder if that’s why Hektor Mamet’s Chair is rounding the corner at a rate of knots and skidaddling for the nearest doorway.

Mamet’s work typically involves amending everyday things to make useless versions of themselves. Other works include a wine glass that rounds itself off into a closed stub, and a reconfigured bicycle with its saddle on the floor and handlebars in the air. The general consensus is that his work invites laughter or frustration depending on your mood, but I think it also does something special in a group show, in the context of other art objects.

Kate Street & Hektor Mamet

The chair has an honesty to it that brings to mind the slug I trod on the other day, and a handyman quality that seems almost to apologise for being in a gallery space at all. I feel like I’d probably be allowed to touch the chair where it wouldn’t occur to me to touch, say, the wreaths in Kate Street’s Little Death series (also pictured). I like the thought of clambering on it, or it clambering on me. The immediacy and directness of the work (it really is a chair, not representation of one) opens Mamet’s intervention out into the world and puts it right up close.

Debbie Lawson’s neighbouring Oasis also demonstrates an intervention of one kind or another, and I think the distance between the two works goes some way in explaining the nature of Chair’s particular success. Oasis is a Persian rug with a scattering of carefully sculpted palm trees emerging from and constructed out of the substance of the rug itself. I enjoyed the work a great deal, but it makes an uncomfortable concession to practicality that lets it down. The rug is lying on the floor but the main part of it is raised off the ground a little in a way that’s unnatural for a rug but necessary, I suppose, for supporting the three-dimensional trees growing from it. The padding under the surface gives away the punch-line too early – it prepares the way for the intervention in a way that makes the rug something other than a rug, and to find trees protruding from something that isn’t a rug in the first place damps the delight and the surprise.

This is what I mean by the immediacy of Mamet’s Chair – the premise of the work is complete and in the room with me. There’s no cut-off point where the chair stops being a chair and becomes an artist’s material. It niggles at its frame, resists its position in the gallery, and comes out towards me in a way that a proposition – an intervention in inverted commas, never would. The press release can push the relevance and the urgency of the show for all it’s worth but unless there’s some point of touch, it’s all to easy to come out saying “yes but what’s the point?”.

Tamarin Norwood


One Response

  1. […] been good to see work by Louise Bourgeois and Hektor Mamet in the past few months, some of whose work I wouldn’t want to call sculpture but is certainly […]

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