Wednesday 8 September 2021 8:00 am

Mixing It Up at hayward Gallery is a sprawling, unruly exhibition

Collective exhibitions are tricky things. The work of each artist demands attention all of its own, but needs to be in dialogue with those around it. The best have a solid theme to tie all the unruly ideas into something approaching a thesis, such as Among the Trees, an exhibition all about… well, trees, which opened at the Hayward Gallery in March 2020, just before the world changed.

A less good example is Mixing It Up: Painting Today, which opens tomorrow at the Hayward Gallery and brings together a horde of works from no less than 31 artists, each one differing so wildly in tone, theme and execution that trying to digest them all becomes a war of attrition.

Even the blurb on the wall is vague, suggesting that the artists all “share an interest in mining painting’s potential as a medium in which things can be mixed up,” which is a roundabout way of saying nothing at all.

It’s frustrating, because there are some brilliant paintings here. I loved Mohammed Sami’s nightmarish shadows creeping across domestic scenes; and Denzil Forrester’s joyous, abstract depictions of East London’s reggae clubs; and Gareth Cadwallader’s introspective little painting of a man smoking in a forest. Each one is worthy of consideration, but your attention is always being pulled in a new direction: Jonathan Wateridge’s heavily staged, photo-realistic paintings of apparently candid moments; Vivien Zhang’s stenciled “algorithm” works, which echo the visual clutter of the internet age; Daniel Sinsel’s rude aubergine, painted at an off angle that makes you feel like you’ve had a couple of beers.

The whole thing feels terminally confused (something that’s unfortunately echoed in the difficult-to-follow one-way system that snakes through the gallery), with not enough offered to make sense of the exhibition as a whole but too much on display to really enjoy the paintings individually.

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