Keith Coventry breaks with painting for solo show of bronzes at The Bowes Museum

By Mark Sheerin | 26 July 2012
Colour photo of an empty bronze frame
Keith Coventry, Looted Shop Front (1995)© All rights reserved. Courtesy The Bowes Museum
Exhibition: Keith Coventry - Black Bronze White Slaves, The Bowes Museum, Durham, until September 16 2012

While known foremost as a painter, Keith Coventry takes a sculptural approach to framing. More than one collector has been denied a request to alter the three dimensional contexts of their would be acquisisitions.

Now, for the first time, the Burnley-born artist has a solo show of his sculptures, which share with his paintings an ironic distance between medium and subject matter. Bronze may have a rich heritage but it has been here repurposed to represent life in the meanest cultural bracket.

Among the many subjects Coventry has cast are kebabs, crack pipes and a looted shop front. But this is more than a simple case of fine artist slumming it. The crack pipes are a dark reply to a series of bottles painted by Italian Giorgio Morandi during the 1920s and 1930s.

Historians will recognise that the backdrop to this work was the rise of fascism. Morandi can therefore be seen as a painting addict, indifferent to everything except his next still life. One imagines Coventry’s entire Crack City series is aware of this artistic trap.

This punchy show at Bowes is a reminder that here is an artist of the same generation which threw up such once scandalising names as Hirst, Emin, Chapman or Lucas. And he did indeed take part in the groundbreaking Sensation exhibition.

But thanks in part to his mastery of traditional medium, these are works which don’t shout. And if with his diverse back catalogue Coventry now seems as close to the canon as any of the YBAs, it might just be a case of the tortoise and the several hares.

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