What exactly is Condo? An international group show? A festival? A DIY art fair? The answer to all of the above is: sort of. Once you’ve got your head around that, the next challenge is to navigate the map. Its scale is minuscule, its font caricature-gothic, and it flashes. A lot. And there is a giant snake winding across the middle of it.
But feel your way past those early stumbling blocks, and you will find that Condo has much to offer. Until 11 February, 36 galleries from Europe, Asia and the Americas will be bunking up in 15 spaces across the capital, to extremely varied ends. There are group shows, solo shows, and multiple shows under the same roof; works by institutionally recognized artists, and works by those still kicking at the walls of their chrysalis.
Condo was established in 2016 by Vanessa Carlos, director of London’s Carlos/Ishikawa, an ambitious and admirable attempt to both enable galleries to exhibit internationally without paying through the nose for art fair booths, and increase footfall in the capital’s smaller spaces. Moving into its second year, the scope has changed, with a number of blue-chip galleries throwing their urbane hats into the ring. But while this might have helped raise Condo’s profile, it is still the ramshackle end of the spectrum that provides the greatest entertainment – a welcome reminder that there is more to the gallery sector than polished concrete floors, VIP zones and invigilators dressed up like CIA agents.
From South to East to Central, here are this year’s highlights:
Hosting VI, VII (Oslo)
Most of Arcadia Missa’s small railway arch gallery is given over to Emma Talbot’s You Do Not Belong To You (Universal Story) (2016), a tent-like structure of painted silk that hangs from the ceiling by numerous pairs of rainbow shoelaces. Talbot treats the silk like pages from a graphic novel, covering it with scenes of philosophical angst, set against a backdrop of starscapes and mystical vaginas. ‘What are words? Just made up shapes and sounds’, it reads in one corner, besides a picture of a woman disappearing into a mirror.
Talbot’s work is undoubtedly the main attraction, but VI, VII provide a noteworthy supporting cast. Brad Grievson’s Captive (2017) plays a particularly thoughtful accompaniment. Torn and painted paper is stretched over a white canvas, shaping the blank surface into a series of empty frames – a gentle articulation of absence and fragility. This is Condo at its freewheeling best, a disparate group of works finding ways to get along.
Hosting: Proyectos Ultravioleta (Guatemala City)
With its focus on provisional, precarious and surreal constructions, ‘These Architectures We Make’ is among Condo’s most harmonious group shows – in part due to a strong showing from the Guatemalan contingent. Highlights include Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s film Incremental Architecture (2014), in which the artist dances around a factory while dressed as a wobbly building. The costume is a reference to ‘Arquitectura de Remesas' (Remittance Architecture), a common practice among Guatemalans who travel to the US to find work (often illegally) and use their earnings to build elaborate but unstable houses back home.
Worth the visit alone are three collages made from glossy magazines by nonagenarian Elisabeth Wild. Wild emigrated from Vienna to Buenos Aires in 1939, where she later worked as a textile designer, and the influence is apparent in her geometric landscapes, which echo European Art Deco and Latin American weaving. The effects are mesmerizing. In collages no bigger than a page, stairwells turn into motif, inside becomes outside, and imagery that once belonged to advertising is transformed into euphoric pattern.
The Sunday Painter
Hosting: Seventeen (London, New York), Galeria Jacqueline Martins (Sao Paulo), Stereo (Warsaw)
South Londoners The Sunday Painter win the hospitality award for hosting three galleries, this year’s record. Seventeen, on staycation from their usual Hackney residence, show a pair of highly stylized paintings by Justin Fitzpatrick, in which a bird, a glove, a key, and a bottle of Evian battle it out in a game of metaphysical Top Trumps. São Paulo’s Galeria Jaqueline Martins take the opportunity to work through some issues with electrical lighting. They bring floppy strip light sculptures by Adriano Amaral, and a wall work by Daniel De Paula, which details the economic losses of an imaginary UK-wide black-out. With Warsaw’s Stereo presenting a range of portentous drawings by Wojciech Bąkowski, it is left to British artist Emma Hart, exhibiting with The Sunday Painter for the first time, to lighten the mood. Her ceramic sculpture Ink Low Buy More (2015/17), a mess of sweaty legs and excess printer paper, does exactly that.
Hosting: Simone Subal Gallery (New York)
If you are looking for a moment of relative calm, head to The Approach. They have leant their box-like backroom gallery to Manhattanites Simone Subal, who are showing paintings and weavings by Sonia Almeida. In four works on paper, pictographic images float on top of colourful backgrounds. Signs and symbols are on the move, shirking their expected meaning – a hand casts a shadow of a statue; the folds of a curtain turn into solid forms. There is a nod here to Dutch painter René Daniëls, whose 1980s paintings revelled in giving translation the slip. Almeida uses Daniëls's signature motif for Verbal Twist (2016), an enigmatic shape that shifts between a bow tie and a perspectival image of a room. In Weaving Code (2017), three large carpet-like sheets hang from frames that jut out from the wall. Peep between the gaps, and watch as the images in the weave form in the shadows.
Hosting: Tommy Simoens (Antwerp), ShanghART (Shanghai)
In the east of the city, Carlos/Ishikawa has been transformed into a theatre with ad-hoc stadium seating. The audience? Life-size models of Columbian workers wearing overalls and wellington boots, their heads made from papier-mâché, their bodies stuffed like scare-crows. These figures are effigies made for an annual festival in Oscar Murillo’s home-town in Columbia, and the ones on show here were produced by that same community. Behind the seating is a triptych of paintings by Ouyang Chun, impasto renderings of lone women beneath stage lighting. In the middle of it all, overlooked by paper bodies, is Yutaka Sone’s scale model of an Aztec theme-park ride. The exhibition is so cohesive that the works seem to belong to a collaborative project – a tender, melancholic reflection on exposure, and the way in which one person’s culture can so easily become another’s spectacle.
Project Native Informant
Hosting: Queer Thoughts (New York), Mother’s Tankstation (Dublin)
There are no people in Kevin Cosgrove’s Cabin (2016), a soft-focus oil painting of a mechanic’s workshop. Sunlight floods in through an open shutter, illuminating tyres, tools, and car related detritus. Persian Rug (2016) depicts another sunlit workshop with nobody in it, painted in nostalgic sepia tones. These paeans to the skilled-labourer come with an implicit social commentary. The staff, you get the impression, will not be coming back from lunch.
Cosgrove’s are not the only unpopulated landscapes in this busy, three gallery show. Yuri Pattison has opened up a computer server, turning its circuitry into a cityscape, and there are light boxes by the collective ÅYR, illuminations of computer-generated classical passages and halls that appear to carry on infinitely. Like adding mirrors to the walls, they fulfil the function of making a room look bigger – an aspiration of grandeur that is literally uninhabitable.
Sadie Coles HQ
Hosting: Bridget Donahue (New York)
If you’re short on time, don’t miss ‘The Easy Demands’, a solo show of new work by Martine Syms. On a single wall are stills, taken from a forthcoming film, of black subjects variously framed: legs on a beach, a woman approaching a microphone, men playing cards at what looks like a slave plantation. In the middle on a screen set into the top of a low plinth is Lesson LXXV (2017), a video showing Syms from the shoulders up, her brown skin dripping with milk. During the protests in Ferguson that followed the killing of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown, police released tear gas into the crowds, and the photos that emerged of the aftermath showed protesters pouring milk into each other’s eyes. (Tear gas can be blinding, and milk counteracts its toxicity.) Syms’s film is looped, like a GIF: a scene of white on brown, played over and over again.