The works of Glenn Brown and those of Rebecca Warren were not brought together as a character foil, as I had initially thought when I first visited the exhibition at The Rennie Collection, pressed into a bubbling crowd of people keen on catching their first glimpses of the much-lauded work. Though their differences are obvious — Brown is painting, Warren is sculpture; where he’s all gloss and smoothness, she’s lumps and punctures and fingerprints — the two award-winning British artists have a lot more in common than you’d get in a surface reading.
The second time I went to see the exhibition, I brought a sculptor friend of mine whose practical experience with clay and bronze far surpassed mine. Predictably, she was transfixed by Warren’s work, pointing out historical postures here and there (the turned calf, for example — a signifier of gentlemanly good health) with all the delight of a child on a scavenger hunt. The fluency with which Warren can incorporate a vast array of references shies away from the overt appropriation that Brown became advantageously notorious for.
This light-handedness is one of her work’s greatest successes. Another, paradoxically, is the way in which it is deliberately set to fail. Fashioned out of unfired clay, occasionally wrapped around cumbersome armatures, Warren’s work is both precarious and ponderous. The vitrines that mostly enclose them seem to be as much of an archival choice than a practical one: we expect them to list sideways or crumble away at any given moment. And yet, they never do.