CHRIS OFILI @ THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY, SUNLEY ROOMS
🌞 🍸 🌊
I haven’t been to the National Gallery in fucking ages but i went to see the Chris Ofili show. I don’t spend too much time in the company of paintings; they’re not my kinda people. But tucked away was this lil room, and i’d read Adrian Searle’s preposterous review (lol my laptop just autocorrected Searle to Seattle. puny man) so off i went to have a peep.
So you enter and there’s a nice lil reception room; like a hallway in a house, that in between space. And frames hung on the wall. Lil drawings, practice/plans, studies. My fave bit was a series of collages: Mario Balotelli’s sideways, disembodied head floating above a drawn on body, large and cartoon comedy, a waiter pouring champagne into those flat, fat glasses. Someone once told me they were moulded from a french woman’s tit. I said that’s a weird looking tit bc in my mind i was still imagining that long champagne glass. It took me a few months to realise that those are the kinda inevitable mix ups u have when u speak to posh white ppl. There was something about the way humour and whimsy was balanced, precariously, in these collages. I liked that cheekiness. Like on MTV, on Ex on the Beach, a lad is being proper cheeky so in his cutaway voiceover he’s playing it deadpan but then a lil glimpse when he makes eye contact with the camera and his tongue sticks outta his mouth for too long.
AND THEN; you peel off to your left and another room with enormous high ceilings, empty almost completely apart from a tapestry covering the wall facing the entrance. ~So showstopper~. But even though the room was empty, it was enough as company goes. The space felt like it closed in around you a bit because of the greyscale figures painted on the length of the wall. And the harsh colour against the greyscale walls made me feel partly like i was in a well lit, cost cave. But also that expansive-ness of the room, high ceilings, tunnel-vision, focussed in on one particular spot. I felt like this was a moment to applaud the object of that tapestry…. maybe? idk man. I feel like i could speak about how this room felt; but actually it’s one of those things. Maybe you do have to go to this one this time, maybe it’s useless for me to try & translate it through myself. Maybe i can’t, i don’t feel strongly enough (i’m only writing this out of spite towards Adrian), maybe it was such a slight, subtle thing that i don’t quite know what it is yet? I know we write about what it felt like to be in the room, how we experienced it. And tbh our jobs as writers is not to be good at using words, it’s to be good at locating and describing as faithfully as possible, our feelings. BUT. also. This felt like a joke I wasn’t in on. Like when ur at a party and ur talking to two ppl who are bestest friends. And they’ve got their in jokes and they try and include you, so you laugh along a lil, but you don’t laugh as hard, and it’s not quite as funny to you. Like that, but like… i wasn’t mad. It’s fine.
This show is called ‘Weaving Magic’ which is a kinda sucky name. The tapestry as an individual object has a different name: ’The Caged Bird’s Song’. Obvs, Maya. Maya, Mario, these broad spaces and the feeling of being in a rich person’s hallway where they put up a ~showstopper~ wall mounted thing by the coat stand. I feel like maybe this show was talking broadly about blackness and boujeeness. In the slightest, subtlest way,,,, engaging with that narrative only dipping its toes in. but as i say that, i’m also not sure. There was a film, an interview with Chis Ofili explaining the show off on the right in the hallway room. I wish i’d sat & watched now a lil bit. But also, i’m happy with the instability of leaving me in a precarious place when I ask myself what it meant. I’m glad it took me a couple of paragraphs to explain what it was. I’m not mad at it. I think it endears me to it that lil bit more.
But, I say this ^^^ bc i read Adrian Seattle’s review (hahahahah not even gonna bother correcting that). I was gonna write this review only as a review of his review. But idk if a hot take is the right thing. I wana also talk about the actual show, and i wana do that without writing through him and his words. SO i will address him as a footnote. ACTUALLY. Below i will copy & paste a highlights reel of his review. If u actually wana read it just google ‘adrian searle chris ofili’ i’m not gonna link to it or post screenshots bc he is quite frankly a cretin. But i’m not gonna explain why his review was beyond problematic and actually kinda laughably preposterous; if you don’t know, i’m not gonna explain it to you. Too often poc are asked politely to perform free emotional labour explaining the trauma of ~all this~ to yt ppl. I am not that polite or generous today. Today I am tired. but the internet never forgets and i took receipts:
"Part Hindu or Balinese temple dancers, part Botticelli floosies, or ethnic exotics in a tourist-trap floorshow. Some have fanciful Fu Manchu beards and ornate moustaches.” (fu manchu is a rly tenuous reference when it comes to the problem-meter btw)
also: ETHNIC EXOTICS?????????????????????????????????¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿¿????????????????
“Beside the drinker on the beach, her naked companion plays a vaguely oriental stringed instrument and seems to sing"
“a woman in fancy evening wear, and on the other by a man (I suppose it is a he, but you can’t really tell, there being so many moustaches about the place) carrying a birdcage."
"Who knows what this exotic reverie means.”
“What elixir, what poison pours from the cocktail shaker?” - this isn’t problematic, it’s just extra and i literally laughed out loud when i read it.
Weaving Magic is on @ the National Gallery in the Sunley Room until 28th August