Tag Archives: Gilbert & George

Who’ll Stop The Rain – Tate, Barbican and The Courtauld

19 Feb

So many exhibitions have opened in the last week or so that it is nearly impossible to keep up.

Last Monday, I started at Tate’s latest BP British Art Display – Looking at the View – which brings together a multitude of landscape works from Tate’s stores. The works span 300 years and vary in quality and excitement but there are some pieces worth seeing including works by Julian Opie, Paul Graham, Wolfgang Tilmans, Gilbert & George, Willie Doherty, Patrick Caulfield and JMW Turner. Landscape has often been used to highlight changing social or political conditions and this display demonstrates the usage of the genre, showing how unconnected artists, centuries apart, have looked at our landscape in surprisingly similar ways and asked similar questions of their audiences.

Opie

Julian Opie dominates in the distance. Own photograph.

The display has been publicised using Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby partnered with Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Wright shows Boothby reading Rousseau’s first Dialogues, of which he was the publisher, while Emin is also seen reading her own book – a comment on literary self-regard and the act of reading itself. It’s quite different to a normal Tate exhibition (and I breathed a sigh of relief that thankfully they haven’t painted the walls grey) but there is a lack of information as you wander round the space which, combined with the lack of narrative, can be confusing. It’s meant to be simplistic, an exhibition about looking, but a tad more guidance wouldn’t go amiss.

Tate Britain Looking at the View

Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby next to Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’m not sure all of the works quite fit in with the thematic arrangement of landscape but it’s certainly a diverse survey. It isn’t as worthy of consideration as a proper exhibition in its own right. It’s a bit of a hotchpotch; there are some beautiful juxtapositions but some strange ones too.

The display does act as a prelude to the Tate Britain re-hang that will be completed this May and aims to pull together the varied media of Tate’s collection and unite the works across the periods, providing coherence and solidarity. Let’s see shall we.

looking at the view

Looking at the View at Tate Britain. Own photograph.

Next up for me was the Barbican; I was excited about The Bride and the Bachelors and my expectations didn’t let me down. This is the first exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on four other modern greats – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. It traces and studies their exchanges and collaborations blurring the boundaries between stage and gallery. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as mere creative relationships – Cage and Cunningham were life partners while Johns and Rauschenberg were long-term lovers – and the Barbican cast light on this spider’s web.

Press Preview At The Barbican Art Gallery Their New Exhibition The Bride And The Bachelors

The Bride and the Bachelors at The Barbican. Image via www.gettyimages.com

The personal and creative relationships of these artists are no doubt complicated and Barbican has not gone down an easy or over simplistic route in making these connections. It’s well-interconnected throughout, bringing the group together at every unexpected turn. By avoiding the obvious, the exhibition is challenging and really makes us think about what was going on during this important period.

Of course, there’s Duchamp’s The Bride (the show’s title piece) but there’s so much more including ghostly piano and dance performances and live dance pieces smack bang in the middle of the gallery, challenging our ideas about what a gallery can be in a fascinating cross-fertilisation of the arts. We can’t help but become part of the performance as we walk around the stage, encountering the art from every conceivable angle and viewpoint. This radical curation would have delighted Duchamp who sought to do things differently and change perceptions. Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii are still very much ongoing today. The works of the ‘bachelors’ are saturated with Duchamp but often in such subtle ways that we are shocked to realise the inherent connections. Where would these artists have ended up without Duchamp? Duchamp oversees the power and poetry here, an invisible figure governing the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show. The soul of Duchamp is a persistent presence as we look at how important he was for the ‘bachelors’ and how important they were for him.

upstairs

Exploring the upper galleries. Own photograph.

The exhibition has been partly devised by artist Philippe Parreno and the juxtapositions he creates on the main stage are quite remarkable. I believe the live dance pieces will be performed on Thursday evenings and during the weekends and, to make the most of this exhibition, I’d recommend going at these times.

dancers

Dancers in action on the main stage. Own photograph.

Some of Duchamp’s most seminal works are here and, in the same way that we still talk about them in any discussion of this period, I feel sure that this exhibition will be talked about long after its closing.

duchamp stars

Duchamp is the star of the show. Own photograph.

While at the Barbican, and with only two weeks until its closing, I decided to make the most of my visit and go to see the Rain Room. Having been told to change my shoes (heels aren’t recommended for walking over a wet metal grid), I slipped my ballerinas on and headed into the Curve Gallery.

The piece, created by Random International, invites us to control the rain and puts our trust to the test. It goes against our better nature and our very instincts to walk headlong into this torrential sheet of water. I must say, having heard mixed reports, I wasn’t very trusting but eventually fought my demons and walked into the water with my arms outstretched hoping they would trigger the sensors before I did. I didn’t think It would make for a very good blog if I wussed out and walked round the edge. I’m not upset that I must have looked like someone from the Ministry of Silly Walks wandering about in this somewhat strange fashion as my coat sleeves had been rained on by the time I emerged. Maybe I should have gone in more casual attire and worn a raincoat but, needs must, and straight hair and a smart dress were required.

starting

The nervous beginning… Own photograph.

You walk round a dark curving corridor and are confronted by a large patch of thundering rain. It must be that we don’t see quite enough rain in the UK because people are going wild to get into The Rain Room. The piece is activated by sensors and the falling water is meant to stop as you walk through the installation. You are forced to walk slowly and sedately through the piece allowing for greater and calmer appreciation of your experience. The sense of power and control is bewildering and surreal. Standing in the middle of the 100 square metre grid, enclosed by rain, is exciting. I can’t deny the wonder I felt at being part of the work. But, after a couple of minutes I was done. I’d walked through the rain, I’d stood in the rain and I’d narrowly avoided getting drenched. Maybe the inner child in me didn’t want to come out to play but I didn’t really see the point in hanging around.

inside

Inside the installation. Own photograph.

The technology behind the work is amazing. It’s memorable but I’m not sure it was as satisfying and spellbinding as I had expected it to be. There can be no doubt that it has caused a great deal of excitement and that the work is innovative but when I got outside I just wanted to dry off my arms.

looking back

Looking back. Own photograph.

Numbers are limited to five people in the rain at any one time which explains the four hour queue at peak periods. Is it really worth it?

It was a busy day and, with wet arms and my heels back on, I headed over to The Courtauld to have a look at their Becoming Picasso which revolves around the artist’s work in 1901. The Courtauld’s recent exhibitions have gone from strength to strength focusing around one work from their own collection with a series of exceptional, rarely lent, loans to reinforce their message. This exhibition, in that sense, is no exception and they deserve to be very highly commended for the loans they have achieved here.

picasso-met-2010-02

Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1901. Image via www.arthistory.about.com

The Courtauld’s own Child with a Dove is one of the stars of the show, looking at when Picasso ‘found his own voice as an artist’. The exhibition title is apt as it was in 1901 that Picasso went to Paris and really began to find his feet as an artist and concentrate on his art rather than his more vivacious lifestyle in Spain.

Pablo Picasso's Child with a Dove, 1901

Picasso, Child with a Dove, 1901. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition is ordered differently from usual and the entrance is where we would expect to find the exit, partly for practical reasons to avoid queuing on the stairs but also to make this space curatorially clearer. It is an unmissable exhibition with an exemplary selection of works, a fascinating look at Picasso becoming Picasso, developing his own style and identity in preparation for his debut exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. A selection of works from that exhibition fills the first small room, setting a context for this period and allows us to get a feel for the pace at which Picasso worked, influenced by the bustle of Parisian life – the colours, the art and the daring nightlife.

first room

The new first room of The Courtauld Gallery exhibition space. Own photograph.

The second room looks at Picasso’s change in direction as we see him introduce themes that would come to dominate his works throughout his career. The works here introduce a more melancholic mood which the gallery explain in part by the tragic suicide of Carles Casagemas, one of Picasso’s closest friends. Here, the pieces are emotionally powerful, anticipating his later Blue Period. He moved so quickly from the saleable and marketable artist we saw in the first room to someone who the Parisian market struggled, at the time, to understand – this was the seminal year when he found his artistic voice and began to make his mark that will never fade in the history of art. These paintings explore the interplay between innocence and experience, purity and corruption and life and death, bound up both with his friend’s death and a number of visits he made to the Saint-Lazare women’s prison.

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Picasso, Yo – Picasso, 1901. Image via www.bbc.co.uk

Although it is no doubt a brilliant exhibition, it doesn’t quite live up to some of The Courtauld’s recent shows and something was lacking here. These are certainly not Picasso’s most palatable paintings and herein lies one of the problems with the exhibition – for a Picasso lover or scholar it is a masterpiece. But, for someone finding Picasso (as he was indeed finding himself) I’m not sure you’ll come away enraptured by the artist.

becoming picasso

Becoming Picasso at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

With only 18 works, The Courtauld don’t fuss around or waste space and their exhibitions are always academically enlightening. They have also produced a wonderful catalogue which looks in depth at the profound changes of 1901.

I haven’t even made a ripple in the water of all the shows that have recently opened, my list at the moment is ever growing but then again I wouldn’t like it any other way. I’m not too sure I’ll be hurrying back to any installation that requires flat shoes though – not really my thing at all.

Looking at the View is at Tate Britain until 2nd June 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is at The Barbican until 9th June 2013 and The Rain Room is at The Barbican until 3rd March 2013, www.barbican.org.uk.  Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 is at The Courtauld Gallery until 26th May 2013, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

A Very Eventful Evening with Eight London Galleries

9 Mar

Today (well yesterday by the time you are reading) was hectic and ridiculous even for one of my mad private view evenings.  Even before I began the openings, I’d been at Somerset House, where the courtyard is currently being turfed for a brilliant-looking art installation, and visited Michael Ajerman’s studio where I was allowed a look at his amazing current work.

Somerset House. Own photograph.

His studio is only a five minute walk from Flowers on Kingsland Road.  With some of the PVs opening at 4pm and with such a long to-see list, I popped into Flowers for an early sneak peek while they were still setting up and plugging in the works.  The artist very kindly got everything going for me so I could have a look.

I first met Tim Lewis at another Flowers opening and had only seen one of his works first-hand before this show but they are hypnotic.  Mechanisms takes over the downstairs galleries at Flowers with a huge range of Lewis’s works, bringing together some of his most progressive and challenging pieces.

Tim Lewis at Flowers, Kingsland Road. Own photograph.

His kinetic sculptures are a marvel and require great skill and dedication to make; the electronic programming and physicality entails an extensive period of development for each individual piece.  This is Lewis’s passion and he has been making mechanised works since the age of eight so no wonder his ideas are now so advanced.  All the works are mesmerising but two stood out for me – Jetsam, a large mechanised bird-like creature, fixed to a robotic arm, is programmed to attempt to build a nest.  The creature picks up objects which it stumbles upon moving them to a specified point.   It is not affected by human interference and must work within the limits set by the artist.  I could have stayed and watched this sculpture on its heart-wrenching, continuous journey for hours.

Tim Lewis, Jetsam. Own photograph.

Pony is one of Lewis’s more well-known works; an ostrich-like form, constructed from three mechanical arms, moves across the floor towing an empty carriage.  It is an independent entity, slightly alarming but beautiful and reminiscent of a scene from a fairy-tale.  Lewis’s works capture a spirit unlike any other – they are fun yet wistful, pondering on the transience and difficulties of life through self-contained forms on pre-determined journeys.  Fundamentally, they are just beautiful.

Tim Lewis, Pony. Own photograph.

I was loathe to leave but felt I should let them finish setting up and I had eight galleries to get to.

My next stop was White Cube, Hoxton Square.  All three London White Cubes were opening tonight with LONDON PICTURES by Gilbert & George.  The series consists of 292 pictures in their largest project to date.  It is typical Gilbert & George and if you don’t like them (I do) then it’s too late to be converted.  Although using their expected formula, these works are approached from a new angle.  They make use of nearly 4,000 newspaper headline posters which the artists stole, collected and classified over a period of ten years.  Using the language of the media, they present a survey of modern life making us aware of its violence, destruction and terror.  Of course, Gilbert & George appear in all the works, staring at us, watching the world go by, haunting the streets of London.

Gilbert & George, Tube. Image via www.timeout.com

They are huge, striking works using predominantly black, red and white.  They do not show a pleasant London but one of which we should be fearful.  It was somewhat strange seeing the beer buckets outside in the square during the afternoon  but, by the size of the crowd gathering, everyone was quickly adapting to this new style PV.

Gilbert & George, Money. Image via www.hubmagazine.co.uk

I continued to White Cube in Mason’s Yard to see some more of the exhibition where the harrowing topics continue – brawl, kill, deaths, jail, paedo.  Gilbert & George themselves were at Mason’s Yard chatting happily to visitors along with Jay Jopling and the usual White Cube celebrity crowd.  The works are more ‘in your face’ than usual; however blunt the truth is present in every work.  Brooding and violent, they show what contemporary society is really like in a collective portrait of London.  All this does sound very depressing and while the works may give a powerful message I think it’s important to remember how lovely London is and that we don’t need to fear every step we take.  Not that this is the intention of the works, but it’s easy to get weighed down by the violence.

Gilbert & George, Burglar Straight. Image via www.whitecube.com

As I was running to schedule, I hopped in a cab to the Josh Lilley Gallery to see their Sarah Dwyer exhibition which opened at the end of February.  Dwyer’s works have incredible painted textures where the surfaces resonate with movement and energy.  Through painting in layers and constantly revising her compositions, Dwyer pulls together inchoate shapes and ambiguous forms to suggest something unknown, a manifestation of her subconscious in other-worldly scenes.  Her mark-making echoes the stream of consciousness writing of James Joyce with its lyrical forms and ambiguous allusions.  Obviously, all art is subjective but these will speak to different people in very different ways as the shapes are open to so many interpretations.

Sarah Dwyer, Saudade. Own photograph.

Her works hold many influences and the shapes of Soutine and Gorky are evident but the list is endless.  Seven large canvases are on show downstairs – the gallery isn’t overloaded but cleverly filled so that the works are allowed room to breathe and space to speak.

Dwyer’s paintings are very powerful, fighting for attention with their bold colours and intriguing shapes.  This is another winner at a gallery who are consistently showing great talent.

Sarah Dwyer’s Falling into Positions at Josh Lilley. Own photograph.

It was already proving a good afternoon/evening and I was finding the art energising.

Next up was the new Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street, another area that is becoming a new art hotspot.  This is quite a small space with only two main rooms.  We are so used to Haunch’s mega-spaces that everybody kept looking for more but with the crisp Haunch-style aesthetic that we’re used to it’s a great second gallery.  Their opening exhibition is Katie Paterson’s 100 Billion Suns which presents a selection of her recent projects where, using a series of sophisticated technologies, she transforms distant occurrences in the universe into objects that we can comprehend on a human scale.  One such work is The Dying Star Letters; every time a star exploded, Paterson wrote and posted a letter to communicate this.  Through a range of everyday formats, Paterson reduces these distant occurrences into a medium we can easily understand.

Katie Paterson, 100 Billion Suns. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com

This is a very subtle exhibition and one that was slightly lost tonight due to the heaving crowd celebrating Haunch’s opening.

The new Haunch. Own photograph.

Initially, I decided to give Paradise Row a miss and headed to the station.  But, after 20 minutes of waiting outside Oxford Circus, due to overcrowding, I decided to walk back to Paradise Row to see Birdhead’s new large-scale black and white photography.  The artistic duo are known for looking at daily life in Shanghai; their snapshot-like images form a passage of thought and we are able to follow the artists through their day-to-day activities.

Birdhead take over Paradise Row. Own photograph.

Downstairs, is an exhibition of work by Justin Coombes.  In complete contrast, these are colourful over-saturated images that fuse the fantastical with the everyday.  Lots of people seemed to be moving from Haunch to Paradise Row, happy that they only had to walk round the corner for a second helping of art.

I did pass other openings in the taxi on my way to Gagosian but, although I tried, I had to admit that I couldn’t manage every gallery opening in London tonight.  Britannia Street is showing new works by Thomas Ruff.  Ruff seeks to test the limits of photography and, over the years, his subject matter has varied hugely as has his form of image-making.  But astronomy has always been a source of interest and this latest body of works contemplates Mars using images sourced through the public Internet archive of NASA.  Ruff transforms the fragmentary representations with saturated colours that alter the feel of the landscapes.

Thomas Ruff, m.a.r.s. 15, 2011.  Image via http://blakeandrews.blogspot.com.    

He has also worked with 3D-image making and on entry to one side gallery, you can pick up a pair of specially designed 3D glasses.  All these did was make me rather dizzy and I preferred the viewing experience without them.  These are not photographs as we would expect.  The works are impressive, transforming strange and foreign landscapes into a minefield of even more distorted scenes.  We are encouraged to look from both near and far, studying the pixelated colour patterns as well as the scene as a whole.  As impactful as they are, I didn’t find them particularly exciting – I could take them or leave them and they certainly weren’t as moving as some of the exhibitions I’d just seen.

Thomas Ruff’s new works at Gagosian. Image via www.artlyst.com

Gagosian on Davies Street is also showing Ruff’s work but a series of unique monumental nudes.  I had to admit defeat and accept this wasn’t one I could squeeze in tonight, unless someone knows how to teleport me from place to place.  All galleries now seem to be using their multiple spaces as a whole which means I will probably spend many more nights running across London to get the proper atmosphere of an exhibition.

It was time to shrink.  All the walking was taking its toll and I had to sacrifice my stilettos for some more practical footwear so that I could get to my final stop in one piece.

I couldn’t end my evening without seeing the third London White Cube – Bermondsey was packed.  It was important to visit all three spaces to get a full sense of the scale of the project.  Only visiting one of the galleries felt like walking into a blockbuster show and only bothering to look at one room.  The scale of LONDON PICTURES, as always with Gilbert & George, is mind-blowing.   Yet, the exhibition at Bermondsey only uses the South Galleries, flowing between three connecting rooms, which shows quite how enormous this gallery is.

Gilbert & George, Schools. Image via www.whitecube.com

Like me, Gilbert & George were moving between the different White Cubes but they looked more awake than I did.  I was ‘done in’ and it was time to buy a weighty, but great, catalogue and limp back to London Bridge to call it a night.  I could easily wax lyrical about many of these exhibitions and there are truly some gems here.  The brevity of some of the reviews certainly does not reflect their quality but more the quantity I crammed in to one evening.

If I’m going to have another night like this I may need to sacrifice my stilettos for skates!

Tim Lewis: Mechanisms is at Flowers, Kingsland Road, until 14th April 2012, www.flowersgalleries.com.  Gilbert & George: LONDON PICTURES is at all three London White Cubes until 12th May 2012, www.whitecube.com.  Sarah Dwyer: Falling into Positions is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 30th March 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.com.  Katie Paterson: 100 Billion Suns is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street until 28th April 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.  Justin Coombes: Halcyon Song and Welcome to Birdhead World Again are at Paradise Row until 7th April 2012, www.paradiserow.com.  Thomas Ruff: ma.r.s. is at Gagosian Gallery until 21st April 2012, www.gagosian.com.

Frantic at the Fringe – Part II

20 Aug

After a full Scottish breakfast, I was ready for Day Two and to carry on with my art trail.  I had allocated another morning for four galleries and I knew this was going to be tight.  Having recovered from all my walking the day before, and having seen the threatening rain clouds, I decided to stick with trainers to help speed up the day’s madness especially as my last Fringe show wasn’t scheduled to end until gone midnight.

Before you even enter the National Gallery of Modern Art, there’s plenty of opportunity to have seen Tony Cragg’s work as six of his sculptures are situated in the grounds, some amongst Charles Jencks’ Landform.  Although slightly outside the main hustle and bustle of Edinburgh’s frenetic centre, this gallery is definitely worth the cab ride (or walk or bus if you don’t have any time restraints).

Tony Cragg, Luke, 2008, and Declination, 2004. Own photograph.

 This is the first Cragg exhibition in Britain for more than a decade, focusing on two groups of works from the past 20 years.  Cragg’s Early Forms are derived from the vessel motif while the Rational Beings series is characterised by tall columnar shapes in bronze, wood, stone, plaster and steel in which facial forms appear and disappear.  Vessels are among the simplest and earliest surviving man-made forms and are important markers of past cultures.  Cragg takes these vessel types and mutates them into new forms, creating a vast array of unique sculptures.

Tony Cragg, Early Forms St Gallen, 1997. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

 His works are always engaging with an element of mystery.  His biomorphic sculptures are mesmerising, encouraging visitors to explore the pieces from all angles.  The different media provide varying levels of finish, created by an incredible process of building up circular or elliptical cross-sections on a vertical axis which are then cut and shaped.  The sculptures are overtly abstract yet the figurative form always breaks through.  Cragg has studied the different facets of the human face, and here, and in his vessels series, he pushes the boundaries of repetition and re-exploration of an object.

Tony Cragg, Accurate Figure, 2010.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

 Surrounding the works are 100 or so of his drawings that offer a fascinating insight into the artist’s working process.  Cragg began his career as a laboratory assistant and at an early age used drawing as a means of understanding the experiments he was conducting.  Some of the drawings look like biometric coding recalling this past career – a series of shapes that almost seem to attack the paper.

Although his style has changed dramatically over the years, Cragg has always stuck to his guns and remained a sculptor.  He varies his media impressively at times but he has never conformed to changing tastes, he works with what he’s good at and he is a very skilled, enigmatic sculptor.

Tony Cragg. Own photograph.

 Cragg’s works are extraordinary.  The carved faces are distorted and warped, exploding with creativity and hidden facets.  That Cragg has managed to create these shape-shifters in bronze is an amazing achievement – they appear weightless, floating in space.

Tony Cragg, Distant Cousin, 2003.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

The former Dean Gallery, just across the road, has now been rebranded as Modern Art Two.  While Modern Art One is housed in an imposing neo-Classical building, designed in 1825 and used as an institute for fatherless children, Modern Art Two was built in 1833 as the Dean Orphan Hospital.  Modern Two, in partnership with the Edinburgh International Festival, is exhibiting work by Hiroshi Sugimoto, a photographer who goes back to the origins of his medium and blends art with science. As with the Tony Cragg exhibition, the gallery has presented two series of works by Sugimoto.  In the first, working from original negatives, Sugimoto is able to bring to life images by Fox Talbot that are 160 years old.  He spent several years locating and acquiring Talbot’s rare negatives and has enlarged and developed these to reveal works that are haunting, almost painterly in their evocative power.  These dimly lit, blurry images reveal ghosts of the past which Sugimoto has brought to life.  These photographs have incredible depth and you need to look deep into the works to see and grasp the image.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Louisa Gallwey and Horatia Feilding, at Lacock Abbey, August 29, 1842, 2009.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

In his second series, Lightning Fields, Sugimoto looks at the effect of violent electrical discharges on film.  Placing the film directly on a metal plate in a dark room, Sugimoto charged a generator until he could feel the hairs on his arms stand on end, before releasing a charge of 400,000 volts.  By using this process, he has managed to freeze lightning, capturing blooms of light erupting in the darkness, frozen in time for eternity.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lightning Fields 168, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

This is a photography exhibition yet not a single shot has been created by a camera – the works are visually striking and beautiful.

Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lightning Fields 226, 2009. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

As part of the festival, Richard Wright was commissioned to create a painting in the west stairwell of the Gallery.  Wright has only made a few permanent paintings in the past and few for public buildings.  The repeated pattern in this painting recalls a bud or a flower, referencing the fleur-de-lys image.  Wright is particularly interested in the history and function of a building and the rows and rows of delicate shapes are intended to bring to mind the generations of orphans who used these stairs.

 

Richard Wright, The Stairwell Project, 2010.  Image via www.edinburghartfestival.com.

Next, with time whizzing by, we cabbed it to the Scottish National Gallery to see Dame Elizabeth Blackadder’s retrospective.  I know it seems I’ve been taking a lot of cabs (especially as I’m in flats) but, trust me, I have walked an incredible amount on this trip.

This exhibition marks the artist’s 80th birthday, spanning the six decades of her career to present her diverse body of work.   Blackadder is important in the history of female artists; she was the first woman to be elected to both the Royal Academy and the Royal Scottish Academy and, in 2001, she was honoured with the title Her Majesty the Queen’s Painter and Limner in Scotland.  The drawings from her student days are lovely and it is fascinating to see her develop an interest in the relationship between objects – hence her still lifes.  Her studies from nature are the best-known of her works (watch out for her watercolour of a pheasant, an enchanting depiction that deserves close examination) and I was surprised by the sheer range of her other subjects.  One room, for example, is dedicated solely to her visits to Japan in the 1980s and her exploration of its culture.

Elizabeth Blackadder, Grey Table with Easter Eggs. Image via www.nationalgalleries.org.

Her flower studies have long been famous and easily recognisable.  Her flower woodcuts are really superb and, in some ways, preferable to her paintings; their strength of form provides a powerful contrast to the delicacy of her watercolours.

She is an artist with a very different kind of fame to the likes of Anish Kapoor or Martin Creed and this is highlighted by the fact that the majority of these loans come from private collections.

Elizabeth Blackadder, Tulips. Image via www.nationalgalleries.org.

One thing that did irk me as I wandered around was the placement of the wall labels on the dado.  What were they doing down there?! I know I’m a stickler for labels, wall colour and all that but it looked as if the hanger had run out of time and just shoved them anywhere.

Some of Blackadder’s paintings are very sensitive offering new perspectives on familiar scenes and she has revitalised established traditions but I don’t feel this exhibition presents her in an exciting light.  She’s a great painter but it’s easy to leave this exhibition feeling nonplussed.

Elizabeth Blackadder in her studio, November 2010. Image via www.scottish-gallery.co.uk.

Downstairs, The Queen: Art & Image was absolutely packed showing people’s love for the Queen and our monarchy.   Including a wide range of works, the exhibition traces Her Majesty’s reign across six decades from the age of deference to the era of celebrity.

This is the opening site for a  touring exhibition that marks the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee next year (it will be at London’s NPG in 2012).  Including formal portraits, media photographs and contemporary responses and portraits, the works explore traditional representations and push the boundaries of the visual language of Royal portraiture.  The exhibition celebrates the incredible range of artistic creativity that the Queen has inspired.

Eve Arnold, Queen Elizabeth II. Image courtesy of the artist and Magnum Photos and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

Our Monarch is a subject of relentless visual scrutiny.  Photographers, such as Dorothy Wilding, emphasised her youth, elegance and glamour while Cecil Beaton’s Coronation photograph concentrated on her dignity and regal splendour.  Each artist has sought to capture the Queen’s different qualities.  During the 1960s, her image became more informal, creating an impression of domesticity and playing up her role as a mother.   She was shown as lively, spontaneous and fun, advancing the idea of an ‘ordinary’ monarch.  The diversity of her image in the 1990s shows the trouble the Royal Family were facing at the time.

The exhibition includes the provocative Sex Pistols’ poster God Save the Queen designed by Jamie Reid as well as works by Andy Warhol, Gilbert & George and Lucian Freud.  There is a Sugimoto photograph of the Queen’s wax mannequin and a Struth photo from this year in which I feel the Queen looks slightly uncomfortable.

Thomas Struth, The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, 2011. Image  courtesy of the artist and via www.nationalgalleries.org.

The Queen’s image has engaged millions over the years.  Through all the varied portrayals, one thing remains firm, her enduring loyalty to the nation, her beauty and her dignity.

The Edinburgh Art festival has grown this year.  To help showcase its diverse and incredible programme, the organisers have commissioned artist J. Maizlish to draw a map of the City and participating festival venues.  It’s gorgeous and definitely a helpful aid for people who don’t know Edinburgh very well or for those who are feeling brave and have the time to seek out all the galleries!

 

J. Maizlish, detail of Sites of the Edinburgh Art Festival, 2011. Image via www.edinburghartfestival.com.

The problem with Edinburgh in August is there is just too much to see.  Admittedly, this is a wonderful problem with which to be faced.  Art, theatre, comedy, music and literature literally spout from the city’s every pore.   I always wish I had more time in Edinburgh, there is always more I want to see. Maybe I should just stay for the month…  Bring on the 2012 Fringe.

Tony Cragg: Sculptures and Drawings is at Modern Art One until 6th November 2011, Hiroshi Sugimoto is at Modern Art Two until 25th September 2011, Richard Wright: The Stairwell Project is a permanent installation in Modern Art Two, Elizabeth Blackadder is at the Scottish National Gallery until 2nd January 2012, The Queen: Art & Image is at the Scottish National Gallery until 18th September 2011, www.nationalgalleries.org.

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