Archive | December, 2011

Fond Memories of The Courtauld: The Spanish Line

28 Dec

The Spanish Line explores the diversity of the Spanish drawings in The Courtauld’s own collections, spanning from the Renaissance to Modern periods – although the majority of works date from the 17th century.  This exhibition allows the wonderful Prints and Drawings department to unleash some of its magic and display a mere fraction of their 3,000 strong collection.

With approximately 100 works on paper, The Courtauld holds one of the most important collections of Spanish drawings, outside Spain.  This is the first exhibition in London to focus on the tradition of Spanish draughtsmanship and marks the culmination of a major, four-year, research project; one of its aims is to highlight how Spanish artists drew inspiration from the Dutch and Flemish schools – their work and ideas having been transmitted through the study of prints, as can now be seen, in part, by the bold graphic lines of the drawings.  That this exhibition has been managed by a drawings’ curator is instantly apparent – the works are well-lit and well-hung and provisions have been made to allow us to see the recto and verso of some sheets.

The Spanish Line at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

An exhibition of Spanish drawings has to include the extraordinary drawings of Jusepe de Ribera – although I will not go into detail about his work here, the subtlety of his line illustrates his exemplary skill.  The exhibition is broadly chronological with many highlights including Juan de Juanes’s Saint Stephen taken to his martyrdom, produced in preparation for an altarpiece, now housed in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, that is celebrated as one of the early masterpieces of Spanish art.

Jusepe de Ribera, Man tied to a tree and a figure resting, 17th century. Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk

In fact, every drawing is notable.  The Nine Worthies of Antiquity and Modern Worthies (c.1683-85), attributed to Matias de Torres, is a sheet of small drawings, probably intended as models for educational playing cards, displaying illustrious ancient and biblical heroes alongside modern worthies.   The detail is gorgeous and figures include Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar with moderns such as the Emperors Charles V and Leopold I.

Another work that really stood out was Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra’s Four studies of the head of a young man (c. 1645-55). I love studying studies and researching the unknown, looking at the purpose of a drawing – more of that later though.  This work demonstrates the artist’s great skill with pen and ink.  Symmetrically arranged in two rows, the heads leave space for the artist’s monogram, AC, at the centre – an unusual inclusion in a preparatory sketch.  It, therefore, seems likely that the sheet may have served either as a model for studio assistants or as a design for a pattern book.

Antonio del Castillo y Saavedra, Four studies of the head of a young man, c. 1645-55. Image via www.criticscircle.org.uk

Tucked away on one of the far walls, quite separate from the other works is Study of a left hand (c. 1685-1800).  I couldn’t help but stop to reminisce.  Early on in my Masters at The Courtauld, sitting in the Prints and Drawings room, we were presented with folded up pieces of paper that we each had to pick from a hat (or some such).  They were ‘mystery’ works and at the time I thought I pulled the short straw – a study of a hand by John Vanderbank.  At first, I was rather horrified and, by the end of my essay, I never wanted to see a Vanderbank sketch again.  Strangely, now I can’t walk past a study of a hand without fond memories resurfacing – isn’t it funny how things turn out?

John Vanderbank, Study of a Man’s Hand, c.1727-39 (?). Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk

The hand has always been given primary importance in preparatory studies, such as Albrecht Dűrer’s Study of Praying Hands (1508), and Leonardo da Vinci’s A Study of a Woman’s Hands (1490) and its gestures can lead to the understanding of a finished work.  The anatomical construction of the hand makes it the most pliable part of the body, able to contort around any object; its complexity allows the artist great dexterity and innovation in its depictions.  Considered by artists as particularly demanding to render, the convention of drawing hands is long established.  My hand – Vanderbank’s Study of a Man’s Hand also, of course, from The Courtauld’s own collections – appeared to be a preparatory sketch for a painting.  I was able to establish it was an elegant hand (seen through the unblemished skin and the choice of costume), the drawing of which broadly conformed to a conventional pattern of using chalk on coloured paper for preparatory studies: initially a method championed by Sir Anthony Van Dyck and mediated through intervening generations.  Through the positioning of ‘my’ hand, I was able to ascertain that the study may have been for either John Michael Rysbrack (c. 1728), or A Youth of the Lee Family, Probably William Lee of Totteridge Park (1738) but the highly conventional pose did make it difficult to link it to any one painting.  I could get carried away quite easily here but I think enough is enough…

Albrecht Dűrer, Study of Praying Hands, 1508. Image via www.wga.hu

The hand is far more important than you may originally realise and there were even books written on the language of the hand and how gesture can be used to communicate and show intention.  The preparatory drawing of body parts was not an innovative practice and follows a well-established lineage of portraiture and gesture, which conveyed the social and aesthetic values of the time.  Portrait drawing, the importance of which is stressed in artists’ manuals, encompasses many different categories including drawings for the sitter’s retention and studies executed from life, used to help complete the finished portrait.  These preparatory works were conventional forms of studio practice. This Spanish hand, in black and white chalk on faded grey blue paper, reaches towards the viewer in a startlingly direct manner.  It appears to have been drawn as part of an exercise in foreshortening and the careful modelling is typical of academic studies.  It is unclear whether a live model was used or whether the drawing was made from a plaster cast but the sheet is certainly an example of early academic practice in Spain, which began informally in Seville in the 1660s.

Study of a left hand, c.1685-1800. Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk

Possibly the most famous Spanish draughtsman is Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes whose work stands out for its energy and freedom of execution.  Goya pushed the conventional boundaries of drawing, experimenting with stain drawings where he rubbed and brushed ink onto the paper leaving different textures and marks.  In fact, only one Goya is included in the exhibition alongside, a Eugenio Lucas y Padilla (c. 1845-60), a Baldemiro Galofre y Ximenez (c. 1880-90) and two Pablo Picasso’s.  Picasso’s Pigs (1906) was made when he spent a summer in Gosol with Gertrude Stein.  It was the year they first met and they quickly formed a strong friendship.  As one of the most regarded female writers of her time, Stein saw herself as an equal rather than a patron although she already owned a number of Picasso’s works in her collection.  This charming drawing was almost certainly Picasso’s gift to Stein who ‘was always fond of pigs’.  His command of line is effortless.  Pigs is delightful and shows Picasso’s skill – he has made something so simple, wonderful to behold.

Pablo Picasso, Pigs, 1906. Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk

The Courtauld’s last exhibition had nearly 100,000 visitors in three months and it seems this show is also doing well.  The Courtauld is obviously right not to underestimate the public, as so many other galleries do, and deserves praise for providing us with such specialised exhibitions.  As the lift was out of order (something I became used to at the Institute), I had to totter back down the uneven spiral stairs, watching my step and trying not to make too dramatic an exit.

The Spanish Line:  Drawings from Ribera to Picasso is at The Courtauld Gallery until 15th January 2012, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

What a Year! A Summary of 2011…

24 Dec

Trying to pick my favourite exhibitions from this year has been quite a difficult task.  I’ve seen some rubbish but I’ve also seen an awful lot of amazing shows – 2011 has been a strong year for the art calendar.  In fact, reading back through Artista, I wonder how I have I managed to totter to so many galleries in the last few months.  But, there’s always so much to see…

My favourite exhibitions really left their mark, those I can still immediately recall that still delight me.  I’ve chosen the shows that weren’t just aesthetically pleasing but were also well-curated and academically interesting.  These are the ones that tick all the boxes.

Towering at Tate – The Gerhard Richter exhibition that is still on show at Tate Modern is breath-taking, looking at Richter’s diverse oeuvre as an unbroken panorama.  At Tate Britain, Vorticists win the prize – charting a short-lived movement, Tate aimed to place Vorticism in an international context, studying the impact of World War I on these artists.

Detail of one of Gerhard Richter’s Cage Paintings, 2006. Own photograph.

Rocking at the Royal Academy  – The Royal Academy’s upstairs gallery has to have one of the strongest exhibition programmes in London.  It’s a tie for the best show there this year between the recent Soviet Art and Architecture and Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography.

Martin Munkácsi, Four Boys at Lake Tanganyika, c. 1930.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk.

Knockout at the National Gallery – For me, Drenched in Devotion stole the show this year.  Looking at altarpieces in their context, the NG examined their structure and relationship to the surrounding architecture, following the formal, stylistic and typological developments across the period of focus.  One room was even turned into a chapel.

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

Leaving LondonRevealed: Turner Contemporary Opens was an extremely strong exhibition to launch another new public art gallery designed, of course, by David Chipperfield.  Highlights were from Daniel Buren and Conrad Shawcross.

Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, 2011. Own photograph.

Also with podium finishes were:

Going for Gold – Haunch’s Mystery of Appearance with some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow.  Need I say more…

Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.

Striking SilverThe Cult of Beauty at the V&A looked at art, from 1860-1900, created purely for its own sake to provide pleasure and beauty.

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

Bright Bronze – Future Tense’s Spectra I focused on colour – a simple concept but one that was wonderfully addressed with some of the best lighting I’ve seen this year.

Lee Baker, Refractive Monolith, 2011. Own photograph. 

and last but by no means least – Runner Up  – the brilliant Anthony McCall taking over Ambika P3 with his entrancing light works that combined cinema, drawing and sculpture.

Anthony McCall, Vertical Works, 2011. Image via http://www.dontpaniconline.com. 

Aaah… but there was also the shoes exhibition, Rembrandt and Bacon at Ordovas, Nicola Hicks and Mona Kuhn at Flowers, the many brilliant shows at Josh Lilley and the poignant timing of Lisson’s Ai Weiwei show.  What a year!  To look back at these exhibitions, use the categories or tags on the right hand side of the screen to make scrolling that bit easier.

Carla Busuttil at the Josh Lilley Galley.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Let’s hope that 2012 can move on from the success of these shows and be bigger, better and braver than ever before.  I’ll be there, in my stilettos, doing the rounds.

In the meantime, thank you for reading Artista.  A Merry Christmas and a Happy Shoe Year to you all.

(Check back next week for a look at The Courtauld’s current drawing exhibition.)

Simple but Beautiful: Buren and Allora & Calzadilla at Lisson Gallery

22 Dec

I have lived in London all my life and although I’ve used the Edgware Road tube stations on many occasions they will always remain a mystery.  Try as I may, I never seem to come out of the right one.  Thank heavens for google maps – which decided to work for this visit.  After a quick reorientation, I set off for Bell Street.

Daniel Buren at Lisson Gallery with 7 Lines of Electric Light: white & orange, 2011, seen through the window. Own photograph.

The last Daniel Buren piece I saw was at Turner Contemporary earlier this year and I was eager to see his new work at the Lisson Gallery.  Buren is known for creating, often large-scale, site-specific works that play on architectural, spatial and social elements and this is exactly what he has done here.  Walking into A Perimeter for a Room, situated in the main gallery space, is like walking into another world.

Daniel Buren, A Perimeter for a Room, 2011. Own photograph. 

Horizontal Plexiglas panels, coloured with self-adhesive vinyl, are used to alter our perception of space by creating an internal division, introducing a new height within the room. The walls are washed with coloured shadows, warming the visitor with this glowing light.  The work is designed to change our outlook and heighten our sensitivity as our vision is altered by a new, dynamic colour palette.

Daniel Buren, A Perimeter for a Room, 2011. Own photograph.

The front of the gallery shows Buren experimenting with a new material made of woven fibre optic. The pieces have a powerful visual effect, illuminating their surroundings while the strong geometric patterns relate to the architectural structure of the room and, of course, Buren’s stripes form the basis of the works.

Buren is constantly re-asserting himself and pushing the boundaries of his well-established visual language.  His works no longer surprise but they do delight and ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – his formula succeeds.

Daniel Buren, detail of A Square of Electric Light # 2, 2011 and detail of A Square of Electric Light # 1, 2011. Own photograph.

Finally, there is a piece outside, a variation on a pergola designed to play with outdoor light and the movement of the sun.  I loved the exhibition so I have no doubt that this work is equally mesmerising when seen in the right weather conditions but, it was rather grey and gloomy so the impact was lost.

Daniel Buren, 4 colours at 3 metres high, 2011. Own photograph. 

Buren’s visual vocabulary is simple but beautiful – his experimentation with light and colour is hypnotic, transforming the visitor’s vision.

Across the road are three video pieces by Allora & Calzadilla that each studies the complicated history of Vieques, an island of Puerto Rico, that was used by the US Navy as a bomb-testing range from 1941 to 2003.  All of these works present issues about Vieques’ state of flux – a place caught between disaster and progress, oblivion and memory, grief and hope.

I found myself drawn to one work in particular – Half Mast\Full Mast focuses on the unfinished political, economic and ecological reconstruction of the island and stands apart from the other videos with its slower, more meditative approach.  Split into two sections, it consists of landscape views of various sites in Vieques.  The horizontal divide is broken (or crossed) by two poles, aligned to form one object, that evoke an unofficial flagpole.  Various young males hoist themselves up the pole, using their amazing strength to go from a standing position to horizontal.  They must have been doing their core work in yoga!  Their bodies momentarily form an unofficial flag – sometimes at half-mast, as if in mourning, and sometimes, jubilantly, at full-mast.  Although the work presents an overall feeling of calm, the unpredictable appearance of the ‘flag’ both celebrates a place while conjuring up a sense of discontent.

Allora & Calzadilla, Half Mast\Full Mast, 2010. Own photograph. 

Allora & Calzadilla successfully discuss weighty issues with a light-hearted, sometimes absurd overtone.  Both exhibitions work very well in parallel – although visually there can be no comparison; they both tackle their subject in a simple but beautiful and thought-provoking way.

Next it was time for tea at Drink, Shop & Do – a haven in Kings Cross, nestled in an old Victorian bathhouse and the perfect place for tea, cake and cocktails.

Drink, Shop & Do. Image via www.alicebytemperley.com

Daniel Buren: One Thing To Another, Situated Works and Allora & Calzadilla: Vieques Videos, 2003-2011 are both at the Lisson Gallery until 14th January 2011, www.lissongallery.com.

How the Tate stole Christmas…

18 Dec

For the past 23 years, Tate Britain has exhibited artist-designed Christmas trees in their magnificent rotunda.

There have been some wonderful reinventions, starting in 1988 with Bill Woodrow’s ‘ecological tree’.  This was followed with trees designed by Tim Head, Lisa Milroy, Boyd Webb, Craigie Aitchison, Shirazeh Houshiary’s up-side down design, Cathy de Monchaux and Cornelia Parker whose tree was laden with dried fruit while the air was magically scented with the aroma of brandy.  In 1996, Julian Opie created a group of ‘model’ trees, constructed from two planes of wood.  Although they were instantly recognisable as fir trees, there were also instantly recognisable as Opie’s.  The group evoked the idea of a forest, drawing people into a mystical Christmas playground.

Julian Opie, Christmas Tree, 1996. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Michael Landy followed this installation the next year.  Then came Richard Wilson, Mat Collishaw, Catherine Yass (whose undecorated tree that was suspended and bisected by a thin beam of blue neon), Yinka Shonibare, Tracey Emin and Mark Wallinger.

Catherine Yass, Christmas Tree, 2000. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

A bare tree cropped up again for Wallinger’s installation.  He used a large aspen (the wood of the cross on which Christ was crucified), hung with 500 lightly-scented Catholic rosaries.  Then there was a tree by Richard Wentworth and a traditional spruce by Gary Hume decorated with hand-painted steel-plate blackbirds.  The blackbird is a typical Christmas bird and an iconic part of the festival – the ‘four calling birds’ of the popular song are blackbirds (calling birds, originating from colly birds where colly refers to the black soot of coal).

Mark Wallinger, Populus Tremula, 2003. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Important artists continued to adorn Tate’s rotunda with their festive spirit.  Sarah Lucas in 2006, then, Fiona Banner, Bob and Roberta Smith, Tacita Dean and, finally, last year, Giorgio Sadotti’s unadorned tree.  At the bottom of his Norwegian Spruce, rested a coiled bullwhip, intended to drive away the spell of Christmas on twelfth night.  Sadotti asked us to recognise the tree’s natural elegance in its state of undress.

Giorgio Sadotti, Christmas Tree, 2010.  Image via www.artswrap.co.uk

And so, it’s the time of year again when Tate should be unveiling its tree but, sadly, there is nothing.  “Due to building works” (that haven’t yet affected the rotunda), a wonderful British tradition has been left to fizzle out and Tate has disappointed Christmas-loving art fans.  I, for one, am missing this festive eccentricity normally embraced by one of our favourite galleries.  If for some reason they don’t want to use the rotunda this year, you’d think they would have enough space across both their London galleries that they wouldn’t have to be the gallery that stole Christmas.

Please Tate let us have our Christmas tree back next year!

Bill Woodrow, Christmas Tree, 1988. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Tim Head installing his tree, 1989. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Lisa Milroy, Christmas Tree, 1990. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Boyd Webb, Christmas Tree, 1991. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Craigie Aitchison, Christmas Tree, 1992. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, 1993. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Cathy de Monchaux, Christmas Tree, 1994. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Cornelia Parker, Christmas Tree, 1995. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Michael Landy, Christmas Tree, 1997.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Richard Wilson, Christmas Tree, 1998. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Mat Collishaw, Christmas Tree, 1999. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Yinka Shonibare, Christmas Tree, 2001.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Tracey Emin, Christmas Tree, 2002. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Richard Wentworth, Christmas Tree, 2004. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Gary Hume, Christmas Tree, 2005. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Sarah Lucas, Christmas Tree, 2006. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Fiona Banner, Christmas Tree, 2007. Image via www.flickr.com/photos/practise

Bob and Roberta Smith, Christmas Tree, 2008.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Tacita Dean, Christmas Tree, 2009. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

The Forces of Nature: Photography and a Slippery Skate at the NHM

13 Dec

I don’t think I’ve been to the Natural History Museum since my childhood when I went to see the dinosaurs but this trip confirmed it is certainly somewhere I should visit more often.

The Natural History Museum. Own photograph. 

I went to see their Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition where more than 100 photographs from 17 categories are on display.  The competition is in its 47th year and is a much-loved fixture of the NHM’s calendar.

Petr Simon, Racket-tail in the rain, 2011. Courtesy of Petr Simon and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk.   

The exhibition doesn’t maintain to be an academic show – it is a collection of stunning images.  Walking around the space, my first thought was that all these photographers should be winners.  The works are stunning, the kind we all naïvely think we could have taken but most of us don’t have the skill, timing or access.

Eric Pierre, The Charge, 2011. Courtesy of Eric Pierre and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk

The Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year prize is for a sequence of six photos that tell a memorable story.  The winner of this year’s award, Daniel Beltrá, a specialist in environmental and conservation stories, is also the holder of this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year.  Beltrá’s series The Price of Oil charts the worst oil-spill in history off the coast of Louisiana in 2010. Disaster photos are often harrowing and his images made me shudder.  Beltrá does not deliberately shock – he is just showing reality and its harsh consequences.  Still Life in Oil shows eight pelicans rescued from this spill and awaiting their second bout of cleaning.  Although Beltrá has created art out of disaster, it’s not the beauty or technical perfection of his photograph that stays with you, it’s the heart-breaking severity of the situation that inspires people to take action.

Daniel Beltrá, Still Life in Oil, 2011.  Courtesy of Daniel Beltrá and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk

Ant Rider comes from the category Behaviour: all other animals which focuses on animals that are not mammals or birds who behave in ways that are seldom witnessed and little-known or understood.  Bence Máté had to work at night in the Costa Rican rainforest, lying face-down to capture the leaf-cutter ants at their busiest.  He used four flashes; two to light the branch ‘road’ being used by the worker ants and two more as backlights.  The hierarchy of these insects is fascinating.  The ant on the leaf has the job of chasing away parasitic flies, while the larger worker ant carries the leaf fragment to be used as compost to grow fungus for the food on which these ants rely.

Bence Máté, Ant Rider, 2011. Courtesy of Bence Máté and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk

Not all of the photographs concentrate solely on animals; the exhibition also focuses on our natural landscapeDenis Budhov’s photograph, In the Valley of the Giants, shows the aftermath of an eruption from the Kljuchevsky volcano where thick lava streams glowed at dusk under a lenticular cloud.

One of the hardest things about walking around this exhibition was trying to single out photographs to discuss here as I could gladly have written about them all.

 

Denis Budhov, In the Valley of the Giants, 2011. Courtesy of Denis Budhov and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk

Feeling festive, I couldn’t help but look at Territorial Strut, showing a robin in the snow.  As the temperatures drop in winter, robins grace our gardens searching for food.  Ross Hoddinott captured this by setting his exposure meter so it wasn’t fooled by the snow’s brightness and used a shutter-speed fast enough to freeze the movement, but slow enough to blur the scattering snow.  The title of this photograph reflects the robin’s pose as he scatters snow and strikes a warning to an approaching male.

Ross Hoddinott, Territorial Strut, 2011. Courtesy of Ross Hoddinott and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk

These perfect images capture nature as we wish we could see it.  The interaction these photographers have experienced is mind-blowing and their recognition here is much deserved.

Paul Souders, The Grace of Giants, 2011. Courtesy of Paul Souders and Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year and via www.nhm.ac.uk

It was only fitting to head outside to skate at the enchanting open-air ice rink.

 

The Natural History Museum ice-rink.  Own photograph.

But, of course, just in time for our session the heavens opened.  It must be something about me and outdoor rinks.  I skate every week but, as the ice began to get slippery, I wasn’t prepared to risk falling again and the bar beckoned.  I’m safer at Ally Pally!

Veolia Environnement: Wildlife Photographer of the Year is at the Natural History Museum until 11th March 2012, www.nhm.ac.uk.

Contrasting Cultures at Somerset House – Amazon and Dazed & Confused

10 Dec

I’m particularly interested to see what’s going on in the new East Galleries at Somerset House as they will be hosting the London show of In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe from July 2012, with which I’m very involved.  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Aesthetically, the new galleries look stunning – with their 18th century features and-low level lighting, the space is wonderful.

Amazon in the East Galleries at Somerset House. Own photograph. 

For the inaugural exhibition in this space, Somerset House is showing Amazon,  in aid of Sky Rainforest Rescue, showcasing works by award-winning photographers, Sebastião Salgado and Per-Anders Pettersson.

The exhibition is intended to draw awareness to the plight of the Amazon which covers over 6.7 million km2 and comprises 40% of the world’s remaining tropical forests.  The information panel at the beginning states that every minute, an area of Amazon rainforest the size of three football pitches is lost to deforestation.  The statistics continue.  The impact is immediate, this exhibition is designed to shake us and make us realise the severity of the situation.  The Sky Rainforest Rescue is a three-year project that aims to save one billion trees in the State of Acre. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

Pettersson presents photographs from his recent visit to Acre, documenting the shocking deforestation in progress as well as showing those who are benefitting from the Sky Rainforest Rescue.  His images aim to show the stark reality – both ‘beautiful and heart-breaking in equal measure’ – and the effect that these changes are having on local communities.  His recent trip to the area gave him ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the work that is being done firsthand and to help showcase it’, looking at how Sky, WWF and Acre State Government are helping the area. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view as sun rises over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

In striking contrast, Salgado’s works, from his on-going photographic essay Genesis, portray Amazonian landscapes in their most pristine state and give a rare insight into the lives of two Amazon tribes.  His often-monochrome images try to show the environments that remain intact despite the scale of destruction, aiming ‘to highlight the beauty that must be preserved.’  His works are beautiful, reminding of us the rich habitat that can still exist in this area. 

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009 – fishing in the Piulaga laguna during the Kuarup of the Waura group.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

It always bothers me that charitable organisations produce such elaborate and OTT promotional material, like the lavish book being handed out here.  Are they getting enough of a return to make this worthwhile?

However, it is a very moving exhibition .  The two photographers could not be more different in their styles but, between them, they highlight the severe scale of devastation.  It’s always good to get these issues into the public eye and Amazon succeeds in a breathtakingly beautiful manner.

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Just next door in the main building of Somerset House, stretching across the courtyard and terrace rooms, it could not get more different, with an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magazine, Dazed & Confused.

Dazed & Confused has been gracing our bookshelves since its inception in 1991.  Dazed aimed to strip away artifice and show ‘real’ life.  They weren’t a normal fashion magazine; they were shocking and, at times, alarmingly honest, in their portrayals.  The magazine is not to everyone’s taste and has provoked controversy and polarised opinions over the years.  Although it started in one room, 20 years later a measure of its success is that about 65 people work on the Dazed team.

Jubilee, October 2000, photography by Paulo Sutch, styling by Katie Grand. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Jefferson Hack, co-founder of the magazine, deserves an exhibition about his extraordinary life. But, in a way, I suppose this is his life – the eccentricity, excitement and wildness of the magazine is Hack on paper.   Hack met Rankin on a journalism course at the London College of Printing.  Rankin, on a break from a photography degree, was running the student magazine and, together, at weekends, they began producing this.  Untitled won three Guardian Student Media Awards and they took their vision and passion over to Dazed, the magazine which became a ‘social scene …  a conceptual thing for young creatives’.

Pulp – It’s a Wrap, 1995, Photography by Rankin.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

The exhibition presents highlights from a new book about the magazine.  Curated by Jefferson Hack and Emma Reeves, it features a range of work that includes ground-breaking photography by Rankin, Nick Knight, David Sims and Terry Richardson; specially commissioned projects by artists Jake & Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood; cutting edge fashion pages by stylists Katie Grand, Katy England, Alister Mackie and Nicola Formichetti; and specially selected designs by fashion giants Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh.

The curation of the exhibition reflects the nature of the magazine, immortalising its most infamous visual stories.  Dazed sought to publish unheard voices and new talents – quirky, fashionable, extraordinary and different.

20 Years of Dazed & Confused magazine at Somerset House. Own photograph.

The exhibition is surprisingly extensive but, then again, Hack has never done anything by half.  It celebrates what Dazed is all about and what makes Dazed so wonderful is that it doesn’t fit a mould.  Hack and Rankin have never tried to conform.  When they started, they didn’t really know what they were meant to conform to.  The magazine took off, people loved the freedom of expression it allowed and, as they connected, the creativity burgeoned…and still does to this day.

Amazon is in the East Galleries at Somerset House until 18th December.  20 Years of Dazed & Confused Magazine: Making It Up As We Go Along is in Somerset House’s Terrace Rooms until 29th January 2012, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Haunch of Excellence: ten British post-war greats…plus Sprüth and Bischoff/Weiss

7 Dec

It seems impossible to walk down a street in Mayfair without bumping into a familiar art face. As a consequence, due to all the chatting, a five minute walk often takes fifteen minutes.

I did finally make my way up Dover Street and get to Sprüth Magers who are showing a series of new works by Louise Lawler.  Lawler’s photographs seek to explore the presentation of artworks and the context in which they are viewed – whether in private homes or in galleries.  Her work forces us to look at art out of its normal context, making us consider how we view, and idealise, these artworks, and questioning how our opinions are modified by the manner of display.

Louise Lawler at Sprüth. Own photograph.

The current exhibition sees Lawler photographing two works by Richter – his Mustang-Staffel and Schädel – during their installation in Dresden. Through her manipulation of the original dimensions, she questions how the art world distorts artworks.  These two new sets of work lack her usual charisma but the concept is fascinating and it is a concise, playful show.

I also popped into Bischoff Weiss’ Chain Chain Chain. I found this to be a strange show and one where it is important to understand the conceptual rationale before visiting.  Curator, Glenn Adamson, who is also co-curator of Postmodernism at the V&A, has wanted to explore this project for a long time.  Looking at art as a commodity, and the commercial status of both artists and artworks, he examines commodity fetishisation and how artists can slow down the commodity chain that flows so readily around us.

Zoe Sheehan Saldana, Adult Life-Jacket, 2008-09. Own photograph.

As well as physically referencing chain as a material (which crops up frequently in the show), the title also evokes the commodity chain itself by mimicking and underpinning it; Gyan Panchal and Nicole Cherubini’s work evokes shipping containers or packing materials through highly aestheticised objects.

The best way to understand the complex chain of Adamson’s thoughts is to hear (or rather, to read) it from the horse’s mouth and this is best done by picking up the small pamphlet that accompanies the show.

Onwards, as I headed up Bond Street in the freezing cold to Haunch of Venison for the Mystery of Appearance – the show I had been looking forward to all day. Who could not be excited by the list of post-war British artists involved?  The list of ten artists includes some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow.  The new front entrance to Haunch was only unveiled two days ago.  What used to be a shoe shop (how apt for me) has been transformed to become such a beautiful extension of Haunch that I can’t even pretend the loss of the shoe shop is tragic.  In fact, I can’t even now remember what shoe shop once stood here.

The new Haunch entrance on New Bond Street. Own photograph.

The title of the exhibition comes from Francis Bacon who said ‘To me, the mystery of painting today is how appearance can be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of making? …one knows that by some accidental brush-marks suddenly appearance comes in with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have brought about.’  Bacon himself here acknowledges the mystery of these artists’ genii – their ambition and the effect of their work is often mind-blowing.

Francis Bacon, Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, 1951. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.   

The exhibition retains the artists’ individualities while introducing an enlivening conversation between them.  Yes, such conversations have taken place many times before (often in our auction houses) but, with art this great, this dialogue will never become staid.   The influence these artists still exert is sensational.   The exhibition also examines the personal relationships between the artists themselves some of which began in the late forties.

Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.

Several of the works have come from major public galleries while some of the pieces from private collections have not been on display in years.  With the recent sad deaths of Freud and Hamilton this show is timely and poignant.  The exhibition does not pretend to be an overview – more of a personal selection by the curator.

Richard Hamilton, Respective, 1951. Own photograph.

Opening with a selection of nudes, in the second gallery the exhibition moves onto landscapes and portraits.  These are followed by a focus on the special significance of the Old Masters to the artists, concluding with a focus on their interpretation of space and lens-based imagery.  What this exhibition does is highlight quality and excellence, re-evaluating this group of incredible artists – their motives, their stories and, most importantly here, their conversations.  Hours after the PV, I’m still struggling to pick a favourite – the sheer power of the Bacon, the textured dynamism of the Auerbach, the delicacy of the Freud portraits or the sensitivity of the Hamilton drawings…  All the works are sublime.

Leon Kossoff, Seated Woman No. 2, 1959. Own photograph.

The catalogue with essays by Catherine Lampert and Tom Hunt is equally stunning and the perfect companion to the show.  Although some of the relationships or conversations remain elusive, the paintings are all brought together by a sense of timeliness and a commitment to their medium through which the study of the human condition is touching and powerful.

Mystery of Appearance at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

Mystery of Appearance is a beautiful exhibition and one that I will certainly return to during the daytime when I can further appreciate the works flooded by natural light from the Haunch skylights.  But, in the meantime, wow!

Louise Lawler: No Drones is at Sprüth Magers until 23rd December 2011, www.spruethmagers.comChain Chain Chain is at Bischoff/Weiss until 28th January 2012, www.bischoffweiss.comMystery of Appearance: Conversations between ten British post-war painters is at Haunch of Venison until 18th February 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.

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