Anna Gaskell and Douglas Gordon: Vampyr

6 September – 25 October 2014, Yvon Lambert, Paris

By Christopher Mooney

Vampyr, 2014 (installation view). Photo: Rebecca Fanuele. Courtesy the artists and Yvon Lambert, Paris

In 2009 Yvon Lambert closed his London gallery, in Hoxton Square, after a year in business. In 2011 he closed his Chelsea gallery in New York, which had opened in 2003. This December, his longest-standing and last remaining gallery is closing, the one he opened in the Marais, in Paris, in 1986 – 20 years after his first Paris gallery opened. Thus comes to a conclusion Lambert’s half-century at the forefront of contemporary art dealing. For his parting shot, Lambert has chosen an odd, two-headed swansong, given the range of artists he represents, and the impressive number to whom he has given their first European shows, consisting of films and photos by the American artist Anna Gaskell, first seen during Art Basel last summer, and a mix of new and old wall, floor and corner works by Gaskell’s ex, the Scottish artist Douglas Gordon. It is, however, and despite the title’s nod in a different, gothic direction, indeed a swan song, for swans do, indeed, predominate – taxidermically incorporated into many of the Gordon works, and, in the form of Svetlana Lunkina, the Bolshoi prima ballerina, dancing across Gaskell’s screens.

Lunkina is the strongest artistic presence in the exhibition, and Gaskell’s photographs and films of her, dancing, relaxing backstage or posing, nude, or half-nude – one has her lying facedown in a bed, her shoulder blade arched up and out like, yes, a swan’s wing – are affecting, particularly the graceful way in which Gaskell shoots her performance, which is in fact not a performance but a rehearsal, and not for Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1875–6) (which Gaskell worked with in SOSW Ballet, 2011, and Lunkina performed last year in Canada) but Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet (1935). Gaskell, here, has the ballerina follow the original choreography of the opera’s balcony scene, but solo, without her Romeo. In the main film, & Juliet (2013), Lunkina, earthbound, falls out of character during her unsupported lifts, and the pas de deux becomes a monologue – but the dancer’s fixed gaze to camera pulls the filmmaker, and us, into the dance. Much less effective is Gordon’s contribution, which feels phoned in, and phony. The earlier works are entangled strands of lit or smashed lightbulbs, and they are nice enough. The new works, all produced within the last year, are swan’s wings and dismembered swan heads and necks splashed with black paint and glued to aluminium sheets hanging on the gallery’s walls; or stuffed wolves, splattered with white paint and pushed headfirst into the corners of the room. In some cases the bird bits have slipped from their posts and are lying forlorn on the floor, having streaked paint on the wall during their descent. One of the wolves has also streaked and scratched his corner of the wall.

According to the gallery, the works were ‘selected to offer visitors the sensory experience of the profound duality of human nature: love and hate, seduction and violence, life and death…’ Now, it is unfair to hold an artist responsible for the empty bumf a gallery will use in his name, but please, Mr Gordon, tell me that there is more going on in these new works than the fact that your neighbour in Berlin, a taxidermist, has given you free access to his freezers. 

This article was first published in the December 2014 issue.