Art Monthly
Keith Wilson
The Gallery Socks

22 March - 21 April 2007
Wednesday-Friday 12-6, Saturday 12-4

Reception for the artist: Wednesday 21 April, 6-8.30 pm

The Gallery Socks presents a table (probably Spanish, probably walnut, probably 18th century in part) on which is placed a pile of socks. The socks are the entire complement belonging to the gallerist, Matthew Bown (who, as part of the hard bargain struck for the show, will go sockless for its duration). The Sock-Table, which occupies the centre of the gallery, is faced on two sides by six distinctive figures, who are the Attendants: Poirot, FB (Fluff Brain) and Pepe, and three who are, at least as far as we are concerned, nameless.

The mise-en-scene - theatrical, formal, camp - suggests to this writer the levee of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who was attended by doctors, family, close friends and the Officers of the Chamber and the Wardrobe (a modern levee would no doubt require security personnel, which the stark presences of the nameless Attendants evoke). Strips of half-round beading separate the space of the Attendants from that of the Sock-Table, suggesting a link across the centuries between the fiendish protocols of eighteenth-century France and the infinitely subtle exigencies of Judd-style minimalism.

Inevitably, the donor of the socks is also reminded of his own personal sock history: the brightly-coloured odd socks he wore at school to annoy the teachers, the holes that grew (and grew) in many of his socks when he was a twenty-something artist: and he is led to ponder, when he considers his current sock assortment, just how dull and routine life has apparently become. To tell the truth, like a girl going to a party, he’s tempted to spice up his wardrobe (even though he can’t really afford it): the gallery is in Savile Row (a contextual detail which cannot have escaped Wilson’s attention) and it would be the work of a moment to dash over the road to Richard James and buy a stripey pair or two. But he would never wear such items in real life (sported at the age of fifty, they’d probably get as dire a response as Malvolio’s “cross-gartered yellow stockings” in Twelfth Night) and it would be to undermine The Gallery Socks in its important capacity as a tool for sociological research, capable of eliciting confessions from, and spilling the sartorial beans on, the director of any gallery in which it is displayed. In this respect, The Gallery Socks functions as a modern research tool, an unsparing inventory of something apparently trivial but capable of revealing a little more than one might wish.

In a counterpoint to the high style of the Attendants, their cynosure, the pile of socks, is an amorphous and infinitely re-arrangeable congeries. An almost liquid centre (primeval slime?), a familiar domestic humble point of departure (what household doesn’t have its heap of socks somewhere, subject to a regular matutinal rummage?); something like that squidgy “human element” which forms the core of even the most impeccably argued and elaborately structured discourses. It posits an amoebic fluidity at the heart of conventional society, the irreducible biological je ne sais quoi that can undermine all contracts, alliances, marriages of convenience and inconvenience, constitutions, handshakes , treaties, and “done deals”. As such, The Gallery Socks is not just superb sculptural theatre, not just a brilliant conceit (in the Renaissance sense – a display of outlandish wit, and also in the general literary sense – an extended, complex, scarcely credible metaphor), but also a major statement in Wilson’s ongoing investigation of social structures and the polarities of control and freedom.

Keith Wilson’s other forthcoming shows are Zone 1, a 15 metre walkway for the concourse of Hammersmith Station, which opens this month; Under Over, an exhibition with Andrew Sabine and Franz West at Canary Wharf where Wilson will show will install three large public pieces (opens April 4th); Memorial to the Iraq War at the ICA, opening May 22nd; and P3, a two person show with Richard Woods which, as the inaugural show in a new 10,000 sq ft space in Baker St, will launch Architecture Week in mid-June.