Whitechapel, May 2012

Gillian Wearing

For some obscure reason this show was scandalously poorly attended on a perfectly fine art going Sunday afternoon when it should have been heaving just like the Damian Hirst over at the Tate. Maybe people think they know the work too well, or it's not brash enough and forking out nearly a tenner for the privilege of seeing a retrospective which may be mostly familiar might seem a poor investment. Especially when you would get a decent curry and a beer on Brick Lane around the corner for that. And have change. But there are 2-for-1 deals on tickets out there on the web, go look. Then call a cultivated if fairly indifferent mate and for less than a fiver each you'll be getting a total bargain.

Yes the crazy lady dancing in the shopping centre in Peckham video is there. Yes, too, the people holding up handwritten signs revealing what they are thinking BUT there is more much more, exciting stuff that commands attention - both serious attention and amused attention. and which repeatedly shows Wearing to be possibly the nosiest person in British art, and that's saying a lot.

The first prosthetic face series of self-portraits of herself recreate classic images of various artists, mostly modernist photographers such as Arbus, Mapplethorpe and Sander (and Andy Warhol) and are stunning hommages that can be compared to those of Yasumasa Morimura. Perhaps more meaningfully she has also mined snapshots from generations of her own family members - both male and female - as a rich source for other fabrications and the results are among her most significant achievements.

It's a warm gooey feeling to be looking at world-class photography by a British artist that is as good as anything out there. Benchmark stuff, clever, witty and full of inventiveness. Put it anywhere it will shine.

The video works are not only compelling but at times harrowing. You won't walk out of these short pieces feeling unscathed or unmoved. Some cover the very deepest personal revelations while using various forms of masking to maintain anonymity (and so setting the dial to max on the candour of the participants) this is alternately blunt then sensitive but always beautifully judged. 'Bully' a re-creation of a traumatic incident in a sports hall is astonishing. These forms can only be appropriately housed in an art gallery, permitting a semi-intimate shared-space experience that would be immediately both reduced by any kind of TV transmission.




(Until 17 June 2012)