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At the MK

Brian Dillon: Daria Martin, 9 February 2012

... I cannot abide fuzzy plants, or plants of a certain texture … Just looking at them sets me off,’ an off-screen male synaesthete complains in Daria Martin’s Sensorium Tests, the central work among the US-born and UK-based artist’s 16-mm films at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes (until 8 April). I suppose many or most of us nurse comparable sensitivities to those of the young man whose words Martin took from an internet discussion of synaesthesia ...

At the V&A

Brian Dillon: Cecil Beaton, 5 April 2012

... In 1950 the great American fashion photographer Irving Penn wrote to Cecil Beaton, for whom he had recently sat, praising his ‘vague clairvoyance, the gentleness of not meeting the subject too head-on’. Beaton himself put it more vividly: ‘I coo like a bloody dove.’ It required a particular quality of cooing to coax from his royal clientele the florid, uptight, boring, outlandish and occasionally wonderful images in the V&A’s exhibition of his royal portraits (until 22 April ...

At Kettle’s Yard

Brian Dillon: ‘Linderism’, 7 May 2020

... sometimes with a twisted take on ageing glam rock: one of the mocked-up female faces looks like Brian Connolly, the lead singer of the Sweet. Linder initially drew or painted over found images: on a page from a Damart catalogue, for instance, she gave thermal underwear models garish lingerie and scurrilous genitalia. Guided by Ades’s book, she turned ...

At the Duveen Galleries

Brian Dillon: ‘The Asset Strippers’, 18 July 2019

... You enter​ Mike Nelson’s installation The Asset Strippers, Tate Britain’s latest commission for its Duveen Galleries (until 6 October), through a pair of wooden swing doors salvaged from the old Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital on Bolsover Street. For several years, Nelson has been acquiring industrial machinery and related artefacts from online auctions and liquidation sales; the first object in the exhibition is a wheeled pneumatic paint sprayer: a thing of tubes and cylinders, coiled rubber hose and steel nozzle, all caked in dark red paint ...

At the Foundling Museum

Brian Dillon: Found, 11 August 2016

... The Foundling Hospital​ was established in Bloomsbury in 1739 by the philanthropist Thomas Coram, ‘for the education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children’. Strictly speaking, they weren’t foundlings: the parents, or more usually the mother, had to hand over their offspring and were instructed to ‘affix on each child some particular writing, or other distinguishing mark or token, so that the child may be known thereafter if necessary ...

At the Hayward

Brian Dillon: ‘Invisible’, 2 August 2012

... Stare long enough into the void, Nietzsche writes in Beyond Good and Evil, and the void stares back at you. The trouble with nothing, no matter an artist or writer’s aspiration to the zero degree, is that it tends to reveal a residual something: whether a sensory trace of the effort at evacuation or a framing narrative about the very gesture of laconic refusal ...

At Victoria Miro

Brian Dillon: Francesca Woodman, 20 January 2011

... In 1972, at the age of 13, Francesca Woodman photographed herself sitting on the end of a sofa at her home in Boulder, Colorado. The room looks like a studio; Woodman’s parents were artists, and there’s a sliver of easel behind her. A grey blur seems to issue from her half-raised left hand and flood the bottom of the black and white picture like a fog ...

At Tate Britain

Brian Dillon: Patrick Keiller, 7 June 2012

... A static shot, as always. On screen, in the sunshine, a bright yellow combine harvester is toiling across an Oxfordshire wheatfield like a paddle steamer in reverse, churning up a mist of chaff and dust. The machine growls very slowly out of sight – any second now the scene will surely cut away. But here it comes again from left to right, the camera still unmoving and far enough from the action, such as it is, to obscure the tiny figure in the vehicle’s cab ...

At Tate Britain

Brian Dillon: ‘Phantom Ride’, 4 July 2013

... Simon Starling’s film installation Phantom Ride, commissioned by Tate Britain for its vast Duveen Galleries, takes its title from a cinematic fad of the early 1900s. Cameras and cameramen were hitched to the buffers of trains, and latterly trams, and filmed the track and scenery as they hurtled along. An early phantom ride was typically a single shot, just a few minutes long, which might, if you visited Hale’s Tours of the World (established on Oxford Street in 1906), have had its speeding colonial vistas enhanced with railway whistles, hissing steam and even shaking benches ...

In Herne Bay

Brian Dillon: Duchamp, 29 August 2013

... I am not dead; I am in Herne Bay,’ Marcel Duchamp wrote to the painter Max Bergmann in August 1913. If you know the north Kent resort today – its decayed seafront and sad amusements – Duchamp’s presence there may seem absurd, his reassurance not entirely convincing. But the postcard he sent Bergmann shows the town in its prime: a place lately promoted from a staging post en route to Margate, with its radial streets confected as a genteel alternative to more garish pleasures along the coast ...

At the Design Museum

Brian Dillon: ‘Cycle Revolution’, 18 February 2016

... to look like this year’s fixies. I recently bought a lock for half the price of the bike. Brian Dillon on his pink Raleigh 18 in 1976. Cycle Revolution is an exhibition devoted to ‘extraordinary bicycles and the people that ride them’ (until 30 June). It is divided into four categories, none of which quite fits me: a practically minded ...

In the Turbine Hall

Brian Dillon: Tino Sehgal, 27 September 2012

... For the past decade or so Tino Sehgal has been making museum-bound work that flexes definitions of ‘work’ and ‘museum’, and threatens to flummox that frequently harried personage, the ‘spectator’. Visitors to a Sehgal show may expect to be buttonholed, charmed, cajoled or ignored by the dozens of ‘interpreters’ – not quite actors, nor fully collaborators – whom he employs to perform or embody his work ...

At Tate Modern

Brian Dillon: Klein/Moriyama, 22 November 2012

... There are six people in the photograph, but only one of them knows it. A young woman in a crowd on Fifth Avenue in 1955 finds a lens in her face. People are not yet afraid of being photographed by strangers in the street; still, she leans away to her right, averts her gaze from the man’s impertinent Leica. Or so it seems: it’s hard to tell where she’s looking – she’s quite a blur, and her big dark eyes are further shadowed by overprinting ...

At the Royal Academy

Brian Dillon: Ai Weiwei, 8 October 2015

... Among​ the more modestly engaging works in Ai Weiwei’s spectacular and somewhat dispiriting exhibition at the Royal Academy (until 13 December) is a framed wire coathanger, stretched and bent to form a face in profile. It is recognisably the face of Marcel Duchamp, especially if you know his Self-Portrait in Profile, from 1957. Ai made Hanging Man in 1985, two years into a decade-long stay in New York, where he abandoned painting and fell under the spell of Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and of course Duchamp: ‘The most, if not the only, influential figure in my so-called art practice ...

At Tate Britain

Brian Dillon: Queer British Art, 7 September 2017

... On​ 28 April 1870, Miss Stella Boulton and Mrs Fanny Graham attended the Strand Theatre in London, where they made a spectacle of themselves, catcalling from their box to various men below. As the giddy pair left and approached their carriage, a plain-clothes detective stopped them: ‘I have every reason to believe that you are men in female attire ...

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