A gallery day in London with the young-most-wanted Wyatt Kahn and the established English artist David Blackaller


One of the fascinating aspects of looking at artworks in galleries (as opposed to reproductions) is the potential paradox of experiencing something very material and quantifiable in ‘real time’ and then developing a reflective experience afterwards that presents thoughts (often just half formed ideas) one was not aware of in the gallery.


We had visited two marvellous, but quite different, exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery and Maria Stenfors, near the British Museum in London. Both were group shows and, in each case, one particular artist from each show made a connection with the other. In ‘Abstract America Today’, we were intrigued by Wyatt Kahn’s constructed canvases and in ‘Ideas In Things’, by David Blackaller’s simply painted wooden constructions.


We visited the Saatchi Gallery first and was in fact mainly enjoying the ‘Pangaea’ exhibition – especially Oscar Murillo’s compelling constructions. We almost missed the ‘Abstract America’ show as we were on a tight schedule, but extending our visit was well worthwhile. The two Kahn’s were intelligently presented in the gallery as they faced each other across the space. An observer of Kahn’s constructions would be confronted by the absence of paint or image in these works and might be challenged by this inclusion in a show of contemporary abstract art from the USA. There is a sense of literally re-constructing painting and, as Gemma de Cruz states on the exhibition website:


“Most of the panels are sardined together while others merely touch edges, creating an absence within the whole, or a break in continuity, as well as implying a further remove from the traditionally-shaped canvas.”


This presentation of both densely packed and open spaces, which creates a contrast, still requires boundaries to formulate and construct spaces. This was the link we were making with David Blackaller’s work at the Maria Stenfors gallery and the images we were looking at in an accompanying publication, ‘Field’ (Peter Foolen Editions 2013). Blackaller’s relatively small, wall hung constructions, look ‘found’ and incomplete, or rather, part of something else, but, paradoxically, complete for now. This work appears to suggest enclosures, defined spaces created by human activity. Objects, and spaces, fall apart or are altered in some way. In the environment all is a flux of construction and de-construction and this is where we place ourselves.


Kahn constructs and, at the same time, implies segmentation. He creates a ‘body’ of work. Blackaller recognises, through walking and taking photographs, sub-divisions and repetitions. Both artists build and present. As viewers we are obliged to make our own sense of what this may mean to us – even if this is not necessarily what the artist intended.


So, later, away from the gallery space, travelling back home on the train we realise that our senses are heightened. Enclosed in the narrow carriage, viewing the outside world through the window, we are aware of the two parallel lines of steel track that guide the train. As passengers we are physically transported from place to place. Environments are lived experiences that we move through and perceive as both spatial and object-filled. Through physical displacement, departure, re-location and arrival one experiences the world and a sense of self – a simplistic Cartesian notion.


Kahn’s and Blackaller’s artwork ostensibly present stable and secure constructions to the viewer. But we suspect, their practice concerns a more liminal and labile experience of what it means to be human.

September 22, 2014