Although diversity was the key note of Merlin James’s exhibition at Parasol Unit in London this Summer – it spanned three decades of work covering landscape, architectural, portrait and abstract modes – this was not postmodern relativism, but a demonstration that a personal painterly language can comprehend a complex context and changing circumstances. The narrative of a painting’s evolution, over years of non-linear decision-making, may supersede the pretext of its image, but the selection still combined into a singular vision of a lost world.
The Franz West retrospective at Museum für Moderne Kunst Frankfurt in the Autumn chronicled West’s various metaphors for how we engage with art, and the social dimensions of that engagement. He portrays this interaction with a comprehensive range of tonalities – absurdity, comedy, opportunism, awe – restoring the gamut of subjectivity to sculpture by making its putative functionality a means of humanizing it. Despite the full force of his irony, these are earnest reappraisals of the possibility of ‘made’ sculptural form.
The survey of Joel Sternfeld’s photography, at C/O Berlin at the beginning of the year, made his career seem both sui generis and a case study in the spectrum of guises art photography has assumed since the 1960s – from ‘on-the-fly’ documentary, to fictional tableaux, to photography as conceptual taxonomy, often in conjunction with text. But Sternfeld collapses the implied trajectory from image to idea. He interprets a conceptual trope in emotional terms. His increasing reliance on implication rather than denotation registers as loneliness and desolation.