I wanted ‘Affinities: Jasmine Thomas-Girvan & Chris Ofili’ at David Zwirner in Mayfair to be a lot better than it was. I’d never been before. Waiting until 10 past 6 to make the final move from Green Park to the Private View, I walked past one corporate gallery after another, boutiques that looked like galleries, tourists, sentries, taxis, and found myself at the entrance to Mr Zwirner’s place. It roared with the incessant mingling of art-types. I spotted the free glasses of wine. I made my entrance.
I’m not entirely sure what in particular was the force behind this coupling. What affinity they shared. Why it is necessary that these artists are placed together, despite them being friends for the last 20 years in Trinidad and having a mutual respect for each other’s work?
Thomas-Girvan’s sculptures were fine. They were strange, mostly black, with gold and red flourishes, full of human and inhuman gestures and symbols, words and chicken heads. The work layers intricate detail onto absurdist features, it carefully weaves playful shapes in the metalwork, all culminating in her best piece; a circular banquet table in the final room of the top floor. Packed full of flowing lines and knives and masks and figures and hands and Latin, the unsavoury condiments consume the table and drip off it. Its technical mastery was felt more than its spiritual ambitions. The myths and legends and stories that influenced it did not come to the surface as quickly as thinking ‘wow that’s intricate’.
The amount of ‘play’ between the two artists wasn’t exactly exhilarating. Neither artist’s work enhanced the other. Flanking many of these sculptures were Ofili’s paintings, some of which were great and some of which were less great but still good. All stemming from the same myth, they are works of shimmering, amphibious beauty, defined by the indefinable bodies that take centre stage.
I wanted them to be more beautiful than they actually were; I wanted to say to people, ‘OH, those Ofili paintings are b. e. a. utiful!’, but just I couldn’t bring myself to do so – partly because I didn’t believe it, and partly because I wasn’t talking to anyone. Calypso and Odysseus; lovers, mixed up and reimagined for our eyes. The gold was delicious, but it wasn’t delicious enough. The colours did shimmer, but their impact wasn’t fully realised. It felt muted, submerged, nearly boring. When the beauty of Ofili’s painting failed to materialise, Thomas-Girvan’s work did not pick up the slack in terms of impact.
It felt like a waste of time coming to Dave’s. The show was forgotten about almost as soon as I left the gallery doors. Affinities shares no special affinity with me.
‘Affinities: Jasmine Thomas-Girvan & Chris Ofili’ at David Zwirner, 30 August – 21 September 2019, 24 Grafton Street, London.
Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Virtue [detail], 2019 © Jasmine Thomas-Girvan, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner