Early Relativity: Karen Cunningham and Zara Idelson (4 stars)

Good pairing of Glasgow-based artists

Early Relativity: Karen Cunningham and Zara Idelson

Every year for their summer show The Duchy pairs a recent graduate with a more established artist. This year Glasgow School of Art graduate Zara Idelson shows paintings and interventions alongside the work of Glasgow-based Karen Cunningham.

Cunningham’s work initiates a dialogue with historically significant artworks. They nod to their canonical forefathers and then subvert – often sacrilegiously – through form and material. ‘Culture or Idealised Participation’ is a large cube constructed from industrial plywood and is reminiscent of Donald Judd’s sleek forms made with humble materials. Materiality was central to his work, and here Cunningham has used the prevailing element of fire to destroy a corner of the wooden cube, revealing the skeleton of the structure.

Judd established new territory for American art by rejecting the residual inherited European aesthetic values of illusion and represented space. Cunningham plays with these historical stories in her work entitled ‘That portrait of Gertrude Stein (after Europe went to Africa and America went to Europe)’ – a decorative mask based on functional African craftsmanship, abstracted through Picasso’s European ideals, and cast in concrete by Cunningham it carries the weight of history.

A found object with uncanny resemblances to Marcel Duchamp’s bottlerack has been photographed in low resolution, the pixelated quality appearing painterly alongside Zara Idelson’s oils and acrylics.

Idelson works economically with her materials and paints on small scale canvasses, but her confident mark making is clearly that of an artist beginning to establish her voice within the often contested discipline. It is rare to see an artist’s unashamed need to talk through paint, conscientiously enjoying the materiality of the medium.

She has also made subtle interventions to the surrounding space in an attempt to establish a framework on which to hook her painterly sentences. Incorporating the architectural features, the zig-zagging lines of her wall panels make links to other works including Cunningham’s primitive-inspired mask.

Though Cunningham’s work is rooted in the historical artefacts of autonomous art, her aim is to communicate with her viewer, and you sense the same intention from Idelson.

A surprisingly good pairing of artists – keep an eye on both of them.

The Duchy, Glasgow, until Sat 3 Sep

Karen Cunningham & Zara Idelson: Early Relativity

  • 4 stars

Joint show by emerging Scottish artists; Cunningham is interested in overlapping technologies whereas Idelson makes pictures, objects and drawings that hover intriguingly between representation and abstraction.


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