Terry Grimley finds Richard Deacon's show at Ikon hard going, but warms to the Nordic quirkiness of Sofia Hulten.
Richard Deacon was a leading figure in the new wave of British sculptors who emerged to international acclaim in the 1980s.
They supplanted a phase of Stalinist abstraction that had taken a grip during the previous decade, as represented by the Hayward Gallery's 1976 exhibition The Condition of Sculpture. There was a return to diversity of form and a spirit of self-indulgence more reminiscent of the 60s.
Deacon's twisty wood and metal structures certainly had the confidence to demand a lot of space, as well as showing technical ingenuity. But, to be honest, they left me cold.
There is just one piece in this style in the show of new and recent work just opened at Ikon, but it's enormous, taking up most of one of the top floor galleries. Called Out of Order, it's like a vast scary beast of some kind, twisting and writhing extravagantly through space, with wood persuaded to do what wood doesn't normally do, yet to surprisingly unimpressive effect.
Otherwise this show is a mixed bag, with an overall impression less of diversity than of diffuseness.
It's a Small World (1999-2006) is a table covered in more than 120 small ceramic objects which are, in effect, three-dimensional sketches. It's a bit like looking at something which might have been left by last night's GCSE art class.
Shark (2001) is a minimalist grey floor-based form with a vague resemblance to its title.
There are geometrical drawings and a group of nine glazed ceramic floor-pieces that mix forms which might be screwed-up pieces of paper with geometric structures.
The most unusual, and in a sense autobiographical, element is In My Father's House, a collection of 32 newspaper front pages which Deacon found in his father's house after his death.
They span more than 50 years, each recording an historic event from the Partition of India to 9/11.
Deacon's father, an RAF pilot, moved around a lot, so the papers are a rich mix of national and local from England, Scotland, the US and the Far East.
The Norfolk, Virginia, Ledger-Star of November 2, 1963 is particularly arresting. It seems to have been so traumatised by the last-minute rush to splash the news of President Kennedy's assassination earlier that day that the headline "President Slain from Ambush" appears alongside a story announcing that Kennedy will personally present an award to Dr J Robert Oppenheimer.
Newspapers are supposed to be ephemeral, art permanent. But an example like this still carries an electric charge which connects us with the moment, and Deacon's work seems tame by comparison.
However, I do quite like his decorative bricks which have been incorporated into the paving outside the gallery. Is there any chance these could become a permanent feature of the square?
On the whole, I was more interested in Sofia Hulten's exhibition, Familiars. Scattered around the gallery on various TV monitors, her videos document some mildly eccentric suburban behaviour.
Born in Stockholm in 1972, Hulten was raised in Birmingham, studied in Sheffield and has been living and working in Berlin since 1997, making a name for herself around Europe.
In Familiars she enlists the help of her mother and brother in various quirky activities.
Her mother stacks up glasses on the cooker into a fantastic crystal tower and drives a remote-controlled toy car around the hall covered in a staw hat. Her brother carefully rubs black treacle into a rug.
These episodes, one of which involves a wolf-whistling fluffy toy, can be quite funny. But given the little I knew of Hulten's background I became intrigued by the domestic settings, which have a Nordic severity even though details like sockets and a fireplace glimpsed in one video suggest this could be the family home in Birmingham.
One video, in which Hulten sits at a table switching a lamp on and off, remaining in shadow throughout, is strangely reminiscent of the painter Vilhelm Hammershoi.
Richard Deacon: Personals and Sofia Hulten: Familiars are at Ikon Gallery, Brindleyplace, until March 18 (Tue-Sun 11am-6pm).