Kevin Harman: No Man’s Land
Acclaimed performance artist turns to painting – an earnest move or a purely commercial one?
Kevin Harman made quite a name for himself after smashing a public gallery window in 2009 in the name of art. Opinion on whether the act was clever or just plain stupid was divided and remains so today. In any case, it has had the desired effect for Harman; a quick Google search throws up stories stretching back to the year of the event.
For No Man’s Land, Harman appears to have given up the role of prankster to concentrate on making some hard earned cash. Accompanying the work 'Brick', which is devoted to his previous act of vandalism, is a vast body of work that uses the window as a canvas on which to slosh huge amounts of household paint.
It’s kudos to him for spotting an opportunity to make his work more sellable. No doubt some would berate him for making the move to a more commercially viable mode of working, but if he’s able to deliver paintings worthy of contemplation then why not. And some of them are powerful with sweeping currents colliding with whirlpools of vibrant hues of delicately applied paint.
The windows themselves are vast at around two metres tall. The double-glazing units are split apart by the artist so that the final paintings are sandwiched in the middle creating a highly polished finish to the paintings-cum-objects. Unavoidably, reflections of the gallery and gallery-goers are caught up in the image: an extension perhaps of Harman’s institutional critique.
Though gorgeous, the window paintings lack the conceptual rigour of his performance based works with which they are inseparable. It’s hard to take them at face value knowing his past antics, but perhaps he doesn’t want us to. The earnestness of abstract expressionism, to which these paintings are so clearly indebted, doesn’t sit comfortably with an otherwise antagonistic career. It’s impossible to know what to make of them.
Ingleby Gallery, until Sat 21 May.