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Culture: International artist brines first one-man show to the UK; Visual arts Terry Grimley reviews exhibitions byJurgen Partenheimerand Ruth Claxton at Ikon Gallery.

Byline: Terry Grimley

The German artist Jurgen Partenheimer works in a range of media including sculpture and ceramics, but it seems that he is primarily a painter.

Internationally-trained with a grounding in philosophy, he is regarded as one of Germany's most distinguished artists, and given the lengthy list of international exhibitions in which he has participated, from Amsterdam to Sao Paolo, New York to Beijing, it seems surprising that he is only now having his first one-man show in the UK.

He was born in 1947 and his work has been described as "post-minimalist", although it seems to me to have an earlier modernist aesthetic. In particular I was struck - quite forcibly in several instances - by a kinship with the work of the British painter William Scott, more than 30 years his senior.

Scott gradually abstracted a repertoire of simple forms from kitchen still-lifcs to evolve a similar visual language, not least in the use of black lines over heavily-worked white backgrounds. You see something that looks very similar in a painting like Partenheimer's Ada 1, with its spare use of pink and yellow shapes alongside black and white.

As with Scott, it's easier to like what Partenheimer's paintings look like than to explain what's good about them to sceptics.

While much of his work has a cool, almost ascetic quality, the sensuality of colour comes to the forte in O.T.., where a large yellow lozenge shape floats in pink. The effect is like a humming musical chord, and in fact Partenheimer has added a literal musical dimension in the form of a score specially composed by Kevin Volans and recorded by Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. But the impact of what amounts to intermittent outbursts of string, wind and percussion sound is disappointing.

The exhibition has an unusual outpost at Perrott's Folly, supposedly one of Tolkien's two towers, in Edgbaston. Here Partenheimer has installed something different - a suspended metal sculpture, a painting, wall-mounted ceramic pieces, a painted pot - on each floor. But here his work is overpowered by the extraordinary building itself, which is open to the public for the first time in 20 years.

Meanwhile, Ikon is devoting its top floor gallery to a show by Ruth Claxton, a Birmingham-based artist who has been enjoying national success.

It's good to see a member of the city's steadily building art community achieving recognition, and I would like nothing better than to be able to enthuse about her work. Unfortunately it leaves me so indifferent that I can't even be bothered to be irritated by it. Her installation, Land's End, certainly takes you aback when you first walk into the gallery, which is stacked up with painted metal structures, incorporating painted discs and mirrors, that look a bit like drum-kits. On them are mounted numerous cheap ceramic figurines whose heads have been modified in a variety of surreal ways. Placing a mirror at an angle in the corner adds to the generally disorientating effect.

The other rooms introduce variations on the theme, with floor-based pieces and some high on the walls, featuring birds on looping metal shelves that suggest extravagant pencil scrawls.

Clearly part of a highly-developed kitsch strand in contemporary art, these pieces will perhaps mean more to some visitors than they did to me.

Jurgen Partenheimer: Discontinuity, Paradox & Precision and Ruth Claxton: Land's End are on view until May 18 at Ikon Gallery Brindleyplace (Tue-Sat 11am-6pm; free). The Jurgen Partenheimer exhibition is also at Perrott's Folly, Waterworks Road, Edgbaston until May 25 (Thur-Sun 1pm-5pm; admission free).


A detail of Lands End by Ruth Claxton and Carmen (2006) by Jurgen Partenheimer
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 15, 2008
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