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Ellen Altfest, White Cube Hoxton Square, until 7 Jan 2012

  • Ice ice baby! This show is so cool that it almost feels like there's a foot of ice between the viewer and each painting. I can't help feeling that Ellen Altfest is just too scared to actually paint a whole person - which is a symptom of the current art world, the terror of being humiliated for just simply painting.


    The coolnes of the show hits you like an icy blast even before you've looked at a painting as the paintings are small and there's a very very 'cool' hang as you can see from the pictures below - it's just these small paintings in the big room with lots of space between each. I know this kind of minimalist hang was the thing a few years ago when I was at art school, it was almost more important than what you painted, but is it still really so important? It just seems a bit dated and says to me that the artist is again too scared to step outside the conventions of the art world.




    The paintings are beautfiully painted, there's no doubt about that, and there's a kind of abstract landscape of the body thing that the artist is going for which is alright, but is nothing really new. The paintings also obviously relate heavily to Lucian Freud, there's the same sense of detail, the same green plants in the background, and the same nakedness - the difference seems to be that where Freud wanted to get the fleshyness of the flesh, here it's actually a bit distanced. The paint is thin and precise not sloshed on with the sensuality Freud exhibits. Here it's more about control. 




    The same icyness is there with the imagery - even when there's the chance of seeing a face it's obscured by a cactus. The way Altfest paints the hair on the body is beautiful and clever, thin wisps of paint wind across the pictures and the way she had painted the rugs the models are lying on is beautiful. There is a real poetic quality to the quite classical contrasts of colour and form that she has brought to the paintings. Upstairs there are delicate drawings which focus more on the asbstract landscape element of the body, these are possibly more sucessful than the paintings in terms of the clarity of the idea, but not as interesting as the paintings.




    Overall you'll need to wear a thick coat - a very very cool show, that would have benefitted from the artist rebelling far more against the conventions of the art world.


    Ellen Altfest lives and works in New York. The show runs until January 7 2012 at White Cube, Hoxton Square, London N1 6PB