Allan Sutherland reviews Shape's new popup gallery at Westfield Shopping Centre in Stratford.
The Shape Art Gallery is Shape’s new pop-up gallery in the Westfield Shopping centre, near the Olympic Park in Stratford. This is Shape’s second such gallery, and it is now committed to a programme of pop-up galleries presenting the work of disabled artists.
Shape’s previous pop-up, in Gracechurch Street, was magnificiently spacious, but very obviously a City of London office block. The new gallery is a modern retail space, shop windows looking in on the classic white box - a very professional looking gallery space.
The gallery’s mission statement, up on the walls in large letters, states that it ‘showcases work by some of the UK’s most talented disabled artists, helping to make great art accessible’.
The opening show, some eighty pieces by twenty artists, is deliberately eclectic. Perhaps the darkest are Juan Delgado’s ‘Wounded Image’ series, large photos of imaginary crime scenes. Jason Wilsher-Mills uses an iPad to produce colouful but harsh images with more than a touch of George Grosz. (Mills describes himself as someone who makes art which explores his disability, though that is less on display here than in some of his other work.)
Vivi-Mari Carpelan makes Max Ernst-style collages, something I always have a weakness for. Michael Cooms’s sculpture directly-titled sculpture ‘Dyslexia’ shows a computer keyboard distorted into a wave shape. It’s a slightly ambiguous piece - is this an embodiment of problems with writing or an expression of agression towards its mechanisms?
Some of the strongest works are from Shape’s permanent collection, including Tom Shakespeare’s 2009 photographic piece ‘Figure with Meat (after Bacon)’, and James Lake’s terrific 1998 sculpture ‘Sitting Without Purpose’.
A back room contains the reel of videos from the Shape Open 2013, including Eric Fong’s ‘Reflection 01' , Katharine Araniello’s ‘Pity’ (the Winner and Runner-up - this was a strong year for digital video) and Stephen Lee Hodgkins’s ‘A War Against Disabled People’.
The exhibition also includes Noemi Lakmaier’s installation ‘The Oberver Effect’, where the artist paints pairs of old shoes with bright blue road-marking paint. Presented in a Westfield shop window, surrounded by clothes shops, this piece takes on a contextual meaning absent in its previous incarnations.
One important aspect of the new gallery is that quite a lot of the work is on sale, at substantial prices. They have already sold one of Juan delGado’s pictures, priced at about two grand. I approve heartily of this. It is part of the job of arts organisations to help artists make a living from their work - a responsibility that is too frequently neglected.
The programme for the coming year is a full one: regular changes of exhibition, including the next Shape Open, and an exhibition of work from NDACA. Shortlist 6, the exhibition of artists shortisted for this year’s Adam Reynolds Bursary runs from 18 June to 16 August. There will always be work from Shape’s permanent collection on show.
Shape’s Artists Networking Meetings will take place here, and a back room will be adapted into an artist’s workspace, allowing Shape to set up residencies. Another room will be used for film and video presentations.
Shape Arts Gallery, 155 The Street, Westfield Stratford City Shopping Centre, E20 1EN.