There is a saying that art in restaurants is like to food in museums. You know the feeling: the attendant monstrosity on the wall peers over your shoulder, wrecking your appetite. But times are changing. Independent galleries have faded under recent financial strain, and the upward pressure on shop rents continues. Denied their premises, dealers are using new spaces and have reached new markets in the process.
This is what brings Thomas Ostenberg’s Equilibrium to the Mint Leaf Lounge, 12 Angel Court, London EC2 (until 27 February). Ostenberg is a former vice-president of Citibank who had a Damascene moment in the Rodin Museum and vowed to become a sculptor. Plenty of dissipated financiers have similar impulses; few share his talent.
This exhibition is fantastic in an exact sense. Its centrepiece is ‘Ladder’, in which three mythical beasts, like a circus act from a Greek fable, form a shaky pyramid, balancing precariously on a ladder. In other bronzes, svelte ballerinas glide within the confines of an almost perfect circle.
Ostenberg casts figures of innocence, a triumph, he says, over narcissism and materialism. So it seems perverse to put them in a louche bar — his joyous work would be better served by a gallery, but artists and dealers must earn their keep. Besides, the Mint Leaf’s felicities are equally joyous, though in a very different way.