Galleries - January 2010

9. GALLERIES JANUARY 10 According to the French theorist Jean Baudrillard, contemporary society embraces nostalgia as a way to escape the boredom and ennui of everyday life. To feed and promote this addiction, big business and the mass media have created an alternate reality, which he famously labelled hyperreality, that is more believable than reality itself, although it is “the simulation of something which never really existed.” In a similar way, and with a painstaking, almost maniacal exactitude, Robert Kusmirowski builds installations that hint at a world lost in time. For his first solo exhibition in Britain, at Barbican Art Gallery 's The Curve until 10 January, Kusmirowski has meticulously fashioned a World War Two-style bunker in which a rusting, disused rail track spans a warren of crepuscular rooms littered with old documents, photographs and clothing. These haunted spaces contain a myriad of defunct communication systems, rusted generators, work stations and sleeping quarters that have either been built from scratch or collected by Kusmirowski from junk yards and demolition sites before being modified to exaggerate the effects of ageing and decay. There is a disorientating mix of eras and locations here: English- labelled machines stand adjacent to Polish documents that rest near to architectural plans for Barbican Art Gallery (significantly, built on a site razed by Nazi bombing) drawn up in 1975. Lest the atmosphere seem too martial and anti-German, one room contains a facsimile of the Evening Standard reporting on the carpet-bombing of Dresden undertaken, with terrible irony, on Valentine's Day in 1945. Kusmirowski's installation emphasises the drab banality of waging war, aiming to strip military conflict of any aura of heroism and glamour. You would think that two shows coming up in Wales between January and April would cause a head-on collision. This is because of the rift between critics who feel that landscape is a bland subject and those who wouldn’t give conceptual art house room. There is a lingering, limiting belief that certain subjects are bad because they are ‘traditional’ and others good because they are ‘modern’. So what should we make of ‘Cymru’, an exhibition of landscape paintings by five artists who not only are Welsh but speak the language too? According to MoMA Wales , their common tongue was an important reason for showing them together. The survival of Welsh is high on Wales’s political agenda, but their verbal language doesn’t affect the artists’ images. Their pictorial language does though. Here the siarad is of lowering skies, brooding hillsides, deep shadows and lots of slabby paint just as Kyffin Williams liked it. There are traces of the glorious Symbolist colours that Augustus John and John Dickson Innes used on their trip round north Wales in 1912 and the show has plenty of strong, convincing work: Wynne Jenkins’s gutsy, childlike painting of village buildings, Eglwys Sant Cadfan, Tywyn , David Lloyd Griffith’s sumptuously dark and dashing Autumn Sunshine, Dyffryn Dulas and Moel Siabod , and Tirlun Cymreig , Dylan Howells’s ironic take on the picturesque in a rubbish-strewn and war-torn world. His combination of jet fighters, junk, and rolling agricultural land (painted in the manner of Lionel Edwards’s fox-hunting scenes), also brings Colin Self’s subversive work to mind. And so it goes: not black and white but dark and light. Wales is big enough to encompass both without tears, as you’ll see next month when we visit 'Lucent Lines', a new installation by Simon Fenoulhet at Newport Museum & Art Gallery . BUNKER MENTALITY Pryle Behrman RIFT VALLEYS Caroline Juler R obert Kusmirowski ‘Bunker’ at the Barbican Art Gallery David LLoyd Griffith, ‘Autumn’ Moel Siabod & Nant B H at MoMA Wales