Angel Row Gallery

‘Is Nottingham the ugliest city in Britain?’, was the horribly trenchant question posed by Waldemar Januszczak to open his ruthlessly critical review of the British Art Show 6, published in a recent issue of the Sunday times Culture supplement. Ruthless? Yes, unforgiving? Perhaps, but maybe not a completely ill-informed judgement, especially when the basis of this article was the somewhat despairing venues of Angel Row Gallery and its annex at Beatties.

On approaching Angel Row one passes a consecutive line of fast food restaurants and equally commercially auspicious, establishments like ‘Bella Italia’, before reaching the Nottingham Central Library, which is conspicuously conjoined with the gallery. In the window of the foyer, being projected to the, predominantly disinterested passers by, is a work by Marcus Coates entitled Finfolk depicting a Northern European folktale in which Coates emerges from a bitterly freezing North Sea and proceeds to assume the persona of a modern day Finfolk or Selkie, the supposed human embodiment of seals. This seemed a very fitting introduction coming to the gallery entrance from a progressively dreary, wet afternoon.

Once inside the gallery we are met with an apparently disparate bombardment of sculpture, painting and video installation. Gary Webb’s Mrs Miami sits obtrusively in the entrance. The amorphous, globular shapes reminiscent with giant, brightly coloured, fruit flavoured sweets dangle tentatively from a single curved branch like structure and four uniformly shaped creatures with small speakers for eyes perch atop the branch and chirp an ambiguous, mechanical lullaby. This gaudy monument that hovers somewhere between abstraction and a subtle form of figuration is in direct contrast to the beautifully delicate gold chain arrangements of Tonico Lemos Auad in Aimless Drawing. Here the artist drapes this precious material in strands from the ceiling to form a seemingly carefully considered pattern.

Within Angel Row there seems to be a perhaps unintentional underlying theme of the residual, bi-product or left over. Roger Hiorns sculptures Beachy Head presents three ceramic vase-like vessels that continually excrete a bubbly froth that gradually spews out and onto the gallery floor. Dotted around this work are two pieces by Richard Hughes Wet Dream and Roadside. Both give an impression of an undesirable discarded object yet are in fact fabrications of such objects made from resin.

The Angel Row Annex at Beatties is a somewhat more homogenous affair, with what at first glance might be said to have a thematic concentration on architectural design. The contents of Beatties almost seems like a desperate and ambitious plan of some idealistic utopian cityscape. Perhaps an unashamed intension to improve a declining environment like the city of Nottingham.

Matthew Houlding’s sculptures seem a very fitting addition to a newfangled gallery space that was, many years ago, a toy shop specializing in cast models. Houlding creates scale models that imbue an immediate sense of a romanticised utopia in the form of Tracey Island style, modernist high-rises yet there is a very distopian feeling residing within them like they are depictions of a failed attempt at a futuristic lifestyle. The same paradisiacal and subsequent notion of an anti-paradise is created by Siobhan Hapaska in her dramatic installation, Playa de los Intranquilos in which a scene at first tranquil, is subverted by the oppressive, almost apocalyptic sensation created by the garish bright orange paint.

Within the work at Beatties you are at first offered a real flicker of optimism but always seem to end up in the abyss. The finishing touch to this testament is a glass encased scale model of the new CCAN centre, a prospective hub of contemporary art taking shape in Nottingham’s lace market. I only hope that this underlying negation of success expressed by the work that surrounds this promising little model is not a sign of what is to come of Nottingham’s future artistic endeavours.

I love art