Visit The Aftermath Of An American Apocalypse In South London

Dan Colen, Newport Street Gallery ★★★★☆

Visit The Aftermath Of An American Apocalypse In South London Dan Colen, Newport Street Gallery 4
A mangled giant American flag greets us on entry. Photo: Prudence Cumings associates. Copyright Dan Colen & Victor Mara

A giant American flag is draped across the floor of a massive gallery, covered in dirt. Its flagpole is bent and the there is a 20 ton piece of concrete attached to the bottom of the pole as if this giant stars and stripes has been uprooted in an apocalyptic disaster of some kind. It feels like a film prop, and looks even stranger when housed here in the middle of a vast white walled gallery.

Welcome to the playful and dystopian world of artist Dan Colen, whose works are across both floors of Damien Hirst's Newport Street Gallery.

Glass whoopee cushions take us from fun to dangerous. Photo: Prudence Cumings associates. Copyright Dan Colen & Victor Mara

Colen doesn't do half measures as we can see in these large, unforgettable works. A life-size Scooby Doo moves up and down in front of us, breathing heavily, while cigarette butts and empty bottles line the perimeter of the gallery. A collection of chairs have whoopee cushions on them — but don't sit down as they're made of glass and may crack and splinter under a person's weight, transforming something fun into something dangerous.

We've found Scooby Doo. Though he doesn't look too happy about it. Photo: Prudence Cumings associates. Copyright Dan Colen & Victor Mara

One of the most impressive series of works are cut-outs resembling those cartoon moments when a character leaves the shape of their body in the wall they've just punched through. In this case, the artist has genuinely punctured the gallery walls so we can see the brickwork and steel within the cut-out. We're not sure how it was done, but the end result is superb.

The works on the walls are less effective, with phrases scrawled on to canvas and massive paintings made of rubbish and, in one case, hundreds of wads of chewing gum. While the scale is vast, they don't have that playful wit that Colen's sculptures have.

Large scale paintings are made up of found items and detritus. Photo: Prudence Cumings associates. Copyright Dan Colen & Victor Mara

It's Colen's fun sculptures that resonate most with us. A tipped over Kool-Aid mascot and Roger Rabbit laid flat out on the floor are the artist's way of sticking two fingers up at corporate branding and pop culture. While we enjoyed this exhibition a lot, we do wonder how Colen's work could become even stronger if the rest of it were to be as dark as his collapsed flag in the first room.

Newport Street Gallery has been open for two years and it's finding its feet by choosing to focus on artists who love the idea of art as a spectacle. This is a move in the right direction and this show is another success in that mould.

Dan Colen: Sweet Liberty at Newport Street Gallery is on until 21 January 2018. Entrance is free.

Last Updated 15 October 2017