Andrea Büttner and Brit Meyer at Piper Keys, London

It’s been a beautiful afternoon.  Even in the city, you can’t escape the sense of the hastening of spring.  Whitechapel High Street bustles with people carrying fresh fruit and veg in thin, blue plastic bags; there is much coming and going around the East London mosque, cooking smells vent into the chill air.  Turn up Greatorex Street, past the glitzy Sunnamusk Everlasting Fragrance shop, and on the right hand side you will see an industrial building with the sign for Piper Keys.  Even for a seasoned art lover, this building offers an entrance that makes one slightly hesitate with its urban patina.  However, persevere down the dark corridor and you will be rewarded.

Piper Keys opened as an exhibition space here almost two years ago and the current show is to be their last in this building.  They will close with a performance by Giorgio Sadotti at the end of March.  In the vastness of the London art scene, this is an operation that impresses by the integrity and quality of the programme and the sheer grit of the two people who run it, in living and making a success of a new gallery.  We must pay close attention to their next move.

The beaten up 1950s warehouse does nothing to prepare you for the elegance of the installation of work by Andrea Büttner and Brit Meyer.  The work and the hang are both spare and lean.  Büttner invited her ex-student Meyer to show with her and the pairing of the well known artist and the just-graduated is unselfconsciously and delicately played out.  Büttner has supplied the environment, so to speak, by painting the walls a dense chocolate-brown.  This is in fact a work from 2006 and asserts itself as a painting by occupying the wall only so far as the extent of the artist’s reach:  the gestural quality of the line bespeaks the effort of that reaching up.   It’s a strategy the artist has used in a number of exhibitions.  Büttner’s other work here, Fabric Painting (Corner), 2015, is made using the cotton twill fabric normally associated with workwear.  Each canvas sits self-effacingly into the corner of the space and, together with the abject/excremental colour of the wall painting, should be read in relation to the artist’s continuing fascination in the concept of shame in relation to art.

Meyer’s work has a different concern with materials.  On the left as you enter the space is a work carved from juniper wood:  it sits on the wall, like an aquiline nose detached from a bust.  The wood is scented: you have to sniff the nose.  In a tiny digital photograph hung in relation to Buttner’s panels on the other side of the main space, fingertips hold up an oddly-shaped strawberry for inspection.  The inevitable reflex in the viewer is to imagine the scent.  The third work here by Meyer is a drawing.  A slender figure strides between two steep hillocks.    Perhaps.  The graphic line is confident but economical, the subject figurative but without narrative.  One last work is installed in the back room.  A group of very slight objects is mounted on the wall, playing conceptual games with the idea of ready-made and the crafted.  There is a peanut and a tooth pick, both painstakingly carved in wood, two fragments of orange peel and a shard of plastic.  It is a beautifully succinct and poised little group of objects, like a visual haiku.

Do everything you can to get this show into your next gallery-going expedition.

Caroline Douglas

Piper Keys, Unit 2a, 10 Greatorex Street, London E1 5NF. Open Friday – Sunday 12noon – 18.00. Exhibition continues until 22 March 2015.


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