Boiler Nose, Leonardo’s Method, Hot Light: London Galleries

Reproduction Drawing 1
"Reproduction Drawing 1 (after Leonardo cartoon)" by Jenny Saville. The work is at Gagosian, Davies St., London, until May 15. Photographer: Mike Bruce/Gagosian Gallery via Bloomberg

Once upon a time, in the 1960s, Anthony Caro used to paint his sculptures in bright colors.

As a result, they looked light, almost weightless, like abstract painting in space. In the 1970s, he switched to shades of drab, or the natural hues of metal, wood and fired clay.

Since then, Caro’s work has looked more massive, weighty and sober, as do most of the pieces in his new exhibition, “Upright Sculptures” (Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering Street, London, through July 2). So in the past four decades (Caro is 86, though evidently working with undiminished vigor), his work has often had a sort of heavy-industrial melancholy, like the machinery of an abandoned factory.

Some of these new abstract items (at prices ranging from 40,000 pounds, or $58,744, to 320,000 pounds) have a quirky, figurative look. “Up a Note” -- with a rusty boiler for a nose, two eye-discs above and twin doggy ear-flaps on either side -- evokes an Easter Island head or maybe Thomas the Tank Engine. It has a 250,000 pound price tag.

The best work in the exhibition doesn’t have any figurative undertow. “Up Front” is painted a light spinach green, in the manner of Caro’s work half a century ago. The result is to remove the melancholy and sobriety, and restore that lyrical zing. Perhaps he should have stuck with color.

Last year, Damien Hirst exhibited new paintings, savaged in the press, that were visibly influenced by Francis Bacon. In her exhibition at Gagosian, Davies St. (until May 15), Jenny Saville -- another of the so-called Young British Artists from the 1990s -- reveals a more surprising influence.

Tender Drawings

Her new large-scale drawings are modeled on Leonardo da Vinci, specifically his cartoon in the National Gallery, “The Virgin and Child With St. Anne and the Infant Baptist.” This marks a shift in Saville’s art in two ways.

First, because she hasn’t exhibited drawings before. Second, because she deals with the tender, and un-avant-garde, subject of maternity. Previously, Saville’s pictures, while concentrating on the female body, had often done so with shocking, even disturbing results (her huge close-up of a mashed-up face in the current “Crash” exhibition at Gagosian, Britannia St., still does).

Three of these powerful and impressive drawings concentrate on a naked woman with a baby. Saville has used Leonardo’s method of superimposing different ideas for compositions one on top of another to suggest the movement of the wriggling child. Apart from that multiple-exposure aspect, they display something you don’t often see in contemporary art: conventionally brilliant draftsmanship. (It’s Gagosian Gallery policy not to disclose information on pricing.)

Bulbs on Metal

One of the new installations by Cerith Wyn Evans at White Cube, Mason’s Yard, (through May 22) is brilliant in a different way. In the basement of the gallery he has placed seven pillars of light. Made from light bulbs arranged on a metal framework, these belong to a small category: uncomfortable art.

As they each slowly rise from darkness to maximum light emission, the pillars also emit heat. It was enough to make the room stifling on a bright spring day. The effect is memorable, more so than the rest of the show, which also includes a room of rotating, sound-emitting mirrors. (Prices range from 25,000 pounds to 400,000 pounds.)

It’s much more impressive than the installation by the Arte Povera veteran Jannis Kounellis at Ambika P3, a cavernous basement space beneath the University of Westminster. His arrangement of coal, bottles, steel partitions and dangling clothes looks too much like the kind of miscellaneous junk you might find in such a cellar. To succeed, as Kounellis’s works sometimes do, an installation needs more drama and flair.

(Martin Gayford is chief art critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE