What's on in London: Tracey Emin builds a helter-skelter

Unsettling excesses at Stephen Friedman and various ponderings on places and no-places at Milch, Corvi Mora, Timothy Taylor and Emily Tsingou


Such is the conspicuousness of Tracey Emin in what seems like every aspect of London life that it is hard to believe her current exhibition at White Cube2 is her first solo show in the capital for nearly four years. It is also the first time that she has had either of Jopling’s White Cubes to herself since she launched herself on the artworld with “My major retrospective” in 1993. But despite fame, fortune, going steady and giving up spirits, Ms Emin is at pains to stress that, psychologically at least, she is by no means on Easy Street. She describes her new neons, appliquéd blankets, paintings and films as “bordering from [sic] the formal to the insane” and, as a symbol of her enduring instability, she has constructed an 11-foot-high helter-skelter from salvaged wood which she describes as follows:“Helter-fucking-skelter—it doesn’t matter how good things are, how good life is, it only takes one little knock to start the never ending downward spiral, for me every moment of reality is a balance.” Prices range from £1,000 to £100 000.

More downward momentum in the lowlands of South London with “Avalanche”, Hales Gallery’s mixed show of four artists who “combine a delicate touch with a forceful constructive or destructive process in the making of their work.” These toyings with notions of cataclysm include the routed-out painting-cum-sculpture-cum drawings of the currently ubiquitous D.J. Simpson, the dusty layerings of Jonathan Callan, the fantasy cityscapes of Graham Seaton and Goshka Macuga’s manipulations of foil-backed plasterboard.

For those in search of a hit of the sublime while wandering the mean streets of Piccadilly, there is a new light installation by James Turrell at Michael Hue Williams.

For his new sculpture installation at Stephen Friedman Yinka Shonibare uses his trademark batik cotton to create his own post-colonial version of Fragonard’s “The swing”. The frothy excesses of the Rococo are given very different connotations when remade in exotic textiles which carry a raft of colonial history: Indonesian in design, but printed in Holland, and taken to Britain for export to West Africa.

There is more playing with excess and decadence in a concurrent show of photographs over the river in Vauxhall’s Dolland Street where Shonibare continues to explore his anachronistic Victorian dandy persona in a series of 12 large scale images based on that ultimate tale of male narcissism and its malign consequences: Oscar Wilde’s The portrait of Dorian Gray.

Keith Wilson is probably best known as the maker of one of the most anti-monumental of public art works of recent years, a man-made puddle which only became visible after rainfall. He has also exhibited lengths of white fencing like those at race courses, but his “Leaning rails” are just that, and just cordon off a slice of space.T he card for his current show at Milch is an image of anti-matter swirling inside a CERN particle accelerator, with the title “Make it snow”. Knowing Wilson, he just might.

Liam Gillick continues to ponder notions of (non-)existence in his first exhibition at Corvi Mora, in which four of his quasi-architectural structures accompany a book that has a typically brain-tickling title of “Literally no place” (although in true Gillick style, he stresses that this is just a “provisional” title) This “speculative” show also includes a film that ponders the impact of our desires on our urban surroundings. Puzzled? Many are, but maybe that is OK now that we apparently living in what Gillick calls a “post-consensus environment”.

Sophy Rickett’s photographs at Emily Tsingou are taken in specific places, but darkness blots out everything except what she wants you to see: an expanse of grass, a swathe of light beneath a lamp post, the trunks of pine trees, a tiny figure caught in a beam in the middle distance. She describes these precise, but enigmatic, images as taking the viewer “everywhere and nowhere”—a stark contrast to her nocturnal photographs of the mid-Nineties, in which smartly dressed young women were photographed making their mark on their surroundings by copiously urinating upon clearly recognisable bridges, pavements and walkways throughout London, and, what is more, doing it standing up.

You know absolutely where you are in Andrew Grassie’s small, deadpan paintings of contemporary art exhibitions at major London galleries, including Tate Modern’s “Century city”, the Saatchi’s “I am a camera” and the RA’s “Apocalypse”. But there is something uncanny about the immaculate emptiness of these spaces and the fact that the works of art and the fixtures and fittings all receive equal emphasis. In his two concurrent shows at the Approach and Mobile Home, Grassie is also showing new works in which he edits out the surroundings and zeroes-in on individual artist’s works, repainting some of the classic pieces of conceptual and minimalist art by major figures such as Chuck Close, Malcolm Morley, Agnes Martin and Fischli and Weiss.

Jean-Marc Bustamente uses all manner of media: paintings, photographs, even live birds, and often works on a grand scale to capture the most fleeting and elusive moments. At Timothy Taylor he combines luscious, dramatic giant photographs taken in the area around the Swiss lakes with “Aquarama 1”, a steel-and-glass vitrine sculpture, and “Never-the-less”, a painting on plexiglass, all of which are meant to form their own relationships with each other and the viewer and underline “the experience of vision”.

Richard Prince, on the other hand, trawls a less elevated subject matter to tap into the communicative power and expressive qualities of the most banal, discarded and overlooked fragments of popular culture. Bad jokes, B-movies, billboard cowboys and biker chicks all rear up and receive star treatment, courtesy of one of America’s most important living artists who is showing new photographic works at Sadie Coles this month.