Nostalgic for the future (but not too much)

Lisson Gallery is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, but we can applaud now in 2014. Nostalgic for the Future is an exhibition organized to both commemorate the date, when it come, and feature interesting current contemporary production by the gallery’s set of artists. The focus here is at those producers residing or born in the UK. Even though this geographic criteria could flirt with narrowness, this curation means all but homogeneity of generations, materials, and languages.

Julian Opie - Modern Tower - 2001
Julian Opie – Modern Tower – 2001

Anish Kapoor is perhaps the most famous name here, bringing one of his illusionary steel pieces and what seems a sort of concrete marshmallow. “Very Kapoor,” one might say. Others artists introduce interesting narratives as well: Angela De La Cruz and Ryan Gander offer a summarized view of their generation: the permanent exchange between illusion and reality. The former shows a canvas thrown down on the floor, and the latter builds a scenario with dozens of arrows strung across the walls and floor, what could be either a visually arresting indigenous attack or an orientalist fantasy. Both artists situate themselves in time, and do so via reference to discarded material and the indirect appeal to an unexperienced past.

Haroon Mirza Preoccupied Waveforms, 2012
Haroon Mirza Preoccupied Waveforms, 2012

Other than that, we realize that there is no more distinct trace of a civilization than through its buildings and monuments. Liverpool artist Tony Cragg has notably flirted with architecture in his work, and he’s the author of the two big cone-towers fixed around the entrance. We also find Julian Opie, another wannabe architect, from less known New British Sculpture Generation. This work inspires other dark sentiments too. While we might feel some bitter flashback by admiring a couple of iconic skyscrapers in the year of 2001, we can’t deny this remains the biggest architectural symbol of a particular time and ideology.

In Rousseau’s Wake (2013), Jason Martin delivers a beautifully black-painted and scratched aluminum. The visual effect is stunning. In this  time machine, Martin returns to whatever year, in a show of so much concern in delimiting time as a result of mass culture. The work Nostalgic for the Future, is a 2006 flashing green projection placed in the gallery reception. It is no doubt a provocative statement, Jonathan Monk seems to get inspiration from Kubrick’s 2001 Space Odyssey movie, which is from 1968, but the artist looks toward an idyllic future. Harzon Mirza on the other hand works with a noisy underground installation in red and green,  which seeks the same fake nostalgia. Colorful neon lights and used TV sets makes a rather satiric illustration of a future, when hipsterism has made the past our ongoing present.

Anish Kapoor Untitled 2009
Anish Kapoor Untitled 2009

The Art & Language’s posters are a must-see. Although they feature the perfect 1970s pamphleteer art, their timelessness is inevitable. As any watchful visitor can see, politically charged art has not lived up to this sort of expectations. Art has become m at best, politically sketchy at its worst. Coincidentally, Julian Opie’s second piece, a 1998 black and white retro-canvas, mirrors the same variation of beautiful, packed-up society-criticism. Richard Wentworth cuts dishes for then hang them on the wall, adding voice to the existing choir: the past is over, but let’s just play it again. In a nutshell, Nostalgic for the future is not about the future, as the only discernible nostalgia stems from the time when the art world exercised strong discourses. That generation of shock and tension reappears mocked on its success, as more recent projects fail in recreating the former environment of big talks, large minds. That does not mean that these aren’t powerful works if one looks at them individually.
The show premiered in São Paulo in April 2013. Beyond celebrations, the Gallery is perhaps looking towards future markets, the same movement recently made by White Cube and other art houses, which have opened new shops in the Global South. Lisson Gallery is at 52, Bell St.

Exhibition goes thru 11 January 2014.