Victoria Miro gallery in Hoxton has put on two outstanding shows of women artists, both remarkably different to one another. Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, creates over the top spotty sculptures, which provide an interesting contrast to Alice Neel’s thoughtful portraiture.
Polka dots have been the prevailing motif in Kusama’s work since she started drawing AS a child. And her childlike imagination continues. From the garish colours and singing contrasts she employs, she seems far younger than her 80 years. Kusama is a prolific sculptor, and this show precedes a major Tate retrospective in spring 2012. Victoria Miro’s show is pure fun: mutant flowers, dotty dogs and a giant spotty gourd all vie for the viewer’s attention. If you’re not familiar with Kusama’s work, this is an ideal opportunity to test the water free of charge.
Neel's exhibition 'Men Only' is upstairs at the gallery. After Kusama’s perturbing world, Alice Neel’s work is calm and contemplative. Neel, an American artist, who died in 1984, has become renowned for her insightful portraits. She reinvigorated the art of portraiture in the mid-twentieth century when the majority of painters were making abstract work. Victoria Miro staged the first exhibition of Neel’s work in Europe in 2004 and the Whitechapel Gallery held a retrospective last year. This is a rare chance to catch another glimpse of her work.
You can’t escape the male gaze in Neel’s show ‘Men Only’: painted men look at you from all angles. Mostly friends, family or acquaintances, it is evident that Neel knew them well to produce such insightful portraits. There is a kind of magic in Neel’s brushwork, which makes the faces resolve into what seems real and tactile. The paintings are not photo-realistic, but you know that you’re looking at real people here. Left-wing artist and cartoonist, Phil Bard, glowers hard at the viewer, writer Max White stares intensely and biochemist Ed Ziff appears in mid-conversation with you. Don’t miss this chance to see Alice Neel’s skill at evoking real people in paint.
- 'Yayoi Kusama: New Paintings & Sculptures', until 25 July, 'Alice Neel: Men Only', until 29 July, both at Victoria Miro, London, www.victoria-miro.com