At the north end of Savile Row in London are three international private galleries in modern buildings, one of which at 23 Savile Row replaced the aptly-named “Fortress House”, formerly the home of English Heritage and now much improved with the new building designed by Eric Parry including a sculpture by Joel Shapiro above its entrance. A cultural link continues on the site with the two galleries of Hauser & Wirth London which opened in October 2010. Designed by Selldorf Architects, the gallery spaces are complimentary but different to each other, the southern gallery having warm timber floors and a lay-light ceiling in the main space; the northern gallery having a simple concrete floor and more strip lighting. Together the new galleries provide 1,400 sq m of exhibition space with additional space upstairs offices, library and archive.
The two current exhibitions relate to the character of the different spaces. In the south galleries, the American artist Rashid Johnson has an exhibition entitled “Smile” from the images by the photographer Elliott Erwitt of a grinning black boy holding a gun to his head which have been used like wallpaper on the walls of the main gallery. These images introduce the theme of the exhibition – the conflict between happiness and tragedy, resulting in anxiety and neurosis. Johnston works in a variety of media. On top of this wallpaper are hung bronze panels made in 2014 with images painted in black soap and wax, a trademark of the artist, while at the centre of the gallery is a new sculpture made from steel cubes and filled with brass objects, houseplants, electric greenhouse lights and books, including copies of Bill Cosby’s ‘Fatherhood’ and busts modelled in shea butter, a material which Johnson frequently uses, originating from Africa and providing links back to the Afrocentric movement in the United States when he was young.
Johnston uses black soap and wax again, this time on white ceramic tiles, in his 2104 series of works on display “Untitled Anxious Men”, while he uses shea butter to create a sculptural table framed in mahogany which sits in front of “Them” where black soap and wax has been painted on smashed mirror tiles.
In the north gallery, the white space provides a backcloth to an exhibition of Mira Schendel’s Monotypes, curated by Taisa Palhares and organised with Olivier Renaud-Clément.
Mara Schendel (1919–1988) grew up in Switzerland and moved to Brazil in 1949, settling in Sao Paulo in 1953 at a period when abstract and geometric art was developing and the city was home to a number of emigre intellectuals with whom could Schedel could discuss her ideas, including the philosopher Vilem Flusser, the psychoanalyst Theon Spanudis and the the physicist Mario Schenberg who, in the early 1960’s, gave her a gift of rice paper which she then used to make around 2000 drawings, a selection of which are on display. At the centre of the gallery are two hanging installations and a paper sculpture also made of Japanese rice paper reinforcing how Schendel could achieve work of great imagination and thought from so little in the way of materials.
Across Savile Row, at No 25, is a gallery of similar design – the Ordovas Gallery, established by Pilar Ordovas in October 2011 with the aim of showing the best of 20th century and contemporary art. The current exhibition compliments those across the road, with a display of sculptures from the 1950’s of the work of the two leading sculptors Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) and David Smith (1906-1965), contemporaries of each other living across the Atlantic in Paris and New York.