Art: GSK Contemporary, Royal Academy of Arts, London

I have to admit to being a bit confused as to what GSK Contemporary is all about. Is it a cynical attempt by sponsors GlaxoSmithKline to appear cool, edgy and relevant to the new intake of London-based students? Is it an effort by the Royal Academy to shed its image as the gallery of choice for the Daily Mail reader? Or is it something genuinely cutting-edge and artistically interesting. I’m not sure. I think its probably a mixture of all three, with the emphasis on the first two.

Monday probably isn’t the best time to see a gallery at its best, especially not one that claims to focus on the links between ‘art, performance and experimental theatre’, but I was in the area and wanted to try and make sense of what the RA’s latest initiative was all about. I’d seen some adverts and the flashy website, but was frankly a little bit bemused about what the show was trying to achieve. Was it a straightforward ICA-esque contemporary art show? Was is a cool bar/nightclub with a gallery attached? Was it a performance space? The promotion all seemed a little jumbled. Obviously, I had to check it out. Even after going, I’m still not sure.

Arriving at the space didn’t immediately make things any clearer. Once I’d bought my ticket, GSK Contemporary was horrendously signposted; it wasn’t until after wandering round the ground floor for a good few minutes that the real action was taking place upstairs.

As far as I can work out, GSK Contemporary (awful, awful name, who the hell in the marketing department agreed to that one?) is split into two phases. The first phase, called Molten States runs until mid December, with a second, called Collision Course, taking over afterwards. Molten States showcases the work of Olaf Nicolai, Julian Rosefeldt, Rene Pollesch and Catherine Sullivan. As well as functioning as a static daytime gallery, there’s also a shed-load of evening events happening (think Late at Tate, Late Nights at the Whitechapel) with the likes of Bob and Roberta Smith and Martin Creed doing their things.

It was refreshing to see an exhibition in such a large space devoted to contemporary art – and new works by artists that I hadn’t previously encountered. The first work, by Rene Pollesch, is an installation based on a German-language performance that took place on Halloween at GSK Contemporary and seems to be deliberately obtuse and confrontational. Lots of shouting in German. Olaf Nicolai’s mechanical pole-dancer was disappointing – was I missing something or was the piece supposed to be presented in darkness – the main light was on?! Catherine Sullivan’s work – which appeared to have something to do with colonialism (there were grand houses and period costumes that reminded me of Yinka Shonibare’s Turner Prize nominated work) – was also disappointingly complex.

Julian Rosefeldt’s three multi-screen video works were a revelation and the undoubted highlight of the show. I haven’t encountered his work before. The Soundmaker, Stunned Man and The Perfectionist are all meditations on the absurdity of everyday life. They are simple, yet compelling and worth a visit.

My gut feel is that GSK Contemoporary is designed more as a club/gallery – a late night ‘happening’ space (open until midnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturdays) aimed at flogging booze to the monied London art school crowd, rather than a daytime gallery. As such, I’ll be heading back to see how different it all looks after dark – and to check out the Rosefeldts again, of course. It’s got me interested, but I can’t work out if I like it. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Check out this piece from Art Review.com.

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