Nick Hackworth

Simon Martin, Counter Gallery

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

Despite the prevailing economic gloom, the contemporary art scene has lately been blessed with the birth of several new galleries. Of these, Counter Gallery has, by virtue of the reputation of its founder, Carl Freeman, received the most attention. A writer and curator, Freeman was instrumental in promoting the BritArt generation, Hirst, Hume, Emin et al, through his curation of several seminal warehouse shows in the early Nineties and subsequently a number of more institutional exhibitions at major national galleries.

More recently, Freeman has ventured into the commercial arena with Counter Editions, a web-based company selling prints and multiples by the usual suspects — Emin, Hume, the Chapman Brothers, etc — and has now opened this small gallery space which nestles in the mean streets of Shoreditch.

The first show at Counter, however, is quiet, odd and not altogether convincing. Simon Martin, of the YBA generation but not, as yet, well known, is a versatile artist who presents three pieces: a painting, a sculpture and a painted relief, all linked by an amusing animal theme.

The sculpture is the most successful piece. Mounted on a plinth, the large, white, strangely round and cartoonish rendering of a chimpanzee’s head is a parody of the idea that a floating white sphere would be the perfect sculpture. It is an idea that Damien Hirst has ruminated on and, with typical subtlety, he wanted his ideal sphere to float above upturned kitchen knives, but with its comic puncturing of such pretension Martin’s version is the sharper.

Less effective, though, is the bizarre, wall-mounted relief of a brightly coloured starling, which genuinely would seem more at home in a toy shop, and the painting, a hyperrealist depiction of a bright red Amazonian tree-frog, which though well-executed, seems oddly pointless.

Until 26 April. Information: 020 7684 8888