Tag Archives: James Joyce

From Ben-Day to Man Ray

1 Mar

As soon as the escalator emerged at level 2 of Tate Modern, I knew I had made a mistake. Why oh why would I have thought a Friday morning in half term was a good time to visit an exhibition of one of the most popular and recognisable artists in the world who was one of the central figures of American Pop Art? A momentary oversight I think. But, I was there and, as I’d been looking forward to seeing the Lichtenstein exhibition for quite some time, in I went.

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Queues to get into Tate’s latest exhibition. Own photograph.

Tate say that this is the first major Lichtenstein retrospective in over 25 years – I’m not sure why everyone is forgetting the Hayward’s 2004 retrospective which was then billed as the first major retrospective in 35 years. It’s obviously a catchy marketing line. Tate’s show brings together one hell of a lot of works, just over 125 to be precise, including some of Lichtenstein’s most well-known paintings and some less-known sculptures in steel and brass alongside early works, monochrome images of everyday objects, unseen drawings, collages and works on paper.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Wham!, 1963. Image via www.theweek.co.uk.

Everyone knows Lichtenstein for his work based on comic strips with Ben-Day dots but this exhibition seeks to show that there is so much more to him than this. Inspired by the commercial imagery of advertising, Lichtenstein transformed this aesthetic, painting everything by hand in a strangely depersonalised way.

Lichtenstein’s most well-known pieces are displayed in room four which, ironically, is easy to miss as it juts off to one side and does not provide a link to the end of the exhibition as you would expect. These comic book scenes are certainly not as simple as they initially appear; they capture the zeitgeist of their era, funny but with a poignant and often desolate overtone. They are often a reflection of Lichtenstein’s own life – in his Masterpiece a blonde tells the artist ‘…this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you’ll have all of New York clamouring for your work.’ Of course, it wasn’t just New York clamouring for a slice of Lichtenstein. His work has now been the subject of over 240 solo exhibitions and there can be no doubt that he defines the enduring legacy of Pop. It seems the blonde was on the money.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Masterpiece, 1962. Image via www.londonist.com.

The first few rooms are engaging and momentous and then we sit on a downward slide (sadly, the more exciting slide of Carsten Höller are long gone). This exhibition isn’t doing Lichtenstein any favours. It certainly isn’t fair to say he was a one-trick pony but he knew what he was good at and some of his experiments should really not be hanging on Tate’s walls. The lack of soul in his pieces (a self-conscious decision of his style that dictated success) means his landscape works and, indeed, his self-portrait give very little away and so don’t require very long to view. Maybe the less-known works are diminished by the strength of his more recognisable pieces. Maybe they just aren’t as good. Room seven looks at works where he plays with pieces by other artists – his rip off works – and here I saw how he had ruined works by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and many others. I began to groan.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Non-Objective I, 1964. Image via www.independent.co.uk

Yet, it’s hard not to like his art and the simplicity of the subjects often makes us smile. The works aren’t as simply executed as they appear and required careful calculation and meticulous planning, bringing together his thoughtful techniques with the exact reproduction of found images. He may have repeated the system but he worked continuously to ensure he was exploring new subjects and themes. He was an avid producer.

The show offers a fabulous overview and exploration of Lichtenstein’s career and progression, something we are rarely allowed to see by galleries showing the popular pieces that pull in the punters. My worry at the beginning had been the huge numbers of visitors but actually it was lovely to see so many people engaging with the works. If the crowds weren’t enough of an indication that this show will do well, the shop says it all. It won’t be long before we start to spot tourists wearing Tate’s dotty t-shirts and carrying Lichtenstein canvas bags.

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The Lichtenstein shop. Own photograph.

I, of course, couldn’t resist the catalogue – another beautiful Tate publication – and had to lug it around for the rest of the day. No wonder I have a sore back, it’s carrying all these irresistible books in stilettos.

i5VhtnWvSoHQRoy Lichtenstein, Step-on Can with Leg, 1961. Image via www.bloomberg.com.

A couple of days later I found myself at the National Portrait Gallery for their Man Ray exhibition. We think of Man Ray and we think of dazzling photographs of fashionable people. This exhibition doesn’t disappoint, following him around Paris, New York, Hollywood and London, watching his style transform but never diminish.

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Man Ray, Catherine Deneuve, 1968. Image via www.ultravie.co.uk.

His portraits often reference great painters and known works of art. While he made his living as a commercial photographer for fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar, he was first and foremost an artist, a Surrealist and a Dadist who pushed boundaries to create exciting and exemplary portraits. He was a visual innovator who often stripped scenes or poses right back, the bare bones providing all the beauty he required – narrative wasn’t necessary. Not of all of his works do this however and some just capture a prescribed pose.

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Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Image via www.londonist.com.

There can be no doubt that Man Ray’s photographs are beautiful; his photographs of Lee Miller, his lover and muse, are stunning. But she’s certainly not the only lover we see here – before her was Kiki and after her Ady Fidelin, then Juliet Browner who he married and remained with until his death. These women guide us through his life. It’s not just women though – Man Ray’s photographs show us his friends and colleagues; there’s Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Stravinsky, le Corbusier, Hemmingway, Peggy Guggenheim, James Joyce and many more.

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Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, 1933. Image via http://arthistory.about.com.

Man Ray was a photographer who had the gift of being able to capture the life and soul of his subjects. He manages to immortalise these people in the way they wanted to be seen whilst retaining their natural beauty and truth.

Man Ray’s images are so familiar to us that it seems hard to believe that this is the first show of his work at a British gallery. The NPG have included over 150 prints dating from 1916 to 1968, tracing his career. It is well-arranged curatorially in sections that focus on different periods of Man Ray’s life, finishing off back in Paris.

Many of these images are small-scale and it’s hard to appreciate them fully when seen, black and white, en masse. I’ve probably spent longer pouring over the catalogue (yes I bought another one) than I did in the exhibition. Their energy gets somewhat lost in the gallery but the creativity of Man Ray still shines through.

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Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is at Tate Modern until 27th May 2013, http://www.tate.org.uk. Man Ray Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 27th May 2013, http://www.npg.org.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.

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