Archive | June, 2011

Buy the Catalogue: René Magritte at Tate Liverpool

23 Jun

Last time I visited Tate Liverpool was in 2007 to see their Chapman Brothers’ exhibition and I was excited to return to have another look in the gallery.  René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle confirms my previously mentioned opinion that Tate bought a bargain job-lot of grey paint and is going mad with it.  The opening room is so dark and gloomy that you don’t actually want to look at these masterpieces.  Instead, you want to hurry through to find the light.

Own photograph.

Magritte’s works are iconic.  His interest in evoking mystery dominates most of his works, exploring the disturbing effects of depicting recognisable and familiar objects in unfamiliar environments.  The works make use of visual repetition and the paintings themselves are also repetitive.  Magritte regarded that his role as an artist was to confuse and displace; he often makes it hard for viewers to know what they are looking at, a method enhanced by his sometimes bland painting and commercial expressionless, advertisement style.

René Magritte, The Listening Room, 1958.  Own photograph.

I am normally a firm believer in the importance of seeing works first hand but Magritte himself did not think this was necessary saying there is ‘very little difference between seeing a work in reproduction and looking at the real thing.’  That is usually not the case but it is for Magritte’s where I think the concept is more important than the paintings themselves.  He often churned out many of the same works; when seen individually, whether ‘in the flesh’ or in reproduction, they are amazing but when seen in bulk they blur into each other and lose significance.

This is the most comprehensive Magritte exhibition ever staged in the UK with over 100 loans from private and public collections, including works that have never been exhibited before.  The paintings are arranged thematically, showing different elements of Magritte’s practice but I found some sections to be disjointed.

His Vache paintings are silly works with a strange humour (Vache, literally meaning cow, was a pun on Fauve or ‘wild beast’ and was the name given to artists associated with the Fauvist movement at the beginning of the 20th century).  Ellipsis is the strongest in this section, showing a green headed man, wearing a Magritte-style bowler hat (with an eye staring out from its crown) – his nose is a rifle, his left hand is detached from his arm, his eyes are cartoon-like and the colours are garish.  Magritte’s Vache works are flamboyant in their caricatured style and uncharacteristic in his oeuvre; the artist utilises his paint in an unusually sloppy and painterly fashion, challenging conventional expectations of taste.

René Magritte, Ellipsis, 1948.  Own photograph.

The exhibition includes such well-known paintings as: The Lovers (1928) whose shrouded heads perhaps recall the horror of Magritte’s own mother’s suicide when the young Magritte witnessed his mother’s drowned body being pulled from a river, her face veiled by her nightdress; Threatening Weather (1929) bearing the hallmarks of an unsettling, possibly erotic dream; Time Transfixed (1938) where a train travelling at full speed emerges from a fireplace and; The Treachery of Images (1935), more familiarly known as Ceci n’est pas une pipe, (don’t miss it, it’s hidden by a doorway) of which he made many versions, all of which have received an inordinate amount of study and analysis.  The pipe, in fact, became the most emblematic of Magritte’s banal images.

René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, 1935.  Own photograph.

The sheer quantity of the loans does mean there are some exciting works with which I wasn’t familiar.  The Secret Player (1927) is one of his first truly Surrealist works, establishing many familiar techniques: depicting objects in contrasting sizes, the metamorphosis of the inert into the living, the suggestion of staged performance behind a curtain and the presentation of the ordinary in extraordinary circumstances.  Here, it is a cricket match amongst skittle-like bilboquets which evolve into trees.  The work is unsettling and confusing – why is that turtle floating overhead?  There is a lot of misery and unpleasantness in Magritte’s world, it’s not all jolly transformations of fruit.

René Magritte, detail of The Secret Player, 1927.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

My favourite work is a piece I hadn’t seen before.  Crouch down in the corner of the first room and spend some time with The Cut-Glass Bath (1949).  I’m not going to ruin its elegant simplicity with words – it’s beautiful but, of course, the subject of capture and imprisonment is not.

René Magritte, The Cut-Glass Bath, 1949.  Own photograph.

I am ashamed to admit that half way through the exhibition I gave up on my heels and had to change shoes, shrinking several inches in the process.  I had gone up to Liverpool for meetings at the Contemporary Urban Centre (a wonderful space) and having already walked for most of the day, my feet had had enough.  There is only so much one person can take and the greyness of the walls made me feel drained.  Awful I know!  Don’t worry, I was back clacking today.

The exhibition does improve drastically in the second half.  ‘The Pictured Picture’ room playing with the idea of hidden visibles holds some gems.  The sketches are interesting and unusual to see, as Magritte proposes a three-way relationship between text, image and reality.  There are also some rarely seen photos by Magritte as well as a room devoted to his commercial works – advertising posters and the like.

The Pictured Picture.  Own photograph.

The exhibition was far bigger than I had expected, too big in fact.  You go round wanting not only to see the famous pieces but they’re famous for a reason and, amidst this confusing mass of work, you find yourself easily drawn to the familiar.

Now, it may not come as a surprise if I reveal I have a thing for the Thomas Crown Affair.  Of course, this is entirely due to the inclusion of my favourite Magritte painting and nothing to do with Pierce Brosnan!  Although reproductions of the man in the bowler hat recur frequently in the shop, The Son of Man (1964) is in private ownership and not included in the actual
exhibition.  Other Magritte paintings in the exhibition include very similar imagery and the act of partly covering the face is a common Magritte technique – we want to see the thing that is hidden by the thing the artist shows us, we are left in flux, in conflict.  But, the work itself isn’t here.  This wouldn’t have been a problem for me if they hadn’t plastered the image all over their merchandise!  (This is a common gallery marketing tool but it is misleading and people don’t appreciate being misled.)  I had to come home and watch the film to make up for it (swoon).

René Magritte, The Son of Man, 1964.  Image via www.wikimedia.org

Something Tate Liverpool has produced very well is the catalogue.  Not a traditional exhibition book of essays and images, this cute little A-Z begins with A for absence and finishes with Z for zwanzeur with sections on themes, individual paintings and other people.  OK, I won’t leave you in suspense; a zwanzeur is a joker in Brusseleer, a dialect spoken in the Marolles district of Brussels.  Also the little exhibition guide you take round with you, is a chronology rather than the usual repeats of the wall blurbs and it works really well.

René Magritte: A-Z.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

One of the main problems with this show (as with so many) is that it claims to do things that it doesn’t.  Tate Liverpool thinks they offer a fresh look at this popular artist.  They exhibit rarely seen works and bring a large body together but I don’t think they offer any valuable new research, there’s nothing fresh.

If you live near Liverpool or you’re there for the day then it’s definitely worth a visit.  If you’re not, then depending on where you live, it could be quite a trek (it took me 3 hours each way on the train).  It is a good exhibition but that is just because the works are fantastic and maybe you can enjoy them just as much by buying the catalogue.

René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle is at Tate Liverpool from tomorrow (24th June) until 16th October 2011, www.tate.org.uk.

Cancan at The Courtauld: Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril

19 Jun

Those of you that know The Courtauld well, will know you need to be fit to reach the exhibition, unless, of course, you chicken out and take the lift.  Running up the stairs in stilettos is only for the ‘highly’ experienced!

Own photograph.

I always find the exhibition galleries at The Courtauld warm and calming, rather like this well-thought out and researched exhibition, examining the identity of the famous dancer, Jane Avril, looking at her both as a private individual and as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s muse.

Own photograph.

Most of us know of Jane Avril because of Lautrec.  Born to a courtesan mother, Jeanne Beaudon had a troubled and distraught childhood.  After running away from home, she was committed to a mental hospital with female hysteria.  Nervous mannerisms were always present in her frenzied dancing and her unique style became apparent at a hospital fancy dress ball, a bal des folles.  When she was discharged, at the age of 16, she headed straight to the Latin Quarter to follow her dancing dreams.  Although she danced at many venues, she is perhaps most famous for her time at the Moulin Rouge who first hired her in 1889; within a short period she became one of their headline dancers under her stage name, Jane Avril.  She met Lautrec in the early 1890s when they were both in their twenties.  In 1895, Avril replaced Louise Weber, Paris’s most famous dancer, and soon became a star.

Jane Avril at the Moulin Rouge.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

The exhibition starts with, and rotates around, Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge (1892), a work from The Courtauld’s own collection.  The strength of the exhibition is that The Courtauld takes one of its own works, draws it to our attention and enhances our understanding by shaping the exhibition with prestigious loans from collections around the world.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril in the Entrance to the Moulin Rouge, 1892.  Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk

One of the first pieces you’ll see is the most iconic pose captured by Lautrec: a gouache on paper of Jane Avril Dancing (1893).  This pose could have been based on a publicity photograph of the dancer but the vivacity and fluidity of Lautrec’s brushwork suggest parts were worked from life.  It is not just a study, it is a work in its own right.  We can feel Avril’s movement as she raises her leg, balancing on her heel (my heels are slightly higher than hers, so I won’t give this a go right now).  Although her quadrille naturaliste is a provocative dance, Avril’s action somehow lacks sexuality and there is a dark undertone; her facial expression is hard to read but she seems sad, far older than her years.  The pose recurs in the lithograph, from the same year, Jane Avril at the Jardin de Paris, lent by MoMA and exhibited to the right of the gouache.  A darker, more faded version of the poster appears in the second room of the exhibition, this time loaned from the V&A – I told you the extent of loans was impressive.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril at the Jardin de Paris, 1893 (MoMA).  Own photograph.

The internal frame of the lithograph is created by the double bass of the orchestra.  I’d never read this poster as a sexualised work until I read Waldemar Januszczak’s review of the exhibition where he talks about the hand grasping the double bass as an image of male masturbation, the double bass as a penis and Avril as an object of desire.  And he has to be right – this clever reading certainly changes how we regard the work.  He was a very sexual being and his diminutive height never hampered Lautrec’s lively libido.  He is known to have bragged “I may only be a small coffee-pot, but I have a big spout.”

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril at the Jardin de Paris, 1893 (V&A).  Own photograph.

The poster was an instant hit – its strong colours and eye-catching design guaranteed that people would stop to look.  The importance of a carefully-crafted publicity image was key to a celebrity status in the entertainment industry of Montmartre.  The sophistication of Avril’s image contrasted with the explicit styling of some of the other dancers.  Lautrec’s works were landmarks in the history of art and of advertising.

The exhibition has clear progression, revealing new stages of research about the lives of the artist and his muse.  A sense of their relationship and friendship is revealed through the sketches shown alongside his paintings and lithographs.  Lautrec not only created Avril’s commercial persona, he understood her as an individual.  He was closer to Avril than to any of his other Montmartre subjects and the two remained loyal friends until the artist’s death at the age of 36.  One photograph on display even shows Lautrec wearing Avril’s hat and scarf to a fancy dress party in 1892.  While the lithographs show her as an exotic cancan dancer, the painted portraits and sketches show her as solitary and withdrawn.  They were drawn together by their differences, both outsiders in the seedy world of Montmartre.

One such highly intimate sketch is Jane Avril: Back View (1892-3). Apparently before a sitting, the artist and model would eat together on the Boulevard de Clichy allowing Lautrec to study Avril’s expressions and gestures while at ease.  Maybe this was the product of such a meal.  Wherever it was executed, there is a relaxed intimacy. The tense raised shoulders and delicate hands seen here became signature traits of Lautrec’s depictions of Avril.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril: Back View, 1892-3.  Own photograph.

Another work that caught my eye was Jane Avril (1899), made just a few weeks before Lautrec suffered a breakdown.  Though famous now, the design, showing Avril in a different light to most of his portrayals, was never used.  As she stands with parted lips, a serpent coils round her body stopping at her breasts.  Lacking the subtlety of the earlier poster, this is an unusually obviously sexualised image and was probably considered out of keeping with her established image.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril, 1899.  Own photograph.

Although there is no evidence they were anything more than friends, it is clear that Lautrec was infatuated with Jane Avril.  Avril wasn’t your normal dancer – she was elegant yet solitary, confident and intelligent.  Her mixture of sensuality and detachment captured audiences and artist alike.

The second room includes works by the likes of Munch and Biais as well as newspaper articles, photographs and books, following Avril’s extraordinary life and career.  I would have liked to see some more Lautrec’s in room two and did feel that The Courtauld diluted its focus by including so many other pieces.

Photographs in the second room.  Own photograph.

Lautrec’s enduring friendship with Jane Avril was different to his seedy portrayals of other Montmartre dancers.  Alongside his striking portraits, The Courtauld has presented the exuberant Lautrec posters that we know and love as pieces of artwork rather than just the iconic PR tools that made Avril famous.  This is a good lunchtime visit before relaxing by the fountains in the courtyard of Somerset House and enjoying the sun (if it ever re-appears).

The Courtauld only has a small exhibition space to work with and for it to stand a chance of being effective, as it is here, it must tackle small subjects that allows it to focus on a narrow body of works.  This exhibition celebrates a unique working relationship and brings both the artist and his muse into the limelight.   Jane Avril headlines once again!

Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge is at The Courtauld Gallery until 18th September 2011, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Top Marks to Tate Britain – The Vorticists

13 Jun

I first came across Vorticism when I was about 12 and our class art project was to produce a portrait of ourselves in the Vorticist style.  I realised at the time that it wasn’t a masterpiece (it’s somewhere in the attic and, even if I found it, I wouldn’t let you see it) and that I hadn’t quite captured the Vorticist aesthetic but then I had no idea how wrong I’d gone.  My own attempt played with the faceted angularity of Vorticism figuration, which originated from Cubism, but I had not grasped the subtle abstractions that develop this movement far beyond the previous Cubist works.  It’s lucky I decided to become an art historian, not an artist.

There is no doubt that I am a fan of this period – indeed of most 20th century British artwork – but that never normally stops me from criticising.  This exhibition, however, is spectacular, bringing together an amazing collection of artists, charting a movement that followed in the wake of Post-Impressionism, Cubism and Futurism.

The Tate Britain exhibition opens with the now-familiar Jacob Epstein sculpture, Rock Drill – a modern phallic power, a machine-like figure, astride a drill, an emblem of industry further representative of his hard phallus.  Although later emasculated in the reduced version, this work expresses the confidence and power of Britain on the brink of war.

Jacob Epstein, Torso in Metal from the ‘Rock Drill’, 1913-16.  Own photograph.

Tate have set the sculpture against a pink wall, evoking the colour of the first issue of Blast in 1914, an announcement of Vorticist ideals as well as a presentation of literary values.  Although this is one of the most iconic pieces in the exhibition, and Epstein was credited by the Vorticists, he never officially joined the group.  Instead, this sculpture shows the importance of machine aesthetics to these artists.

Jacob Epstein, Rock Drill, 1913-15.  Own photograph.

Aiming to place Vorticism in an international context, this exhibition looks at a tiny period of about two to four years, studying the impact of World War I on the Vorticists through close historical analysis.  The specificity of this exhibition looks at Vorticism in its own time, showing how quickly these artists were undermined by the reality and atrocities of war.  Many of the paintings from this time are now lost.  Imagine what may only be out there.  Indeed, the curators optimistically hope that this exhibition, the first of its kind in our internet age, may tempt some hidden gems out of our attics.

The exhibition, which works chronologically, starts with a broad introduction addressing the explosion of the avant garde and, in turn, Vorticism, in London.  Wyndham Lewis when describing the concept to a friend in 1914 said ‘Think of a whirlpool… At the heart of the whirlpool is a great silent place where all the energy is concentrated.  And there, at the point of concentration, is the Vorticist.’  Tate makes this statement clear and thus help to define this isolated movement.

Ezra Pound commissioned his close friend, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, to carve the similarly iconic Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound, 1914, which sits proudly in the centre of the second room.  Pound’s only instruction was that the work was to be virile and Gaudier-Brzeska didn’t let him down.  Influenced by the Moai of Easter Island, Pound’s ‘back’ is depicted as a giant phallus.  Known for his direct methods of carving, Gaudier-Brzeska worked directly from the stone, without using models – you can feel his passion and energy as you look at the piece.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound, 1914 – rear view.  Own photograph.

There really are too many masterpieces to name – the striking Bomberg paintings in room 2, the Epstein drawings that sit proudly on statement burgundy walls in the third room.  Tate have done this well.  The exhibition seems to get a sense of artists’ individual characters, with rooms focusing on singular figures, such as Epstein, in this dimly lit exploration of a number of his sculptures.

David Bomberg, The Mud Bath, 1914.  Own photograph.

The summer of 1915 heralded the first Vorticist exhibition at the Doré Galleries in London where six artists were invited to show alongside seven of the eleven original Vorticists; Jessica Dismorr, Frederick Etchells, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Wyndham Lewis, William Roberts, Helen Saunders and Edward Wadsworth.  The exhibition was a culmination a series of modern art exhibitions in London and was one of the most pronounced demonstrations of Vorticism.  For me, Gaudier-Brzeska is the star of this section of the exhibition.  His large dynamic works are shown alongside miniscule sculptures next to sensitive studies from his sketchbooks.  The display of one of his sketchbooks is brilliantly done – shown in a cabinet, a (badly lit) screen to the right shows a man flicking through the pages so we can appreciate every sheet rather than experience the usual yearning we are left with when such books are displayed.   I do hope this is something we begin to see more of.

Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Doorknocker, 1914.  Own photograph.

Gaudier-Brzeska was killed in the trenches aged only 23 and was already dead by the time of this 1915 exhibition, a powerful reminder of the times in which the Vorticists were working.  His death was announced in the second (and last) issue of Blast which also included an article he had written earlier.

The same room also has a work by Wyndham Lewis, the self-proclaimed leader of the movement – The Crowd from 1914-15.  This ingenious abstract composition suggests a modern city.  Individual figures lose their sense of individuality as they too become rigid structures.

Wyndham Lewis, The Crowd, 1914-15.  Own photograph.

The final room, in two sections, brings us to 1917 looking at the Penguin Club exhibition of that year, the last in the Vorticists’ ‘lifetime’, and the ‘vortographs’ of Alvin Langdon Coburn, an innovator and creative photographer.  The strong wall colours split the room with the photographic pieces hung on a powerful blue.  Here, my favourite works have to be the Wadsworth woodcuts – tiny images dealing initially with industrial towns from the North of England where Wadsworth explores and exploits the potential of the texture and contrast of his medium.

Alvin Langdon Coburn works.  Own photograph.

The War was a source of inspiration for many of these artists, most of whom also fought for their country.  The sombre feeling of the exhibition perfectly captures the environment in which they were working.  Big names successfully mix with those who are lesser known, including the female artists Dorothy Shakespear and Helen Saunders whose powerful compositions and use of colour is most striking.

Dorothy Shakespear, Composition in Blue and Black, 1914-15.  Image via www.artmonthly.co.uk

Vorticism has a distinctive look and an inherent aesthetic; the works are abstract expressions of a grey and gloomy time.  They show the subtle traffic of ideas from Europe and the continent through which the Vorticists forged their own distinctive style and ideas – ideas brilliantly explored in the catalogue that traces the movement’s connections with both New York and Europe.  Although, the Vorticists were a resolutely English group, they were influenced by worldwide trends and had a diverse heritage – Epstein was an American Jew, Gaudier-Brzeska originated from France, Lewis was Canadian-born and Ezra Pound, their spokesperson, was American.  A cosmopolitan England – today’s England.

Yes, I had a few of my usual moans – some of the grey paint I disliked so intensely in the Miró show seems to have come out of the cupboard again and some of the labels are peculiarly placed at the back of the sculptures but, overall, Tate haven’t tried to jazz this up – it is a beautifully curated selection of stunning and important art works.  It is clearly and concisely laid out – you can walk around the sculptures, walk through the rooms without obstruction and understand the development of the movement.

The War ended and with it Vorticism – one of its many casualties.  The main problem with Vorticism is that too few people know about this short-lived movement and this exhibition and catalogue should help to change that.  Too few works survive but the energy, talent and sheer vivacity of these artists, despite the horrific times in which they worked, shines through.  It is a brilliant exhibition, bringing these genii to the forefront.  Bravo Tate.

The Vorticists: Manifesto for a Modern World opens tomorrow until 4th September 2011 at Tate Britain, http://www.tate.org.uk.

Making a Mark – Richard Long: Human Nature and Giuseppe Penone at Haunch of Venison

12 Jun

Friday evening marked my second visit to Haunch of Venison’s Richard Long exhibition.  The two visits could not have been more different.  A couple of weeks ago, when I first popped in, the gallery was a space of peaceful tranquillity with only a few people admiring the works.  Last Friday, the gallery was taken over for The Courtauld Summer Party with hundreds of Courtauld alumni buzzing around the rooms.  The exhibition was almost forgotten as the hub swelled and gossip escalated.  Mine were not the only heels in the gallery and the sweeping staircase that leads to the first floor acted as a ‘would-be’ red carpet for glamorous alumni.

Haunch of Venison staircase with Giuseppe Penone, Ripetere il bosco – frammento 28, 2007.  Own photograph.

In spite of the fun that overwhelmed Haunch that evening, this exhibition is certainly not one to be missed.

Long is the walking artist, a pioneer both in Land and Conceptual art; his works are characterised by simplicity, precision and economy, exploring complex ideas about time and space, movement, natural forces and human experience.  The exhibition features works in a variety of media that have arisen from, or been inspired by, his walks.  Whether huge stone sculptures or smaller photographs, the works all share this common theme, focusing on the effects of his recent travels.

Richard Long, Stone Print Spiral, 2011.  Own photograph.

Although the show presents new works, there is no doubt that Long is following his well-trodden path using a tried and tested motif that he first happened upon in his teens (when he photographed the tracks created by a rolling snowball and poured plaster into the sunken holes and crevices that remained) and has developed over the years.

Long’s work is created outside the traditional artist’s studio.  His studio is the landscape and his tools are nature’s creations.  These works, often in the form of huge sculptures, appeal to our sensual natures while his photographs and text-based works allow our imaginations to do the work.  These two practices come together most successfully in the largest room at Haunch where, in North South, the white Portland stone circle, divided by an upright line of Cornish Delabole slate, is surrounded by text works.  Compass points in North South evoke the world outside the gallery – although Long has brought nature inside, it is impossible to confine his natural ideas.

Richard Long, North South, 2011, and other works.  Own photograph.

The text works range from small framed pieces to word-installations that take over entire walls.

Richard Long, Fibonacci Walk, Somerset, 2009.  Own photograph.

As Long introduces nature’s materials into the galleries, imposing himself on the works, they become objects of contemplation rather than mere evocations of his journeys.  With society’s continuous destruction of our natural landscape, Long’s work is still as powerful as it ever was.  His relationship with our environment strikes a resounding chord.   Long studied at St Martins under Anthony Caro alongside some of our greatest modern artists and was encouraged to pursue whatever art form he wished.  His own interpretation of painting is seen in one work, from which the exhibition takes its title, where he has thrown watery clay and pigment at the wall, using his hands, rather than man-made tools, to create shapes.  The pigment in this work is an unusual inclusion for Long but aims to show the often necessary and harmonious marriage of man and nature.  Long’s work is very much about himself, the way he interacts with natural forms.

Richard Long with Human Nature, 2011.  Image via www.thisislondon.co.uk

Long’s work is about journeys and, as we walk around the exhibition, we make our own journey.  You may remember that I wrote about the Fabien Seiz exhibition (at the Josh Lilley Gallery) a few weeks ago where visitors’ footprints mark the bitumen on the gallery floor.  Here again, although less explicitly, we can think about our own journeys, conscious of the marks we leave behind all day whilst walking along the streets, running for the tube or ambling through London’s parks.

Also using the natural landscape as its focus, the concurrent exhibition at Haunch shows the works of Giuseppe Penone.  Take care not to confuse the two artists as a number of the larger upstairs galleries are filled with Penone’s work, not Long’s!  The press release at the reception desk has a helpful map to guide you through – sense the irony that a map is helpful to understand the journeys taken by these two artists.  Working with natural elements, Penone’s work seeks to reveal realities through mark-making, studying the interaction between
man and his environment, showing nature’s resilience in spite of our frequent interventions.

Giuseppe Penone in the mezzanine gallery.  Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.    

Haunch is not the only place where Long is currently exhibited – as well as being included in major collections across the world, he also has a work in the Summer Exhibition, just a short walk down Burlington Arcade.  The Summer Exhibition work, which I’m fairly sure also appears downstairs at Haunch, Untitled (2010), is made using white china clay on black card showing a journey of hands.  Maybe this is a designed as a taster to lure people up to Haunch – you see one, you love it and you want to see more.

Richard Long, Untitled (2010).  Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.    

Or if you’re heading abroad there are two further Long shows in Berlin and New York.

Richard Long: Berlin Circle, installation view.  Until 31st July 2011 at the Haumburger Bahnhof Museum für GegenwartImage via www.therichardlongnewsletter.org.

Long has quite a busy exhibition schedule at the moment and maybe this explains why the Haunch show was, sadly, a tad smaller than I expected.  Although he may not have succumbed to the celebrity that compels some artists, Richard Long is undoubtedly one of the most important talents to have emerged since the 1960s.

Richard Long: Human Nature is at Haunch of Venison until 20th August 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com.

Walk the Line: Robin Rhode at White Cube

8 Jun

With a bar set up on the pavement in Hoxton Square, White Cube certainly know how to make the most of the sunshine.  But, as is often the way with White Cube PVs, lots of the drinkers seemed to have migrated from nearby offices and bars rather than having come to see the exhibition.

Well, I wasn’t only there for the beer!  I had tripped specially over the East End’s cobbles to have a look at Robin Rhode’s new work – his second White Cube exhibition.

White Cube Hoxton Square.  Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

Initially, making performances based on his drawings of objects with which he interacts, Rhode frequently works with everyday materials – the focus of this exhibition is a chair.  His now highly sophisticated digital animations use sequences of photography combined with drawn imagery, uniting various media.

Rhode often returns to his native South Africa re-creating the scrappy energy from his local street culture and combining it with every-day materials which he then transforms using high-tech animations.  Treating the drawing as a three-dimensional object, Rhode’s work is often contradictory in concept.

Downstairs at White Cube has become a blackened cinema which presents five animations, taking the chair designs of Gerrit Rietveld as their starting point.  Rhode’s uses his own electronic soundtracks to accompany the installations with music ranging from therapeutic to unsettling.

Military Chair, 2011.  Image via www.whitecube.com

Piano Chair shows the annihilation of a piano where the chair, normally the aid for playing, is used as an object of destruction.  Often drawn on walls, reminiscent of street graffiti, as seen here, the charcoal line drawings are child-like in their execution, moving around the walls on their animated journeys.  The composer is trying to kill his piano – not something we normally witness but an act that is absurd, sad, debilitating.

Piano Chair, 2011.  Image via www.whitecube.com

Some of the works successfully make use of a two-screen projection.  Kinderstoel , for me, the most resonant of them, is one such piece that changes screens midway through the animation.

Kinderstoel, 2011.  Image via www.whitecube.com

The animations are played in sequence so that we move around the room as they do – another piece that implicates and involves the spectator.

Upstairs at White Cube.  Image via www.whitecube.com

Upstairs shows two new series of black and white photographs inspired by Blaise Pascal and his 1653 treatise on the arithmetical triangle.

Pascal’s Plates, 2011.  Image via www.whitecube.com

There is no doubt that this is good work but I didn’t feel it was great.  Compositionally, all the works are strong but nothing excites me in the way Rhode’s work has in the past.

Robin Rhode is at White Cube Hoxton Square until 9th July 2011, www.whitecube.com.

A Salon for Summer: the RA’s Summer Exhibition

5 Jun

It’s that crazy time of year again – the summer season has begun.

Since the Royal Academy’s Foundation in 1768, the Summer Exhibition has been an annual fixture.  Historically, the exhibition was an opportunity for Royal Academicians to showcase their work but, today, it is renowned as the show where amateurs stand proudly alongside the gods of the modern-day art world.  It is part of the social calendar with all the glossies covering the grand party that marks the opening.  It is the show that is hated by the art world (many don’t even bother to visit) but it is packed every day until August.  You couldn’t hold this exhibition without the expected criticism.  Now, I won’t pretend that I’m not a Summer Exhibition critic but I did enjoy this year’s more than most.

Visitors at The Summer Exhibition.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’d been eagerly anticipating the exhibition since Jeff Koons’ sculpture was installed in the courtyard a few weeks ago.  Although quite abstract, the work stems from a line drawing of Piglet in Winnie the Pooh – one of my all-time favourite children’s’ books.  Koons explores the joyous playfulness of child-like marks in a colouring book.

Jeff Koons, Colouring Book.  Own photograph.

Royal Academicians Christopher Le Brun and Michael Craig-Martin (both of whom have wonderful works on display) have played major roles in this year’s curation.  Key to the changes introduced this year is that there is no theme.  I applaud their decision to accept the random nature of the exhibition and to go with it.

Unusually this year, visitors enter the exhibition through the central octagon filled with large-scale photographic works and Martin Creed’s Work No. 998 (familiar from his exhibition at The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, last year) where he has stacked chairs one on top of the other.  Although the chairs are different from each other they appear the same through the calming influence of rhythm, sequence and harmony.

Martin Creed, Work No. 998.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

 The selling point of the show has been the ‘Salon Hang’ in the RA’s grandest space.  Room III is certainly a success but, ironically, what I think works best is that it isn’t quite as crammed as in previous years.  The Royal Academy was originally housed at what is now The Courtauld Gallery and an 18th century salon hang was a dense floor-to-ceiling collective of works where the prime positions were ‘on the line’, a moulding placed at eye level.  This was excellently re-created in the ambitious exhibition, Art On The Line, in 2002.

Art On The Line, The Courtauld Gallery, 2002, curated by Professor David Solkin.  Image www.courtauld.ac.uk

Although not necessarily as busy as these hangs once were, Le Brun has followed traditional ideals with pieces radiating out from the large-scale works in the centre of each long wall.  He wanted visitors to find their own way through the gallery rather than being controlled by curatorial ideas.  He succeeds.  The strong grey wall colour suits the gravitas of many of the pieces on display.

Room III.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

For me, in this room and across the whole exhibition, Keith Tyson’s Deep Impact has to take first prize.  This mixed media on aluminium is a burning fire of molten fury, the swirling colours conjuring passion, turmoil and power, grabbing viewers’ attention as they amble through the thousands of works on display.

Keith Tyson with his work, Deep Impact.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

It is very hard to discuss this exhibition without pinpointing particular works.  As ever, at the Summer Exhibition, the best works stand out and the others merge into a panoply of dross.  I clacked around (the RA floors have some of the best heel acoustics in London) clutching my champagne, list of works and pen, noting interesting pieces.  But, flicking back, I now see I circled more than I expected so I will try to be brief.

Anselm Kiefer’s Aurora haunts the Large Weston Room.  This room, usually subdivided into sections on one side, has been left open and this is very successful.  There are still loads of works but, finally, there is the space to see them.

The Lecture Room, curated by Craig-Martin with his own specially invited artists, gathers together all the famous names of art with Allen Jones, Gary Hume, Michael Craig-Martin himself, Tracey Emin, Jenny Saville, Anish Kapoor, Christopher Le Brun, Antony Gormley, Richard Long… I could go on!  The works are all signature pieces from the artists as Craig-Martin wished the works to reveal ‘the true, distinct, and singular voice of an individual artist’.

Allen Jones, Think Pink.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There are the usual ‘pretty’ works (Ice-Hiss by Vanessa Cuthbert and Mr Muscle by Tor Hildyard) and, yes, there is a lot of rubbish (including some disappointing pieces from big names) and the last room is particularly weak.  But, if you search thoroughly, there are some wonderful things: David Nash’s Funnel, an amazing severed trunk that we can peer through, and Dae Kwon’s 250510R, that has won the Jack Goldhill award, both stood out for me.

Dae Kwon, 250510R.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Dog In a Bin by Simon Brundret is a kinetic sculpture made from silicone, rubber, bin and a motor, showing a dog devouring rubbish.  There is no doubt that this has the novelty factor but it left me with a smile.  I dare you not to look at it and grin.

Simon Brundret, Dog In A Bin.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

The RA receives no public money and the Summer Exhibition generates much revenue for the gallery.  Sales from the Summer Show also contribute to funding the RA schools (the only non-fee paying UK art school) which produce some of our greatest artists.

No-one is pretending that the Summer Exhibition is a collection of the best art in the UK today – accept it for what it is and enjoy it for all those reasons.  It is a gathering both of art and people, a mish-mash and an essential fixture in our summer calendar that provides an opportunity to see what’s going on in all echelons of the art world.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy opens on 7th June until 15th August 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

True or False? The Piccadilly Community Centre at Hauser & Wirth

1 Jun

With half an hour to spare I decided to explore Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly which has been recently transformed into a fully-functioning community centre.  I have been to Hauser many times but as I approached the normally familiar space, I began to feel disorientated – a feeling that did not go away.  A ‘For Sale’ sign over the door makes you feel nervous about entering, a poster outside proclaims ‘Cheques cashed, payday loans’ and a charity collection box stands outside.  Hauser is no longer Hauser – it really has transformed itself and no-one would know that this is one of London’s top galleries.  The entrance hall is deserted – no one is manning the counter.  Was I meant to be here?

Own photograph.

‘The Piccadilly Community Centre’ is by artist Christoph Büchel, known for his overtly real installations.  The exhibition is in response to the Arts’ funding cuts yet, ironically, this is not a cheap installation – the scruffy exterior and faded posters, the fake walls and realistic installations have been expensive to produce.   At the top of the building is a squat – filthy, rancid and rather intimidating in its squalor.  It somehow seems almost too realistic to be believable.

The squat at Hauser & Wirth.  Image via http://buyersagentlondon.com. 

Hosting a daily schedule of wide-ranging classes, workshops and events, the gallery is unrecognisable.  You can go along to fence, sing, knit, try Brazilian Zouk dancing, take astrology classes…  You name it and you can probably do it there as organisations are flocking to participate in the programme.  Facilities include multifunctional spaces, a computer room, a non-denominational prayer room, an activity room, a community canteen, a community bar and a club.

Image via www.hauserwirth.com.

The classes inside were in full swing – literally, in fact, as they did appear to be swing dancing.  But no, I wasn’t tempted (and didn’t have my dance shoes with me either)!  Every inch of wall is filled with notices advertising the schedule.  Many of the people using the community centre have no idea that it is a gallery.  They are unknowing participants in Büchel’s installation, benefitting from the facilities but oblivious to the fact they have become part of the artwork.  Like me, many of the usual ‘gallery-goers’ feel lost and displaced on entering.  There are clues around the centre that all is not as it seems – try to spot them if you can.

A policeman enjoying a class.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I felt lost – I went in and out a fair few times before being brave enough to explore the whole building.  Some people are making full use of the centre.  But, many of us are wandering around like headless chickens not really knowing what to do or where to go (in case you hadn’t realised I was in this category) and we, too, are part of the installation.

Whichever group you fit into it’s well worth a peek – don’t be scared, go and enjoy.

Piccadilly Community Centre is at Hauser & Wirth, Piccadilly until 30 July 2011 – www.piccadillycommunitycentre.org or www.hauserwirth.com.

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