Joseph Beuys, Constantin Brancusi, Alberto Giacometti, ancient ruins from the Afghan city of Kandahar, bog men, and the stoner comedies of Cheech and Chong. All of these are cited as influences in the work of Karachi born, Poughkeepsie based, sculptor Huma Bhabha. The Stephen Friedman Gallery on Mayfair was presenting a free chance for people to see for themselves.
I went to have a look on the same afternoon I also took in the Magnus Plessen exhibition at the White Cube so I was getting my fill of 'grotesque, figurative forms' that day. But, again, like Plessen, Bhabha's works weren't disgusting or even particularly grotesque. Sure some of the body parts appeared mutated, dismembered even, but if she's trying to shock that's not going to work at all. My reaction was more one of 'oh, that's quite nice'. Which may not be what Bhabha was aiming for.
Spread across two galleries either side of Old Burlington Street you're greeted by Special Guest Star. It's from 2016 (as are all the works in this particular show) and it sits alone, spotlit in a darkened room. Constructed of clay, wood, acrylic paint, tin, steel, horns, a paint brush, and a t-shirt it's reminiscent of Robert Rauschenberg and his 'secret language of junk'. Yet flattened as if it'd been on a rack. In that I could, indeed, see the influence of both Brancusi and Giacometti.
We're lead through to a room of untitled paintings. Dark, splodgy, almost violent in their execution. There's hints of Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in the seemingly free application of ink over the carefully constructed surfaces. They're pleasing to look at but I'd struggle to credit them with anything more profound. That's fine though. Sometimes art just needs to be interesting to look at. It's one of its primary functions.
Crossing the road in the pissing rain there's a room full of almost megalithic sculptures. Facing me down like so many Easter Island statues are House of Traps (the one that looks like it's got headphones on), In the Shadow of the Sun (blue face), and Castle of the Daughter (wrinkly belly). They stand in front of an untitled painting and are lined up almost like a football team formation.
Their slightly pretentious, portentous names assign to them a grandeur greater than they really deserve although they're impressive enough if viewed impartially. Bhabha's innovative choice of materials is certainly worth noting. No t-shirts this time but plenty of cork, Styrofoam, rubber, and oil sticks.
Bhabha has been exalted as a creative thinker but there's little here for me to really get to grips with. I'd like to have known a bit more about her story and why she chose to make these works and with those materials. Life in New York state must be pretty different to her childhood in Pakistan. Does her art aim to speak of this duality? Is there a dichotomy to resolve? Where do Cheech and Chong fit in?
Way more questions than answers then. But that's a good thing, isn't it? Surely another of the primary purposes of art is to make us think. To ask us questions we might not be able to answer or to which there may be several answers. In that respect this small, boutique if you like, exhibition was a success. But, for me, I wanted more. Just greedy I guess.