The overlap of the Michelangelo Pistoletto exhibition Pistoletto Politico at Luxembourg & Dyan and Giuseppe Penone’s Spazio di Luce at the Whitechapel Art Gallery allowed formal and conceptual flickers of reflection to pass between the two. The burnished steel surfaces of Pistoletto’s Mirror Paintings from the 1960s, four of which featured in Pistoletto Politico, explore the mirror’s simultaneous incorporation and exclusion of the viewer, correlating its ability to unify, multiply, split and fragment with the contradictions of political consciousness. In Penone’s seminal 1970 action Rovesciare i Propri Occhi (To Reverse One’s Eyes), documented by the archival display contextualising Penone’s Bloomberg Commission, the artist obscured his vision with mirrored contact lenses that reconfigured his sensory relationship to the environment, while integrating glassy fragments of the landscape into his body.
You needed to be brave to sit for your portrait with Alice Neel. The title of her recent retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Painted Truths, goes some way to suggest why – the honesty, both physical and psychological, with which Neel wielded her brush, was intense and rigorous, at times almost cruel.
Take her portrait of curator and poet Frank O’Hara. Although an opportunity to impress a key figure of the 1960s New York art scene, this did not incline Neel to flattery. O’Hara’s face is picked out with jittery brushstrokes, a spatter of brown dots across his forehead suggesting the liver spots of encroaching age, while rictus lines around his mouth pull his expression into a pained grimace. O’Hara is alert but tired, keyed up with anxiety – there is no attempt to sugarcoat.
Nick Waplington’s latest show at the Whitechapel Laboratory is a slow burner. It’s surely permissible after all to feel disheartened when presented with a slew of 1,000 photographs trawled from image-sharing Internet sites. Photographs like these – generic landscapes, family parties, friends going out, getting pissed and getting off with each other – are all too familiar for anyone with a facebook or myspace account, and are usually only of any interest those who took or feature in them. This almost painfully generic commonality, however, is precisely what makes the exhibition splutter into life, generating provocative questions about human interaction.