John Korner at Victoria Miro London

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Fallen Fruit from Frisland was a show that one could easily walk into, look quickly around, and equally quickly dismiss as a bit “playful” and littered with a few colourful yet washed-out pretty pictures, a show completely overwhelmed by soaring, cathedral-like space of Victoria Miro gallery up near the canals and basins off City Road. The centrepiece of the art seems to be a floor carpeted in geometric blue and grey, with a large ramp near the end of the room and a boat filled with bulbous ceramic pots.

But I think that would be the wrong impression. The floor, to start with the most obvious, stands up to the space. The ramp recalls Hokusai’s wave, channelled through a skateboard park; the carpet itself is no simply-repeated geometry, but rather has some subtle changes and modulations near the top of the ramp. I found myself walking on and around the ramp, looking closely at the boat, trying to make sense of the (singly) monochromatic, but very textured, pots. Although this is completely different from the Minimalist art of Judd and Serra, the viewer is similarly prompted to investigate, circumnavigate, and probe the sculptural element, in the way that Michael Friend described memorably as “theatrical”.

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Drawn in, I paid a lot more attention to the paintings. Deceptively simplistic, they use veils of dilute acrylic to create a shimmering effect, as the white ground shines through, evoking the flat lands and shining sea of the artist’s native Frisia, a coastland in southern Denmark. The dark cavernous space, again, works symbiotically with the art as the spotlights really ping off the white canvases (with the vibration from nearby construction work causing one of painting to vibrate, a minor distraction). The images, while clearly figurative, have more than sufficient abstraction to impose a certain seriousness and austerity to the work. To use a wine analogy, we look for structure and tannins (read abstraction and geometry) to balances fruit and enable longevity in the wine (read luscious skeins of paint and colour and line), to give us something to offset the apparent likeability, to add a little bitter to the sweetness.

I suppose I’d end with two loose threads for further exploration: the spelling “Frisland”, as opposed to Frisia or Friesland, refers to a mythical land, sometimes associated with Iceland, and it’s not clear if this is an intended allusion by the artist; secondly, the sea-light that comes through in these works recalls the work of another Northern low-lander, Willem De Kooning: I refer mainly to the late works, done in East Hampton, again under the influence of the nearby sea.

Late De Kooning painting
Late De Kooning painting