Archive | April, 2011

Little and Large – Street Protests at FLASH and Aesthetic Beauty at the V&A

28 Apr

Yesterday evening saw the opening of Street Fighting Man – 50 Years of Youth Protest at Flash Projects on Savile Row. 

Own photograph

A small but striking photographic exhibition, this charts rising violence in the years from 1968 and includes a riot at a Rolling Stones’ concert (the title of the exhibition comes from the Stones’ most political song), Caroline Coon’s celebrated photographs of Punks and photographs set in a wider sociological context including CND matches, civil unrest in Ireland, inner city riots and Poll Tax riots.  The abusive clashes are portrayed in some powerful monochrome images.

Own photograph

From little to large.  Having heard so many 5* reviews, I decided to avoid the Royal Wedding madness that has well and truly taken over London and, this afternoon, I headed to the tranquillity of the V&A to see The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement, 1860-1900.

In a desire to escape the ugliness, materialism and, often vulgar, wealth of 19th century Britain (a country experiencing rapid urbanisation and industrialisation) the Aesthetic Movement sought a new beauty.  Art was created not to serve a purpose but for its own sake (‘art for art’s sake’ becoming the slogan of the movement), to be beautiful and provide pleasure.  The works in this exhibition do just that and, may I say, wow!  The V&A has gathered a truly extraordinary and diverse collection both of paintings (including old favourites such as Whistler’s Symphonies in White) and objects, offering true aesthetic delight.  With their radical ideas, there is no denying that this group of artists changed the face of art and design in late Victorian Britain.  The Aesthetic Movement approached beauty in its own right and aimed to express this perfect ideal, not only through art but through an entire lifestyle change.

James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 1, 1862.  Image via www.nga.gov

For example, furniture was no longer merely functional but something to be admired for its sensual curves and graceful structures.  The panoply includes costume, ceramics, furniture, architectural drawings, Liberty catalogues, wallpaper pattern books, poems, textiles, paintings, sculpture, jewellery, Punch, metalwork…  Could they have fitted any more in?  All these objects centre on beauty, showing the diversity of the movement and the potential for beauty, and for art, to be found in everything and in the way we choose to live our lives.  What a positive ideal!  The Aesthetic Movement really did encompass all art forms and all walks of life. 

Carlo Giuliano, Brooch and hair ornaments, 1875-95, 1912-14. Image via www.vam.ac.uk

As a William Morris fan, I was able to indulge.  Morris revolutionised the art of designing flat natural repeating patterns with richly harmonious colour.  He believed that wallpaper was integral to any interior decoration and it became one of the essential features of the Aesthetic interior.  Morris was synonymous with the style, his decorative skill in hiding the repeat marking him out as a genius.  We still use his designs today.

William Morris wallpaper, 1885.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

A similar form of interior decoration is seen a notable work early in the show by Edward Burne-Jones in stained glass, The Merchant’s Daughter.  Although he produced many large- scale church window designs, this smaller panel for a domestic interior is surprisingly moving.

Edward Burne-Jones, Merchant’s Daughter, c. 1860.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The cult of beauty, of course, extended to the aesthetic woman.  In literature, the aesthetic woman was meant to represent a budding flower, rather than one in full bloom.  The woman as a girl – filled with promise, optimism and hope.  For most male painters of the period, the aesthetic woman was one who embodied eroticism, a vision of beauty and sex which the spectator is invited to look at and fantasise about. 

These were images of temptation personified by the sensual red-headed beauties displayed here.  Lizzie Siddal (immortalised in Millais’ Ophelia) was Rossetti’s lover and his model exclusively but that did not prevent him having a string of affairs and Bocca Baciato from 1859, whose title means ‘the kissed mouth’, refers to the sexual encounter between him and its model, his lover – Fanny Cornforth.  Although devoid of conventional narrative, the painting is deeply symbolic with apples for temptation, rose for love and marigolds for grief, suggesting the illicit nature of their couplings.  Rossetti married Lizzie Siddal the following year before her untimely death in 1862 from a laudanum overdose.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Bocca Baciata, 1859.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The beautiful feminine vision is seen in different ways.  Millais’ Kate Perugini of 1880 is gorgeous and teasing while his Louise Jopling of 1879 shows the sitter’s spirit and confidence. 

John Everett Millais, Louise Jopling, 1879.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

In 1877, having gained recognition among the wider public, the Grosvenor Gallery was opened specifically to show these new works.  The Grosvenor was consciously opulent in design so as to show off and further elaborate the works with lavish red silk walls which famously changed to ‘greenery-yallery’ for the second year, gilded pilasters and marble- topped tables adorned with flowers.  The intimate setting was meant to resemble an aristocratic house rather than a ‘conventional’ gallery – an idea that is mirrored by the V&A.  The gallery’s immediate success cemented the emergence of a new artistic group, presenting a challenge to other more traditional artists of the day.

Entrance to the Grosvenor Gallery, 1877.  Image via www.cqout.com

Oscar Wilde has come to be known as the Aesthetic impresario.  Max Beerbohm (1894) said “In fact, Beauty had existed long before 1880.  It was Mr Oscar Wilde who managed her debut.”  This was a moment in which all of art was entangled with ideas of liberation, sexuality and dubious morality – ideas which Wilde perfectly illustrates.

Napoleon Sarony, Oscar Wilde, 1882.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

This is another one of those exhibitions where every work is stunning!  However, there is a but…  At times I felt the confusing and crowded layout was messy and quite claustrophobic.  The walkways force us so close to some of the larger canvases that they are nearly impossible to view in a satisfactory way. The V&A have gone to great lengths to re-create Rossetti’s bedroom but instead of having the room open or behind glass, visitors have to view the space through peep holes.  It’s such a shame they chose to block the room off in this way.  My stilettos gave me a better vantage point but there’s no way that a child, for example, has any chance of seeing this part of the exhibition.  Finally, the bright light projections (although pretty at first) often distracted from the works and the sound recordings were lost to the galleries, becoming nothing more than an annoying background mumble unless you were directly under the speaker. 

Projections at the V&A.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The Cult of Beauty united such ‘romantics’ as Dante Gabriel Rossetti (look out for his highly influential book illustrations infused with intense poetic feeling), James McNeil Whistler (spot his sumptuous etchings of the Thames), Frederic Leighton (his detailed drapery studies), William Morris, Aubrey Beardsley (with his decadent extraordinary black and white drawings) and Oscar Wilde. 

Aubrey Beardsley, Siegfried, 1892-3.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The V&A have beautifully brought together this incredible array of fabulous personas.  The dimly lit, almost secretive, rooms are very evocative of the era.  As you venture from space to space, it is as if you are exploring a private aristocratic house – an atmosphere that was also created in the Grosvenor Gallery.

This isn’t my specialist period but I was left wanting to know more.  I lugged the hefty 300-page catalogue home on the crowded tube, changing arms regularly to avoid elongation.  I’ve already made a start – it is a beautifully written, academic but not ‘weighty’ overview of how beauty was applied to the many different aspects of life and art. 

Visit, read and fall for the beauty of this ‘cult’. 

Street Fighting Man – until 4th June at Flash Projects, www.flash-projects.co.uk

The Cult of Beauty – until 17th July at The Victoria & Albert Museum, www.vam.ac.uk.

Margate Mini Adventure – Turner Contemporary

22 Apr

Never being one to do things by halves, when I decided to drive my Mini to Turner Contemporary, I took the opportunity to cram a jam-packed schedule into two days and explore Kent.

My time in Canterbury started with a scrummy picnic lunch punting on the Stour.  I’m a Cathedral addict and Canterbury has long been one of my favourites in England.  If you haven’t been, shame on you.  With wide-ranging, mostly French, influences, the building presents a harmonious and inspiring interior.

All photographs are my own unless otherwise stated

Buildings of the Gothic era, particularly Cathedrals, were ornamented appropriately to the function they served.  Such ideas of decorum ensured that a Saint’s shrine and its surrounds required the most lavish design and sculptural decoration and reflected the valid aesthetic ideas of the period.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket became a ‘medieval celebrity’ after his brutal murder in the Cathedral on 29th December 1170 and he is buried in a majestically designed chapel, approached by increasing architectural richness on the climatic processional pilgrimage routes.

The monks of Canterbury regarded him as a second Christ.  Like Christ, he returned on Palm Sunday, presided over his ‘last supper’,  was struck down by enemies of the state and had five wounds inflicted on him.  Poetic hagiography is incorporated into the Trinity Chapel where red and white stone symbolise Becket’s blood and brain; the red also depicts Becket as a martyr and the white shows his inner martyrdom.  This analogy has strong Christological references as blood and water spilled from Christ’s side wound.

This trip included many favourites for me: cathedrals, ruins, the seaside and the work of Antony Gormley.  Nowadays, his sculptures are ubiquitous in cathedrals and one is suspended in the crypt.  Made of recycled iron nails from the repaired roof, Transport hangs above the site of Becket’s first tomb.  The 6ft floating man reminds us that we are temporary inhabitants of our bodies; they house our souls and are the instruments through which we are able to communicate our emotions.  The piece expresses transience and reflects the way in which sacred spaces communicate a sense of time and eternity.

After popping into St Augustine’s Abbey (founded in AD 567 by St Augustine during his mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity), I headed to Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre.  Although Richborough is now over two miles from the sea, it was once a bustling port that saw the first Roman landing – hard to believe now when looking at the surrounding countryside. 

After struggling with English Heritage’s poor signage, I finally found St Augustine’s Cross – a 19th century cross of Saxon design marking what is thought to have been the site of St Augustine’s landing on the shores of England in AD 567.

After a wonderful day, I arrived at a gorgeous B&B in Broadstairs before heading off to a wonderful dinner in Ramsgate.  The coastal villages seem to be stuck in a time warp – old chippies, amusement arcades and enormous beaches – with shabby, run down seafronts. 

That’s not to say that they aren’t charming in parts as Kent really is a beautiful county but some of these places feel like they have been left behind. 

Early the next day, I drove along the pretty but somewhat dilapidated coast to Margate.

Margate must have been wonderful in its heyday but is now very sad, mostly boarded up and shut down.

Turner Contemporary, the brand new public art gallery, is an imposing landmark and rises from the site of the lodging house where Turner stayed in Margate.  The view outside probably hasn’t changed much since his visits.  Sitting on the seafront, the building needed to be tough and robust.  After the initial shock factor of the arresting structure, designed by David Chipperfield architects, its charm becomes apparent.  Formed of six interlocking rectangular blocks, the two-storey building can evoke boat sheds or connecting artists’ studios. 

Flooded with natural light, the interior consists mostly of polished concrete and glass – a simple and clean design that is both austere and beautiful.  Chipperfield wanted art to be experienced rather than viewed and has made the open spaces like studios.  He succeeds, at the same time creating an intimacy conducive to wonderful exhibitions.   It is a triumph, perfectly in tune with its purpose and location.   

Turner spent time in Margate throughout his life and many of his works feature the Kentish coast. Turner Contemporary celebrates his connection with Margate and one or more of his paintings will always be on display in the gallery.  The current exhibition Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens takes inspiration from Turner’s 1815 painting of a volcanic eruption on the island of St Vincent.  Turner was fascinated by the power of nature and this painting captures the drama.  His works give the viewer sensory experiences transcending their surroundings to become part of the scene.

Image via www.anothermag.com

The only permanent work, Michael Craig-Martin’s neon Turning Pages invites you to begin your metaphorical journey around the galleries.

I don’t have a bad word to say about the current exhibition.  Daniel Buren makes use of the large window and walls.  His work frames the outside panorama, using mirrors to reflect and amplify the glorious coastal scene and a vivid yellow to further lighten and brighten the galleries. 

Douglas Gordon’s text work Afterturner, on the treads of the staircase, plays with Turner’s supposed last words.  Though the stairs have generated criticism for being tucked away and simple, I had no trouble finding them and felt a grander structure would have been out of place and detract from the large open plan resonance.

Ellen Harvey’s newly-commissioned Arcadia is a scale reconstruction of the gallery Turner built to house his work, filled with engraved lightboxes with views of present-day Margate.  There are also great works by Teresita Fernández and Russell Crotty.

For me the star of the show was Conrad Shawcross; his ingenious installations Projections of a Perfect Third seek to understand the musical chord.  Shawcross is fascinated by science and philosophy and this dramatic installation brings together different threads from his practice.  His mysterious, enigmatic structures leave you in awe, staring at the near-sublime rotating form that hangs above you, whirring in perpetual motion no matter what.  Shawcross’s machines are designed with no specific working purpose, suggesting a quest for a perfect ideal.  They are intricate manifestations of his thoughts and ideas showing the skill of his craftsmanship through beautiful, mesmerising forms.  The giant rotating wings (like helicopter blades or windscreen wipers) captivate viewers, leaving them standing engaged but lost. 

Strangely, Emin, Margate’s most famous daughter, is not included in the exhibition but her pink neon sign, I never stopped loving you, is installed above the door of the nearby tourist information centre and harbour master’s office.   The work is almost invisible in daylight and I had to ask someone to point it out.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I wasn’t in Margate at night to see if the work is more effective, dramatically illuminated on the front but, when the sun is shining, it is lost to the surrounding architecture and Emin’s thoughts remain unheard.

Due to the amount of walking, this was a flip-flops only trip but, in my hurry to get down to the beach to take photographs looking up at Turner Contemporary, I didn’t spot a large slimy patch of seaweed and managed to launch myself down the lifeboat ramp.  Splat!  Ouch!  That’ll teach me not to wear flat shoes!

Once a popular seaside resort (the famous Dreamland is expected to re-open in 2013), Margate is now rather run-down.  The perfect weather when I visited only served to highlight the town’s shabbiness.  Turner Contemporary is meant to be a catalyst for regeneration but, as much as I adored it, I’m not sure that this alone is enough.  The effect Turner Contemporary will have on the town and whether it will initiate the long-awaited Margate renaissance remains to be seen.  The locals have already embraced it, nicknaming it ‘The Turner’, but will it trigger the much-needed regeneration and prompt change?

On the way home, I stopped at Reculver where the 12th century towers of a ruined church stand defiant among the ruins of a fort and monastery.  Finally, oysters and a wander in Whitstable before returning to London.  And all in less than 2 days. 

Of course, if you aren’t feeling quite that intrepid, the train will get you to Margate in only a couple of hours and you too can spend the day at the seaside.

All photographs are my own.  More can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.187173014662889.42704.121039074609617

http://www.turnercontemporary.org/

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/

http://belvidereplace.co.uk/

Another Thursday, another night of openings.

15 Apr

Although this is now the second consecutive week that I’ve managed this, I’m afraid this isn’t going to be a regular Thursday evening fixture. 

First stop – Haunch of Venison to see Wim Wenders, Places, strange and quiet which opens to the public today.

Wim Wenders – Sun Bathers, Palermo – image via www.haunchofvenison.com 

The exhibition presents a range of photographs taken around the world between 1983-2011.  The images have powerful resonances whether the echoing empty spaces or the panoramic depictions of towns.  Wenders has a strong feeling of place and he’s excited by looking at a map and picking somewhere new to explore.  As ever, Haunch displays the photographs beautifully – well lit, well hung and well curated.  Would you expect anything less?

Wim Wenders – Moscow Back Yard – image via www.haunchofvenison.com 

Downstairs they are showing Eve Sussman and the Rufus Corporation – a collection of photography and video installations.  This exhibition didn’t have quite the same impact for me although the works are interesting centring around whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir, a film following the observations and surveillance of a code writer stuck in a futuristic city. 

Now, what could possibly be more different to that?  A nice stroll up Bond Street with some window shopping thrown in, took me to Heartbreak gallery who were launching a celebrity exhibition to raise funds for Great Ormond Street Hospital.  Famous figures from the worlds of art, fashion, hairdressing, sport and entertainment were invited to cut, colour and style their ‘HARE’ for the exhibition.

Own photograph

I was reticent when I first read about this show thinking it would be rather ‘silly’ but the huge variety of invited artists ensures that although there are some badly executed works, they are softened by artistic genius and comedy.  The range really is immense – ‘artists’ include Helena Bonham Carter, Alastair Campbell, Cheryl Cole, Tracey Emin and Stella McCartney. 

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With over 200 artworks, Heartbreak had a challenge on their hands to make this exhibition a success but a success it certainly is.  They have grouped the ‘hares’ into themes over 3 floors.  We took great pleasure in testing our artistic knowledge and trying to guess whose hare was whose.  I’m pleased to say we weren’t too hopeless.  The opening was jam-packed and the works on the stairs were a bit tricky to see for fear of a slipping stiletto causing a downwards domino effect. 

Own photograph

With so many favourites, it’s hard to single any out, but noteworthy hares included: Nicola Hicks’ sculpted hare, the tactile texture of Stella McCartney’s, the comic value of Jimmy’s Carr’s play on linguistics, Teresa Witz’s take on the Dürer hare, Nicky Clarke’s clever collage, Kate Brinkworth’s beautiful acrylic and Nicole Fahri’s cut-out collage.  Artists Tracey Emin and Marc Quinn played on their usual style producing great works in the process. 

This is a fun exhibition for a good cause and you can see some great artworks too.  Go and chase a hare, you may even decide to place a bid!

 

All hares via www.heart-break.co.uk

Wim Wenders and Eve Sussman are on display until 14th May at Haunch of Venison, Burlington Gardens – www.haunchofvenison.com

Hare Styling is at Heartbreak Gallery, Bulstrode Street, until 5th May – www.harestyling.com.

Spring Sensation – Miró at Tate Modern

12 Apr

There is no doubt that Tate Modern’s blockbuster Miró exhibition – the first in London for almost 50 years – is going to be popular.

Even those who know nothing about Miró can recognise his work – bright colours, lots of shapes, that’s him! This exhibition is informative without overloading, successfully revealing the seriousness that underpinned much of his work.  But, if you don’t already love Miró, I’m not sure The Ladder of Escape will make you fall for him and, after 13 rooms of Stygian gloom, you may well be glad to escape.

The Escape Ladder, 1940 – image via www.moma.org  

And, always prepared, I did indeed have a pair of ‘escape’ shoes ready and waiting.   After my successful shoe-changing last Thursday, I took flats with me as spares (running shoes you might say) but it seems that common sense had abandoned me this morning.  Realisation dawned too late that, had I changed shoes, I would have been tripping over 4 inches of trouser leg.  The flat shoes were just ballast in my handbag.

A Star Caresses the Breast of a Negress (Painting Poem), 1938 – image via www.tate.org.uk

It is fascinating to follow the progression of Miró’s unique language, evoking freedom and energy in his early years.  In fact, it is often easy to get caught up in that vocabulary and forget to study the work as a whole.  The strength and vibrancy of his colours result in enigmatic works that entrance the viewer.   Miró witnessed some of the most turbulent years in Spanish and European history yet his political response was sporadic. 

Still Life with Old Shoe, 1937 – image via www.moma.org

This exhibition attempts to politicise Miró but often goes too far.  The influences of time, place and politics do not make all of his work political.  In this regard, the captions are sometimes excessive although their visual analysis is effective and helpful for those viewing the works for the first time.  A universal problem crops up in this exhibition – the captions refer to comparable paintings but no images or room numbers show where one might see these works.  Confusing!

In the first room, the light grey of the walls creates an airy feeling.  By the second, it feels drab.  By the third, it becomes claustrophobic.  The wall colour (and lack of light) is a real problem.  These works need colour and light to be best displayed and the monotonous grey is melancholic.  Some éminence grise at Tate will probably rationalise this as a reflection of contemporaneous politics but, for me, it ruined an otherwise beautifully curated exhibition. 

Own photograph

Room 4 (one of the darkest of the exhibition) presents pastels of distorted figures and Miró’s intense expressive power is evident in the savage brutality of the works.  Miró dates all these works octobre 1934 saying they were meant to capture the turbulence on the streets and violence of the times.  The miners’ strike on 5 October 1934 was followed the next day by a general strike and the declaration of a Catalan republic, bringing Barcelona to a standstill.  Times were changing and the mounting trouble is explicit in these violent and highly-sexualised works.

Personnage, 1934 – image via www.centrepompidou.fr

By room 7, the dim lighting was starting to make me feel depressed.  The further into the exhibition you get, the darker it becomes.  The darkest room of all houses the Constellations series; a beautiful small-scale series built through recurring structures and figures – the crescent moon, uneven Mironian star, spidery star and the spiral.  Yet, you can barely see these works, they cry out to be flooded with light.

Chiffres et constellations amoureux d’une femme, 1941 – image via www.artic.edu

The exhibition is overwhelming – 150 works gathered from all over the world.  It’s hard to pick favourites; the textured works from summer 1936 deserve close study with their strikingly crude surfaces.  Be sure to admire two gorgeous paintings quite early in the show, The Hare (1927) and Dog Barking at the Moon (1926) with their simplicity strengthened by Miró’s powerful use of colour.  These simple flat planes with isolated forms create dreamlike nocturnal scenes where animals venture out to reclaim the natural world as their own.  The nocturnal is a fundamental element of Surrealism showing the irrational and undisclosed, the mysterious and unconscious. 

Dog Barking at the Moon, 1926 – image via www.philamuseum.org

Miró’s oeuvre is truly amazing – from detailed landscapes to huge abstracts; it is hard not to like him.  The exhibition focuses on three sections of his painting career, yet he was hugely prolific across a vast range of media including sculpture, carvings, collages, puppets, tapestries and ceramics.  Although we do see a group of sculptures placed centrally in room 9, you cannot circumnavigate the works individually and have to view their backs through other works -a confusing montage.   

Own photograph

Miró’s creativity never ceased and his endless experimentation is evident in the burnt canvases where he cut the works with a knife, punctured them with sharp objects, applied paint and petrol then ignited them.  A complicated process followed by further painting, burning, walking on the works, cutting with scissors, punching holes, tilting the canvases to allow dripping all the while using a wet mop to control the procedure and a blowtorch to heighten certain areas. 

Burnt Canvas, 1973 – image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Miró’s ‘violence’ was carefully executed, laying bare the structural architecture of a painting while denying it a leading role.  He rejected traditional concepts of art, preferring to go his own way and break the mould, gesturing to the liberty his country sought.  As in his 1974 Paris retrospective, two of the works are suspended to show both front and back as if they were sculptures – somewhat ironic considering the cramped display of his actual sculptures in the previous room.  The drama of the suspended works could have been heightened by more effective lighting that would have created more powerful shadows.  The wall colour once again detracts as the wall-hung canvases do not work with the dreadful grey showing through.   

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Tate must be praised for the unification of Miró’s five triptychs, placed within specially-built octagonal rooms, designed to create a sense of isolation.  You lose yourself in the immersive blue of Blue and the texture that almost seems alive of The Hope of a Condemned Man (1974).   I truly felt part of the works, reminding me of a similar isolated but transportive experience in front of Monet’s waterlilies at the Orangerie.  I could have sat in both spaces for hours, lost as the artists intended.

Own photograph

One critic has referred to the light-flooded galleries of Tate.  Maybe we were at different exhibitions as I left feeling ill and exhausted from the gloom.  There is, however, no denying that this is a stunning exhibition.  Do not let the greyness detract – you really should pay homage to Miró’s genius and the Tate’s mastery in bringing these works together.

From this Thursday 14th April until 11th September 2011.

www.tate.org.uk

So many galleries, so little time…

8 Apr

Yesterday was definitely a mega gallery trawl.  Having spent a few days in bed suffering from the dreaded lurgy that I always seem to get at this time of year, I was suffering art withdrawal symptoms.  Heels at the ready (although having regard for my frailty I had a pair of flipflops in my Mary Poppins- like handbag just in case), I set off.

My first stop was Parasol unit on Wharf Road whose current exhibition, I Know Something About Love, includes works by Shirin Neshat, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Yang Fudong.  Each artist explores the theme of love in various times and cultures reflecting on their personal experiences.  I went as I am a huge Yinka fan; for this exhibition he has re-configured his installation Jardin d’amour originally shown in Paris in 2007.  The works are housed within an evocatively romantic maze of ivy-covered trellis filled with secret walkways and mysterious turnings. 

Own photograph

You come across the three Yinka installations after losing yourself in the work. Please note, this was the only time that evening I got lost but that’s probably due to the fact that later I was with “the boys”!  I felt like a child again, on a treasure hunt and these works are indeed buried treasure.  Peepholes in the maze mean you see the installations of The Confession, The Pursuit and The Crowning before you find them. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

There is an exciting sensation as your pace quickens trying to reach the goal – hunting for the mystery of love.  Ironically, you encounter lots of dead ends in the process!  Beautifully complemented by the maze, Yinka playfully applies a political perspective by looking at love in eighteenth-century Rococo France.  The three scenes resemble Fragonard paintings with elegantly dressed, affectionately intertwined (headless) couples.   

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

One of the installations, surrounded by fritillarias, has a bench enabling the spectator to become part of the scene.  No-one is indifferent to love and Yinka’s garden will bring out the hopeless romantic in even the most cynical of us. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

The other artists’ works are in the upstairs gallery – three striking video installations that are all powerful in different ways.  To be truthful, I hurried through the upper galleries still lost in Yinka’s magical mystery tour so I didn’t afford these works very much time.

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

As I was next door it seemed opportune to pop into Victoria Miro where they are showing ‘new and recent’ paintings by Chantal Joffe.  As you enter the ground-floor gallery space you are confronted by seven large-scale paintings in a muted palette of black, red, blue and white. 

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This limited palette is very effective, creating a sombre and dignified feeling.   The paintings depict portrayals of Joffe’s heroines, both imagined and real (painters and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries).  The young women, isolated against dark backgrounds, are trapped within the canvases; their bodies are in awkward or sexual poses, distorted or kneeling, conveying a sense of vulnerability.  The works are untitled to denote a lack of specificity but this reading is meaningless when looking at the works and the artist’s intention isn’t helpful.

Image via www.victoria-miro.com

The works left cold rather than feeling sympathetic or empathetic – they just had no impact.  However, I love this gallery and large works look good in this cavernous space.   In all Joffe’s paintings the figures gaze away from the viewer, maybe looking into the future or reflecting on the past.  Who knows?  And, sadly, who cares?  I felt the works were bland and, unfortunately, this didn’t change as I walked around the exhibition

Upstairs, smaller works are overpowered by the architecture.  Being familiar with Joffe’s earlier works, to me these new canvases seem hurried and I didn’t sense how these women felt or how Joffe herself  felt. 

 

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Time to move on…

I met with ‘the boys’ and we headed to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery for the opening of an exhibition of new works by Harold Cohen.  Cohen, who represented the UK at the 1966 Venice Biennale, is undoubtedly a well-known artist – a pioneer in applying computing to the arts having created a unique technique.  These works are created with his celebrated program AARON which here forms the digital equivalent of underpainting the canvas.  Cohen then works over this underlayer with oils creating the finished works we know today.  I was fortunate to chat briefly to Cohen at the gallery; even during our short conversation, his passion and pride for the works is evident.  They are vivid and make good use of the upper gallery space.  For me, the works reflected the gorgeous weather outside.  As simplistic as this may sound, they were happy abstract canvases – the perfect antidote to the Joffe. 

Image via www.jacobsongallery.com

By now we were getting conscious of the time and, with my flipflops on, dashed up to the Lava Gallery for Page Tsou’s opening.  Although I’m a regular to Carnaby Street and the surrounding courtyards, I’d never noticed this gallery before which I think is a large part of its problem. 

Own photograph

This is a small space in a great location but there is nothing that exciting about the set-up to draw people in.  Tsou’s exhibition is only on for a week but it’s definitely worth a visit. 

He has flipped traditional portraiture – drawing the back of heads to form unidentifiable portraits. 

Image via www.rca.ac.uk

It’s a clever idea.  Tsou said he began this project as he realised it’s the back of the head that we look at every day, walking down the street, on the bus… and he didn’t know why people always focus on facial features when the hair and skull can be just as interesting.  These portraits are semi-figurative and mysterious.  Tsou’s technique is unquestionably good and the intricacy of his drawings is fascinating.  He has an unusual vision whilst upholding original techniques – certainly one to watch. 

Own photograph

And, he was giving away free combs – a nod to the hair-themed exhibition.  Love it!

 

Own photograph

As we legged it down to White Cube it was time for the heels to go back on.  I have a reputation to uphold after all and what fun would a PV be if I wasn’t tottering around.  Also the boys are all rather tall (they cheekily say I’m rather short) and I can see them better with my heels on.  Mason’s Yard was mobbed!  It was as if someone had sent an e-mail out earlier in the day offering sunshine and free beer after work and the whole of Mayfair had turned up. 

Own photograph

I doubt that many of the people there actually saw New Order as when we ventured inside it was blissfully quiet in comparison to the people-packed courtyard.  White Cube has to be the only gallery I know that operate crowd control with an in-out system in use for the PVs.  Classic and something only they could pull off. 

Apparently, the works in this exhibition share ‘a focus on the transformation of social or ideological structures that shape experience and, in different ways they explore existing communal, political and physical constructs of the everyday’.  A suitably broad and all-encompassing statement that enabled White Cube to shove in whatever they wanted.  There is no denying that the individual pieces in this show are great but, overall, I don’t feel there was any formal coherence to the show and the pieces don’t come together well. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

If I didn’t know better, I’d say these works had been pulled out of storage to fill a gap in the exhibition schedule.  The Balka work on show downstairs was generating a lot of attention but that was partly because, after a few beers and too much sun, people were enjoying the interactive element.  It is actually a very poignant work: a long tunnel with five coloured threads hanging and intermittently rotating, recalling wartime atrocities in Poland. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

By all means go to see the pieces and admire them in their own right but, for me, the theory does not make this a cohesive show. 

Time was getting tight and we were forced to sacrifice openings at Simon Lee and in Hoxton Square and hail a cab to the Britannia Street, Gagosian. 

This is another space that I adore and I particularly admire the versatility of the layout.  For this exhibition of works by Philip Taaffe, the gallery has returned to the format I like best, the one that was used for their wonderful Bacon/Hirst exhibition in 2006 and many more besides, with the main room as a huge rectangular space and a side room on the far left.   

Taaffe’s first solo show in London was one of the best of the evening.  The main room is filled with intoxicating triangular canvases – their kaleidoscopic shapes produce a trance-like mesmeric state.  The works are full of contradictions: the near violent use of clashing colours is still harmonious (or, perhaps, the fashion for colour blocking makes it seem so), the works are both filled with control and abandon, figuration and abstraction.  Considering this, they are very powerful pieces. 

Image via http://1.bp.blogspot.com

The second room is very different in style and, for me, not as exciting; here, Taaffe focuses on the interrelation of forms and images across art, nature, architecture and archaeology, recalling masks from Greek tragedy, ornamental friezes and late-antique stone carving. 

Image via www.gagosian.com

These are more muted than the stained-glass effect of works in the first room.  Although the works are aesthetically pleasing and this is a nice exhibition it is nothing outstanding.

An exhausting, but kind of wonderful, gallery overload and I couldn’t have planned a more diverse route if I’d tried.   I changed back into my flipflops outside the gallery and the security guard actually came out to tell me how clever he thought that was.  He laughed at me so much as I shrank a good four inches that I decided to call it a day.

Next stop … next week … Miró at Tate!

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