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White Cube - Neal Tait

Neal Tait
The burnished ramp
5 June - 5 July 2003

White Cube is pleased to present a new group of paintings by British artist Neal Tait. Tait is a painter whose subjects are always contingent and this exhibition brings together a series of new works that demonstrate his concerns with painting as an exploratory process, whereby meaning can be suggested through the handling of paint itself. In these paintings large areas of canvas remain blank, creating the feeling of open-ended, expanded works which seem to suggest many different narratives; transparent washes and thin skeins of paint describing simple, informal structures. These works seem to display an extreme version of figuration, which, through their flat, reduced palette, push the limits of representation.


Neal Tait
Green Sledge
Acrylic on canvas
39 3/8 x 29 1/2 in. (100 x 75 cm)

In 2002, Tait spent several months living and working in Rome, and the background of architectural fantasy, as well as baroque and faded beauty informs much of this new work, providing the filter for a series of paintings that suggest a subdued history of distress, violence and absolution. They allude to romantic narratives that carry with them their own inherent destruction. Tait describes this position as dualistic in the sense that sometimes his works offer-up no easy conclusions but instead seem to take on a charge quite independently of his own painterly ability. In one large canvas, for example, vaporous clouds of silver and grey reveal etched flowers partially rubbed away: an antique mirror, defiled by hasty, scratched graffitti. In another, two figures emerge out of a stain of orange and red, floating amid the untouched white of the raw canvas. In another, a simplified dovecote is surrounded at its base by a series of protean almost human shapes, twisting and arching as if absorbed in some ritualistic, totemic dance.

These paintings are solemn, entropic, shadowy images that reveal themselves once the picture is finished, emerging out of a kind of collapse, at an unpredictable moment of resolution that can often be abrupt and inconclusive. Deliberately open-ended, they activate a viewing process that encourages timely contemplation. They appear mute, in the sense that their syntax is purely internal and hermetic and non-referential to a readable or familiar world. Instead, they seem to offer-up the visual evidence of a trail of thought, their architectural elements seeming more akin to something mental, psychologically driven in its intent. A figure in one painting, for instance, is depicted abstractly through a series of elongated lines that seem to extend into the supporting chair and the background of the painting itself. In another, the branches of a tree become a fantasy ladder with an unknown destination. Animate and inanimate objects morph into each other through a deliberately disruptive use of scale: a body lays prone, floating behind a lampshade, wrapping around its base in a band of mustard yellow.

Tait often works from various types of source material – an image in a magazine, a sketch from the imagination, or as is most often the case, a photograph. He often reworks paintings over a length of time, adding and subtracting elements according to the internal dynamic of the painting, which is sometimes bold and at other times obscure. In the past, Tait has explored a series of given, irreducible structures such as a group of suburban houses, simplified to their most basic elements – four walls, a window and a roof. In these new paintings, there is a similar distillation at work, where a thought process has been reduced to an ineffable subject, darkly emotional and suggestive of a burgeoning psychological drama.

In 2002 Neal Tait had a solo show at Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin and exhibited in ‘Painting on the Move’, Kunsthalle Basel.


Neal Tait
Acrylic on canvas
23 5/8 x 19 11/16 in. (60 x 50 cm)

For further information please contact Honey Luard or Susannah Hyman on 020 7930 5373.
Open Tuesday to Saturday 10am – 6pm.

Stephen White
Courtesy Jay Jopling/White Cube (London)


Josiah McElheny
5 – 28 June 2003

The oeuvre of Josiah McElheny proposes, literally and conceptually, a keen reflection on the essence and limits of artistic creation and the tensions between reconstructing and imagining history; between the fabricated and the appropriated object; the original and the copy; between architecture and the objects it contains; the notion of display and how it affects our viewing of an object. With his earlier glass recollections of objects linked to historical or literary episodes with explanatory texts in museological style, McElheny managed to build a bridge between tradition and modernity, while questioning the nature of the artistic object.

Josiah McElheny

Gathering first-hand expertise and knowledge from different cultural quarters of the glass-making industry has assisted McElheny in developing a critical attitude to glassmaking, to work both inside and outside of his chosen idiom. An expert and erudite glassblower himself, he deconstructs the industry not as a moralizing postmodern gesture, but rather for himself in order to inhabit other, more fertile identities that allow him to move freely between different zones of cultural knowledge and bodies of individual knowledge, to create new images and expanded meanings for the same world. A true ‘master of glass’ in terms of his deep understanding of the literal and metaphorical potentials of his medium, he is also an interloper, an extraterritorial, in every sense of the word.
His work with mirrors, for example, not only involves making objects to be physically apprehended, but equally the history of the mirror as object and the history of reflectivity, and how these interdependent histories have been affected over time by changing technical, aesthetic, philosophical and cultural attitudes. As he succinctly observes: “Although mirrors are objects, we don’t really perceive them as such; we tend to think of them only in terms of functionality, as reflecting surfaces fused to the wall, but historically, they were objects in themselves, important architectural features, windows onto other worlds. We take the perfection of the mirrored surface for granted now, but the mirror was a very different physical object at different points in history, and the reflection it created always related to how people saw themselves at any given time.”

His earliest work on this subject, The History of Mirrors (1998) told the story of the technological development of the mirror, from the polished volcanic obsidian or ‘dark glass’ to the heavily decorated mirrors of the eighteenth century. This was followed by a work directly inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s poetry and essays on the subject that discusses mirrors in both a Western and an Eastern sense, the former being an image of the self communicated through the science of optics, the latter being the glimpsing of the self in imperfect reflecting materials such as polished stone or wood. Borges’s verse reveals that both genres of mirrors and their “uninhabitable, impossible space of reflection” disturb him in that their clarity or distortion show him “another Borges,” separate from himself, unattainable. Possible Mirrors (2002) employed yet another scale and rhythm to explore the disturbing place of Borges’s perception where images are formed, arrested and subjected to a process of ever-changing potentiality.

In his recent exhibition in New York Theories of Reflection, which made reference to a wide range of historical figures from seventeenth century polymath Anathasius Kircher to twentieth century utopian Buckminster Fuller, McElheny spun his investigations of reflectivity into dizzying new sculptural dimensions. Working entirely in blown mirror glass and mirrored displays, he created reflective objects designed to inspire reflection, a rhetorical construct that proposed contemplation as a function of physical effects. Buckminster Fuller’s Proposal to Isamu Noguchi for the New Abstraction of Total Reflection materialized the imagined results of Fuller’s claim that Noguchi had invented a new shadowless abstraction of totally reflective objects. (Their original conversation happened in the late 1920s when Noguchi had just returned from apprenticeship with Brancusi, where his job was to polish the sculptures to a reflective level beyond the human eye's ability to perceive); fittingly, McElheny’s usual clear conceptual strategies turned into an enthralling visual labyrinth of order and chaos.

Continuing his exploration of how ideas become intertwined, informed and extended by their form in materiality in a large-scale work Model for Total Reflective Abstraction (after Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi), perhaps the ultimate work of this mirror-glass series, a large floating plane or landscape of mirror provides a base on which sits a landscape, model, or “garden” of McElheny’s interpretations of Noguchi’s sculptural forms in all materials, all rendered in totally reflective handmade glass. Importantly, this work departs from a true historical anecdote, re-imagining, and thus heightening, the possible consequences of that narrative.

Josiah McElheny studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, training extensively with master glassblowers in Europe and the U.S. His work was the subject of a survey exhibition at the Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea in Santiago di Compostela, Spain in 2002.

Inside the White Cube will be open from Tuesday through Saturday, 10am – 6pm, with changing exhibitions opening on the first Tuesday of every month. Inside the White Cube can also be followed as a sub-site on the White Cube website: For further information please contact Susannah Hyman or Honey Luard on 020 7930 5373.

Inside the White Cube is generously presented in association with Dornbracht, /, the German manufacturer of high-quality design fittings, accessories and interiors.


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