Archive | October, 2011

Look again at London– Stephen Walter at Fenton House

29 Oct

I had planned to venture further afield for this post but, somewhat typically, I have been struck by the lurgy so I decided to stay closer to home.  However, the fact I don’t have to go far to reach Fenton House does not diminish what a great place it is.  But hurry!  The exhibition ends tomorrow so you don’t have long.

Fenton House, Hampstead. Image via the National Trust photo library, www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Fenton House is perched atop the hill in Hampstead, hidden in the old winding lanes where it’s easy to get lost, and I frequently do.  A 17th century merchant’s house, it’s filled with a treasure trove of fine furnishings, porcelain and art. For the month of October, it has also housed a wonderful selection of Stephen Walter’s London Series.

I have known Stephen for a number of years now and I’m a huge fan of his work, I even have some myself.  The Island: London Series was first published in 2008 and has enjoyed much acclaim ever since.  It’s impossible not to love these maps and discover Stephen’s incredible and witty detail whilst spotting your own road or familiar landmarks.

Stephen Walter, The Island, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.tagfinearts.com.

Stephen was inspired by the unfolding drama of city life, tracing its dynamic history.  His maps of London combine personal insights, local knowledge and research, bringing together stories, legends, histories and stereotypes; they are ultimately a celebration of place.  Under the guise of traditional techniques, his work reveals a myriad of words and symbols that merge older notions of Romanticism with the intricacies and contradictions of our modern world.

Stephen Walter, detail of The Island, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.tagfinearts.com.

Though geographically accurate, the maps have their own unique identities fashioned by Stephen’s idiosyncratic semiotics, which are juxtaposed with the familiar everyday signage of cartography and public spaces.  Each of his drawings is another world, full of fine detail, created through the self-enforced processes of re-representation and repetition.

Stephen Walter, detail of Camden showing Hampstead, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.tagfinearts.com.

It is Stephen’s lucid combination of diverse source material and his accurate re-mapping of our city that is so compelling.  Every time I look at one of these maps, I spot something new.  Displayed on the staircase, at this distinctive National Trust property, the maps sit beautifully.  You can explore the whole of London in the time it takes to climb the stairs.

Stephen Walter’s maps at Fenton House. Own photograph.

Stephen is currently working on a commission for the London Transport Museum to create a map of the City’s underground systems, which will be released in 2012.  I saw this work in progress a couple of weeks ago and it’s absolutely stunning.  If possible, each of Stephen’s works is more exciting than the last.  There’s always something amazing – a new place to explore, a new theme to play with.

Stephen at work. Image courtesy of Lars Borges.

Affordable Art Fair ticket holders will be offered 2-for-1 entry to Fenton House and 2 Willow Road.  NT members (with valid membership cards) will receive 2-for-1 entry into the AAF fair.

Stephen Walter: London Series is at Fenton House until 30th October 2011, www.tagfinearts.com or www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

The Future that Faded Fast: Soviet Art and Architecture at the RA

25 Oct

Heading into the Royal Academy this morning, I didn’t really know what to expect.  I’d scrawled ‘RA Soviet’ in my diary but that wasn’t very enlightening.   I tottered up the stairs to the top floor (part of my pre-season skiing preparation although the stilettos are probably comfier than the hefty ski boots) where I found a faultless and fascinating exhibition.

Contrasting with the crowd-pleaser downstairs, the upper-level galleries have, once again, gone for a slightly edgier and, perhaps, riskier exhibition.  The risk has paid off – this show is a stunner.

Building the Revolution at the Royal Academy. Own photograph.

Building the Revolution tells the story of Soviet art and architecture from 1915-1935 looking at the intriguing dialogue and shared language of the two.  The new state of Soviet Socialism required buildings in a style free of past associations.  These were streamlined, flat-roofed and white-walled, with no excess, contrasting with the traditional low-built wooden structures that had previously dominated the landscape.  Constructivist architecture believed that function should dictate external form, employing only simple geometric shapes.  This brief period of Russian avant-garde architecture reflected the optimism and ideology of the new State.  Moscow and St Petersburg (as we now know them) were transformed.

Although still standing, many of the buildings are in desperate need of some TLC and have fallen into a dilapidated condition.  Richard Pare’s photographs, which make up a substantial body of this exhibition, document these iconic buildings, recording their condition over the past two decades, in a campaign to capture this much-neglected architecture.

Richard Pare, Tsentrosoyuz Building, 1995. Own photograph.

Rather than a normal chronological study, the exhibition is arranged into building types be they residential, industrial, health, recreational and so on.  It is stunning, leading you on a veritable journey through Russia’s architectural treasures.  Juxtaposed with the contemporary photographs of Pare is a series of never-before exhibited vintage photographs, showing the buildings either under construction or just completed.  The vintage works are presented on a different plane offering a contrast, but not distracting, from the saturated colourful works shown on the wall.

Works on different levels in Building the Revolution at the Royal Academy. Own photograph.

Pare’s photographs capture the beauty in these often near-Brutalist forms.  As a schoolboy, listening to lectures on art and architecture, Pare noticed they weren’t shown work by Russians.  The images were unavailable.  In 1993, after a trip to Moscow with a friend, his interest peaked and he began what is now an unquestionably brilliant series of work.  And, he’s nowhere near finished.  There are many cities he hasn’t yet visited and, he says, even in Moscow there are closed and inaccessible buildings that he has yet to record.  The project is a race against time, against the authorities who wish to see these buildings and this part of history erased.

Building the Revolution at the Royal Academy. Own photograph.

One gorgeous example is Melnikov House, a building constructed as a home for the architect and his studio.  Melnikov explained that the building consisted of two cylinders intersecting across one third of their diameters, covered with multiple hexagonal windows that fill the interior with light.  Inside, three practically circular spaces were allocated for sleeping, living and working.  It was innovative, radical and dynamic.  Its future is now uncertain.

Melnikov House photographs in the exhibition. Own photograph.

Running parallel to this intriguing photographic display is a series of works from the Costakis Collection showing the experimental nature of visual artists and the key relationships between their work and that of the architects.  Many of these pieces were new to me and indeed, for many, this is their first showing in the UK.  They show the introduction of a new visual language in Russia, rejecting the bourgeois associations of more figurative art forms instead using a ‘constructed’ form of composition.

Liubov Popova’s Spatial Force Composition embraces the three governing principles of Constructivism, using her work to guide viewers towards socialist aims while strongly referencing the Revolution through the use of the colour red.  Despite the period of social imprisonment in which she was working, she manages to capture a sense of freedom and dynamism.  Her forms come together to suggest structurally unified components.

Liubov Popova, Spatial Force Composition, 1920-21. Own photograph.

The show is beautifully put together and the structure and curation even seem to have an architectural influence with curving walls and different levels.  The last room focusing on the Lenin mausoleum is a shocking contrast with the red walls recalling the highly polished, dark red granite marble.

The courtyard has also been taken over for this exhibition with a reconstruction of Tatlin’s Tower proudly in place.  Regardless of your knowledge of the period, you will recognise this structure, now regarded as the epitome of the bold new styles of the period.  Designed to be the tallest man-made structure in the world, it was intended to rise to the height of 400 metres and to act as the headquarters of the Third International.  The Tower was unbuildable due to steel shortages and its huge technological demands but the model acted as a stimulus for great debate and further experimentation within the fusions of art and architecture.  Tatlin aimed to combine “artistic forms with utilitarian intentions”; he was a painter turned sculptor who truly expressed the synthesis of the two art forms.

The Royal Academy Courtyard with a reconstructed version of Tatlin’s Tower. Own photograph.

Allow time for this exhibition – it deserves it.  It is also accompanied by a fabulous catalogue in which I have been engrossed all evening (although everything needs a counter-balance and after a day of such serious study, I think it’s time for a good old rom-com).  The catalogue too deserves time and study.  Great thought has gone into producing it and even the use of different papers is perfect.

Constructivist art and architecture was never much admired, illustrated by the condition in which many of the buildings now find themselves.  These photos and, indeed, this exhibition aim to bring these buildings back into the spotlight.  Whether or not you admire the forms, the very fact that these buildings exist against all adversity is incredible and surely their architects should be heralded.  Many, regardless of whether or not they are protected by conservation laws, are ruthlessly being torn down, not due to a lack of space or money but a fear of what they represent.

Skip the queues and head upstairs at the Royal Academy to see this real gem.  It is an exhibition that fuels a desire to know more.  I am notoriously critical (in a positive and constructive way, of course) but this show presents a body of wonderful, wide-ranging artworks from a narrow period in a perfect format.

Building the Revolution: Soviet Art and Architecture 1915-1935 opens this Saturday 29th October in the Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy until 22nd January 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Encounters in the Turbine Hall – Tacita Dean’s FILM

21 Oct

Pictures of the latest Unilever installation seemed to confirm my Turbine Hall pet hate; this has long been one of my favourite spaces yet, although some of the installations have been magnificent, no one really seems to quite master the enormity of this space at Tate Modern.  The Turbine Hall, which once housed the electricity generators of the old power station, is five storeys tall with 3,400 square metres of floor space.  The Unilever Series has been going since 2000 when Louise Bourgeois embarked on the first commission.  Since then many famous artists, including Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread and, most recently, Ai Weiwei, have undertaken the project.

The Turbine Hall. Image via www.tate.org.uk.

It is a daunting challenge.  Do you fill it all like Kapoor’s Marsyas did?  Fill it vertically? Use just a bit of it?  There must be a checklist –Olafur  Eliasson did light, Bruce Nauman, who played with the concept of empty space, conquered sound, Carsten Hőller even turned it into a giant playground.  There is often controversy or debate surrounding the installations and, last year, Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds famously had to be portioned for health and safety reasons.

Ai Weiwei’s Sunflower Seeds. Image via http://contemporary-art-blog.tumblr.com. 

Tacita Dean has decided to embrace the height of the space.  Her work calls to mind many forerunners who tried this too.  In 2006-7, Hőller’s Test Site (five spiralling steel Makrolon slides) descended from various levels of Tate Modern, culminating under the bridge of the Turbine Hall.  Visitors were able to interact personally with the works that aimed to release them from everyday restraints, questioning human behaviour and offering the possibility of self-exploration in the process.

Carsten Hőller’s Test Site. Own photograph.

This was the first installation, until now, to take real advantage of the tremendous verticality of the hall.  Test Site made viewers, or participants, look at the Turbine Hall and the slides from different perspectives and heights and to experience the sensation of descending through the hall.  No other commission had attempted anything to such an extent, although the three steel towers of Louise Bourgeois’ 2000 installation, I Do, I Undo and I Redo, encouraged its audience to climb the spiral staircases that ascended around central columns supporting platforms surrounded by large circular mirrors.

Louise Bourgeois’ I Do, I Undo, I Redo.  Image via http://poulwebb.blogspot.com

Like Test Site, Dean’s work neglects most of the available horizontal space of the Turbine Hall.  When you first enter Tate Modern, the piece is quite insignificant within the cavernous architecture and does not attract your first glance.  The entry to the commission is equally underwhelming, compared to the spectacle of its predecessors.  But, when you do arrive at the section given over to Dean’s work it is brilliant, atmospheric and near-perfect.

The entrance to Tacita Dean’s FILM. Own photograph.

FILM is an 11 minute, silent, 35mm looped film, that is projected onto an enormous monolith dwarfing all who approach the darkened end of the hall.  The work upends the usual landscape format of moving image. Taking the appearance of a filmstrip with sprocket holes, exposed onto the emulsion, it pays homage to the traditional analogue process, highlighting the threat to which film is subjected nowadays and the impact its loss will have on our culture.  The work often looks transparent, as if someone is hanging a film reel from the ceiling.  Rather than being an actual film, FILM seems to offer a portrait of a film shown in portrait format.  The work is about the importance and specificity of the medium.  The film itself is a montage of imagery – a Mondrian painting, hand-tinted pictures, the mountains of René Daumal’s novel Mount Analogue, a spurting fountain, the Paramount Studio logo, a giant snail, the Turbine Hall, a giant ostrich leg, escalators, pigeons, the sea….  I don’t think the content is the key factor here.  Dean has transformed this end of the Turbine Hall into a cinematic theatre where visitors sprawl across the floor, transfixed by the giant screen.

Tacita Dean’s FILM. Own photograph.

This response to Dean’s FILM reminds me of the climatic landscape that Eliasson’s large sun created in the Turbine Hall when a gigantic, illuminated orange disc was suspended from the ceiling at the far end of the hall.   The Weather Project, was, in actual fact, an illusion; in reality, a semi-circular, fragmentary mirror was hung on the lit ceiling creating the appearance of a full circle.  Visitors became immersed in the piece, lying on the floor of the Turbine Hall for hours in an attempt to find their own reflection in the mass of swarming shapes.  The Eliasson, the Hőller and now the Dean installations have initiated cults; filling the Turbine Hall with people and turning it into a meeting place for social interaction with art, leading to various interpretations of social activism where the pieces are not only sculptures and installations but performances and encounters.

Olafur Eliasson’s The Weather Project. Image via www.urban75.org.uk

I personally didn’t lie down – still exhausted from last night’s art exhibition at Chinawhite, I was worried I might have fallen asleep.

The Unilever Series 2011 – Tacita Dean: FILM will be in the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern until 11th March 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

I could have danced… Degas at the Royal Academy

17 Oct

Degas is loved the world over so there has been much excitement around the Royal Academy’s latest exhibition.  So much so, that they have even changed their admission system whereby friends of the RA now also have to book tickets to avoid over-crowding and ‘enhance their experience’ (really?).

The exhibition focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement, the obsession that led him to concentrate on the ballet imagery which made him famous.  These iconic images range from rehearsal scenes to innovative pastels produced towards the end of his career.

Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage, c. 1874.  Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk.

Degas was yet another artist who was meant to pursue a different path.  His father, an art lover and collector, had earmarked his son for a career in law, and Degas had to persuade his father to let him attend the École des Beaux-Arts.  He was fortunate enough to receive advice on drawing from J.A.D. Ingres but was largely self-taught, travelling extensively and gaining experience by copying the works of the great Renaissance artists.

This exhibition follows Degas’s attempts to capture movement similarly to photography of the time.  The concept behind the show is brilliant and really reveals the artist’s pioneering ingenuity but, at times, the exhibition becomes more about movement than Degas and a number of key masterpieces are missing here.

Edgar Degas, Dancer Posing for a Photograph, 1875. Image via www.topofart.com.

The exhibition opens with projections of a ballet dancer, shown on the blackened walls.  There is no doubt that this is an unusual start but presents a fascinating beginning, revealing that, as important as Degas’s paintings are, the key focus is movement – the graceful, elegant dance of a beautiful ballerina (I’ve always liked tu-tus).

The RA has erected temporary walls to encourage flow and movement around the exhibition.  Their gorgeous putty colour and the dim lights do make this very dark (I almost needed a torch) but this is for conservation reasons, so unavoidable.

Sometimes, we peer into dancers’ classrooms, at other times we, too, are watching a performance on stage; Degas’s vivid realism, seen through both his finished compositions and preparatory drawings, is intriguing.

One entire room (with atmospheric, murky cassis walls) is focused around Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, the largest sculpture Degas made and the only one displayed during his lifetime.  Degas made 26 figure studies providing a comprehensive study of the girl in the round, analysing the figure in a way that was easy to translate into three dimensions.  Unusually, it is apparent that here the artist moved while the model remained still.  Some of the sketches, consisting of only a few fluid chalk lines, tell us that Degas was moving quickly.  Degas had an innovative approach to representing modern individuals and the power of these drawings shows that there is no one way to see this figure.  This sculpture was based on Marie van Goethem, a dance student at the Paris Opera School.  Modelled in wax, supported by a metal armature, the figure is dressed in a muslin skirt, lace-trimmed bodice and ballet slippers.

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, 180-81. Image via www.tate.org.uk

The work caused a sensation when exhibited in the sixth Impressionist exhibition in the spring of 1881.  The dancer appeared so real, that people were shocked, commenting that she looked like a horrible, repulsive guttersnipe.  We have seen this piece so frequently, and in so many forms, that we are no longer as struck by it as we should be.  But it’s important to remember that for its time, it was shocking.  It is the forerunner of many contemporary works that initially provoke dramatic reactions.  Remember the torn opinions caused by works
such as Damien Hirst’s shark or Tracey Emin’s bed.  Now we are used to them, we are immune to their shocking nature.  The same goes for this work, we have become over-familiar, which is a travesty as this sculpture is far from boring and deserves all this attention.

The exhibition also presents Degas’s work juxtaposed against the photography and film of the day, primarily by photographers Etienne-Jules Marey (a leading French scientist specialising in movement) and Eadweard Muybridge.  By doing so, the curators have attempted to show that, as well as being an artist known for his beautiful images, Degas was modern and radical – fully attuned to the developments of his time.  This is really a second exhibition and, in one sense, it was fascinating.  In another, it rather got in the way.  I’d come to see Degas, we’ve seen plenty of Muybridge recently with Tate’s large-scale retrospective.

Eadweard Muybridge, Woman Dancing (Fancy), plate 187 of Animal Locomotion, 1887.  Image via http://makingamark.blogspot.com/

The exhibition includes a series of six wide, narrow canvases from the 1870s which are extraordinary, not least because they are such unusual works.  The curators here suggest that they may have been inspired by photography of the time showing panoramic scenes.  The works mostly depict wide exercise rooms where the dancers are positioned rhythmically, in rehearsal.  The viewer is invited to scan the scene as one would have with popular panoramas.

Edgar Degas, detail of The Dance Lesson, c. 1879. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Continuing with the theme of photography, the exhibition focuses on Degas’s own photographs. Having bought his first camera in 1895 (when he had just turned 60), Degas became an instant enthusiast and his photographs reflect the compositions of many of his paintings.  Several of the self-portraits are startlingly intimate, focusing on the solitude of his later life.  Although his own photographic equipment was unable to capture movement, he used his photographs to make drawings.

Edgar Degas, detail of Dancer Adjusting Her Shoulder Strap. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

We became fully aware of quite how busy the exhibition was when we went into Colour and Dynamism – a dead-end room that traps visitors on one side.   Here, pastels from later in Degas’s life have been showcased.  The ballerinas, who we saw in such active and lively poses, seem to have aged along with Degas and these works are have less movement, but the highly saturated colours of the pastels help to animate the dancers.

A room full of pastels. Image via www.timeout.com

The last room contains a video work but it was absolutely freezing and, not having dressed for the Arctic, I was forced to hurry out rather than watch.

The exhibition is actually not as extensive as I anticipated although it did allow me to indulge and study many of Degas’s exquisite drawings. Hung here en masse the works do, for me, lose some of their charm and intimacy but this is a remarkable, and very focused, exploration of a great artist.  Degas was unusual as an Impressionist, his preoccupation with movement setting him apart from the others, whose concerns centred around the transient effects of light and atmosphere.  Degas’s ballet scenes and passionate focus on contemporary subjects is wonderful and this show re-teaches us to appreciate his genius.

Edgar Degas, Three Studies of a Dancer in Fourth Position, c. 1878–81. Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is at the Royal Academy until 11th December 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

From West to East and a Walk in the Park – Thursday of Frieze Week

14 Oct

Thursday of Frieze week and I was already exhausted with so many things yet to see.

Walking down Savile Row, I decided to pop into a new gallery and I’m pleased I did. Pilar Ordovas made headlines earlier this year when she announced plans to open her own gallery space. She was already well-known among the art world elite, partly for organising the famous, record-breaking sale of Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. She isn’t shy of press. Having worked at Christie’s and managed London’s Gagosian, Ordovas decided to go it alone. One of the things that will make this space successful, other than Ordovas’ skill and vision, is her access to, and unique relationships with, artists. This first exhibition perfectly highlights her past experience. Having managed the estate of Valerie Beston (the private director of the Marlborough Gallery to whom Bacon bequeathed an astonishing collection of his works) in 2006, Ordovas was able to conceive this exhibition.

Ordovas on Savile Row. Image via www.ordovasart.com

Irrational marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is a museum-quality, academic exhibition, hidden within the walls of a commercial gallery. This will be the first show to explore the connections and influences of Rembrandt’s late self-portraits and Bacon’s own self-portraits. The creative dialogue between the two artists is extraordinary. The exhibition also displays a number of working documents, found in Bacon’s studio after his death, splattered with paint, discarded after they had inspired the great artist. They are absolutely fascinating. Ordovas is certainly doing something new.

Downstairs at Ordovas on Savile Row. Image via www.ordovasart.com

An art history professor friend once asked me if I’m conservative (I don’t think he meant in the political sense). ‘Yes’, I replied. ‘And, do you like Francis Bacon?’ he asked. ‘No, I love Francis Bacon’ was my response. ‘Well, then you are definitely not conservative’. Many years on, having seen people’s often extreme reactions to Bacon’s work I more fully understand what he meant but, to me, Bacon’s works are exquisite. The style may often be grotesque but they are sublime.

25 Savile Row is a beautiful space although the ‘frosting’ in the window actually looks as if they have not finished unpacking and we were unsure if they were actually open. Directly opposite Hauser & Wirth, I don’t think the galleries will conflict with one another as they are so different. Pilar Ordovas is helping to create a new arts hub in the heart of Mayfair.

Ordovas. Own photograph.

After lunch, I headed over to Frieze which, this year, felt like a chore. With more galleries than ever before, I thought the fair was remarkably bland. Still obviously feeling the effects of this long drawn-out recession, no-one had taken any risks. The VIP day having passed, most of the gallerists weren’t that bothered by the ‘general public’ bustling past their stands. Desks piled high with coffee cups and ipads (normally about three per stand) were far more amusing than the art and I couldn’t resist capturing the ennui.

Fed up at Frieze. Own photograph.

When we finished the long trek and my fellow fair-goer said his feet were hurting, I knew my moaning was justified. My legs ached. My stilettos clacked with less vigour than usual.

With no cabs to be found, I hobbled to Haunch craving the glass of wine that awaited me. This exhibition at least perked me up again – or was that the wine? Ahmed Alsouandi is an Iraqi artist who lives in New York. He uses the grotesque to explore war and conflict and the consequences of these atrocities. His deformed figures rework, and are inspired by, greats such as Goya and Bacon.

Ahmed Alsouandi at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

His vivid, over-saturated, palette both enhances the horror and detracts from the subject matter in an ironically joyous tone. Whilst his many influences are apparent, his work is certainly unique and his style his own. The turbulence and disfiguration are more a comment on general human conflict and physical disruption than specific warfare. From a distance, they could be mistaken for bright abstract patterns. Get closer, and you see tortured bodies, dismembered limbs and even a lone eyeball.

I’d forgotten how great the floor here is – a wonderful dark wood that works so well with whatever they hang. My signature photo would have shown this but my friend refused to squat on the floor of one of London’s major galleries to photograph my feet. The gallery was buzzing and, considering the competition this week, that is a mark of how good this show is.

Ahmed Alsouandi at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

Next on my list was Flowers Gallery – not the one in Mayfair unfortunately, I like to make my life difficult. Nicola Hicks has long been recognised as an important British artist. Having exhibited with Flowers for many years now, this demonstrates how astute the gallery were in picking her as a major talent after her selection in 1984 by Elisabeth Frink for their annual Artist for the Day exhibition. Her latest exhibition, which takes over the downstairs galleries at Flowers on Kingsland Road, is a new series of plaster sculptures based on Aesop’s Fables, the well-known children’s’ stories supposedly written by a slave in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC.

Nicola Hicks’ Aesop’s Fables at Flowers. Own photograph.

Don’t be mistaken and think Hicks is merely depicting the Fables in illustratory form, as you couldn’t be more wrong. Instead these stories act as a catalyst for her work, providing a creative springboard for her wonderful imagination. The detail is incredible – the loose, tactile nature of the plaster means these works need, and deserve, closer inspection.

Although Hicks’ works have developed over time, she has been interested in animal forms from day one. Always heartfelt, she is able to do extraordinary things to her materials and contorts plaster in fantastic ways.

All of the anthropomorphic characters from the Fables are present, frozen in time for us to admire. The creatures are loveable and endearing, a humble theme for a wonderful artist who here explores empathy and beauty in a stunning new series of work. I have always loved Hicks’ sculpture so this exhibition was a treat for me. Who couldn’t fall for her dogs, gazing lovingly out with puppy dog eyes?

One of Hicks’ gorgeous dogs. Own photograph.

Upstairs is an exhibition by artist, Simon Roberts. Roberts is obviously a talented artist – he travelled across England in a motorhome for a year from 2007-2008 photographing England at leisure. His large horizons and country scenes play on a tradition of English landscape painting, studying our national identity in turn raising key social, economic and political issues. He finds beauty in the mundane but the photographs do not stand up to the brilliance of the exhibition downstairs.

Simon Roberts, Keynes Country Park Beach, Shornecote, Gloucestershire, 11th May 2008. Image via http://we-english.co.uk/. 

I had planned to head to an exhibition at the Hospital Club but gossiping away over dinner next door and resting my weary limbs made me realise how tired I was. Or was that the wine too? Anyway, there was no chance I was going back into the West End again that night.

Irrational Marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is at Ordovas until 16th December 2011, www.ordovasart.com.  Ahmed Alsoudani is at Haunch of Venison Yard until 26th November 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com. Nicola Hicks: Aesop’s Fables and Simon Roberts: We English are both at Flowers, Kingsland Road, until 19th November 2011, www.flowersgalleries.com. For more of my Frieze photos, see www.facebook.com/chloenelkinconsulting.

Octoberfest – Tuesday of Frieze Week

12 Oct

After visiting the Royal Academy Degas show (which will be the subject of a later post), we went for a brilliant lunch at Cecconi’s to sustain us for the busy day ahead.  With openings and art parties all across London, I wanted to see as much as possible and, although, I didn’t make it to everywhere on my to-see list, I did pretty well.

We began at Selfridges’ Museum of Everything.  Launched by art collector, James Brett, in 2009, this is the 4th incarnation of this Outsider Art charity installation.  This weird exhibition has taken over all the store windows (which are completely product-free for the first time ever) and a space on the lower ground floor, normally the Ultralounge, and now unrecognisable.

The Museum of Everything #4 at Selfridges. Own photograph.

Although I love the idea, and I’m pleased that Selfridges are embracing charity exhibition opportunities and exposing unknown artists, the art isn’t great.  In parts, it’s downright creepy and I wish they’d used this opportunity to unearth some real talent.  With over 400 works on display, nothing really struck me in a positive way.  I love the concept of the Museum of Everything and believe it has great potential which I hope they will better fulfil in their next exhibition.

The Museum of Everything #4 at Selfridges. Own photograph.

On to 20 Projects at 64 Margaret Street, who are showing a series of new sculptures by Alex Hoda based on small pieces of nicotine gum – chewed, used and spat out by the artist.  Installation hadn’t really finished when we arrived at 6pm and they were still stencilling the title onto the wall, strangely oblivious of the fact that they had guests.  Hoda’s works reminded me of Alina Szapoznikow’s chewing gum photographs that we exhibited in The Courtauld’s East Wing Collection VIII which concentrated on temporality and the act of leaving some form of mark, making something that is intrinsically rubbish into a work of art.  Obviously both artists are approaching their work from different angles, but the choice of subject is interesting.  Hoda uses a special machine to scan and then enlarge the bits of gum to ensure 100% accuracy when making the pieces in bronze. For him, the sculptures also represent the human form responding to Jean Fautrier’s Hostage series of the 1940s. The sculptures are beautiful but somehow the chewing gum detracts from this for me.

Alex Hoda’s Hostage at 20 Projects. Own photograph.

Moving on, we headed to the Josh Lilley Gallery who are showing Incredulous Zealots – works by four artists from Los Angeles.  Regular readers will know this is one of my favourite spaces in London (and the secret is out after an article in last weekend’s newspapers) – this is another brilliant show which presents the next generation of LA art and shows that the talent there is certainly not diminishing.  The works of two artists immediately grabbed my attention.  One of the girls in my group was so entranced by Annie Lapin’s work that we almost had to drag her away to a different part of the gallery.  Lapin is now exploring the abstract image, using colour and shapes that recall primitive art forms.  Her palette is luminous, using browns, creams, Courbet green, small doses of deep reds and sky blues.  Lapin’s paintings harness monumental experiences, drawing the viewer closer into her work, looking at the depth of layers, like a coloured fog over a hidden scene.

Annie Lapin. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Analia Saban, one of the other LA artists, burns, cuts and destroys her paintings, almost to the point of annihilation before pulling them back to a supreme delicacy.  This destruction of an art form shows Saban’s desire to stand alone and take complete control of her practice, resulting in a re-assessment of the history of painting through a minimal, but beautiful, object.

Incredulous Zealots at Josh Lilley Gallery with Analia Saban work in the distance. Own photograph.

The gallery has been transformed to a more traditional, white contemporary exhibition space, allowing the individual works room to breathe and to be examined in a contemplative space.  Incredulous Zealots seeks to draw on the passion of Los Angeles painters who demand that painting be taken to a new level, persisting with, torturing, and ultimately loving, their chosen art forms.

I was also lucky enough to be able to take a peek at a new Nick Goss work, unusually (for him) painted on board.  Although his act of mark-making continues in the same mould, the painting is in a wholly new style, evoking a completely different feel to his usual works.  Brilliant!

Our feet were already starting to feel sore and, with more galleries still to go, it was taxi time. Have you ever tried to get a taxi in London, in art week, at about 7pm?  It’s impossible.  Finally, we saw one and hailed it, only to have it nabbed, from under our noses, by a ‘taxi thief’.  After my fairly loud comments of shock and belligerence, the driver decided to take pity on us four girls and, much to his surprise, the ‘taxi thief’ found himself moving over, sharing his cab and also letting us use the internet on his iphone (Blackberries still being dead, of course).  So, chivalry is not dead after all.  I have no doubt he was amused by the giggling and gossiping but he made our lives a lot easier and, we are grateful for his generosity.  Thank you, ‘taxi thief’.

Having been dropped at Dering Street, where we briefly, coincidentally coincided with ‘the boys’, we went to Blain Southern to see Rachel Howard’s Folie à Deux. The title is the clinical definition for a shared psychosis, where two or more people enter into a delusional belief induced by an intimate relationship.  Howard’s works play on the minds of people who have wandered far from reality and reason.  Technically, the works are very good – making use of media, including household gloss paint, oil, acrylic and varnish, Howard doesn’t overplay it.  Her paintings are strong and striking but seem to be more subtle variations on her normal work, exploring the intricacies of the human condition.

Rachel Howard’s Folie à Deux at Blain Southern. Own photograph.

The clock was ticking and it was time to head over to the new White Cube at Bermondsey.  Now, as any Blackberry user will know, and as I mentioned before, we’re not having much luck at the moment – unadulterated hell in fact – which meant I was without the internet or my trusty google maps app.

Following advice of ‘the boys’, we headed to Southwark station – not the closest tube as it turns out.  So much for me being geographically challenged.  A short cab ride (no helpful man this time though) took us to the end of a very long queue down Bermondsey Street.  No!  This couldn’t be right.  Sadly, it was.  As our stilettoed feet began to throb, we queued and moaned.  Security guards came down the line telling us to give up, I tried to phone friends who may already have been inside but to no avail.  We waited!

The queue. Own photograph.

And, our waiting paid off.  It felt like we deserved a prize where we finally made it into the forecourt where a thronging mass of people lunged towards the crowd prevention barriers that surrounded the gallery.  I’m not joking.  White Cube has taken hype to a whole new level, as they do so expertly.

Jay Jopling ‘walking’ around the new gallery. Image via www.metro.co.uk

At one point a security guard, atop an office chair, somewhat ironically yelled out, ‘This is not Titanic. There will be a way in. Stop shoving’.  But, of course, people didn’t.  Being small and in sharp shoes had its advantages though and, before too long, we were waiting our turn at the front of the mob.  When at last we got in, I felt slightly underwhelmed.  At 58,000 square feet, this White Cube is the largest commercial gallery in Europe and the space is obviously gorgeous – beautifully lit white boxes much like their other two spaces but on a mammoth scale – though after so much hassle and fuss I had expected more of an opening spectacle.  There seemed to be more private spaces than open gallery rooms so it is hard to gauge the enormity of the gallery.  With 2,000 people supposedly inside, and who knows how many in the courtyard, this was the place to be.  But, aside from serving mini hot dogs (possibly to appease those stuck outside), it wasn’t that different from any other White Cube PV.

Outside the new White Cube. Own photograph.

While many galleries are struggling in the current financial climate, White Cube has defiantly shown that these problems do not affect them or the upper echelons of the art world.  The new gallery is extensive and goes on and on with doors everywhere.  So endless, in fact, that we, along with many others, mistakenly wandered straight into the loos – the entrance looks like just another gallery. Ooops!  The Bermondsey space is stunning with wonderful floors of polished concrete, or something very akin to it.  It is, of course, a triumph.

White Cube on Bermondsey Street. Own photograph.

I’m not going to talk much about their opening exhibition which gets lost among everyone clammering to explore the space, although a smattering of their famous names are included – Gary Hume, Gabriel Orozco, Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky and so on.  It’s a great show, with a monochrome chic feel running through.  It’s very impressive – the third hub in their never-ending expansion programme.  Where will White Cube turn up next?!

Andreas Gursky, Dusselstrand, 1996, is reflected in Damien Hirst’s Neverland, 2002. Image via www.metro.co.uk

Hobbling out of White Cube and changing, at last, into ballerinas, we stumbled on The Hide where we were able to rest our weary limbs and sink into their comfy sofas with big glasses of wine and dinner.  What a day!

The Museum of Everything #4 is at Selfridges until 25th October 2011, www.musevery.com or www.selfridges.comAlex Hoda: Hostage is at 20 Projects until 23rd October 2011, www.20projects.co.ukIncredulous Zealots: 4 Painterly Interrogations from LA is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 19th November 2011, www.joshlilleygallery.comRachel Howard: Folie à Deux is at Blain Southern until 22nd December 2011, www.blainsouthern.comStructure & Absence is at White Cube Bermondsey until 26th November 2011, www.whitecube.com.

From Stella to Champagne: Haunch of Venison and PAD

10 Oct

Haunch always has a multitude of exhibitions on show.  In their Burlington Gardens’ space is showing three different exhibitions: the sensuous curved linear sculptures of Bae Sehwa’s wooden Steam Series, Ascent by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (the designers of the Olympic Torch for the 2012 Olympics) and, the main attraction, Connections by Frank Stella.

Ascent in the Mezzanine Gallery at Haunch. Own photograph.

Now, I will confess that I’m not the hugest Stella fan.  They’re obviously great works of art from a magnificent artist but they aren’t quite my thing.  They don’t move me although I feel they should.  In fact, I wish they would.

Regardless of my personal aesthetic taste, Connections  is a beautifully presented and clear show.  Aiming to examine Stella’s entire career in a mini-retrospective, Haunch presents his work in themes (openings, surfaces, working space, colour and narratives) rather than chronologically. This is a clever, curatorial decision that avoids any dips in Stella’s career, instead creating a concise and sensibly thought out study of his oeuvre.

As soon as you walk in to the gallery, two of Stella’s newest works dominate the downstairs hall: one a stainless steel piece, the other a polychrome resin work.  They give you a taste of what is to come.

Frank Stella, Djaoek, 2004. Own photograph.

The exhibition upstairs opens with his huge, familiar abstract expressionist paintings, including his black paintings of the ’50s. But these aren’t just black.  Even in them, Stella magically manages to explore the boundaries of colour.  Colour is a main theme of all his works and this later enhances the fact that he transcends the boundaries between painting and sculpture.  His wall-based works are so sculptural that we want to peer behind the multi-faceted sections and explore the works as a whole.   They are beautifully lit to make the shadows themselves interact with the sculptural forms on the walls.

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

You never really know where you stand with Stella’s works which is part of the fun.  His concerns with planes and surfaces, space and relief and colour and movement become profoundly apparent across this show as one gets lost inside the cyber-dimensions of his giant canvases.

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

Smaller rooms of Stella’s working drawings are made to feel more intimate due to successful curation and this set up allows us to better understand his processes.  The exhibition also includes his working maquettes that help us to see how his paintings are formed, forcing us to look at the process rather than merely the finished object.

It’s a busy week and I had to hurry.  The opening night of PAD beckoned and I can tell you that some of the best art in London is to be found this week amidst the trees of Berkeley Square.   You might even spot a nightingale but you’d be hard pressed to hear it over the clinking of champagne flutes.

Frank Stella: Connections and Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby: Ascent are both at Haunch of Venison, Burlington Gardens until 19th November 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com.  The Pavilion of Art and Design is in Berkeley Square until 16th October 2011, www.padlondon.net.

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