Newport Street Gallery
UNTIL 20TH AUGUST
Friends with Saatchi? Check. Friends with Jeff Koons? Check. Friends with Damien Hirst? Obviously.
Friends since they met in New York in the Eighties, Hirst curated Ornamental Hysteria with Bickerton from works that largely hail from his own Murderme Collection, having amassed them over the last decade. To be honest, Ornamental Hysteria just about sums it up! At least the vast Newport St Gallery can handle all the eighties and nineties eyesores. I say eyesores with love, but every piece is so jam packed with colour, materials and ideas that it makes it difficult to take in all 51 works over 6 rooms.
Ashley Bickerton was a key player in the so-called ‘Neo-Geometric Conceptualist’ or ‘Neo-Geo’ movement in 1980’s New York (other noteworthy players are Haim Steinbach and Jeff Koons). At this time, Damien Hirst was studying at Goldsmiths and just starting to amass his now legendary collection. The Neo-Geo-ers used the booming capitalist thirst for material goods to inform their creative processes, mocking the consumerist culture and nature of desire.
Room 1 starts with some classic 1990’s Neo-Geo assemblages of minimalist factory-produced looking objects of steel and aluminium, combined with flashes of consumerist lingo, such as ‘Culturescapes’ from the ‘Logo’ and ‘Non-Word Word’ series. Galleries 2, 3 and 4 feature the ‘Sea’ and ‘Lanscape’ series, including 5 Snake Heads (2009), a self portrait of the artist. These works participate in an ongoing conversation between nature and artifice.
His ‘assemblages’ include photo collage, image appropriation, digital image, painting and sculpture -and usually a combination of these, resisting the traditional art forms and all the baggage that art history comes with. You can see Bickerton visibly wrestling with the art establishment in his artwork, daring the powers that be to tell him that he is doing it wrong. 30 years on, you can even see him rebelling from his own self-created Neo-Geo box.
Bickerton soon gave all this up for the good life in Bali, moving there in 1993 (although you’d be forgiven for thinking he never left the 80’s). His post Bali relocation is typified by an anti-Gauguin aesthetic, doing everything he could to resist being a xenomaniac, even pre-planning the work he was going to carry out whilst still in New York. His ‘Blue Man Series’ pokes fun at island cliches in wildly tropical colours and presented in the most beautifully carved wooden frames. He is the Blue Man; a parody of the 20th century male artist, complete with a Picasso striped shirt and surrounded by scantily clad ladies, living in excess. It questions the very nature of the history of painting itself, what a painting is and what it should achieve.
Despite flirtations with film, video and installation, he prefers the physical object to house the conceptual language he has developed- a conceptual language that he changes up decade on decade to avoid the trap of his language geting stuck it it’s own self-referentiality. A rut that he observes in the majority of conceptual art.