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.