Steven Claydon, The Gilded Bough, at Sadie Coles HQ, London

Steven Claydon’s new show at Sadie Coles HQ, his second with the gallery, is the product of two years’ work. In the period since his last show here in 2012 he has shown in Los Angeles, Munich, Milan, Geneva and Bergen. This last exhibition focused particularly on his moving image work – The Ancient Set, 2008, being a work that is key to understanding his practice – so the current wholehearted engagement with three dimensional work feels fresh and urgent.

For an artist among the most intellectually nimble, nay mercurial, Claydon also delivers an optical experience that is pure exhilaration. His approach to tackling the potentially cavernous spaces at Kingly Street has been to divide the gallery with floor to ceiling PVC strip curtaining. This is the sort of stuff you would more normally find in a warehouse, dull and grimy with use; Claydon has an unfailing eye for colour so his dove grey and egg-yolk yellow curtains are all appealingly supple and glossy. An artist well versed in the grammar of materials, this self-confident repurposing of otherwise unlovely kit is what we have come to expect. His show, Osram and Omar, at the former Hotel gallery in 2008 made extensive use of the hessian fabric that is so redolent of 1960s interior design, for example.

Having created a series of spaces that act as framing devices for the works, the artist offers the possibility of a serpentine stroll through the gallery. With characteristically austere elegance, he presents works composed of objects rehearsing a measured ambiguity. The hollow ends of a timber beam betray it as an empty cast; an elasticated black net acts like a modernist grid behind the gilded cast of a bubble pack of headache pills, mounted below the cast of an anthropomorphic finial. More than one work presents an object only half discernible inside a crate or glass vivarium.

Also co-opting the materials of the warehouse is a piece that stacks casts of wooden pallets, strikingly layered in yellow, black and white.  Unceremoniously placed on top is a cast of a cherubic child clutching a duck – incongruously, a dustbin lid-like canopy has been welded onto the child’s shoulders, fitted with a lightbulb and trailing flex.  This is a cast of roman sculpture – itself a copy of a lost Hellenistic original – with a shield of Athena above. And it is this articulation of the mutability of the understanding of objects that is at the core of Claydon’s work.  The essential meaning of the object may only be revealed through its translation from one era to another, or from one material to another. At the same time, specific materials and objects can manifest essential auras that are only highlighted through the unexpected juxtapositions the artist creates.  In what is for me the stand-out piece here, a work featuring a black male figure with a gilded head, the work sits on legs and little adjustable steel feet that you might more normally expect to find on a dumb bit of office furniture.  Elements like these, or ultra-slim reading lights bumping up against a cast of other disassociated objects, speak to the ahistorical concatenations of things we encounter every day, imaged in the maelstrom of the digital world.

Not to be missed on any account. As you may have guessed from my slightly overexcited Instagramming earlier in the week. I am unashamed.

Caroline Douglas

Steven Claydon, The Gilded Bough, Sadie Coles HQ, 62 Kingly Street, London W1B 5QN. Open Tuesday – Saturday 11.00 – 18.00, Exhibition continues until 2 April 2016.


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