2013 Highlights

29 Dec

As I’ve said before, I haven’t been able to write nearly as regularly as I would have liked.  2013 has flown by with excitement, hustle and bustle and some truly fabulous exhibitions.  Again, there has been more grey paint on gallery walls than I care to remember but the point of this post is to celebrate some of the remarkable things I have seen.  I have missed a lot too, particularly in the last couple of months, but it is testament to the incredible art programme across the UK that it is impossible to see everything.

Here we go with my highlights of 2013…

Towering at TateSchwitters in Britain  

Cast your mind back to February when Tate Britain brought us an exhibition showing off Schwitters’ incredible multi-disciplinary practice that expressed his determination to make art using whatever was to hand.  Tate successfully showed how Schwitters’ figurative works moved into abstraction and vice versa.  Schwitters never gave up and his drive and enthusiasm, as well as his interaction with British art and culture, was excellently applauded by Tate.

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Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920 and 1939. Own photograph.

Number One at the National GalleryFacing the Modern  

There is no doubt that, in parts, Facing the Modern was a confusing show and it has been suggested that curatorially it was in the wrong order.  But, notwithstanding these comments, it is one of the best shows I have seen this year.  Using portraiture, the exhibition tells the story of Vienna’s middle classes – works are commemorative, critical, cautious, radical and chart the changing fortunes and times of the incredibly diverse city.  This is a subtle exhibition that requires thought and tenderness whilst viewing.  It may not include the most famous and familiar works by Klimt or Schiele but that is what makes it so special and the fact some of these works have been loaned is a triumph.  The National Gallery are continuing to go from strength to strength with their exhibition programme and Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is also worthy of mention.

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Walking around Facing the Modern. Image via www.theupcoming.co.uk

Captivating Courtauld The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure 

The Courtauld are rightly renowned for the quality and strength of their exhibitions and The Young Dürer was another golden gem from this small gallery.  The exhibition concentrates on the artist’s journeyman years from 1490-96 when he travelled widely and was exposed to a range of new influences.  Here, The Courtauld follow Dürer’s path to greatness as he learnt the intimacy and delicacy for which he came to be famous.

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Detail of Albrecht Dürer, A Wise Virgin, 1493. Image via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Blazing Barbican The Bride and the Bachelors

The title of alone was going to be enough to pull in the punters but The Bride and the Bachelors was the first ever exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.  This was a challenging exhibition that blurred the boundaries between stage and gallery in a style that I think would have delighted Duchamp.  Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii were still very much ongoing.  Duchamp governed the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show.

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Duchamp stars at the Barbican. Own photograph

Leaving LondonFrom Death to Death and Other Small Tales, Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Edinburgh

As any regular reader will know, I spend at least one month of the year in Edinburgh and this summer I was able to see the sublime From Death to Death and Other Small Tales.  The exhibition sought to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works referenced the body explicitly while others made subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  It was so extensive it took over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality – an exhibition that really worked without compromise.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

Also with podium finishes were:

Glittering Gold – Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes, Annely Juda

London Landscapes focused on Kossoff’s life in London looking at the congestion, the dirt and the real life of London.  Kossoff made us fall in love all over again with the vigour and vibrance of the city.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

Shimmering SilverDeath: A self-portrait, The Wellcome Collection

Death: A self-portrait is an exhibition that showcased the collection of Richard Harris with approximately 300 objects from his strange and unique collection devoted to death.  It was incredibly diverse – there were paintings, drawings, artefacts, sculptures, photographs, anatomical illustrations and much more. This was a giant cabinet of curiosities!

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June Leaf, No stomach for death: Gentleman on Green Table, 1999-2000.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

Bright Bronze – Caitlin Art Prize 2013, Londonewcastle Project Space

The Catlin Art Prize is a highlight of the calendar and the brilliant eye of the curator means that we can normally expect great things from the nine chosen graduates who have had to produce new work for the exhibition.  This year was no exception and the Londonewcastle Project Space was transformed with the latest ‘ones to watch’.

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Terry Ryu Kim, Screening Solution I,II and III. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

Last but by no means least – Runner Up  – Jodie Carey: Untitled (Slabs), Edel Assanti

Every exhibition at Edel Assanti is so very different but powerful in its own way.  Although very simple in conception, the striking display of Jodie Carey’s works stayed with me.  Seven plaster slabs were arranged within the gallery, connecting and conversing with one another despite their differing formats.  The works had a real inescapable presence in the gallery – fragile yet monumental, they rose with impressive dominance.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

There have been so many more shows, some that I have written about and some that I haven’t.  There are a lot of fabulous exhibitions planned for next year, including some that I am working on, and I shall totter from one to another in skyscraper heels or by taxi if it’s too chilly.

As many of you enjoy the shoe signatures here my favourite three shoes pictures of 2013 plus a new one with which to wish you all A Merry Christmas and a Happy Shoe Year.  Thank you, as ever, for reading Artista.

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Last of the Summer Time

9 Oct

Finally, I’ve found some time to write a blog post and I’m ashamed to see how long it has been since the last one.  I’ve been gathering catalogues, notes and bits of paper from the inordinate amount I have seen over the past month but now there are far too many to tell you about them all.

At this time of year we’re all looking ahead to Frieze week – in fact, LAPADA in Berkeley Square already heralded the beginning of art month.  But, to look over some of my highlights I have to journey back to Edinburgh and an exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery showing works by Korean artist, Nam June Paik.  I have to confess, that I wasn’t at all familiar with his work even though he is dubbed the founder of video art.  Born in 1932, Paik had a remarkable insight into the ways that technology would change everyday life and our approach to art.  Unusually for Talbot Rice this is a posthumous retrospective; Paik died in 2006 but the gallery saw this as the perfect opportunity to celebrate this artist’s work – art and technology was the theme of the Edinburgh International Festival this year so this could not have been a more fitting choice.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.journal-online.co.uk

It is a confusing exhibition as there is so much going on around the galleries that at times it becomes hard to digest – the main floor exhibits a survey of Paik’s video works, sculpture (including two of his handmade robots) and documentary pieces, while the upper gallery shows objects from his important debut solo exhibition in Germany that took place 50 years ago.  Whatever direction you turn to Paik’s works include old-fashioned television sets whether in their entirety, showing montages of found documentary footage, or included in strange sculptures.  The works are often noisy and at times almost aggressive in their crude aesthetics.  Paik was intent on getting his message across and there can be no denying that he succeeded in conveying his overflowing ideas that combine television with contemporary art.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.re-photo.co.uk

In contrast, was Franz West at Inverleith House.  In all my years in Edinburgh I don’t think I’d ever visited the Botanic Gardens and I had most certainly been missing out.  Aside from the incredible glasshouses, which I’d definitely recommend particularly because of the sculptures dotted around them, the Gardens and House are free of charge.  Walking around this space is like entering another world, particularly in August when Edinburgh is taken over by the Fringe.

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Sculptures in the glasshouses at the Botanic Gardens.  Own photograph.

It is rare that we enter a gallery and are encouraged to touch the works on display.  Here we’re not just asked to gently touch but to play full on with West’s pieces that are solely in collaboration with other artists.  This exhibition contains more than 50 examples of these mad collaborations.  The list of artists in the press release shows quite how influential West is for all these artists to want to work with him – examples are Sarah Lucas, Michelangelo Pistoletto or Douglas Gordon.  Although there are some serious works the exhibition feels exciting and fun – if you don’t participate with the pieces you won’t get very much out of them.  West allows us to escape the conventions of gallery-going where many feel constrained, forced to whisper and look from afar.  The gallery staff make sure we’re doing it right as well – “Have you laid down here yet?” one young girl asked me as I walked through a room, “You can’t see the piece properly unless you do.”  Well, that told me and before I knew it I found myself prostrate on a work of art.  Thank you Franz West.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

Inverleith aren’t attempting to exhibit the sculptures that many of us would normally associate with West – their exhibition is solely about the creativity of collaboration.  Sometimes West integrated works by other artists with his own, sometimes he invited artists to ‘complete’ one of his works and sometimes the collaboration began with him asking an artist to provide him with something.  West was, however, always the conductor of these exchanges, the master of collaboration and of artistic harmony.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

The Edinburgh Art Festival spans the whole city and there are always wonderful installations dotted around in the most unusual o places.  One such example is Peter Liversidge’s work where he was invited anyone in the city with a flag pole to fly a white flag which bears the text: HELLO.  Hello is a word so commonly used in everyday life – to express a greeting, answer a telephone, attract attention and so on.  Liversidge aims to remind us that a flag is also a way to say hello and, here, they wave at us from across the city’s public buildings, blowing their greetings across Edinburgh with each gust of wind.

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A collective greeting in Edinburgh.  Own photograph.

When I was at school aged only 7 or 8, one of the first artists we studied was LS Lowry and he has always had a special pull for me.  Now Lowry’s time has come with a huge exhibition at Tate Britain.  For me, Lowry’s works don’t work well in bulk so this exhibition was always going to be difficult in that regard.  But that was never any doubt that no matter what Tate did I would be instantly won over.  Even ignoring my own personal love for Lowry, this is a very important show and one that is curated by two senior curators who give it an immediate element of gravitas.  But, both are art historians who live in America; they aren’t specialists in Lowry or British art and perhaps this is why they have decided to mix things up a bit, not always successfully.

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Lowry at Tate Britain. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.  

The exhibition offers direct comparisons between Lowry’s work and that of 19th century French artists tackling the same subject which is the big let-down of the exhibition.  Why have Tate not let Lowry stand in his own right?  Nor is the exhibition hung chronologically so it is very hard to see the developments across more than 60 years of work.

Lowry’s depictions of England and his acute powers of observation are still something special.  His depictions of modern life hold a simplicity and rusticity to them that capture the true feeling of the town – some of the scenes haven’t even changed that much since Lowry painted them in his work.  Although the poverty and hardship of the times is there, he often idealises his scenes to make them more palatable for his audience.  He is often criticised for the almost one-dimensionality of his tiny stick figures but look closely at the work that has gone into them.  This is Lowry’s unique record of changing times – his very own texture and timbre of the world in which he lived and the specifics he chose to see.  Love or hate Lowry this is a must-see show.

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Walking through the exhibition.  Image via www.demotix.com

Idris Khan was one of the artists included in our East Wing VIII exhibition at The Courtauld but his latest show at Victoria Miro marks an important departure from the photographic based work he then showed.  Beyond the Black comprises a suite of black paintings, a monumental site-specific wall drawing and a series of works on paper, considering the metaphysics of creation.  Using a mixture of black pigment, rabbit-skin glue and slate dust the paintings’ darkness shines from the walls.  Whereas previously Khan has used the writings of famous philosophers in his pieces, here he incorporates his own writings in response to his readings of Nietzsche, building up strands of text applying densely one on top of the other until the words disappear into the saturated surface, slipping away from us beyond our understanding.  The further we try to look into the works, the less we can comprehend.

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Idris Khan at Victoria Miro.  Image via www.londonist.com

The wall drawing upstairs consists of more than 120,000 lines of text forming a giant radial form.  It’s possible to get lost within this work for hours and I do mean get lost as we are incapable of following the complicated overlays of words at play here.  Throughout the exhibition we are offered glimpses of words that may, or may not, give us a window into Khan’s thinking.

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Complicated overlays. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Edel Assanti’s latest show (and one on which I have worked) is of Alex Hoda’s incredible new sculptures where the cutting-edge technological processes of 3D-modelling are applied to traditional sculptural materials to create sublime forms.  Alex’s work is an investigation into how discarded objects can provide a valid starting point for wider discussion and critique of contemporary society’s ‘throwaway’ culture.  He sees chewing gum as the perfect embodiment of this area of consumer culture. The chewing gum undergoes a metamorphosis when translated into Carrara marble, imbuing the final piece with an importance that is more often exclusively reserved for classical iconography. The bronze works undergo a comparable transformation, only the source objects are delicate hand-sculpted maquettes formed from entwined dry banana skins.  Despite the medium of bronze, the ‘banana skins’ have an incredible delicacy and tactility that defies their medium and recalls the source objects in a beautiful way.

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Alex Hoda’s new works at Edel Assanti. Image via www.edelassanti.com

David Zwirner is currently showing Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s East of Eden, a large-scale body of photographs ranging from strangers, family members and pole dancers.  He takes everyday happenings and pushes them beyond the realms of banality and normality asking the viewer to question the truth of the image.  The works, partly inspired by John Steinbeck’s book of the same name and the Book of Genesis convey a sense of disillusionment, with lone figures contemplating their surroundings and remaining beyond our reach.  While some are compositionally stimulating and powerful others don’t quite hit the mark for me.

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Installed at David Zwirner.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

Finally, I was lucky enough to visit Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere just before it closed to the public for a long programme for conservation and renovation.  Words cannot do justice to the feeling of walking through the modest chapel doors and being overwhelmed by the inspirational scenes that Spencer created, a series of large-scale epic murals that honour the ‘forgotten dead’ of the First World War, inspired by Spencer’s own experiences both as a hospital orderly in Bristol and a solider on the Salonika front.

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Approaching the Chapel.  Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

Peppered with personal and unexpected details, they combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions drawn from his imagination.  His recollections, painted entirely from memory, focus on the domestic, rather than combative, and evoke everyday experiences – washing lockers, inspecting kit, sorting laundry, scrubbing floors and taking tea – in which he found spiritual resonance and sustenance.  The poignancy of the works is powerfully emotive.  The main 16 panels from this English ‘Sistine Chapel’ are journeying to Somerset House for an exhibition next month.

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Inside the Chapel.  Image via  www.siue.edu.

This is by no means a survey of all I have seen but a taster of some shows that are currently on.  The winter programme across London and the UK looks particularly exciting and I’ve recently bought a host of new heels in which to enjoy them.

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Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds is at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until 19th October 2013, www.ed.ac.uk/about/museums-galleries/talbot-rice.  Mostly West: Franz West and Artistic Collaborations was at Inverleith House, Edinburgh.  Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is at Tate Britain until 20th October 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Idris Khan: Beyond the Black is at Victoria Miro until 9th November 2013, www.victoria-miro.comAlex Hoda: D-Construction is at Edel Assanti until 26th October 2013, www.edelassanti.comPhilip-Lorca diCorcia: East of Eden is at David Zwirner until 16th November 2013.  Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War will be at Somerset House from 7th November 2013 – 26th January 2014, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

It’s Edinburgh time again…

18 Aug

The Edinburgh Art Festival is always a highlight of my August and I decided to start with the big players and see the blockbuster shows first of all.

The National Galleries of Scotland are showing a Peter Doig exhibition – a homecoming for the Edinburgh born artist although I don’t think many would instantly associate him with Scotland.  After all, he moved to Trinidad when he was two and, despite much moving around in the meantime, he has now moved back there.  The exhibition focuses on works from the last ten years and, naturally, his paintings reflect more the Trinidadian lifestyle and culture than the rugged Scottish landscape.

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Peter Doig, Paragon, 2006. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Doig really is a master of paint.  One of the highlights for me, and I’m sure for many others too, was Man Dressed as Bat from 2007 – a beautifully washed out work that can no doubt be read as a study in evanescence and transparency. Before Doig started this work, the canvas was affected by rain coming into the studio. Doig liked the effect and allowed it to suggest an approach to the painting whereby successive layers of paint barely mask those underneath.  The result is ghostlike; we are trapped in a dream that slowly reveals itself to us. There are other similar works with an equally wonderful diaphanous texture.  Although I don’t like all of Doig’s works, it is his subtlety and the transparent fading hues that form his true masterpieces and this exhibition captures the impressive quality of Doig’s oeuvre showing his over-riding commitment to one media.

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Peter Doig, Man Dressed as Bat, 2007. Image via www.nationalgalleries.org

One room shows his Studio Film Club Posters – Doig and Lovelace established this club in 2003 and Doig made hand-painted posters to advertise the weekly films that have a raw spontaneous quality almost reflecting some of the makeshift signs found in Trinidad.  The paintings throughout the exhibition have been arranged in a way to challenge each other and show the development of ideas through his works.  Doig does not paint from real life but devises his images from diverse sources including photographs, films and even memories.  This does sometimes make it hard to connect truly with the canvases – they aren’t abstract but they aren’t fully present, they remain tantalisingly inaccessible to us, trapped in Doig’s own ‘foreign land’.  His works linger in one’s mind and don’t quite disappear, the ghostly images calling from room to room.

Although I was short of time, with the Fruitmarket Gallery just across Princes Street Gardens, I couldn’t resist a quick visit.

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Princes Street Gardens. Own photograph. 

This summer their focus is on Gabriel Orozco and the exhibition takes his 2005 painting The Eye of Go as a starting point – a computer-generated pattern of black circles.  The thinking behind this show requires time and concentration but demonstrates the enormous range of materials and practices he uses to exploit the circle’s capacity to be an ‘instrument’ rather than just a geometric form in a composition.  His re-workings of this motif are rigorous and obsessive.  Circles appear as gestural sweeps of ink on paper, or points on meticulous grids in pen and graphite, as cuttings, inscriptions on tickets, letters and photographs and cedar wood, as wet pools of colour or dense ink impressions and shaded graphite spheres.  The possibilities are endless.  But these are far from just circles and at times you almost forget that this is the focus of the exhibition so fascinating are the works.

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Gabriel Orozco, The Eye of Go, 2005. Image via www.edinburghartfestival.com

You may not automatically think of an exhibition around circles to be the most dynamic that you will see but this exhibition seeks to shine light on Orozco’s practice and diverse methods.

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Upstairs at Fruitmarket Gallery. Own photograph.

I decided to have an art day and headed over to Modern One for what has to be described as a sublime exhibition – From Death to Death and Other Small Tales – which I was lucky enough to be shown around by Simon Groom as part of a Courtauld alumni event.  The title stems from a Joseph Beuys work and the exhibition seeks to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works reference the body explicitly while others make subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  The works presented often confront art historical tradition through similarity in subject matter.

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Sarah Lucas, Bunny Gets Snookered, 1997. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

There are the works we’d expect such as Sarah Lucas’s Bunny Gets Snookered which picks up on the tradition of full frontal female nudes.  But for it to be seen in this context is unusual and it really is good.  Every show about the body has to have a Tracey Emin and we aren’t left disappointed but then there are also some extraordinary surprises, particularly the 15 or so rarely seen works by American artist Robert Gober.  These turn everything on its head, often focusing on duality and collision of ideas.

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Robert Gober, Untitled (Torso), 1990. Image via www.thisispipe.com

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain for once is not taking centre stage.  Here, it is removed from its pedestal and placed in a corner, allowing the other works to come forward and take their rightful place in the spotlight.  Chadwick’s Piss Flowers are very simple but utterly beautiful.  Chadwick pissed in the snow and cast the remains, memorialising something that did not even exist.

The smell permeating through the ground floor galleries comes from Ernesto Neto’s labyrinth-like installation, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time where columns, made from gauze, are weighed down with aromatic spices, dividing the space. It is a very contradictory piece that feels like it was made for the space.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes all of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series in one gallery – five feature length films set in a folkloric world of his own invention.  It would take a day to get through these incredible films and, indeed, I was quite upset I hadn’t known sooner that they were here.  Seeing them all together in this incredible performance/installation is mind-blowing.  Not many rooms are given over to one single artist but this room is all-encompassing and mesmerising.

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A still from the Cremaster series. Image via www.artsbournemouth.org.uk

Nearly every work in this exhibition deserves a mention which is a surprising feat (there are of course always some pieces that don’t float your boat and I will never be a fan of Paul McCarthy’s Pirate Party that takes over an entire room and can be heard in a couple of others).  I’m used to exhibitions at Modern One occupying only the ground floor but this one is so extensive it takes over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality, playing to the gallery’s own strengths while showing their curatorial expertise.  It’s fabulous with contrasting atmospheres throughout.  This is an opportunity to see works that get very little exposure. The gallery have created an exhibition that really works without compromise.  There aren’t many wall texts around the exhibition – we are allowed to make up our own minds without intervention and can then read the excellent catalogue at a later date.

This exhibition has been open since the end of last year and is closing early in September.  If you were having an urge to pop to Edinburgh then seize it – after all you can always go for the day like I crazily did last week.

I popped back to London for a few days last week too and took the opportunity to see Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece which is currently transforming the Roundhouse.  As a Shawcross fan, this was always going to be a winner for me.  He describes the piece as ‘an engine driving a functioning clock’.  Each hand is fitted with a 1000-watt bulb and solely the light from the installation illuminates the room.  The shadows are sent over the entire Roundhouse creating a huge sundial.

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Conrad Shawcross at the Roundhouse. Own photograph.

We are normally used to seeing the Roundhouse as a concert venue filled with loud noise and hubbub.  Timepiece has completely transformed the space.  It is now one of hushed contemplation with people sitting on the floor gazing at the four-metre high contraption as it rotates and moves at different speeds.  The work is poetic and isn’t just something to take a quick glance at.  It deserves consideration.  Ironically it is easy to lose track of time watching Timepiece work its magic.

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Peter Doig, No Foreign Lands is at the Scottish National Gallery until 3rd November, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Gabriel Orozco: Thinking in Circles is at Fruitmarket Gallery until 18 October, http://fruitmarket.co.uk/.  From Death to Death and Other Small Tales | Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D.Daskalopoulos Collection is at Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) until 8th September, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece is at the Roundhouse until 25th August, http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/conrad-shawcross-timepiece

There’s a big blue cock in Trafalgar Square

30 Jul

The days have long gone when we can feel shocked or surprised at what is mounted on the fourth plinth.  Even more so now as the plans to install Hahn/Cock received much opposition before it was even unveiled.  So, the time had gone for exclamations of disbelief at the giant blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch that now occupies the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square that was originally intended for an equestrian statue.  At 4.7m high, we are invited to laugh at this incongruous bird who has taken prime position in London.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Image via www.standard.co.uk

A cockerel can be seen as a leader and a chief – it is a symbol of strength and power.  Amazing really that a chicken can represent so much.  Of course, there’s no avoiding the double entendre and people are sure to be childishly sniggering that there’s now a giant cock standing proudly alongside Nelson’s column.  With his crest erect, this plump breasted bird is waving his tail feathers at all tourists to London.  Fritsch wanted to play with the English sense of humour and laugh with us.  She decided to move the focus away from Nelson atop his phallic column and all the male dominance and power displays for which this area is known.  The carefully placed plumage is intended to echo the folds of Nelson’s uniform while the cockerel’s crest may even mimic Nelson’s hat.  If we read the work in this way, Hahn/Cock is certainly laughing at Nelson and inviting us to join in.  Personally, I don’t feel it is respectful or appropriate to laugh at a national hero but Fritsch is a feminist and she sees this work as a female victory in a male-dominated square.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Own photograph.

The humour extends in various directions – this is a work by a German artist in an English square.  But, of course, the cockerel is also the national symbol of France and even its colouring here exemplifies that even though it has been placed next to a monument that commemorates victory against the French.  Fritsch claims she didn’t even realise the French association until she had planned the work.  If that’s true what wonderful coincidental irony to happen upon. Fritsch doesn’t intend the sculpture to be offensive or mocking our history but she sees it has a talking point.

On a simpler level the piece, with its vibrant and unmissable colour, does bring an injection of life into the grey stone works that surround it.  It creates a contrast with the more formal aesthetics to which we are accustomed.  It’s not an incredible work of art by any means but it’s sufficiently imposing and noticeable to satisfy this position and it’s certainly a bit of fun.  Yes, there is meaning behind it but I don’t think Fritsch is all worried about that – it lightens the gravitas and isn’t afraid to laugh at itself.  This cocky sculpture reminds us that the fourth plinth is, among other things, now meant to be a talking point.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Image via www.visitlondon.com

Fritsch clearly enjoys being provocative and this work is certainly going to ruffle feathers.  The dialogue with the surrounding area and other sculptures can be read on many levels which I think is part of the joy of public art.  On the whole, it doesn’t have to be academically invigorating.  Ben Lewis notably said of Antony Gormley’s work, which invited members of the public to stand on the plinth, that he had created “public art work that the public like”.  I think Fritsch has done this too and this is an important factor.  The fourth plinth is meant to get the public talking – while it can tackle issues along the way – and the big blue chicken has certainly done this.  This is a site with one of the biggest footfalls in London so we don’t want a work here that alienates viewers or that people don’t understand.  It was absolutely pouring this morning but I could see the sculpture from inside the safety of a taxi where my driver expressed his opinion that it is a ‘bloody eyesore’.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Own photograph.

There have been a lot of works on the fourth plinth and this is certainly far from being the worst.  In fact, it’s probably one of the ones that will be most remembered.  My favourites have been Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo and Rachel Whiteread’s Monument.  While not as impressive as either of those works, Hahn/Cock stands proudly in its own right.  Even if you don’t like it and you think the cock is cack, you can’t miss it and it won’t be there forever.

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Sojourn in the South of France

21 Jul

Ridiculous as this may seem, it is nearly a month since I went to France and this is the first chance I have actually had to sit down and properly reflect on my trip – apart from my usual frantic running around I have had a particularly bad bout of sinusitis and an allergic reaction to a wasp sting that then became infected.  The medication has exhausted me and I’ve had a huge amount of work to do in the crazy run up to the Edinburgh Fringe.  So, apologies to all my regular readers but now I’m back!

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The rooftops in Mons. Own photograph.

Mons is a village nestled high in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, seemingly isolated in the middle of a picturesque nowhere.  The village doesn’t seem to have changed in centuries – accessed only by hairpin bends that climb the mountains, its streets are narrow and imbued with character.  Mons forces you to relax and the Art Lover’s House is the perfect place to do this.

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Narrow streets in Mons. Own photograph.

This no ordinary house, it is also a gallery but it is available to rent and you can spend a holiday surrounded by an eclectic mix of work in all media.  There are sculptures dotted in the maze-like corridors, vibrant paintings, photographs of cityscapes, charcoals of changing landscapes with never-ending rows of Venetian gondolas, abstract nudes, pieces of ironwork and a wonderful collection of vintage Olympic Games’ posters at the very top of the house in a room overlooking the entire valley and mountainous landscape.  The horse’s head near the cave looks like a ruin amongst the gravel but is perfectly placed to surprise you every time you turn the corner.  One little ledge of a twisting staircase reveals a chair and a pair of boots tucked behind glass – maybe for the house’s ghost or for the resident artist to return to his perch after a day exploring the rugged landscape.  There’s something here for everyone and if forced relaxation doesn’t work for you there’s plenty to visit nearby as I found out.

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Art Lover’s House. Own photograph.

Nearby Seillans makes the hills in Mons seem very slight indeed.  Accessible only by foot, it was the home of Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in the ’60s and ’70s and it now hosts a quirky Max Ernst museum above the tourist office, open in the afternoons.  Ernst first discovered Seillans when visiting Patrick Waldberg and, aged 73, he fell in love with the sleepy village.  He moved there with Tanning and remained there for the last 12 years of his life.

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Seillans. Own photograph.

I paid my two euros to ascend the stairs and what I found was a surprise.  There are no attendants in the exhibition area itself; in fact, you have to turn the lights on and off yourself.  And why not?  I think this is rather a sensible and economical idea.  Although I imagine there are times in the summer when Seillans is busy, they certainly do not need to man this space full time.  On display are, mainly, lithographs intended as illustrations for the works of Surrealist friends but this is not a bad show for a small museum.

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Inside the Max Ernst Museum.

Even today, Seillans is a very artistic town with galleries throwing open their doors on every street.  One such space is The Orange Tree Gallery – part of Tessa and Nigel Cox’s house – which is filled with light and a wonderful orange tree growing in the middle (a couple of fake oranges have been strung onto the branches, adding to the charm and mystique of the space).  Tessa is the artist in residence and, as well as displaying her own works, she is very welcoming to visitors having a nose around her studio.  Considering the amount of cats I had seen in this area, sadly we didn’t meet their famous black cat who can be spotted in most of the publicity shots of the gallery.

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The Orange Tree Gallery. Own photograph.

As we had a late flight home, we made the most of the day by visiting Antibes on our way to Nice.  Located on a completely stunning stretch of coast, Antibes is home to the Picasso Museum which is housed in the Château Grimaldi, built on the foundations of an ancient Greek town.  In its time it has been the Grimaldi family home, the town hall of Antibes and for six months in 1946 it was home to Pablo Picasso.  During this time he produced paintings and frescoes that still remain there.  Part of what makes the museum so special is Picasso’s inherent connection to the building that you can still feel even to this day.  The collections holds around 250 Picasso works of varying quality and many of the lesser-known works deserve particular note.  The collection is a joy to behold but not too big so as to overwhelm.  I took a couple of people with me who don’t have my enthusiasm for art and they found themselves swept away.  The museum’s location makes it particularly special; standing in the sculpture courtyard overlooking the perfect blue sea of the Côte d’Azur is magical and presents the sculptures in an entirely new framework.

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The sculpture terrace. Own photograph.

The museum also has a modern and contemporary collection which, sadly, was largely closed for a rehang during my visit but this allowed me to truly focus on the Picasso.

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Closed at the Picasso Museum. Own photograph.

Moving on to Nice itself my first stop was the Chagall Museum.  I’m a Chagall fan anyway but seeing his works en masse in this specially-designed space was mind-blowing.  Everywhere I turned there was another work of exceptional quality.  Chagall creates another world, a richly emotive setting of Biblical and imaginary figures who wander from canvas to canvas through his ever-shifting landscapes.  The museum was built in close collaboration with Chagall himself; its simple interiors within a highly complex architectural structure are full of spaces flooded with natural light.  Chagall’s Biblical Message, a cycle of seventeen large-format paintings, forms the heart of the collection and is on permanent display.  Chagall felt that his paintings provided a commentary on biblical texts – one that you can appreciate and understand regardless of religious convictions.  The museum is the perfect setting for these perfect works.

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Chagall’s Biblical Message on display. Own photograph.

A concert hall, where a film about Chagall is currently being shown, is lit by three exquisite stained-glass windows showing the seven days of Creation.  The windows are remarkably abstract with only the middle window containing substantial recognisable figurative elements.  Just when you think there can’t be any more you stumble across a mosaic on an outside wall above a pool.  If you only want to see one thing in the area this museum would have to be my recommendation.

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The outside mosaic at the museum. Own photograph.

The Matisse Museum didn’t overwhelm me in quite the same way and the collection was easy to walk through without as much devotion to the individual works on display.  The permanent collection seeks to look at the artist’s development and his experimentation and includes objects that were in his possession throughout his career.  It’s also up a very long hill so I don’t recommend being brave and walking up or down.  There’s a very good bus that goes from the Chagall to the Matisse but, unfortunately, I didn’t find the right bus stop to get back down and ended up walking for miles.  To celebrate its 50th anniversary the Matisse Museum has mounted an exhibition looking at the theme of music running through Matisse’s career, particularly linked to his presence in Nice.  While music may have formed part of Matisse’s everyday environment I didn’t feel this was conveyed by the exhibition itself.  The pamphlet tells that each of his children played an instrument, that his paintings portray various musical instruments and that, in the 1920s, he produced numerous paintings of Henrietta at the piano.  He paints instruments in the way others may paint a portrait.  But, here, his passion is somewhat diluted.  The villa in which the museum is housed is particularly striking – an imposing building in 17th century Genoese style with a red-ochre façade overlooking the nearby Roman ruins and the olive grove that stretches out in front.

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The Matisse Museum in Nice. Own photograph.

I always find visiting the South of France to be special.  Every time I head in that direction, I visit something new whether it be a large museum, an artist’s studio or an unexpected commercial gallery hidden in a maze of cobbled streets.  I can’t wait to go back, it’s just a case of finding the time.

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For more information about all the places I visited see: http://artlovershouse.com/, http://www.theorangetreegalerie.com/, http://www.antibes-juanlespins.com/les-musees/picasso, http://www.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall/ and http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org/.

Hustle and Bustle

14 Jun

It’s been a little while since I gallery hopped and, as a result, I’m feeling a little behind on exhibitions so I thought it was time that I did the rounds.

I started my ‘tour’ with lunch at Raffety Clocks on Kensington Church Street – such a beautiful shop.  Aside from admiring the antiques, this is the place to go for relaxing (well, I think it is anyway).  It beats meditative spa treatments.  Five minutes sitting in Raffety listening to the tick tock of tens of chiming beauties can relax anyone.  I even stayed to hear them chime the hour at 2pm which was a delight.

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Inside Raffety Clocks.  Image via www.raffetyclocks.com

The Dairy Art Centre has been open for a little while now.  Hidden down a side street in Bloomsbury, the space is amazing and unexpected (the premises of a former dairy, it’s big with a wonderful industrial atmosphere).  The first thing that stood out was the warm greeting from the gallery staff – so often galleries ignore visitors or glance up coldly from their work but The Dairy is actively welcoming people.

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Finding The Dairy. Own photograph.

The space is the brainchild of Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm, a non-profit exhibition space that is said to be showing art, dance and music.  It has a lot of potential for cross-disciplinary exploration with a quirky layout and small spaces opening at unexpected angles so this is an interesting statement and I will be curious to watch as their programme develops.  But the opening exhibition but John Armleder wasn’t as inspiring as I’d hoped.  The main gallery, the first room that I entered, is hung with a number of large paintings and twelve fairly large glitter balls.  I half expected dancers to appear and for the gallery attendants to crank up some music for visitors to boogie to but, no, this is the installation.

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Glitter balls in the gallery. Image via http://dairyartcentre.org.uk

Throughout the space there are projections, fake and real flowers, taxidermy, strange installations and more paintings (relaxed relations of Abstract Expressionism).  Armleder certainly makes the most of the space and uses the gallery as a whole in a fluid style of curation that seems uncluttered and coherent.  His work extends further than we may originally think as the gallery is also full of his design – the first example being the multi-coloured bar stalls in the entrance space.

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Armleder’s installations at The Dairy. Own photograph.

The exhibition wasn’t my thing but the space is worth talking about.

I walked out of Wakefield Street to find that Google Maps on my phone wanted re-loading.  Of course, I did sort of know where I was but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of ambling in the wrong direction in the drizzle.  Taxi time!

It’s always a slight disadvantage seeing the Deutsche Börse Prize after the winner has been announced as it spoils the fun of guessing who you think might win.  As it happens, my money would have been on Broomberg and Chanarin anyway.  The prize rewards living photographers for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe in the previous year.  This year the finalists were Mishka Henner’s images of sex workers sourced from Google Streetview cameras, Chris Killip’s black and white documentary photographs of Northern English communities in the 1970s and 1980s, Cristina De Middel’s faux documentary images inspired by an actual space programme in Zambia and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s documentation of the War on Terror using images sourced from the internet and mobile phones which pays homage to Bertold Brecht’s 1955 War Primer in which he matched poems with newspaper clippings about World War II.  Broomberg and Chanarin’s project requires far more attention that I was able to give it – it is bold and powerful, challenging the relationship between text and image, looking at the re-appropriation of past photography.  The duo are always pushing boundaries in everything they do and their extreme works, and views, normally garner significant interest.

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Broomberg and Chanarin’s winning piece in the foreground.  Image via www.125magazine.com

This year’s prize focuses on different aspects of documentary photography with a particularly strong focus on found imagery.  As ever, the show makes us question what photography is and challenges the very essence of the art form.

Deutsche Borse prize 2013: Chris Killip's Boo and his rabbit, Lynemouth, Northumberland (1983)

Chris Killip’s Boo and his rabbit, 1983.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

As I was heading to Dering Street and still in the mood for photography I popped into Ronchini Gallery who have mounted a mixed exhibition illustrating photographic diversity in terms of techniques, locations and motifs.  With only one or two works by each artist we’re not really able to get a proper feel for the works or their investigation into the media.  There were a couple of interesting pieces all the same.

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Mixed photography at Ronchini Gallery. Image via www.ronchinigallery.com

My real reason for coming in this direction was to see the exhibition of Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes at Annely Juda.  Curated by the director of visual art at the British Council, this exhibition focuses on Kossoff’s life in London from City bomb sites of the early 1950s to recent drawings of Arnold Circus.  Drawings look at sites in the 1960s and then again recently post-renovation, reconstruction and revitalisation.  Kossoff has grown with this city and, like it, he never seems to stop.  Aged 86, he is still working.  Through his works we see the vibrance and fast-paced nature of the constantly changing city; they express the rawness and true grit of his hometown.  Kossoff isn’t trying to clean up London in his works.  What he loves is the congestion, the dirt and the real life.  And I agree with him; it is the vigour of London that makes it special and, if you’re feeling slightly disillusioned having just walked down Oxford Street, Kossoff can make you fall in love with the city again.  These ninety drawings show his life and work over the past 60 years.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

The thick impastoed surfaces of the paintings stand out one, possibly two, inches from the canvases, the paint blurring our vision while imbuing the works with the same sense of energy and dynamism.  In spite of this, his paintings are far less effective than his works on paper.

The upstairs gallery, of course, is flooded with light from the fabulous skylight that makes Annely Juda such a wonderful space.  The floor below is a bit too yellow for my liking and could do with being softened slightly to allow the works to speak more for themselves.  The works are quite dark and the contrast with the natural light is just what they need.

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The light filled upper galleries.  Own photograph.

Next up couldn’t have been much more different with Thomson & Craighead’s exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher, exploring the dissemination of information through the World Wide Web.  One wall is papered with Tweets gathered from within a one-mile radius of the gallery that have been printed as posters with a political feel.  The wall is personally edited by the artists and changes every day – it would be interesting to monitor the progression and the changes if you’re in the area.  It documents the idle thoughts and passing observations that saturate the Twittersphere almost like a form of collective poetry looking at the mundanity of the everyday.  Another work in the same room turns text from spam emails into song lyrics on a karaoke-style machine, accompanied by the kind of anodyne music favoured by supermarkets and shopping centres.  Are we really expected to pick up the microphone and engage with the work?  How far do these pieces go?

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Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

Spam email, the web and social media generate new data all the time at an extraordinary pace.  Thomson & Craighead create new meaning from what, by many, is considered as junk in the online sphere.  Read about this exhibition before you go or while you’re there.  It’s truly fascinating but if you haven’t done your homework then the sophisticated essence of the works will completely pass you by.

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Thomson & Craighead, Beacon, 2007. Own photograph. 

Finally, as it’s practically next door I headed into Pilar Corrias to finish with some more photography – their exhibition of Julião Sarmento’s 75 Photographs, 25 Women, 42 Years.  Drawing on themes of memory, sexuality, transgression, morality and duality, Sarmento’s portraits of women explore the relationship of each of them with the artist.  The work’s titles reveal the woman’s name and connect her to a time and place in Sarmento’s life.  The shots are candid – showing intimate exchanges but also impulsive playful moments.

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Pilar Corrias. Image via www.galleriesnow.net

And, with that, it was time to stop tottering from gallery to gallery and return to the hustle and bustle of Kossoff’s London.

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John Armleder: Quicksand is at The Dairy Art Centre until 17th August 2013, http://dairyartcentre.org.uk/Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013 is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 30th June 2013, http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/Summer Photography Show is at Ronchini Gallery until 19th June 2013, www.ronchinigallery.comLeon Kossoff: London Landscapes is at Annely Juda Fine Art until 6th July 2013, www.annelyjudafineart.co.ukThomson & Craighead: Never Odd or Even is at Carroll/Fletcher until 6th July 2013, www.carrollfletcher.com/Julião Sarmento: 75 Photographs, 35 Women, 42 Years is at Pilar Corrias until 27th June 2013, www.pilarcorrias.com.

Here, there and everywhere

26 May

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind – as soon as I seem to be back in London and on top of my to-do list I’m heading off somewhere new.  Of course, I’m loving every minute but it has certainly been chaotic which is why this particular post ranges from France to Sussex and back to Shoreditch and Trafalgar Square.

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Monet’s House at Giverny. Own photograph.

A few days after Berlin Gallery Weekend I was woken up in the very early hours to head over to France for the Bank Holiday weekend.  I’ve always wanted to visit Giverny and, as it was only an hour off route (heaven forbid that I could just relax and enjoy French wine and cheese), we programmed the sat-nav and off we went.  Entry to Giverny provides access to Monet’s house and garden.  This was the second pink house with green shutters in which Monet had lived and the second time his house had been separated from the garden by a road.  Colour is everything here – both inside and out.  The walls of the house are adorned with works – there are Japanese prints everywhere plus his huge collection of paintings including works by Delacroix, Cézanne and Renoir.

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Inside Monet’s House. Own photograph.

Even on an overcast day, the garden cannot help but make you smile with its full-to-the-brim flowerbeds and radiant colours.  Monet had started gardening while living at Argenteuil but not on a scale that would suggest the passion he imbued into the gardens at Giverny.  His garden was designed with his paintings in mind – he planted what he wanted to paint so, in a sense, he created the scene that resided in his imagination.  When Monet arrived at Giverny there were no ponds but it had always been his dream to have them and it is, of course, his water lily ponds and the Japanese bridge that have become synonymous with his name.

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The Japanese bridge. Own photograph.

Monet was severely afflicted by cataracts despite two operations towards the end of his life.  As his sight worsened, his works turned from fresh, bright colours to a heavier palette, almost certainly as a result of his blurred colour vision.  Whether or not his gardens became lost to him is hard to say but what can be certain is that his pronounced choices of colour infused his world with light and life for many years and helped to create some of the scenes we remember him for today.

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Monet’s garden. Own photograph.

After settling in at Nogent-Le-Rotrou, it was irresistible to visit the Chateau Saint-Jean as it was only two minutes away.  Built around 1020 on the site of an earlier castle, the building has suffered a lot of intervention over the years and much of what remains is of a later period.  It is an imposing and impressive fortress perched on a point with a vantage over the entire area.  Inside there is a museum dedicated to the history of the town and, strangely enough, a contemporary art gallery with an exhibition of works by Patrick Loste, evoking the often crude portrayals of cave paintings.  I can find art anywhere!

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Chateau Saint-Jean. Own photograph.

It was a flying visit to France but, on the way back home, there was just time to stop in at the Holy Trinity Abbey in Vendôme enabling me to indulge my love of the Gothic period.  The feature of most note has to be the 12th century frescoes that were discovered behind the 14th century chapter house walls.  The sections that remain are badly fragmented the sections but have been preserved remarkably well and one scene showing the Miraculous Catch after Christ’s Resurrection is still strikingly clear consider its age.

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Holy Trinity Abbey, Vendôme. Own photograph.

Back in the UK, it was time for the opening of the opera season at Glyndebourne, the wonderful opera house in Sussex founded in 1934.  As tempted as I am to do so, I will resist touching on the opera but do have to mention their art programme.  As many of you will know, I am very into public installations and making the most of outdoor spaces through art.  Glyndebourne are very much on the same page and this season is marked by an exhibition of works by Sean Henry who does exactly this, creating monumental works in bronze for the urban landscape.  His works capture the mundane, subjects caught in a moment of introspection with which we can identify.  Glydnebourne don’t have the strongest selection of his sculptures but they are unavoidable in the picturesque landscape of the house.

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Sean Henry, Catafalque, 2003. Own photograph.

Finally, it seemed I was back in London for long enough to get around some exhibitions here.  The Catlin Art Prize is a highlight of the calendar and the brilliant eye of the curator means that we can normally expect great things from the nine chosen graduates who have had to produce new work for the exhibition.

Catlinexterior2013 The Catlin Prize takes over Londonewcastle. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

The winner Terry Ryu Kim forced the visitor to become part of her installation – manipulating the viewer’s path through architecture and technology.  The work explores how structures can exert power, the installation becomes a stage that dictates our actions.  It is haunting and beautiful, both intimate and evasive at the same time.

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Terry Ryu Kim, Screening Solution I,II and III. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

Juno Calypso who won the visitor vote has garnered a lot of attention, using the more traditional medium of photography.  Calypso staged scenes in which she performs as a character called Joyce, always obscuring her face and thereby forcing us to focus on other elements of the scene.  The narrative of the unsettling seems to be a theme in this year’s award.

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Juno Calypso, 12 Reasons You’re Tired All The Time. Image via www.artcatlin.com

All of the finalists deserve mention but I think praise must be given to Nicky Deeley.  Of course, performance art is common now but for a young graduate to produce a work of such maturity is impressive.  The piece sits deftly on the line between creepy, cute and fascinating.  Admittedly I only saw one costume change but the crowds of people gathered around the work certainly suggested everyone was hooked.

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Nicky Deeley performing Island Year. Own photograph.

I can often be hard to please and so regularly gallery spaces rest on their laurels.  One may think this is more true of traditional spaces that are guaranteed the crowds come what may.  Well, The National Gallery is currently shaking things up.  Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is a result of a two year residency with an in-house studio.  Many artists in the past have failed this challenge but Landy has risen to it.  He wasn’t scared of the esteemed regard in which everyone holds the National Gallery’s collections.  Everything that made him seem the most inappropriate person for this position has actually made him the best.

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Saints Alive at The National Gallery. Own photograph.

Asked my thoughts on The NG I would normally name it as a place of calm, a space where one can think and admire some of the most wonderful art in London.  It was the first gallery I visited as a child and somewhere I still regularly visit.  As I approached the Sunley Room I could hear crashes and bangs, normally such noises would have the guards running to find the source of the disturbance.  But the disturbance is, in fact, part of the exhibition.  Landy has subverted the serenity.

Walking in I was met by Saint Apollonia, a nine-foot sculpture made of fibre glass, recalling a sculpture painted in a Lucas Cranach work.  I nervously edged towards the pedal at her feet, balancing precariously on a stiletto and pressing it down.  At this point the pliers she was holding smashed persistently into her mouth.  There’s a spare head ready for when this one becomes a tad too battered.  She is not the only one who is bringing to life the suffering the saints endured.

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Saint Apollonia in the Sunley Room. Own photograph.

Landy has been inspired by the stories of the saints – stories which were once known by everybody yet today have fallen into obscurity. Towering over visitors are seven large-scale kinetic sculptures that swivel and turn, evoking the torment of each saint’s life.  These sculptures are interactive; there are buttons to press, a handle to crank and foot pedals to push. There are T-shirts to be won and a Saint Francis of Assisi donation box activated by coins.

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One of Landy’s kinetic sculptures. Own photograph.

Landy doesn’t intend to cause offence with these sculptures; his research into the works in the collection and his retelling, through these kinetic beasts, of the saints’ stories is remarkable.  Each saint has a symbolic attribute that makes him or her instantly recognisable.  Landy has transformed the saints from objects of spiritual devotion into artworks, made from pieces of junk that play on his interest in destruction.  Landy brings the saints from the walls of the gallery to life.  They are fascinating.  We want to press the buttons again and again – are they unnerving or are they funny?  I don’t think anyone was quite sure.  The legends themselves are often ridiculous and Landy has captured this with his own unique magic, comedy and an enticing undertone of the macabre.  The awful and gruesome ordeals these saints underwent were meant to show their patience and endurance.  As the sculptures break under the strain there is a certain irony here.  And don’t think that’s not fully intentional either.  Landy’s past works have always been about selflessness, generosity and virtue so he wasn’t actually as far removed from these topics as many thought.

Alongside the sculptures are his drawings and collages made from cut-up reproductions of works in the collection.  I’d urge you not to get so distracted by the sculptures that you miss these.

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Saint Jerome in action. Own photograph.

As I turned back to take one last look at the exhibition Saint Jerome was still quivering behind me.  Legend tells that he used to beat himself with a rock to prevent him from having impure sexual thoughts.  But as he stands there quivering you can’t help but wonder what is going on beneath the excessive drapery around his legs.  However, before there was a chance to cast any aspersion onto the virtue of the saint, someone else had crept towards the pedal and Saint Jerome had returned to whacking himself.

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Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is at The National Gallery until 24th November 2013, www.nationagallery.co.uk.

Berlin Gallery Weekend 2013

12 May

Although I was excited to be going to Berlin for Gallery Weekend 2013, I have to confess that part of the excitement stemmed from our mode of transport – we were travelling over on a private plane.  Spending a short time in a large city especially over a weekend devoted to art, openings and parties there will always be far too much to see.

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Off we go… Own photograph.

On Friday morning we made the most of the short-lived sunshine and wandered around galleries – two, in my opinion, deserve particular note.  Wentrup Gallery had just opened its doors to Session by Nevin Aladag.  The key work for me was a video piece addressing the interplay of instruments with which the artist make sound by using found objects from the environment.  The film shows different area of Sharjah, from the industrial district to the desert as well as the heritage areas.  Through this diversity, Aladag makes the instruments symbolically traverse different levels, places and hierarchies.  The composition of the film is beautifully created allowing a framework for these instruments to move about, as if on journeys of their own volition.  The other highlight was Import Projects – a truly fabulous project space in an old building.  Its atmosphere is conducive to the kind of great shows that they mount.  The current group exhibition, The Possibility of an Island, explores the relationship between the real and the imaginary, utopia and dystopia, selfhood and otherness and centre and periphery.

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Session, Wentrup Gallery. Own photograph.

Friday night saw nearly every gallery in Berlin hosting some form of opening.  With dinner booked, we had to plan our itinerary with military precision which involved mapping everything out so we could get the order right.  Our first stop was at Blain Southern – what a fantastic space!  For Gallery Weekend, they were showing a new group of video works by Douglas Gordon, exploring the collision between Europe and the Orient, desire and fear, light and dark, reality and fantasy and life and death.  This show remains one of my standout Berlin exhibitions.  Screens are dotted around the gallery and we journey through cityscapes in Morocco with Gordon.  The majority of the projections shown here are large-scale, inescapable and all-consuming, appealing to our sensory perceptions.

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Berlin’s Blain Southern.  Image via http://englishmaninberlin.wordpress.com

Directly opposite their courtyard was 401 Contemporary.  The gallery director was on hand to explain the mechanisms in Thomas Feuerstein’s works but I have to say I’m still slightly confused although I’ll try to retell the complexity at play here.  The main work is a process-based sculpture which attempts to give human form to books through biotechnical machines.  The work transforms books into sugar through fermentation.  Glucose produced from the cellulose of the books functions as fuel which facilitates the growth of invitro cultivated brain cells.  Even as I write this, I find myself getting muddled again but here goes – the brain cells in the exhibition are exclusively fed by literature from Hegel but other pieces of literature produce material for sugar glass which has been used to make the sculptures around the room.  It wasn’t that the works were particularly invigorating but the process was incredible – even if I may not have fully understood it.  We quickly popped downstairs where Mærzgalerie was showing a paintings exhibition by Sebastian Schrader.

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Thomas Feuerstein at 401 Contemporary.  Own photograph.

We decided to hire a taxi for our mad dash around Berlin and thank heavens we did as I’ve never seen rain start quite as suddenly as Friday’s downpour did.  We sped across Berlin where Tanya Leighton was showing an exhibition of Aleksandra Domanović which did little for me although the gallery space itself is intriguing.

Next, Reception Gallery was showing Leigh Ledare’s piece An Invitation.  When we arrived the gallery was practically deserted but it is a fascinating exhibition that I hope drew in the visitors over the weekend.  For one week in 2011, Ledare was commissioned by a woman, who remains anonymous in the works, to spend time at the home of herself and her husband in order to make a series of erotic photographs in which she featured as the subject.  This body of work looks at ideas of anonymity, legality and non-disclosure, raising questions about how we are presented as subjects through compelling textual and social frameworks.

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Leigh Ledare’s An Invitation at Pilar Corrias in London. Image via www.artnews.org

We tried to visit the Duve Gallery but sadly, after we climbed several dodgy looking flights of stairs in very high heels, it hadn’t followed the trend of opening on Friday evening for Gallery Weekend.  Instead, we headed to the exhibition of Jodie Carey’s works at Galerie Rolando Anselmi which involved walking through a whole series of industrial looking buildings and climbing another never-ending staircase.  The galleries in Berlin certainly are tucked into every conceivable corner of the city.  Carey’s works concern themselves with the dynamic between remembering and letting go, creating works that blur the boundaries between documentary-style archiving and poetic narrative.  One of the most poignant works was the Elegy series, five prints from original photographic glass plates.  Such plates are now extremely rare; these were probably produced in the 1920s.  By not cleaning these plates, Carey has kept the original physical defects in her digital prints memorialising the entire history of photographic printing.

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Jodie Carey’s Elegy series. Image via www.artslant.com

The exhibition at Galerie Crone is one of the most aesthetically memorable.  The ground floor gallery shows a film, following an S-Bahn that circles Berlin with performers, who appear and disappear, wrestling for a bloody bone.  The story plays on the quest for the Holy Grail.  This seemed good but not particularly sensational until we headed upstairs to find a sandy beach complete with boulders, stones, bones, animal skulls, painted bricks and branches.  In amongst these were frogs in small containers; apparently, they were meant to be hopping around but when we were there, they were doing their very best to bury themselves deep in the soil.  The first floor is meant to be the ‘Brain Cave Spaceship’ and the hopping frogs are meant to prompt thoughts about breaking out of the order of things and making transitions from different environments, maybe even different universes. This was another quite confusing exhibition but it did leave food for thought.  Plus, there’s the obvious simple excitement of people playing in the sand.  Many took off their shoes and socks and ran around – not what you normally expect to see in a gallery.

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Galerie Crone’s beach. Own photograph.

Galerie Crone is in a little arts hub in the same courtyard as the popular Alexander Levy who was showing works by Julius von Bismarck.  They share a building with Galerie Isabella Czarnowska who had mounted a joint exhibition of works by Annette Messager and Alina Szapocznikow (whose works were included in the East Wing VIII exhibition with which I was involved at The Courtauld).  Plus there was Veneklasen/Werner with an exhibition of paintings by Peter Saul whose works the gallery describes as ‘lurid’ – well that certainly is one way to put it!

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Partying on all floors around the courtyard. Own photograph.

After dinner, by which time the monsoon had got even worse, our evening ended at Carlier Gebauer – I will confess that seeing as we were at the gallery for late night drinks, I didn’t see as much of the exhibition as I would have liked.  What I did see though has ensured that this gallery is high on my list for my next trip to Berlin.

On Saturday it was time to abandon commercial art for a bit, having overdosed the night before, and we headed to Museum Island which is both an incredible and overwhelming set-up with its five mammoth museums.  The current building work (I say current but I believe it’s been going on for over a decade) means the museums aren’t as well connected as they could be and quite a lot of walking is involved.

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Bode Museum. Own photograph.

The Bode Museum rises from the water with two impressive copper roofed domes.  It is a stunning building and the recent restoration and conservation work – both to the exterior and interior – that has been carried out on this architectural giant deserves praise.  Entering into the grand circular hall, we are greeted by a majestic equestrian statue.  The building is designed like a palace rather than a museum although we are used to equally grandiose buildings in London.  The French classical Baroque style imposes unity and symmetry on the building.  The central basilica is an architectural treat, a passageway that suggests an ecclesiastical setting.  Where we might expect to find an altarpiece we find a corridor, flanked by columns and crowned with a half balcony.  The Museum contains one of the world’s largest collections of sculpture and, with nearly 70 rooms, it shows sculptures and paintings ranging from the 10th to 18th centuries, Byzantine art and an unrivalled coin collection.  Paintings and sculptures are not separated out into different galleries but shown alongside one another elucidating contextual and thematic relationships between works.  There is a strange lack of information around the museum; we don’t learn much about what we are looking at and it’s easy to get lost but what the museum does offer is a visual feast where our eyes are invited to learn and soak up the history of art under one roof.

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The basilica at the Bode Museum. Own photograph.

As you can imagine, the day disappeared quickly while we wandered around the Bode Museum but we still had enough time to head to the Neues Museum.  This holds around 6,000 objects studying the European prehistoric cultures, Nordic mythology, artefacts from Troy, Roman archaeology, the Stone Age, Bronze Age and the pre-Roman Iron Age.  The building suffered severe damage in World War II and an international competition was launched to find an architect to reconstruct the museum building.  David Chipperfield won (no surprises there) and the building is a joy to look at.  After being closed for 70 years it reopened to the public in 2009.  Chipperfield has incorporated the past structure with a fresh and modern approach – this is a lesson in how to merge new and old, retaining the past spirit while imbuing a space with life and contemporary dynamism.  His response is different in every room, reacting to what he found; his design is perfectly suited to this museum – in parts the old fabric is almost intact, some rooms contain fragments and some have an entirely modern feel.  What Chipperfield does triumphantly is works with what is there; his hallmark has been stamped on the building yet its distinctive style still shines through.

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The main entrance at the Neues Museum. Image via http://aaron-m-sweeney.blogspot.co.uk.

All in all, we saw a lot of great things.  I did feel some of the galleries were trying just a little too hard.  They were mounting racy exhibitions of what they thought the public wanted with not enough regard to what worked coherently for their programmes.  But, all in all, it was a wonderful weekend and we still headed back to the plane with smiles on our faces.

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The Risk That Paid Off – Tate brings Choucair to London

30 Apr

We normally expect Tate Modern to put on blockbuster shows from exceptionally well-known artists who pull in the punters.  Lichtenstein is the perfect example but just a couple of floors above this popular current exhibition is a retrospective by an artist that I doubt many people have actually heard of.   You’d be forgiven for not having heard of her too as she is still relatively unknown.  Tate has taken a risk here as this is not what people expect of them; they have mounted the world’s first major museum exhibition of Saloua Raouda Choucair who has never really exhibited outside her homeland of Lebanon – she is now 97.  Older artists are certainly on trend at the moment.

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Saloua Raouda Choucair in 1974.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Choucair is a truly cosmopolitan artist and Tate ask us to consider this exhibition on level four in the context of Tate’s collections.  Although she rarely left Lebanon, Choucair did visit Egypt in 1943 and spent a few years in France from 1948 when she joined the studio of Fernand Léger.  Her crude copies of Léger’s works are a long way from mere imitations although this is how they may appear at first glance.  She imbues his style with a very personal reading and a new strident sense of dynamism and movement.  The women shown here aren’t fussed by our viewing them; they carry on with their activities, looking at art books, oblivious and uncaring.  The women who do look at us are forceful. Choucair lacks the crispness for which Léger is known, her figures are much rougher and less precise.  Through these works we instantly see her humourist and proto-feminist position.  The works articulate abstract forms and interlocking planes with an incredibly strong sense of colour.  Although, due to her use of natural materials, the palette in her sculpture is much reduced the forms recur again and again.

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Crude copies?  Own photograph.

To put together this exhibition, the curators were allowed to rummage through Choucair’s studio and one room includes a cabinet of hundreds of maquettes, drawings and documents that are actually stored in similar glass cabinets in her Beirut studio.  Through these maquettes we are able to see her thought processes in 3D and her varied and prolific output.  Choucair was very interested in architecture and architectural inventions; her sculptures illustrate her knowledge of architecture and her clear position on form where she liberated herself from the monolith of sculpture.  The creative energy of this artist is seen through her constant experimentation and need to be making things.  A lot of these objects remain small but she imagined them all big!

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Choucair’s cabinet of curiosities.  Own photograph.

Choucair has not had an easy journey and did not even sell a work in Lebanon until 1962 when she was in her 50s.  Of course, looking back through art history this in itself is far from unique but the political struggles that she had to endure add a further element.  Plus, through all this, we must not forget that to be a woman in this environment was exceedingly difficult.  One painting with holes and splinters of glass is the direct result of a nearby bomb during the civil wars; the violent history of Beirut can be followed through her art and much of her public art no longer survives.  Yet, she has continued producing and left us with an extraordinary body of work that constantly strives to break the boundaries of her environment and seek independence from her culture.  We must not underestimate how hard it was for her to create figurative works and even her choice of materials is extraordinary within the culture.

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The interlocking forms of Choucair’s sculptures. Own photograph.

Chouchair is fascinated by endless lines in her sculptures and the potential of the infinite.  She succeeds with the idea of playing with modular systems that can be taken apart and re-ordered in our mind’s eye.  The sculptures shown here are a highlight – ingeniously crafted and pulsating with life.  The forms of western design merge with Islamic motifs to create interlocking geometric puzzles.  Her works known as ‘duals’ present two carefully interlocking parts while some pieces stack together in a similar but more flexible way.

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Choucair, Infinite Structure, 1963-5. Own photograph.

The final room presents a completely different Choucair – a much more contemporary, altogether different artist.  But, look closer and the same ideas and principles are still very much hovering beneath the surface.  The tension, movement and dynamism is omnipresent.

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The final room of the exhibition. Own photograph.

Tate has produced a wonderful catalogue to accompany the exhibition that further elucidates Choucair’s career with remarkable insight and clarity.  This is a small show with only four rooms but I think it is the right size (entry is priced slightly lower than usual to reflect the size difference); I don’t think we would have been ready for a bigger exhibition of her work yet.  This is a well considered show.  Tate has kept it simple and not tried to cram in too much.  They have let us learn about Choucair for the first time.  They have let us come away intrigued and ready for her next exposure wherever and whenever that may be.

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Saloua Raouda Choucair is at Tate Modern until 20th October 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

From Bermondsey to Victoria and all places in between…

14 Apr

I don’t make it over to White Cube Bermondsey as often I’d like. I know it’s not really that far away but it’s just not somewhere I amble past on a very regular basis. So when I found myself with a meeting on Bermondsey Street it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Their primary exhibition is Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration which explores the artist’s graphic oeuvre from when he made his first print in 1972. This isn’t the side of Close with which most of us will be familiar – we’re more au fait with his large-scale ‘heads’ – but this is a side that definitely deserves attention. Close’s experimentation with the media of printmaking is endless and fascinating; he is able to bring it to life, even turning mistakes or problems to his advantage. Alex/Reduction Block from 1992 was never intended to be end up like this which highlights the flexibility and ingenuity of both Close and his collaborators. The work was planned as a block reduction print but when the original linoleum cracked in the cold, they had to substitute it with an inferior material. More problems followed. They continued to cut the replacement linoleum despite knowing it was never going to work as a block reduction and documented the progressive stages by printing them in black on Mylar which resulted in a project perfect for silkscreen printing. The various shades of grey give Alex Katz’s face a shimmering metallic quality.

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Alex/Reduction Block in the distance at White Cube. Image via www.distortedarts.com.

Process has always been of the utmost importance to Close. If he has tried one method of printmaking he’s tried them all over the past forty years and it is his perseverance (he now works from the confines of a wheelchair after a spinal artery collapse) with his artworks and interrogatory use of materials that creates such wonderful qualities.

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Moving through the exhibition. Image via www.whitecube.com.

Close also breaks down the methods of printmaking, revealing the various stages involved through his reworking of the same subjects. Rather than diluting his intention this often enhances it, encouraging us to study a face in the same way that he must. This is a truly excellent, explorative and engaging exhibition and one that caught me rather by surprise – especially as it hadn’t been in my schedule for last week or even on my current list of things to try to see.

I would have liked more time in the gallery but I did manage to stop to see Eddie Peake’s installation – I just couldn’t walk past the naked figure in a see-through costume on roller-skates without seeing what was going on. It was all part of Peake’s Adjective Machine Gun, a major sculptural installation closely based around the old penguin enclosure at London Zoo – an iconic and easily recognisable structure. The walls act as an enclosing amphitheatre that both reveal and conceal the performer and the other works that form part of this. This is the first time Peake has married the two parts of his practice as he previously kept his sculpture and painting separate to his performance. I felt that this combination didn’t quite gel and the static works lacked some of the coherence of the performance elements.

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Eddie Peake, Adjective Machine Gun. Image via www.whitecube.com.

As is so often the case with performance, it was fascinating to watch the reactions of others: one man seemed quite affronted as the performer sped past him – I don’t think he’d anticipated being quite that close; one girl seemed embarrassed; while someone else was revelling in the intentional voyeuristic qualities of the piece. And I became so caught up with people-watching that after about five minutes I started to wonder where the skater had gone. He had crept up behind me and seemed to be leaning against the wall watching me. Is he meant to be oblivious to the audience and just contemplating the static works or is part of the wonder of the piece the duality of the voyeurism as we watch him watching us?

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Eddie Peake, Adjective Machine Gun. Image via www.contempoaryartsociety.org.

The following evening I decided to crack on with the shows I had intended to see. It had been a while since I last went on a private view evening but Wednesday promised some exciting openings and so we set off with a route in mind and a beady eye on the clock, determined to fit everything in.

First up was Art First – I have spent a few days in a quandary over this exhibition as I was drawn to the works but found they presented quite a bland group. Get up close and sometimes they are individually remarkable. On discovering Thomas Shelton’s 17th century system of shorthand, Simon Lewty found the perfect written code with which to experiment. His fascination was further heightened when he learnt that Samuel Pepys had used the very same method in his diary. Lewty taught himself Tachygraphy – no easy challenge – and has used this script to tell his own narratives. How often do people sit and write now? For so many, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past yet Lewty uses this time-honoured method to take us on a journey. So what was missing? I truly don’t know and maybe I need to return to reflect on the works in the gallery at a quieter time.

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Simon Lewty’s language. Image via www.artlyst.co.uk.

One of the shows I had been most excited to see was Tell Me Whom You Haunt at Blain Southern but I left disappointed – the show seeks to place works by ten contemporary artists in conversation with Marcel Duchamp but at times it feels irrelevant, confusing and bland. So many artists can relate their ideas and concerns back to Duchamp that I don’t think anything ground-breaking is going on between these walls. The first room is stronger and also aesthetically more pleasing but the second rooms loses its life. The exhibition title stems from an age-old French proverb referring to the idea that readymades spatially relinquish their previous significance and assume a shifting identity when they are re-contextualised. They cease to become the objects that they were intended to be and, instead, become something of the artist’s own making. The ideas behind some of the individual works are lost here and would have been far stronger seen in a different form of exhibition at the gallery. Maybe their connection to Duchamp needn’t have been articulated in such an explicit way. Any exhibition revolving around Duchamp sets its bar high and, for me, Blain Southern didn’t quite vault to greatness this time.

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Sislej Xhafa, Rocket Ship, 2011. Image via www.blainsouthern.com.

Next I made a flying visit to Hannah Barry to see Nathan Cash Davidson’s new drawings. Unusually, the drawings are executed on board which does present a weightier texture than we might expect from the delicacy of some of these works but I remained unexcited. Then onto Orion Contemporary’s celebration of print-making; there is a diverse range of works on display from Swedish Kent Karlsson to Pablo Picasso. Although this is a small show, it is one that must be praised for its brilliant lighting; the works were so well-displayed and the sensitivity of the hang really allows for close study.

The drizzle turned into heavy rain and my shoes weren’t cut out for puddles. Luckily we needed a cab to get to our last venue and we headed to Victoria to Edel Assanti.

Edel Assanti have now been in their new space for over a year and I feel awful to admit that this is the first time I have made it through the doors. However, the gallery is stunning and really shifts Edel Assanti to a whole new level from their previous project space just a few doors down the same road. Their current exhibition of works by Jodie Carey is very striking: seven plaster slabs have been arranged within the gallery, connecting and conversing with one another despite their differing formats. The backs of the slabs are intentionally exposed, revealing the wire and timber used to reinforce the plaster and the hessian sandbags weighting the sculptures down. Carey doesn’t want to hide these elements, instead she reduces these monuments back to their bare bones, challenging the reverence that public commemorations traditionally command. The type of monument that they evoke is left ambiguous and to different people Carey’s slabs will have different resonances.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

The works have a real presence in the gallery – fragile yet monumental, they rose with impressive dominance above the people crowding into the space. Closer inspection reveals that the hand-cast slabs have been painstakingly coloured in pencil crayon by the artist again providing a contrast from the usual industrial mechanics of large-scale monuments. The pastel colouring conflicts with the apparent strength and verticality of the forms presenting another inherent contradiction on which Carey leaves us to ponder. But the fragility and vulnerability of these works is what makes them arresting and, in fact, it is this fragility that makes a seemingly simple abstract form somewhat inescapable.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

I was so impressed by the exhibition that I have no doubt I will be visiting far more regularly. After all Victoria is only ten minutes from Fitzrovia in a taxi and we know I’m good at hailing those.

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Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration and Eddie Peake: Adjective Machine Gun are at White Cube Bermondsey until 21st April 2013, www.whitecute.com.  Simon Lewty: Absorption is at Art First until 11th May 2013, www.artfirst.co.ukTell Me Whom You Haunt: Marcel Duchamp and the Contemporary Readymade is at Blain Southern until 18th May 2013, www.blainsouthern.com.  Nathan Cash Davidson: Your’e French Gerdarmes with Me is at Hannah Barry Gallery until 8th May 2013, www.hannahbarry.com.  A Celebration of Printmaking is at Orion Contemporary until 20th April 2013, www.orioncontemporary.com.  Jodie Carey: Untitled (Slabs) is at Edel Assanti until 11th May 2013, www.edelassanti.com.

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