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Parasol Unit: An evening with David Batchelor and Matthew Collings 02/04/2009

From:     Chris Guillochon
Category: Art
Date:     07 April 2009
Time:     12:23 PM


I am at Parasol Unit to see an exhibition of work by American minimalist artist, Robert Mangold. I time 
my visit to coincide with a talk by art critic Matthew Collings who will discuss the exhibition and the 
artist's work in a wider context. I've read Matthew's book This is Modern Art and I like the 
straightforward manner in which he talks about art; coming into art from a banking background, I 
sometimes struggle to understand and get frustrated by over-elaborate art language and literature.

This is my first visit to Parasol Unit which is a not for profit gallery. It is vast, with huge white spaces on 
different floors. Robert Mangold's art is on display throughout the gallery; there are three groups of his 
work, the X, + and Frame Paintings series, all from the 1980s. My instant impression is positive  I 
particularly like how the work seems to float from the wall.

I make my way up to the second level where the talk is taking place; there are already about 50 
people in attendance. In this part of the gallery are Mangold's + series of works; they are made up of 
square and rectangular canvases of varying dimensions, both in length and width, finished with 
forceful colour combinations. Each work has a hand drawn pencil line which the press release 
says 'forms the figure that moves the eyes from the centre to the edges of the work'.

Matthew Collings begins the talk by raising several points as a topic of conversation: he questions, for 
example, the basis of the work; is it the pencil marks, the form or the colour? What is the context that 
the work was created in; what was New York like in the 1980s? What is the relationship between the 
work and the wall that it hangs from? He then proceeds to discuss these issues with fellow speaker, 
David Batchelor, artist and senior tutor in Critical Theory at the RCA; he then invites the audience to 
Matthew doesn't disappoint. Like his writing, he tackles the subject at hand in a straightforward way 
that I clearly understand. To put this in perspective, there is a lady in the audience who participates 
actively but tries to make the conversation increasingly flowery, which is exactly what irritates me; she 
describes Mangold's work using phrases like 'utopian'. It delights me when Matthew disagrees with 
her as to the 'utopian' aspect of the work.

This is my first time at a talk of this nature and I enjoy it immensely. I think the exhibition is great, 
although, the similarity of the work on display does saturate you after a while. 

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