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With reopening of major galleries and museums on hold until May 17 at the earliest, John Evans looks at a sample of virtual shows on offer

25 February, 2021 — By John Evans

Idle Life (detail), Sophie von Hellermann, 2021, acrylic on canvas

SO large galleries and museums must wait until at least May 17 for the big reopening.

Now questions are being asked about when their shops and, in some cases, their libraries can again entertain the public, and why commercial galleries will be able to reopen before them.

There’s much to see in the meantime on websites of institutions, big and small, and the shift to online artistic and digital activity shows little sign of slowdown. In addition to a predictable focus on plague, pandemic and death, there is much more. Here’s a taste.

In the Pilar Corrias (https://www.pilarcorrias.com/) viewing room until March 14 is Sophie von Hellermann, Idle Life, where the artist takes inspiration from the 1791 Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber with a series of evocative paintings. The title refers to the theme of idleness within the book and von Hellermann says: “The way I begin to paint is to set the scene with a tone, in this case literally gold… A lot of what I paint disappears as well, which lends itself well to the novel’s theme of illusion.”

Tian Wei, Wind, 2017, iridescent acrylic on canvas, 155 x 218cm

• Bloomsbury’s October Gallery (https://octobergallery.co.uk/) has Painting Unbound, Artists of the Transvangarde until March 31. Having pioneered the idea of the “transcultural avant-garde”, with this virtual exhibition they celebrate the creative freedom of painting. “At a moment in time when much movement is restricted, painting offers the opportunity for exploration and pushing boundaries”, they say. Artists featured include Tian Wei, Romuald Hazoumè, Golnaz Fathi and Govinda Sah “Azad”.

Tom Scase, Bee and Bark, 2020, archival print, edition of 10, 50 x 35 x 0.5cm

The Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution’s (https://hlsi.net/) “postponed” exhibition The Virtually Impossible Show of works by Tom Scase can be viewed at (https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/ exhibition/4205306/the-virtually-impossible-show). “Despite their joyful presentation, a darkly sinister undertone lingers beneath the playful surface marks in these paintings, creating strange landscapes where cloned sheep, menacing bees and warplanes are juxtaposed with abstract forms,” the institution says. “Even Scase’s humour has an edge of danger…”

Trulee Hall, Polkadot Bedroom, Nightmare Set (Girl/Monster), 2018, exhibition view, Zabludowicz Collection, 2020. Photo: Tim Bowditch

• At Zabludowicz Collection (https://www.zabludowiczcollection.com/) there’s still time to catch the Trulee Hall, Virtual Exhibition tour featuring the American artist’s “playful fun-house panopticon filled with unabashed ‘erotic grotesque’.” With the virtual walk-through you can immerse yourself in video, sculpture, and painting and explore an “uneasy seediness” within.

Shanti Panchal, The Terrace, 2019, watercolour on paper, 100 x 75cm

The delicate but meticulous and challenging watercolours of north London-based artist Shanti Panchal feature not only on the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum site (https://benuri.org/) but can also be viewed as part of the current show at Chappell Galleries (http://www.chappelgalleries.co.uk/) Portraits and People in Paintings, winter exhibition. In addition his work The Terrace can now be seen as part of the John Moore’s Painting Prize Exhibition (https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/jmpp/john-moores-painting-prize).
The simplicity of the settings suggests the works could be anywhere “…in many places all at once, both real and imagined… They have therefore a timeless quality which gives them universal appeal”.

Crocodile Cradle, project by Simon Moretti, installation view (detail) at PEER. Photo: Rosa Harvest

• PEER in Hoxton (www.peeruk.org) has opened Crocodile Cradle, an “exhibition on three platforms” a filmed performance online, a text collage on the gallery’s glass façade (pictured); and book, to be published later. Artist Simon Moretti has invited more than 50 others including Tacita Dean, Liam Gillick, Lubaina Himid and Cerith Wyn Evans to supply a text that they have written or found. Moretti says: “At this time while we are all dealing with social distancing or isolating in one way or another, in and out of lockdowns, I like the idea for all of us to be connected through a single work.” Some contributions are originals, others selected from, among others, Daniel Defoe, Andrew Marvel, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A live performance will follow.

Church Tower, possibly in Wiltshire, Stan Smith (1929-2001), watercolour and ink, 52 x 36cm

Robert Eagle Fine Art (https://www.roberteaglefineart.co.uk/) is offering The dance of gothic geometry: Churches by Stan Smith and others online. They have just retrieved more than a dozen of the artist’s watercolours and sketches of English country churches, from Saxon to Victorian. They are included in an online show, together with some churches painted by three other leading lights of the gallery. They think that the church (pictured above) could be St Mary’s in Devizes, Wiltshire, but are open to other suggestions.

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