Archive | August, 2011

Blurring the Boundaries: New Documentary Forms at Tate Modern

31 Aug

I don’t know what possessed me but, as I was close by, I decided to pop into Tate Modern for a quick visit over the Bank Holiday weekend – there were so many people!  Tate always has something new to see and, on this visit, I discovered a five-room photography display, examining the ways in which artists today use cameras to explore the power of the photograph as a documentary medium.  The exhibition also celebrates Tate’s new acquisitions.

The subject range is diverse with each room focusing on one artist and one project.

The exhibition opens with Mitch Epstein’s American Power series, the result of five years’ work, in which the artist documents the consequences of energy production.  His works capture the relationship between the American landscape and American society, often juxtaposing the two in striking, somewhat unsettling compositions showing homes in the shadow of power plants where people are deprived of clean air and water.  Epstein’s work is powerful, forcing the viewer to confront the issues at hand without sugar-coating the topic.  The vast scale of the images alludes to the enormity of the problem.  Engaging with the tradition of landscape photography, Epstein is working within an artistic heritage to illuminate this political context.

Mitch Epstein, American Power series. Own photograph.

This project began in 2003 when Epstein photographed the ‘erasure’ of Cheshire, Ohio, where American Electric Power bought the town and issued a gag order.  As the streets rapidly emptied, Epstein began to comprehend the true cost of energy growth and the consequences of fossil-fuel production on human life and the ecosystem.  These images show the flip-side of the American dream – the growth of this American dream shows the dangerous nature of corporate power and consumerist advertising.

Mitch Epstein, Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond, West Virginia, 2004. Own photograph.

The exhibition then moves on to the work of the artist, Luc Delahaye, who made a name for himself through war photojournalism.  His work focuses on recent conflicts, looking at Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine.  This series of work prompts us to question the role of documentary photography and whether it is designed to be exhibited. For me, these works sit more easily on the side of photojournalism rather than as an art form, but Delahaye uses a large-format, single-plate view camera, rather than the small portable type normally utilised in these situations, and takes only one image, rather than the hundreds usually captured by photojournalists.  His work certainly mixes art with reportage.

Luc Delahaye, Jenin Refugee Camp, 2002. Own photograph.

Delahaye has won numerous photography awards and accolades in the past for his reportage and ground-breaking work.  Are we meant to look at these images in an artistic context or are they meant to be seen in magazines and newspapers?  Focusing on human suffering, Delahaye once said ‘Photojournalism is neither photography or journalism…the press is for me just a means for photographing, for material – not for telling the truth.’  He considers himself an artist rather than a photojournalist.  The images here, though less horrific than some of his previously exhibited works, are still powerful.

Luc Delahaye, The Palestine Hotel, 2003. Own photograph.

All of the rooms present a striking contrast.  The exhibition goes on to look at the work of Akram Zaatari who curates photographs from the archive of Hashem el Madani.  These photographs illuminate ordinary people, individuals escaping from everyday life, posing, dressing up and so on.  Madani’s studio was a safe haven in a socially conservative society.  Zaatari has organised the photographs into categories that reflect the social and political context in which the sitters lived.

Works by Akram Zaatari. Own photograph.

Guy Tillim’s series Congo Demoratic depicts the 2006 presidential election in the Republic of Congo.  Although Tillim focuses on moments of tension and/or excitement, he manages to convey great detail showing the range of emotion expressed by all those in the scene.  These photographs capture moments of shocking violence, showing the often horrific position of a documentary photographer and the sensationalist nature of this kind of imagery.

Guy Tillim, Protesters calling for a boycott of the elections, central Kinshasa, July 2006. Own photograph.

Finally, we look at the work of acclaimed artist, Boris Mikhailov and his series Red and DuskRed shows works taken in his home town, Kharkov, from 1968-75.  Arranged in a large installation, Mikhailov has hand-painted red onto the images to show the continual presence of the Soviet Union in his home town.  As with all the documentary photographs on display here, his work is uncompromising in its presentation of the vulnerability of those in his town.  His Dusk series documents the collapse of the USSR in the 1990s.  Using a blue tonality throughout, this time the artist has used colour to symbolise Ukraine’s dusk at the end of the Soviet Union. Mikhailov uses his play with colour to introduce an artistic edge to a
documentary artform.

Boris Mikhailov, Red. Own photograph.

Tate is concentrating a lot on photography at the moment.  This exhibition is a like a meze plate – there really aren’t enough works by each photographer to get your teeth into.  It’s too brief but it whets your appetite.  These themes and these artists certainly deserve further exploration and this exhibition only just touches the surface.  These photographs are powerful visual documents that profoundly affect viewers.

Photographers are not only able to document social and political issues but also to influence the way in which they are portrayed. New Documentary Forms shows the importance of photography as artform and newsform.  Through this medium, we are able to see great art and a record of history.  What is photojournalism?  What is artistic photography?  Is there a difference?  In a time when boundaries are blurred, this exhibition shows the haziness and the difficulty surrounding this argument.

Photography: New Documentary Forms is at Tate Modern until 31st March 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

How Do You Mend A Broken Heart? The Museum of Broken Relationships

29 Aug

We’ve all been there.  That nasty breakup that left you hurt, confused, heartbroken or perhaps liberated.  Some of us get rid of everything that reminds us of an ex, some of us stay friends and move on, some of us treasure certain possessions to remind us of a past love and allow us to hold onto memories…  But who would have thought to preserve these artefacts in a museum.

Alice Bray, The Museum of Broken Relationships. Own photograph.

Now, this is no ordinary museum.  It is a museum that cherishes the relics of failed relationships.

Covent Garden’s Tristan Bates Theatre and a second venue, a stone’s throw away, on Earlham Street are showcasing a, somewhat random, selection of objects that symbolise the end of a relationship.   There is an element of being nosy whilst reading about other people’s experiences but the Museum aims to relieve heartbreak by allowing donors to let go of their  pain and, in turn, their relationships.

The Museum of Broken Relationships at 38 Earlham Street. Own photograph.

The objects are fairly standard things that we may all have (or maybe not – I personally found some of them to be really tacky) – but what makes them interesting is the accompanying notes that vary in length from simple, short statements to entire essays.  As they tell the story of a past relationship, the words bring the object to life.

The Museum of Broken Relationships at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Own photograph.

I’d never be caught giving my shoes away but, for one contributor, a pair of shoes that began to fall apart in Spring became a metaphor for an entire relationship.  The caption tells that even after a visit to the cobbler they were never the same again.  ‘Some things are built to last and some things aren’t.’  Lots of messages echo similar sentiments – often the objects are said to be stronger than the couples’ love.

Pair of Shoes, April 2010 – April 2011. Own photograph.

It is the plainest objects that are the most poignant.  A simple number on the wall alongside a message: ‘I couldn’t stand being his number 2.’  People have been able to find hidden meanings in anything and everything – everything reminds them of their loss.  I’m sure many men will say this shows how girls over-analyse even the simplest of objects but the contributors are both male and female – we’re on an equal footing here!

Number 2, Summer 2007. Own photograph.

The exhibition brings together individual stories from across the world.  Founded in Croatia, where it has a permanent home, The Museum of Broken Relationships has travelled all around the world achieving acclaim and recognition along the way; this year it won the award for the most daring, innovative European Museum Project.

The organisers, a couple who themselves underwent a painful break-up and are now friends, believe the museum is a place of emotional heritage where problems and memories are brought into the open.  They feel it is celebrating the importance of closure and the happy times in relationships although some of the embittered notes contradict this.

‘My ‘love’ didn’t last very long but it was intense and sincere… And regretfully enough, one-sided. These keys no longer bear any emotional significance to me, since my ex turned out to be a calculating bastard. However, I’d like to get rid of them in case I ever get tempted to show up at his doorstep again.’  For this contributor, the act of placing the keys in the exhibition is a cathartic release.  This is a very interesting concept and the exhibition presents varied ways to deal with closure.

Ex-boyfriend’s apartment keys, July 2005 – January 2006. Own photograph.

Some people, however, cannot let go but maybe this process will help them overcome the loss of love: ‘He bought this to stop his snoring. I could not go to sleep because of his snoring. Now I can’t go to sleep because of the pain of heartbreak.’  My heart went out to the writer.  How could you not sympathise?  My fellow exhibition-goer (you know who you are) found this funny so obviously not everyone has my compassionate nature!

Nasal Spray, 2009. Own photograph.

The exhibition is interspersed by a number of works including specially commissioned papercuts by the installation and theatrical artist, Alice Bray, which help provide a cohesive setting.  Outside the first site, at the theatre itself, you can leave your own messages on blackboards whether they are love notes, messages of yearning or immediate reactions to the show.  I was deeply moved by reading some of these and some of the writers were, in turn, obviously deeply moved by the show.

Blackboards at the Tristan Bates Theatre.  Own photograph.

Some of the exhibits are funny but they aren’t the ones that stay with you.  It’s not the cheeriest of exhibitions but it is thought-provoking and unique.  Some people have been able to move on and this has been their final cathartic step to relinquishing their hold on the past but others haven’t and it is their stories that are the most touching.

The Museum of Broken Relationships is at the Tristan Bates Theatre until 4th September 2011, http://new.brokenships.com/en.

Closed for August

26 Aug

When my friend and I sat down to lunch yesterday, I hadn’t decided which gallery to visit in the afternoon. As we named various Mayfair galleries we realised the majority were shut.  And so the unusual (and light-hearted) nature of today’s post emerged.  Wandering around Mayfair and Islington, I was constantly confronted with closed signs and barricaded doors.

August seems to have become a no-go zone – a holiday month when smaller exhibitions are not open to us.  I appreciate all the practical and financial reasons and, yes, some argue in favour of the European mentality of closing in the hot summer months, but we don’t have hot summer months.  Do we?  Yesterday, for example, there was another monsoon.  Why do we close?!

So, here is what I saw.  Enjoy and, as you admire these wonderful ‘exhibits’, enjoy August because, seemingly, that is what the art world intends us to do!

Drenched in Devotion – the National Gallery

23 Aug

Anyone who had the pleasure of being in London today will know the weather was monsoon- monstrous.  The diagonal downpour rendered my umbrella useless.  The roads were flooding.  Thinking that my knee wasn’t strong enough to tackle slippery streets in stilettos, I made the foolish mistake of changing into a pair of ballerinas that I keep, in my bag for emergencies.  Oh what a fool I was, ‘what an addlepated fool’.  Within seconds, my pumps confirmed my earlier idea that I should have worn wellies.  I slowly squelched my way to the National Gallery.  The lady in front of me actually lost a shoe as hers were so wet so I suppose I should count myself lucky but really there is nothing worse than wet feet!

Now that hand driers are so high tech even my cunning plan of drying my feet in the loos was a failure. I was destined to remain uncomfortable so I headed to the exhibition leaving a trail of wet footprints behind me.  Unusually, for downstairs at the National Gallery, Devotion by Design is free of charge. Although the works are drawn mostly from the Gallery’s own collection, this does not dilute the exhibition especially as some are not normally on public view.

Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, Baptism altarpiece, 1387. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition considers altarpieces in context, examining their structure and relationship to the surrounding architecture, following the formal, stylistic and typological developments across the period of concern.  It also looks at how they have been dismembered and displayed independently and out of context.  Until now, the Rogier van der Weyden work upstairs (from a 15th century Netherlandish altarpiece) was the best example of fragmentation of which I was aware.  We are fairly certain that this fragment, known as The Magdalen Reading, has come from the lower right-hand corner of an elaborate painting showing the Virgin and Child with Saints.  Scholars have ascertained that the Magdalen was cut down to its present shape before 1811 and then, between approximately 1845-1860, moved to its new mahogany support.  When the picture was cleaned in 1955, an area of brown overpaint, that covered the red drapery on the left-hand side, was removed and this revealed two feet that protrude from the drapery.  Two other fragments from the larger altarpiece survive and using this, and a 15th century drawing of the Virgin and Child, it is possible to show how the fragments would interlink.  In the National Gallery exhibition of 1999, the three fragments were brought together in an attempt to make modern reconstructions more easily understood.

Rogier van der Weyden, The Magdalen Reading, before 1438. Image via www.nationalgallery.org.uk

One of the fascinating things about altarpieces is the sheer variety of works that come under this category.  An altarpiece is an image-bearing structure placed upon or behind an altar in a Christian church.  Usually painted, it often forms the focus of devotion.  The size, construction, complexity and decoration will vary depending on the location and original commission.  Although this exhibition focuses solely on Italian altarpieces from the 13th-15th centuries the range is still immense.

The exhibition opens with a glossary of Christian worship and a plan of an Italian Church;  I was impressed by the wall labels and this continued throughout.   The paintings in the first room show altarpieces in context, for example van der Weyden’s The Exhumation of Saint Hubert where the altar is decorated with an altarpiece, a reliquary set and a tabernacle.

Rogier van der Weyden and workshop, The Exhumation of Saint Hunbert, late 1430s. Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

Perhaps the rain seemed to have encouraged more art ‘experts’ than usual and I could have been entertained for hours, listening to people’s comments in the gallery.  As I stood quietly taking notes, the guard came up and said to me ‘I am so pleased to have you in my room, it’s a great pleasure’. Sadly, I kid you not!

I had thought I’d pop in and out of the National today but this exhibition and these works demand respect, they were after all destined as objects of religious prayer.  In the second room, two altarpieces, constructed 70 years apart, are displayed together intentionally to be contrasted.  The works are free-standing so we can see both sides. The backs of the objects tell a story as well and the glossary that continues on the walls helps to explain these objects.  Through these two altarpieces, we are able to examine the formal changes undergone in the 15th century when a multi-panelled polyptych in a Gothic frame developed into a unified rectangular pala.  By being able to circumnavigate the structures, it’s possible to understand the different constructions.

Room two in Devotion by Design. Image via www.independent.co.uk

Crivelli’s La Madonna della Rondine, which remains in its original frame, from a side altar at San Francesco dei Zoccolanti in Matelica, looks exquisite in these dimly lit rooms.  This work was jointly commissioned and the interests of both patrons are represented with the left-hand side showing clerical interests and the right-hand side lay interests.

Carlo Crivelli, La Madonna della Rondine, after 1490. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.   

Interestingly, in the same room, the National Gallery have been able to include a reproduction of the contract for the Gozzoli altarpiece, designed for San Marco, a Dominican convent in Florence. It is amazing to see the detail and how every element has been considered and discussed.  It not only names each Saint for inclusion but also stipulates their positions.  The network of relationships involved in commissions, whether they were private or through a religious confraternity, is fascinating.  Altarpieces represent the will of patron rather than artist in many cases.

Room Four has been turned into a chapel, evoking the interior of a Tuscan church, c. 1500.  The positioning of the benches, the music and the dim lighting create a mystical atmosphere.  The high altar has two candlesticks and an altar cross for celebration of mass while, around the edges of room, different styles of altarpieces show how the progression of design has changed over time.  As the 15th century moved on, so did artists’ practices and ideas as perspective was introduced and new styles of altarpieces evolved.

Luca Signorelli, The Circumcision, c. 1490-91. Image via www.intofineart.com

As the exhibition progresses, it focuses more on dislocations.  This affords us the opportunity to study why these were they taken apart.  Historians and scientists are working to reconstruct these fragmentary pieces using incredible modern technology such as x-radiographs, infrared photographs, diagrams and virtual reconstructions.  As the final room shows, sometimes it is very hard to know if these fragments or large-scale paintings were, or were from, altarpieces at all. Without specific evidence of the original context we can only ever guess.  Altarpieces were commissions to express and aid Christian devotion and were not intended to be viewed individually.  Art historians will always be stuck in debate and will always have different opinions.

Fra Angelico, Blessing Redeemer, c. 1423.  Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

There is no denying that it is wonderful to be able to see an altarpiece in the location in which it was intended but the fragments shown throughout this exhibition illustrate that this is not always possible.  It is sometimes hard to imagine the magnificence and intricacy, the subtleties and complexities of the original altarpieces but the encounter created here by the National Gallery is the perfect substitute.

This exhibition is informative, educational and fascinating.  It considers these objects in their original context, as well as their new homes in galleries, following their lives and histories.  This exhibition makes use of the National Gallery’s permanent collection, showing the strength of research they have carried out.

I thought I knew these images well but they have been rediscovered and presented in a new light.  I hope this exhibition encourages people to look more closely at the altarpieces in the gallery upstairs as well.  Devotion by Design deserves more time than I had today and it is certainly an exhibition I will revisit.  I’d even forgotten my wet feet until I left and the spell of devotion was broken.

Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500 is at the National Gallery until 2nd October 2011, www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Frantic at the Fringe – Part II

20 Aug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Cragg. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Frantic at the Fringe – Part I

20 Aug

I have a tendency to overdo it when I go to Edinburgh for the Fringe.  As soon as the Fringe Guide is released in June, I plan our schedule and come August we’re raring to go.

This year we only had three days in which to ‘do’ the Fringe and I managed to timetable 12 productions and 10 galleries plus nice restaurants in which to give our feet a break and our bodies a cocktail or two (or three).  Tempting as it is, I’m not going to mention the theatre side of the Fringe after this very brief paragraph.  Suffice to say it was fantastic.  Highlights were Out of the Blue (an amazing Oxford all-male a cappella group), 2401 Objects (Analogue Productions’ remarkable story of the world’s most famous amnesiac patient), Manscaping by Russell Kane (a comic genius who had us in stitches for an hour), Steven Berkoff’s Oedipus (an exciting modern rendition of Sophocles’ play), Fat Kitten vs the World (a brilliant improvised comedy group and one to watch for future years), Audience – Ontroend Goed (one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Fringe) and Ten Plagues (telling one man’s struggle through a city in dire crisis).  But, I had to start with seeing some art…

Audience – Ontroend Goed. Image via http://utopiaparkway.wordpress.com

Anish Kapoor’s Flashback at the Edinburgh College of Art features two works – his early seminal pigment piece, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers (1982), and the new Untitled, a self-generating wax sculpture, exhibited here for the first time in the UK.  In White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers Kapoor places a strong emphasis on the relationships between the forms, presenting contrasts and similarities between these initially highly varied sculptures.

Anish Kapoor, White Sand, Red Millet, Many Flowers, 1982. Own photograph.

Untitled recalls his two crimson wax-works that were so popular at last year’s Royal Academy retrospective.  Here, a large steel-cutter journeys around a circular track, maintaining the blood-red bell sculpture that stands over 5 metres tall.  The journey is relentless yet almost invisible.  Those of you familiar with the girolle that shaves tête de moine cheese will understand the principle.  In the Classical setting of the ECA, Untitled resembles a memorial monument – the bell suggesting pain and death, the stillness presenting a solemnity.  From a distance, the bell appears smooth and lifeless.  Moving closer, the wax is blemished and damaged, stuck to the edge of the steel.  The sculpture is both beautiful and horrific, playful yet serious.  This was a wonderful start to the Edinburgh Art Festival and I was ready for more.

Anish Kapoor, Untitled, 2010. Own photograph.

In the same building is Body Bags: Simonides, an exhibition that incorporates the ECA’s famous collection of Classical sculpture.  The Greek poet, Simonides, is famous for his epitaphs for the Spartan dead at Thermopylae.  Here, his poetic fragments are translated by Robert Crawford and juxtaposed with photographs by Norman McBeath that provoke a contemplation on loss.

Body Bags: Simonides. Own photograph.

Next, it was time for one of the Fringe blockbusters and to see the work of a Scottish artist.  David Mach’s Precious Light is a revelation (excuse the pun).  I know Mach from his amazing assembled postcard-collage portraits but beyond those, I wasn’t that familiar with the rest of his oeuvre and how far his collage genius extends.

This is the biggest exhibition Mach has ever staged.  The works tell the story of the Bible (no wonder it took him 10 years to plan and four years to execute), focusing on the King James Bible, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year and was the first Bible to be produced en masse.  In the entrance and free for all to see is Mach’s Golgotha, three crucified figures screaming with pain, nails impaling them at every conceivable point.  Regardless of your religious beliefs and how you connect with these works, they provoke immediate reaction – awe, disgust, bewilderment, fear…  The strength of Golgotha overpowers some of the sculpture in the upper galleries such as his matchstick head of Jesus which cannot compete.

David Mach, Golgotha, 2011. Own photograph.

We are more used to seeing Biblical subjects depicted in darkened oils by the Old Masters yet Mach’s dynamic collages have a raw edge.  Collage is an incredibly time-consuming medium with which to work and the intricacy of his detail is superb.   It’s easy to get lost in Mach’s world, fascinated by his characters, their actions and behaviour.  The works are serious but playful, commenting not only on religious history but the disparities in today’s worldwide cultures.  Hell is ironically depicted in Paris, Tokyo, Dublin, Disneyland (here overrun by riots, fighting, religious animosity and disaster) while Heaven is shown through simple and innocent pleasures across the four seasons.  Autumn is particularly luminescent and Mach’s use of colour radiates across the room.  The works require close inspection as well as viewing from a distance.  Money Lenders, hung alongside the escalator, does allow you to soak up the detail but fails to offer adequate space to see the work as a whole.

David Mach, Hell – Paris. Image via www.oranges-and-apples.com

Mach’s London Studio has temporarily relocated to the third floor of the City Art Centre for visitors to watch the final exhibition work being created.  This monumental piece, The Last Supper, will be unveiled on 20th September.  It is fascinating to watch the work in progress and it also breaks up the exhibition nicely.  The fourth floor is given over to the history and language of the Bible itself but, to be honest, I was exhausted by the time I reached this level.  As you journey through the building, the volume of work lessens.   Rather than the initial overload, it would have been better if the works were more spread out.  This is a huge exhibition, spread over five floors and, if anything, it is too big.  As I was conscious of the time, it was impossible for me to spend as much time with each piece as I would have liked.  This exhibition is a tour de force, a powerful portrayal of our modern world in Mach’s own inimitable style.

David Mach, Noah and the Ark. Image via www.davidmach.com

Time was ticking by and I crossed the road to the Fruitmarket Gallery, one of my favourite Edinburgh spaces.  I had never before heard of the American artist, Ingrid Calame who finds a unique visual vocabulary in the ground, tracing individual stains, cracks and markings from specific sites and turning them into artworks.  On first glance, I thought these were just pretty coloured patterns but when you learn of the principle behind these works, they are fascinating, transposing the ground we are walking on into art.  Her constellations (as she calls the layered patterns) move the ground to the wall.

Ingrid Calame. Own photograph.

Her wall drawing, L.A. River at Clearwater Street 2006-8, has been specially made for this exhibition.  Working in a slightly different style to her other pieces, Calame has pricked tiny holes through what is effectively a large transfer drawing, leaving pure pigment on the wall.  It focuses on the graffiti at one site and how it has changed and developed over a two-year period.  The works are about collecting evidence.  What first appear to be pretty pictures are actually full of an unimaginable depth about society’s imprint on the world.

Ingrid Calame, L.A. River at Clearwater Street 2006-8, 2011. Own photograph.

Whenever I now walk up the Fruitmarket staircase I think of last year’s exhibition where Martin Creed had transformed the stairs into a musical scale.  As you walked onto each stair, a note sounded.  The higher you ascended, the higher the note and the larger your smile.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1061, 2010. Own photograph.

Creed is never far away in Edinburgh and, to make up for my disappointment that the musical stairs have disappeared, I went to visit his Work No. 1059 at The Scotsman Steps just across the road.  Creed has re-generated these 104 steps; every stair is now a different kind and colour of marble and a leaflet produced by Fruitmarket Gallery, who commissioned the work in a bid to help restore this dilapidated staircase, lists all the different marbles and their origins.  The staircase is fit for royalty and yet the city rushes up and down it without even noticing the spectacular beauty beneath their feet.  Perhaps this is the charm of the work. It is so beautifully integrated into Edinburgh that it is easy to miss, yet when you spot it, you just have to stop and stare at the stairs.  Creed lives in Italy where it is not at all unusual to have marble underfoot and he has brought a piece of this Italian luxury to Edinburgh, to a staircase that acts as a thoroughfare in the centre of a busy city right next to Waverley station, linking the old and the new towns.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1059, 2011. Own photograph.

Walking back up Cockburn Street, I popped into Stills who are showing works by Stephen Sutcliffe, an artist fascinated with the idea of high culture and its representation in film and on television, and then into Collective, who have an installation entitled Remains of the Day by Hans Schabus.  This exhibition was met with derisory comments by my Fringe buddy who thought the work looked like a larger version of her recycling pile on a Sunday evening.  Yes, she’s not that far off as the work is an accumulation of rubbish by the artist and his family during one calendar year that has been installed, cleaned and displayed linearly along the gallery space.  The work is visible from outside or you can go inside and climb over the mounds of rubbish to fully explore the space.  Through his installation, Schabus questions the spatial layout of the gallery and subverts the standard exhibition experience.  He asks us to consider our relationship to the goods we use and the scarcity of certain products.  This is a good and interesting exhibition for a quick peek, either from the street or inside if you’ve got the time.

Hans Schabus, Remains of the Day, 2011. Own photograph.

And that’s a morning at the Fringe.  We slowly ambled back up the Mile to the Witchery for my favourite fish pie in Edinburgh.  By now you’ve probably realised that this trip necessitated a fair bit of walking. Sticking to my guns though, I wore skater boots for my first day of adventures over the cobbles.  Up and down various staircases, climbing hills, around galleries, running to venues – I was practically crippled by the end of Day One.  But it was worth it!

At the Edinburgh College of Art, Anish Kapoor, Flashback is on until 9th October 2011 and Body Bags: Simonides  is on until 9th September 2011, www.eca.ac.uk.  David Mach, Precious Light, is at the City Art Centre until 16th October 2011, www.edinburghmuseums.org.ukIngrid Calame is at the Fruitmarket Gallery until 9th October 2011, www.fruitmarket.co.uk.  Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation at The Scotsman Steps, www.martincreed.com.  Stephen Sutcliffe: Runaway, Success is at Stills until 30th October 2011, www.stills.orgHans Schabus: Remains of the Day is at Collective Gallery until 2nd October 2011, www.collectivegallery.net.

Kensington’s Summer Secret Garden and Mirrored Maze

16 Aug

Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion has been compared to QuasarLaser parks and Star Wars pods. From a distance, its black exterior does look like an alien craft but get closer and you’ll see the walls of the black structure are a tactile faux-natural surface.  The walls are actually a lightweight timber structure wrapped and coated with scrim and black paste, mixed with sand.  This looks like hessian coated with paste.

Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion 2011.  Image via www.phaidon.com

Several dark passages lead to a beautiful inner garden formed of muted colours.  Zumthor is fascinated by the presence, personality and character of plants – their delicacy, fragrance, movement, structure and proportion. The garden is a meeting point, acting as a calming centre where people can convene. The tableau vivant has been designed by Piet Oudolf, the renowned Dutch horticulturalist, who has created a space where not only people but bees and butterflies will flock.

Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion 2011.  Own photograph.

Although the pavilion doesn’t have the same bravado as some pavilions in previous years (it is both low-key and low-lying), the contrasts and distinctions of space are impressive in their understatedness. We stopped for lunch amongst the rustling plants; sitting in this secret garden, it’s easy to forget you’re minutes away from the hustle and bustle of real life. In this sense, Zumthor has certainly achieved his aim. His hortus conclusus is enclosed all around but open to the sky.  We are protected but our dreams can soar.

Peter Zumthor’s Serpentine Pavilion 2011.  Own photograph.

The main Serpentine Gallery is currently exhibiting Michelangelo Pistoletto who has created a site-specific installation playing with the idea of a labyrinth. A serene maze of corrugated cardboard, enhanced by mirrored sections extending the space, leads visitors around through winding passages that reveal hidden sculptures.  Rolls and rolls of cardboard become an architectural form.  Even now that Pistoletto is famous he continues to work with the cheap materials with which he made his name.  But, despite looking like a solid structure, ironically, cardboard is easily damaged and knocked over.  Despite the colour resembling stone, these solid walls are fictitious.  This labyrinth is a myth.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, The Mirror Of Judgement.  Image via www.independent.co.uk.  

Amidst the cardboard scrolls of the first gallery a mirror is placed below the skylight.  Peering over the top of the installation, we are part of the glowing ‘heavens’ that are reflected.  This gestures to Pistoletto’s past works as well as immediately introducing one of his main exhibition themes, that of judgement (the title is after all The Mirror of Judgement) and of a meditation on heaven and the future.

While walking around the galleries, viewers glimpsed over the top of the maze become part of the work making use of the ever-popular ideas of spectatorship and inclusion. For once, being teeny presented an advantage.  I was in flats today – by necessity not choice as my knee injury has flared up – thus the corrugated cardboard maze was only a head or so taller than me.  Forced to crouch down a fair way, my tall companion did concede (a rare occurrence in itself) that my viewpoint was advantageous.  You shouldn’t be able to see where you are
going in a labyrinth.  Part of the fun and fear should be finding your way, not knowing where the next turn may take you – in life, in art, in anything.  There is something quite secretive (as there always is with maze works) about the process of discovery, peering over the top and scurrying through the passages.  In actuality, the maze would be better if it was even higher.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, The Mirror Of Judgement.  Image via www.grazia.it

The hidden works represent four major religions – Christianity (represented by a wooden prayer bench), Islam (by a prayer mat), Judaism (by a pair of large arched mirrors that recall the Torah) and Buddhism (by a ready-made Buddha statue)- and, as ever Pistoletto explores themes poignant to today’s society. All these signifiers are displayed in front of mirrors, hence including the viewer in the religiosity of intended prayer.

The artist in his installation.  Image via www.artlyst.com.  

The mirrored obelisk, in the central gallery, is designed to evoke the ancient Classical monuments.  Three linked ovals are suspended above it, forming the symbol of infinity.  This piece does create some interesting facades and new viewpoints but, placed in isolation, it would not be powerful.  It works because the constant reflections are stunning, almost oppressive in their number.

Michelangelo Pistoletto, The Mirror Of Judgement.  Image via http://anthropologicalurbanism.tumblr.com/.  

It is a wonderful, fun and provocative experience to weave through the maze.  The act of discovery is the most exciting part of this piece and the individual works aren’t as strong as the overall installation but, at the same time, simplicity makes this installation successful.

The Serpentine Gallery Pavilion is open until 16th October 2011. Michelangelo Pistoletto: The Mirror of Judgement is at the Serpentine Gallery on until 17th September 2011, http://www.serpentinegallery.org.

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