Catherine Story

Story_Millionaire_2011.jpg

Millionaire, 2011, oil on wood

Millionaire, 2011, oil on wood

In 1952, while he was in Paris promoting his film Limelight, Charlie Chaplin was introduced to Pablo Picasso over dinner. Following a few unsatisfactory exchanges through a translator, the pair resolved to abandon speech entirely, and spent the remainder of the evening happily communicating in mime. With its frequent nods to these two titans of Modernist visual culture, Catherine Story’s exhibition ‘Angeles’ functioned as a reunion of sorts. Drawing on the coterminous evolution of Cubism and cinema, and employing a palette of off-whites and pale terracottas that recalled the blush of Picasso’s ‘Rose Period’ (1904–06) and the sepia tones of silent films, her paintings and sculptures explore the links between two revolutions in representation: the expansion of two dimensions into three in the chilly studio spaces of the Bateau-Lavoir, and the contraction of three dimensions into two on the sunbaked lots of Hollywood.

Hugging the walls of Carl Freedman Gallery, Story’s sculptures were displayed on a series of backless plinths that had the jerrybuilt appearance of a movie prop or backdrop, designed to be seen not by mobile human eyes but through a camera’s locked-on lens. On top of one of these sat Limelight (all works 2011), which took its title from Chaplin’s film and its form from Picasso’s 1919 painting Still Life With Pitcher and Apples. In an affectionate comic jab at the Spanish artist’s immaculate and far-from-humourless neo-neoclassicism, Story remade the canvas’s blemish-free jug in rough cement, poking a navel into its bulging belly, and tweaking its spout into a gurning mouth and the accompanying fruit into a pair of goggling eyes. Not quite a relief, but too flat to really function as a volumetric approximation of a pitcher, it seemed stuck between the pictorial and the sculptural – no wonder it stared and gibbered. Perhaps, though, it was made nervous by the nearby United Artists, two clay and acrylic sculptures of vintage movie cameras that scanned the room from their plinth like a Golden Age precursor to CCTV. Pared down to blocky, cartoonishly Cubist forms, they were the close cousins of the devices depicted in the paintings Angeles (II) and Millionaire. (The latter work is named after a character in Chaplin’s 1931 film City Lights that opens with a scene in which a monumental figurative sculpture is unveiled, and Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’ is discovered asleep in its stony arms, as though this cinematic icon were the child of a much older medium.) There is a wonderful airlessness about these images, as though they were born not in a painter’s studio, but inside a cinematographer’s black box. Angeles (II)’s motif was repeated in the small jesmonite sculpture, Star, which was installed high up on the gallery wall. Read right to left, it is clearly a camera; read left to right, it resembles the head of a robot duck. Technology, in Story’s work, is Janus-faced, and always threatens to transform itself. It makes sense, then, that the materials she often turns to – cement, plaster and found wood for her plinths – are those used by early Hollywood set-builders.

If ‘Angeles’ was about dimensional instability (even its title hints at a higher, heavenly, reality), it was also in part about men. In addition to providing starring roles for notorious womanizers Picasso and Chaplin, the exhibition featured a cameo from Clarke Gable, a man so steeped in testosterone that it was said that when he walked across the MGM lot ‘you could almost hear his balls clank’. The sculpture Gable, though, conjured his broad shoulders from crumbling plaster, and gave him a groin so featureless that it could barely summon a tinkle. Story’s point here wasn’t, I suspect, a straightforward critique of macho Hollywood or art-historical myth-making, but rather a gleeful enjoyment of both its thrilling bombast and its profound silliness. As her witty, beautifully produced show testified, it’s when you understand an illusion as an illusion that the real fun begins.

Tom Morton is a writer, independent curator and contributing editor for frieze, based in Rochester, UK.

Issue 145

First published in Issue 145

March 2012

Most Read

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018