GROUPSHOW, Golden Thread Gallery Belfast, January 14 – February 13, 2016

I start with Anselm Kiefer here, because I experienced  it too:

“”Art is difficult,” says the 66-year-old firmly. “It’s not entertainment. There are only a few people who can say something about art – it’s very restricted. When I see a new artist I give myself a lot of time to reflect and decide whether it’s art or not. Buying art is not understanding art.”




CD played of the record player and some plants – exhibits and members of system of forms in this exhibtion

I extend that to new curators  like Philip McCrilly  who installed 17 works of art in the Project Space of the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast.  On the left of this installation view, next to the plant in the pot is  Sharon Murphy’s Portfolio, 2014  complete with white gloves for turning the pages.  The plant “domesticates” an object whose inner hierarchy places it into cabinets, museums, and esoteric collections.

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On the shelf on the far wall are two objects by Stuart Calvin, bottle of Kombucha tea, sharp angled construction by Michael Sheppard, and Paul Moore’s  acrylic painting on i Phone.

On the right, on the floor, is Martin McCrilly’s record player providing a sound of CAN, Ege Bamyasi, 1972.

The second installation view  looks in the opposite direction towards the back wall. The record player is now on your left. The first shelves house  – from the top left – John Rainey‘s 3D printed objects of  museum pieces Putti and Goat –  Phases 1-4  2014) – next to an animated film  Interlude 2014 (duration 3’22”).  The grey somnabulent  heap is Unresolved,2015, by Erin Hagan.  Just about visible are few parts of the sculpture by  Sinead McKeever.    The second shelves house – from the top-  sculptures by Christopher  Campbell,  a ten minutes film (2012)  and a plastic model (2015)by Michael Sheppards  and a sculpture by Sinead McKeever.

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This display  of 16 works of art  (plus one not visible on either shot by Bronagh McGuiness)  is utterly utilitarian, even if Erin Hagan  introduces Unsolved,2015, acrylic,PVA –  it is the greyish matter with an opening at the top,

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half denuded pyramid, half a sea creature catching some oxygen –

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on the shelf beneath the monitor.  Keeping private its identity, the form resists one meaning, in some long distance whisper to the wooden shelf opposite,  to the IPhone  positioned near the window. Paul Moore  placed abstract blobs in vivacious hues on it and called it  Plastic Data (2016), acrylic on IPhone.


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Object could have easily swapped placement and this freedom from any particular  order  breaks down any  stable attempt for hierarchy of value or aesthetic experience.   Nine  artists thus co-operated, or were made to accept,  the curator’s will.  Phillip McCrilly  aims to  question the legitimacy of the group show format as a ground for “productive exchange”(see the gallery handout).

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Michael Sheppard, Every Dream Home a Heartache, 2915, Plastic Model, perspex

McCrilly,  eager to promote a group show as an alternative mode of  representation  makes it compete  with a display of art by a single artist’s oeuvre  in addition  to other modes of representation like discussions, interviews, writing, documentation, video and TV programs.   

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Michael Sheppard, Every Dream Home a Heartache II, 2015, Plastic model, perspex

Sheppard works like JS Bach – variation of a theme – the materials repeat like melody in a fugue.  The shared materials however end up with two different styles of making something visible – abstract and descriptive.  hence – there is an exchange already “inside” one artist’s way of making things visible.

It appears that the curator   is more, not exclusively,  concerned with the possible “exchange” of different  kinds:   when a private artist’s intention  manifested in an object meets another and results in  a sublimation of intrinsic value into an instrumental one. I am aware of a loss  that also influences the second kind of exchange – when every work is at the same time on its own  to safeguard its own aesthetic impact aginst the influence of a neighbouring object. . At times, McCrilly makes it compete  directly with natural forms, plants or vegetables. 20160120 Golden Thread Group Show 001

By the way – the shadows on the wall  work as a visual supplement imbued with visual poetics. But back to the Groupshow aim. Is there anything to be gain by rough confrontation amongst works of art of  similar  “style”?  Are the exhibits sharing a style?

I borrow for a moment Meyer Schapiro’s definition of style:

“Style is, above all, a system of forms with a quality and meaningful expression through which the personality of the artist and the overall outlook of a group are visible. It is also a vehicle of expression within the group, communicating and fixing certain values of religious, social, and moral life through the emotional suggestiveness of forms.”


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In the middle: Kambucha brewed by Lorna Milligan with a second ferment by Philip McCrilly (2015) , Left and right – bowls by Stuart Calvin, I Gave You All I Had, 2015, plaster and paint

Emotional suggestiveness of forms is charged with  communicating values  grounded in life.  The curator’s decision to juxtapose art with living forms is a promising strategy for success, which is immediately undermine by the art not made to his order.   Regardless what art was available for the selection  no  work of art can be directed so precisely to all different viewers. This, in turn, makes Schapiro’s definition dependent on slippages from one subjective  view to another.  The question is whether his first part of definition fares better, that style is a shared way to make something visible. Surprisingly, the machine   made bottle and hand made plaster bowls share the curved outlines  willingness to fit your palm.  The machine aesthetics  does not dwarf the irregularities in the handmade bowls, opposite, it is working together, like a duo, given different melodies but on the same sheet of music. Calvin‘s respect for the will of the material and modelling hand does not diminish each bowl’s confidence to abandon the utilitarian function and  become an aesthetic autonomous object  – just to looks at, or perhaps handle it carefully.  The one on the left even flirts with tromp l’oeil!

Schapiro also offers an fluid exchanges between art and nature as between result and material used.

“Nature and abstract forms are both materials for art, and the choice of one or the other flows from historically changing interests.”

( accessed on

Near enough to McCrilly’s  productive exchange? If the system of forms  is shared – what else may be that productive exchange?  Or does it work only if the group has not shared system of forms?

Historically, groups of artists came together to  share work on large  medieval commissions, or confront and improve upon some hostile attitudes to their art during the conflict between academia and early Modernism.  There were many groups  of artists during the European art of the first half of the 29th C  rooted in the need for psychological and social support for a particular art practice.   However, this groups show does not face those needs, as it gently develops already established art practices.

Will any salient point emerge from a brief survey of the historical “groups” of active artists?  Marginaliak043804

Take illuminated manuscripts as shared by a group in a monastery. They had a fixed content, available tools, accommodation and food, and enough time to make art perceived as a duty.

The marginalia were the play area  for freedom to escape the rigid ideology. Until the  Limbourg brothers, Paul, Hermann and Jean painted the calender for the Duc Jean de Berry with images of earthly life.ann and Jean. They came from Nijmegen in what is now the Netherlands but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.


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Janvier from Tres Riches Heures, 142- 1416 – Exchange of New Year Gifts


They came from Nijmegen in what is now the Netherlands but were generally referred to as Germans. Very little is known about them; they are believed to have been born in the late 1370s or 1380s and were born into an artistic family, their father being a wood sculptor and their uncle being an artist working variously for the French Queen and for the Duc de Bourgogne.

Tres Riches heures HuntGarden-of-France



Medieval  sculptors/ stonemasons  worked in groups travelling from a cathedral to a cathedral,  painters journeyed from a workshop to a workshop, from a commission to a commission.  They were organised in guilds – with St Luke the patron saint who is often represented as a painter.

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Rogier van der Weyden

With the rise of academies, salons arbitrarily accepted or rejected a work of art – hanging all from the ground to the ceiling in clusters utterly divorced from any regard for what each work of art could cope with.

As a revolt against the dominant power of salons and academies, artists searched for spaces – not just galleries – to exhibit esp after the authorities refused Manet’s paintings. A little later the  Impressionists held their  first exhibition in April 1874 at the studio of the photographer Nadar.

The 20th C  added a powerful private art dealers  to the mix. While they made some artists  famous and well off – they  could not do that for all living artists. Moreover, the younger generation was often displaced by artist from the distant past. Art dealers both in Belfast and Dublin have a  continuous history of supporting living artists.  As an example I shall introduce here Jamshid Fenderesky who started at the cellar of a terrace house on Malone Road  with the sad assessment that people of Belfast do not like art.

Until 26th February 2016  Fenderesky  hosts   AIRMAIL – an exhibition of small works on paper by 23 artists curated by Richard Gorman.  It is a full of beautiful stubbornly individual slivers of beauty, sometimes sounding a brutal alarm of strong hues juggling their own building power with restrains of the format. I admit the huge variety of art suits me as a visitor – it is not just an aesthetic diet controlled by ideology, it is indeed Schiller’s Kingdom of Freedom  engaged in domestic setting.  It is neither white cube nor a factory hangar – you need to switch on ceiling light as you may do at home.

The AIRMAIL and GROUPSHOW are both curated by an artist.  While Gorman simply delights in exquisite watercolors by  Roisin Lewis  and importance of the “immaterial ” in paintings, pastels and prints, McCrilly offers greater openness to  less  usual materials and  the insecure discoveries.  If Groman’s selection is like a  gloria choral, McCrilly leaves the art in the  cold light of the day to wait for a sympathetic eye. And there are rewards.

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Sinead McKeever, MFG:140116, Part 2, 2016,dibond, clay nail varnish

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Sinead McKeever, MFG:140116, Part 1, dibond, clay and nail varnish (2016)

The curator added a piece of purple vegetable – incongruous, and not too  impacting on/  nor interfering with, the aesthetics of McKeever’s elegant wave with an animated eye.

As if looking over the shoulder at  siblings in the trade, like  Alberto Cavalieri  Pipeline, 2014.

Alberto Cavalieri, Pipeline 2014


In turn, Pipeline reminds me of  “personages” by David Smith even if these three are angular.  It is the immersion of one unfinished form in an embrace of another that suggest the complete sculpture that I find shared by the two concepts of sculpture in metal. How far they both are from the history of the traditional bronzes…

David Smith 3


If McKeever offering caresses the eye by drawing in the air, an idea that revives and is  emotionally  different from  David Smith’s take on that,  she is still equally faithful to the material that allows her to make immaterial visible.  Both the wave and the spiral resonate with living forms in our associations.

Sinead McKGroup Her  bold bending  harmonises the machine aesthetics of the strip  and hand made voids ascribed by it.

No contemporary exhibition is ever without a video. here we have two:  Traditional Route (2012)  by Michael Sheppard is ten minutes with sound of a 16mm film transferred to DVD.

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The second is an animated film by John Rainey Interlude 2014, 3min 22 seconds,  sharing the subject of putti and goat with his 3D printed objects based on models in a museum.

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These small objects are denied the the communication Calvin’s bowls were effortlessly using  because of the way they were at eye level and near the viewer. The grey shelves and high up placement mitigate against a delight of recognising what is made visible –  it is as if both the artist and the curator colluded  in creating a disadvantage for what may be visible.

An opposite is given to visual loud figurines by  Christopher Campbell.

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Simulacrumming all over my face and teets, 2016, resin, polymer, acrylic paint 

are faithful followers of Campbells art practice  developed over the decade or so.   On a miniscule scale, they handle themselves well even in two – dimensional  view on a screen.

By chance, I came across a current exhibition of Chris Johanson


Chris Johanson umblr_mtg608R9vG1srr4uro1_1280  By chance, I came across a current exhibition of Chris Johanson ( see 

I am not sure whether Campbell saw Johanson’s paintings, but let me assume that he did not, for a simple reason that his own style developed  over years  and stayed resolutely  off two-dimensional images.  The two artist shared similar forms, similar emotional detachment that easily slips into its opposite, and simplicity charged to treat complex cultural contexts.

The resonance between the two  is not then a result of productive exchange described by McCrilly – it is more akin a mysterious way of imagination not fully conscious.


Images courtesy GTG

About Slavka Sverakova

writer on art
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