Memory Palace at White Cube, Bermondsey and White Cube, Mason’s Yard

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This is a colossal show in two parts occupying both White Cube galleries. It is colossal not only in terms of its square footage but also the breadth of its ambition. Memory in art is an elastic concept and can be stretched to include just about any work and this has happened here. Like a museum they have devised categories ( such as ‘transcription’, ‘collective’, ‘traces’ ) but whereas museums these days bend over backwards to make work ‘accessible’, White Cube disdained such craven tactics. We are left to cudgel our brains, until common sense surfaces and we can begin to look at and enjoy the work.

There was a lot to enjoy. Christian Marclay’s Made to be Destroyed (2016) is a montage of TV and film clips of art works being destroyed. Some were smashed to smithereens, others consumed by flames: it was all satisfyingly preposterous.

Raqib Shaw’s Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham (After Steenwyck the Younger II, 2014-15 shows a Renaissance loggia, dense with sumptuous flora and one incongruous bonsai tree.  A host of fanciful creatures swing by on ropes in the clear blue sky, all rendered with considerable care. The contrast with the current vogue for splashy cheer could not be greater. A whole exhibition of Shaw’s work though would require a stout heart.

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Runa Islam has impressed with the variety of her work. Stare Out (Blink) was made in 1998 but already it demonstrated a clarity of both intention and means. A female face shown in negative is intermittently illuminated by a bright flash, which produces a vivid after-image. It reminded me of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 43:

When most I wink, then do my eyes best see,
For all the day they view things unrespected;
But when I sleep, in dreams they look on thee,
And, darkly bright, are bright in dark directed.

 
Memory Palace is at the White Cube at 144-152 Bermondsey Street SE1 3TQ and the White Cube at 25-26 Mason’s Yard SW1Y 6BU until 15 September.

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