phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Street Hassle at the Marlborough Contemporary Gallery
Image Credit: © Luke Andrew Walker

Street Hassle at the Marlborough Contemporary Gallery

26 August 2017 Oskar Oprey

For their summer exhibition, Marlborough Contemporary are inviting us to take a walk on the wild side, staging a group show that aims to turn their London space into “an ambassador of New York Grit”; an embassy devoted to the gutter. Taking its title from Lou Reed’s 1971 tragicomic rock-song-cum-ballad of the same name (which documents the “mundane and harrowing details of New York life”) the show brings together a small but powerful selection of works from seven artists, working over a 40-year period. From Andy Warhol to Nate Lowman, each has scoured the sidewalks of Manhattan for subject matter and raw material.

Upon entry, two of John Ahearn’s trademark plaster portraits - Steve Cannon and Tiffany - immediately grab your attention. Bright, alluring and almost folksy, Ahearn’s work seems to spring out from the wall, like figureheads from ancient sailing ships. Instead of Mermaids and Greek Gods, he portrays his ordinary South Bronx neighbours, from friends and fellow artists to the poor, the drug-addicted and the marginalised - those that are often excluded from contemporary society in general, let alone the art world. They have an optimistic, unifying aura that seems particularly relevant given the current climate; a larger exhibition of Ahearn’s work in London is long overdue.


Installation View © Luke Andrew Walker

Works by Andy Warhol and Anne Collier, displayed a few feet away from each other, create a chilling (but morbidly fascinating) frisson when taking into account their subject matter and historical context. Collier, famed for her use of photographic appropriation, exhibits a fairly recent piece from 2011 entitled Valerie: a small stack of books, only their thin spines visible, is juxtaposed against a stark white background. Closer inspection reveals them to be different editions of the same title, The Scum Manifesto, radical feminist Valerie Solanas’ call to arms to rid the world of what she perceived to be its main problem: the entire male population. Solanas was the sole member of S.C.U.M. (the Society for Cutting Up Men) but is more widely remembered for her attempted murder of Andy Warhol. Convinced that the famous pop artist (whom she had a loose association with) was trying to steal her ideas, she shot him at point blank range at his downtown studio in the summer of 1968.


Installation View © Luke Andrew Walker

Surviving, but never really recovering from the incident, Warhol spent the rest of his life in fear of a second attempt by his would-be assassin. Valerie, after her release from prison and various mental hospitals, didn’t ease his mind with her repeated and threatening phone calls. Her manifesto, originally self-published and hawked on street corners, has become a much reprinted and fetishised collector’s item, as is apparent in Collier’s photograph. Valerie’s inclusion - in an indirect, roundabout kind of way - in the same group show as her silver-haired nemesis creates a dark, ironic subtext to the work. It should come as no surprise that poor, terrified Andy’s contribution to the show, cowering in the corner, is a black and white silkscreen of sharpened kitchen knives. The two torment each other in death as they did in life.

The threat of violence crops up again in Walter Robinson’s Crime, the most recent of the 11 pieces on display. The foul deed in question has yet to be committed, but we can be sure the victim is the young woman whose portrait takes up the forefront of the painting. Our eyes follow her gaze, glancing apprehensively over her shoulder at the barely rendered villain – just a few slapdash black brushstrokes – lurking only a few feet behind. We can all probably recall at least one occasion, wandering down a late-night London street, where we had the distinct and dreadful feeling that someone was following us. Not all the works on show relate to doom and gloom, and Robinson’s second, earlier painting of some yet to be opened beer bottles hint towards the fun and celebratory experiences that can unfold on our streets. 


Installation View © Luke Andrew Walker

The Marlborough Gallery acknowledge the irony of hosting this exhibition in a plush, fancy gallery in Albermarle Street, whose windows look out onto the Alexander Wang store below, claiming that the works in Street Hassle will have a “particular resonance transplanted to polished Mayfair”. Would this exhibition be better suited to a rapidly changing London borough such as Dalston or Peckham? Somewhere with more of an historic affiliation with the kind of not-so-old New York these artworks deal with? Mayfair was never gritty, and has always been a wealthy part of town; you’d be forgiven for thinking that the only crimes committed on these streets are diamond heists and the shoplifting of luxury clothing. 

But then again – even long-term Kensington and Chelsea residents are under threat from soaring rents and rapid gentrification. London and New York are cities in a state of flux; Street Hassle offers a welcome pedestal to the elements of city life – both good and bad – that can’t be micromanaged by property developers and planning departments.

Street Hassle runs at the Marlborough Contemporary Gallery till 23 September. Entry is free.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ exhibition

Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ exhibition

Wes Anderson latest film Isle of Dogs, his second animated film after Fantastic Mr. Fox, hits London cinemas on 30 March and since it was…

Top 5: Best Museum Gift Shops in London

Top 5: Best Museum Gift Shops in London

No longer the realms of fridge magnets, plastic rulers and mugs with a logo on them, these shops are becoming increasingly swish, offering more unusual…

Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects

Suspect Objects Suspect Subjects

An exhibition at Richmix in Shoreditch

Ted Baker ‘Colour by Numbers’ Pop-Up

Ted Baker ‘Colour by Numbers’ Pop-Up

Drop in for some free fun activities

Roy’s People Art Fair

Roy’s People Art Fair

London has its fair share of art fairs but this one is different: Sam Peacock and Roy Tyson are both artists themselves and founded the…

Handel & Hendrix Friday Late

Handel & Hendrix Friday Late

Explore Mayfair's history for Museums at Night

Politics and photography: London exhibitions this spring

Politics and photography: London exhibitions this spring

This spring, London is awash with exhibitions that celebrate the diverse possibilities of photography. But rather than simply asking the viewer to appreciate the…

Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: 1918 – 2018

Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace: 1918 – 2018

Michael St Maur Sheil explores the significant international contribution to the war effort in this final exhibition in the Fields of Battle, Lands of Peace series.

Chang Sensory Trails

Chang Sensory Trails

A multi-sensory experience in partnership with 8 Thai chefs, returns to London in May

Most popular

Win a Year’s Supply of Beer with Chang Sensory Trails

Chang Beer - Win a Year’s Supply of Beer with Chang Sensory Trails

We are giving one lucky winner the chance to win a year’s supply of popular Thai beer, Chang.
Win a Gourmet Cinema Club Experience with Bubbly for Two

Gourmet Cinema Club - Win a Gourmet Cinema Club Experience with Bubbly for Two

Enjoy an indulgent movie night at a private cinema in the heart of London with its own exclusive screening room.
Win a pair of tickets for the screening of Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

More2Screen and Curzon Soho - Win a pair of tickets for the screening of Matthew Bourne’s Cinderella

The dreamy fairytale by Britain's most loved dance maker hits the big screen and you can get involved in a special Q&A session!
Top 5: Circus in London

Top 5: Circus in London

It's a special year for the art form
Get 2-4-1 Tickets to this Year’s Fair!

Country Living Spring Fair - Get 2-4-1 Tickets to this Year’s Fair!

Browse a brilliant mix of talented designer-makers and passionate artisan producers at this year's fair!
Win Breakin’ Convention ‘18 Merchandise!

Breakin' Convention - Win Breakin’ Convention ‘18 Merchandise!

One lucky person has the chance to win a Breakin' Convention '18 T-shirt and backpack.
Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ exhibition

Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ exhibition

Get close and marvel at the detail of his latest stop motion film
An Interview with Anush Hovhannisyan

An Interview with Anush Hovhannisyan

The young soprano talks about life as an opera singer
Family Friendly Activities this Easter

Family Friendly Activities this Easter

Bunnies, butterflies and baby animals are all competing for attention!

Your inbox deserves a little culture!!