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b. 1967, United Kingdom

Merlin Carpenter Biography

For a first-time viewer a possible problem is not the realization that there are many layers, but not knowing how to use them. Someone with a vague knowledge of his work, based on gossip and internet material, would likely be puzzled and rather discouraged by a Merlin Carpenter exhibition when faced with all too obvious references that leap out but that seem to conceal others. The viewer would also be intrigued by the pure aesthetic of Carpenter's paintings, often visually pleasant ... Carpenter's press releases, which are informative and quite candidly literal, would only cause further disquiet, because the viewer can feel the obliqueness of the explanation. But it is necessary to work with this discouragement as a prerequisite. This is what Carpenter sets out to achieve. In fact we need to find another level of observation, taking in his numerous interventions, which often reference painting and sometimes operate in stealth mode away from the art world. At first influenced by debates on institutional critique in 80s New York/90s Cologne and a conceptual approach to painting, Carpenter broke away via a process of opposition, adjustment and exchange with other protagonists in this scene including artists, critics, gallerists, and curators, at the risk of a kind of disenchantment. But one which turned out to be productive in a wider frame. (Premise 1: engaging in a dialectic and knowing where we’re speaking from). Over the past two decades, Carpenter has made personal archaeological excavations of cultural situations linked to a recent history of art. For example, the staging in Paris of a corporate event faking a London 90s rave to talk about Tate Modern's gentrified rive gauche (Merlin and Isabelle BANKSIDE Launch, 2014). Or in Nice, a series of art school versions of Degas paintings shown in a café and an office, placing French art of the late 19th Century in relational aesthetics (Au Café, 2012). His interventions create a bipolar tension between contexts in order to play them against each other. (Premise 2: displacing contexts). Ultimately, these types of deployment and avoidance involve an analysis of institutions and the way the art system dictates its rules, establishing the value of artworks and attributing positions, roles, fictions, and meanings. If Carpenter chose not to resist an explanatory approach, the audience would be subjected to a set of responses explaining the work, undermining the viewers' own abilities to experience and interpret it for themselves; this way they are more likely to identify the subtle mechanisms of art reception and to find their own path. (Premise 3: working on independence). Alternately, we might find Carpenter playing a character without ever making this explicit, and casting his friends and the public as art world extras (The Opening, 2007–2009). Making the viewer feel awkward by creating exasperating, boring, embarrassing, but also hilarious situations, as well as having fun. These are ways of reconnecting with a freer atmosphere, other relationships, other codes eventually to be transgressed in turn. Some of his shows feel like a rock tour: they happen very quickly, but they’re designed to undermine their own style (Burberry Propaganda Tour 2013). The question is not how to put together good or bad exhibitions, but to generate instances of social intensity and transient art events. (Premise 4: creating a scene that has a use value).

Text by Catherine Chevalier

Merlin Carpenter Featured Artworks

Serious Title by Merlin Carpenter contemporary artwork
Merlin CarpenterSerious Title, 2017Wooden pallet
99 x 120 x 13 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Merlin Carpenter contemporary artwork
Merlin CarpenterUntitled, 2019Acrylic on linen
180 x 250 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
After John Hoyland 19.12.66, 2010 by Merlin Carpenter contemporary artwork
Merlin CarpenterAfter John Hoyland 19.12.66, 2010, 2017Cardboard, plastic and acrylic on canvas
215 x 360 x 5.5 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery
Amy Winehouse by Merlin Carpenter contemporary artwork
Merlin CarpenterAmy Winehouse, 2014Acrylic on canvas
152.4 x 152.4 cm
Simon Lee Gallery Contact Gallery

Merlin Carpenter Recent Exhibitions

View All (5)
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, WORDS at Simon Lee Gallery, London
10–31 July 2020 Group Exhibition WORDS Simon Lee GalleryLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Merlin Carpenter, Merlin Carpenter at Simon Lee Gallery, London
22 November 2019–18 January 2020 Merlin Carpenter Simon Lee GalleryLondon
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, New Pleasure at Simon Lee Gallery, New York
1 November–23 December 2017 Group Exhibition New Pleasure Simon Lee GalleryNew York

Merlin Carpenter Represented By

Simon Lee Gallery contemporary art gallery in Hong Kong Simon Lee Gallery Hong Kong, London

Merlin Carpenter In Related Press

Merlin Carpenter: Do Not Open Until 2081 Related Press Merlin Carpenter: Do Not Open Until 2081 27 October 2017, Artworks London

While the paintings are up on the wall in Merlin Carpenter's show Do Not Open Until 2081, there isn't much to see. They're covered in cardboard, packed and ready for transport. It's a sight familiar to many curators and art handlers - packing tape, stickers indicating inventory details and dates of transit. The general public may be forgiven for...

Fade out copy.
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