If Modernism has left us with anything, it is an architectural legacy that can still be seen punctuating the skylines of cities. Looming translucent cathedrals have long existed in our collective consciousness as symbols of technological prowess–a utopian vision of the future that has been hard to shatter. But, British-artist David Ben White seems intent on doing just that.
A self confessed ‘trouble-maker and sensualist’, the movement’s rigid and dogmatic visual language attracted his eye, resulting in Inside Outside – White’s first solo-exhibition at L’ étrangère. The London-based artist is well-versed in modernist design tropes, with a wide-spanning body of work that largely focuses on the conflicting ideals of the architectural modernist space versus the decorative domestic. Following on from Living Room held at Kerstin Engholm Gallery, the exhibition is a continuation of his modus operandi.
Split into two separate spaces, a cursory glance around the first room reveals that White has transformed the homogenous white-cube model into a lofty domestic space, one that hints at a modernist aesthetic but is disrupted by a pair of crude sculptural furniture works. Posing as household familial objects, Fabrications of Pleasure 36 & 34 (2014) resemble components of an Art Attack special, and are playful mementos of White’s anarchic views when it comes to didactic modernist mantras.
Nearly outshone by the attention-seeking furnishings, a group of more nuanced paintings eponymously titled Inside Outside are hung directly behind. Their subjects are painterly depictions of imagined interiors; architectural rooms featuring iconic furniture and artworks that resemble the natural forms once sculpted by Henry Moore, but the overarching features are the transparent curtain walls, that look out towards gentle rural slopes. Superimposed onto this harmonious scene are warped faceted glass grids that disrupt the depth of the painting – White creates spatial drama and a palpable tension arises as the linear modernist grid grows tauter, attempting to control and nullify.
The back gallery offers a more humanistic portrait of the movement’s failings, playing host to series of modernism’s forgotten heroines in a series called The Personification of an Ideal (2015). Grouped around Fabrication of Pleasure 21 (2014) a dystopic vision of the ideal modernist home; the women’s vibrant faces bear an unsettling duality, a grid is overlaid constructing their facial movements, yet their gazes are forcible and direct – they are exotic birds trapped within modernism’s ‘glass cage’.
Inside Outside can be read as an act of rebellion: distorted picture-planes and cumbersome objects offset partially framed paintings whose contents mischievously overflow into the gallery space thereby pointing the finger at modernist design as a superficial aesthetic trap. David Ben White pokes fun at its flaws by arguing that modernism was an abusive style that cared less about its inhabitants than it did its own seductive beauty.
David Ben White: Inside Outside is showing at l’étrangère until 5 December