The Conceptual Curveball Tour

The third of ArtReview’s four themed guides to what to see during Mayfair Art Weekend

Keith Tyson, Ikebana - Waterfall Stage (Boss Level), 2018, oil on aluminium, 248 x 172 cm. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth Latifa Echakhch, Magnolias, 2019 (installation view). Courtesy Kamel Mennour, London Alvaro Barrington, Artists I Steal From, 2019 (installation view). Photo: ben Westoby. Courtesy Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac, London Didier Fiúza Faustino, Sweet Dreams are Made of This, 2019 (installation view). Courtesy the artist and Senesi Contemporanea, London

With over thirty participating galleries and three days of events, Mayfair Art Weekend kicks off on Friday 28 June with Gallery HOP!, an evening of late viewings and special events at galleries in the area from 6-8pm.

In the lead-up to Gallery HOP!, ArtReview is publishing a specially themed guide each week, to help you decide what to see and where to start when the weekend kicks off. In lieu of ArtReview taking you round the galleries in person (we’re not sure you would want that), you can use these to navigate Mayfair’s busy art neighbourhood. Here’s tour number three, taking you from Brook Street across to Saville Row, and down to Dover Street. 

The Conceptual Curveball Tour

What came first? The idea or the execution? In the business world you’ll hear battle cries between CEOs who alternately spout phrases like ‘ideas are currency!’ and ‘execution is everything!’ For conceptual artists it’s all about the egg (because the chicken obviously came after*), where – and ArtReview might get in trouble for positing this – the idea for a work of art takes precedence over the actual making of it. That’s not to say that the end result is any less important, but as Sol LeWitt once wrote, ‘all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.’

Now that that’s sorted, the eggs have been scrambled and ArtReview has fed you a quote with which to garnish your omelette of artworld knowledge and impress your friends as you stride the streets of Mayfair, it’s time to flap those vestigial wings and head off on the Conceptual Curveball Tour… 

Latifa Echakhch, Magnolias, 2019 (installation view). MAW 2019 Tour 3
Latifa Echakhch, Magnolias, 2019 (installation view). Courtesy Kamel Mennour, London

Latifa Echakhch: Magnolias at Kamel Mennour, through 13 July

Head south out of Bond Street station and meander your way down to Kamel Mennour, where you’ll find Latifa Echakhch’s giant magnolia petals strewn on the floor and the walls adorned with largescale paintings made with black India ink and sepia ink that together form her latest body of work. Echakhch is known for her installation works that sit somewhere between surreal set design and fine art, which she uses to explore ‘socio-political and cultural issues through objects loaded with symbolic meanings’ – while criticising the normative representation of subject matters ranging from geography and gender to sexuality and ethnicity. ArtReview will let you in on a secret: it had to look up what magnolias symbolised, which, according to where you are in the world, can either represent female beauty and gentleness or a bride’s purity and nobility (sorry guys, no such flower for you). The paintings, ArtReview has heard, were made using damp canvases onto which the ink spreads unpredictably in clusters. This, alongside the symbolism of those magnolia petals – when you consider how quickly the flowers fall apart once they’ve bloomed – is a revelation that, once euphemised, makes it hard for ArtReview to un-see the seminal references in the ink paintings. 

Keith Tyson, Ikebana - Waterfall Stage (Boss Level), 2018. MAW 2019 Tour 3
Keith Tyson, Ikebana - Waterfall Stage (Boss Level), 2018, oil on aluminium, 248 x 172 cm. © the artist. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Keith Tyson: Life Still at Hauser & Wirth, through 7 September

ArtReview has moved onto flowers for now because who doesn’t like a nice painting of flowers? Keith Tyson certainly does. But it’s not just about the ikebana-like arrangements of these still-lifes that make up the series Life Still, no, there’s a whole lot of processing that goes on behind the scenes first – literally, in the form of algorithms and mathematics, and the working out of the concept behind each painting within a set of parameters. There are 25 such paintings installed at Hauser & Wirth, all of various flower arrangements and even one that includes magician hands and selfie-taking fairies. The latter are inexplicably bikini-clad, but as the artist tells a now enlightened ArtReview, ‘I’m trying to build a modern-day fairy tale’. In the age of narcissists and social media, it had better get beach-body ready then…

Lee Ufan, Relatum, 1969/2015. MAW 2019 Tour 3
Lee Ufan, Relatum, 1969/2015, stones, cotton wool, iron, dimensions variable. Courtesy Cardi Gallery, London

Tribute to Mono-Ha at Cardi Gallery, through 26 July

Then again, ArtReview’s never been that body-conscious, being a magazine and all, and right now it’s stopping off around the corner for scotch eggs and a pint at The Burlington Arms. Now suitably watered, you’ll need to wiggle through a couple of side roads until you get to Grafton Street where Cardi Gallery presents a tribute to the Mono-ha group. Comprised mostly of Japanese artists (the exception being Korean Lee Ufan), Mono-ha, which translates to ‘School of Things’, was developed in the late 1960s through the early 70s and took as its starting point the relationship between natural and man-made materials by presenting ‘ordinary things in extraordinary ways’. While some of the artists involved made works in response to the social, cultural and political issues in Japan during the 60s – like the 1968 student protests against American military presence in the country – others denied any political intention behind their art. At the gallery, you’ll find works by 10 of those artists including Koji Enokura, Ufan Kishio Suga and Jiro Takamatsu. Although there aren’t shared ideologies behind Mono-ha (which is why it isn’t considered a movement), for these artists, the work is less about ‘making’ or ‘creating’ and more about bringing materials together and considering the spaces within which they sit – execution be damned!

Alvaro Barrington, Artists I Steal From, 2019. MAW 2019 Tour 3
Alvaro Barrington, Artists I Steal From, 2019 (installation view). Photo: ben Westoby. Courtesy Galerie Thaddeaus Ropac, London

Alvaro Barrington: Artists I Steal From at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, through 9 August

Carry on down the road to Dover Street where Alvaro Barrington presents the concept of being both artist and curator at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac. That’s to say Barrington, the artist, has become a curator of a group exhibition which in its entirety is an artwork in itself. Artists I Steal From is about ‘looking at art through the eyes of an artist’, revealing 49 other artists from which Barrington nicks a bit of inspiration. ‘You mean to say he’s not actually showing his own works?’ ArtReview hears you say. Haven’t you been listening? Ideas are currency! And if you still don't get that, at least you can enjoy looking at and tracing Barrington’s formal influences through the works of Howard Hodgkin, Agnes Martin, Jacob Lawrence, Malick Sidibé and Allison Katz among many, many others. To enlighten you further, the gallery is hosting a panel discussion on Monday 24 June from 5.30 with Barrington, Julia Peyton-Jones and featured artist Issy Wood, chaired by Jennifer Higgie.

Now that you know what to expect, you’ll be able to stride confidently around Mayfair, leading your fellow gallery-goers on a tour of conceptual art. And remember: if you can’t figure out the concept of an artwork, you can always shout ‘execution is everything!’, and if you’re faced with a work that you find lacklustre then nod and knowingly murmur ‘ideas are currency’.

*Yes, the chicken came after.

Follow more tours:

The Abstract or Pop Tour

The Embodied Beings Tour