Dog Show at Southwark Park Galleries

In these troubled times, there is real pressure on contemporary artists, and indeed galleries and institutions, to produce and commission art that is hard-hitting, thought provoking, cutting edge and politically vocal. But, in a moment in history where we are bombarded with trauma and conflict rippling through the world, we must devote time to momentarily removing ourselves from that reality, albeit for a short respite. ‘Dog Show’ at Southwark Park Galleries hits the spot perfectly; not only due to its light-hearted and fun subject matter, but also thanks to its location, as visitors can extend their peaceful time in the surrounding leafy Southwark Park.

Installation view: Dog Show, 2019. Installation photo by Damian Griffiths, courtesy of the artists and Southwark Park Galleries. 

In terms of big themes, the exhibition is self-explanatory; Southwark Park Galleries, formerly known as CGP London, is marking its thirty-fifth anniversary with a real people-pleaser. Its main pulls are that it is exhibiting works all about dogs and is, er, curated by dogs. The latter is so ridiculous that it’s best not to dwell on it too much, and you realise fairly quickly that these discerning dogs are in fact the companions of some high-profile art world names. While this is a sweet little gimmick, it genuinely doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the exhibition. There really is something for all tastes, from film to painting, installation to performance, and it is a pleasure to see internationally renowned artists stripped of seriousness and pretense; the exhibition is a wholesome experience that all can enjoy. Even the gallery assistants were charming and upbeat; it is just a lovely place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

David Shrigley, Hello There2012. Video still. Courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery. Copyright the artist.

The intimate relationships between dog and owner were not so much explored, but honed in on. David Shrigley’s video opening the exhibition, ‘Hello There’, imagined a cartoon dog speaking back to its human. The latter wasn’t present in the animation, whereas the dog was seen speaking and bounding back and forth. Using green, white and black, the simplicity of its production ventured beyond charming to being truly comforting; the idea of my beloved furry friend talking back to me is heavenly. Like Errol Drysdale's work later in the show, presenting dogs with voices and human features clearly shows the respective artists' close bond with their pets, and desire to understand them.

I remember being in an interview for a Gallery Assistant position a few years ago, and the conversation turned to my taste in art; my potential employer quipped that they'd be open to hearing about new artists "as long as they don't draw dogs". I had largely forgotten this exchange, and at the time I was pretty much in agreement, but this exhibition has really made me rethink my own tastes, and how we can all be open to enjoying things, however pedestrian they may seem. Babak Ganjei's paintings of dogs are beautiful in the simplest way, especially those in the Dilston Grove space, ('POISON', 'ANTHRAX' and 'KREATORS') using thick painted lines to create furry figures, with endearing little irregularities in their features. Imperfections found in Tim Spooner's 'Animal from The Assembly of Animals' sculpture are just as compelling, reiterating our love for the canines in our lives, regardless of any flaws.

Installation view: Dog Show, 2019. Installation photo by Damian Griffiths, courtesy of the artists and Southwark Park Galleries. 

An accompanying text by Philomena Epps surveys some of history's most revered artists and curators' close relationships with their dogs; it is certainly true that pets in our lives can shape our mannerisms, decisions and behaviour. Peggy Guggenheim being buried with her fourteen dogs and Georgia O'Keefe's six Chow Chows she referred to as her "little people" are bizarre highlights; the essay is probably best read prior to entering the exhibition, and is certainly relatable. Needless to say, 'Dog Show' will feel particularly special and heartwarming to visitors with their own, and while the rest of the art world spends August on summer break, the exhibition is the perfect way to shut out the world for an afternoon and bask in the loyalty of man's greatest companion.

Errol Drysdale, Dog & Football SceneCourtesy Errol Drysdale of Submit to Love Studio. Copyright the artist.

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