NOW: Monster Chetwynd, Henry Coombes, Moyna Flannigan, Betye Saar, Wael Shawky
- Susan Mansfield
- 7 November 2018
The fourth NOW show is irreverent, unsettling and fresh
Incredibly, the National Galleries of Scotland's three-year series of NOW exhibitions has passed the halfway mark. The ground-breaking shows, each radiating out from a body of work by one contemporary artist to connect to others via themes and commonalities, have never failed to provide surprises and fresh perspectives.
The fourth NOW is no exception. The central artist is Monster (formerly Marvin Gaye, formerly Spartacus) Chetwynd and, as with many artists who work principally in performance, it's unusual to see a substantial body of her work in a public gallery. This is a revelation: props and costumes turned into monumental reliefs and sculptures, custom-designed wallpaper, photographs and paintings, as well as film documentation of five performances. Her paintings, from a long-running series called 'Bat Opera', are a valuable reminder that however energetic, homespun and spontaneous her work appears at times, it is underpinned by an exacting aesthetic.
Chetwynd's work manages to be playful, irreverent and unsettling all at once, splicing together influences from art history and popular culture, and these elements strike common chords with the other artists in the show. Edinburgh-based painter Moyna Flannigan has recently started working in collage, which has opened up fresh avenues of exploration for her. Henry Coombes' 2009 film 'The Bedfords', with a collaged wallpaper made from his drawings and storyboards, paves the way for his anticipated feature-length film on the same subject.
The other artists compound surprise upon surprise. Veteran African-American artist Betye Saar has her debut presentation in Scotland with a 1987 work, 'Mojotech', a voodoo-style altar to the power of technology made before the iPhone was even a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye. Egyptian artist Wael Shawky's 'The Cabaret Crusades' creates a re-enactment of the Crusades with marionettes—proof, if any were needed by this point, that you can be playful and deadly serious at the same time. And prints from Goya's 'Los Disparates' series, looking splendid against Chetwynd's wallpaper, remind us that irreverence was invented long before any of these artists were born.
Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Modern One), until Sun 28 April.