Archive | May, 2012

Celebrating a Classy Cobbler: Christian Louboutin at the Design Museum

28 May

Any regular reader of Artista who has laughed at my tottering tales or seen the signature photographs at the ends of posts, will know that I adore shoes.  And so I was possibly even more excited than most about the Christian Louboutin exhibition at the Design Museum as, to say the least, I have a bit of a thing for Louboutin’s.

Louboutin stiletto in the stairwell at the Design Museum. Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org

Even people who know nothing about shoes will probably recognise a Louboutin from their beautiful red soles that are now known as his signature.  Louboutin is one of those people who has had his fair share of luck – he had no regard for his academic studies and was expelled from school.  He had already begun sketching shoes from an early age; obviously talented, he wanted to make shoes that broke the rules and empowered women.   A job with Charles Jourdan led him to meet Roger Vivier in whose atelier he became an apprentice.  He continued on to design shoes for the likes of Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent; there was no stopping him and, in 1991, he opened his first store – the rest, as they say, is history.  Women all over the world crave a pair of Louboutin’s to ‘enrich’ their lives and their wardrobes.

Christian Louboutin shoes – aaaah….  Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org

This exhibition is the first UK retrospective of Christian Louboutin’s designs, celebrating his career where he has pushed the boundaries of footwear.  The exhibition looks at the many sources of his creativity – performance, cabaret, fantasy, fairytale, art, architecture…  We are taken on a journey of how a shoe is made from the very first drawing right through to factory production.

Entrance to the exhibition. Own photograph.

The neon-lit entrance, velvet sofas and mirrors all echo the image of the Louboutin brand.  Louboutin’s shoes embody femininity at its most beautiful; in his designs, he understands the way a woman wants to be admired and desired and his shoes, in every conceivable colour, style and pattern, demand attention.  You can’t fail to look at a Louboutin stiletto.  The exhibition is a fashion show.  It is entertainment but somehow doesn’t quite work.

Watching the 3D hologram show featuring Dita von Teese. Own photograph.

There’s a small recreation of the Louboutin Paris atelier that is cluttered yet intoxicating.  But, it’s all a bit too much.  These shoes are beautiful enough not to need quite so much glitz surrounding them.

recreation of Louboutin’s atelier. Own photograph.

Christian Louboutin shoes are sensational, stunning, sublime…  They really are!  And, here, they are displayed and lit in every which way.  The shoes are designed to enhance the female form, to lengthen the leg, to ‘sex’ up an outfit.  A brilliant quote from Louboutin himself about one of his designs summed up the sensuality of his footwear:  “This shoe is very difficult to walk in, other than to go from a taxi to a party, from that party to another taxi, and from the taxi to one’s bed, with small steps, leaning on a man’s arm. Insofar as there exist shoes for every moment of life, from sneakers and flip flops to flippers, I think there should also exist shoes for bed, shoes whose primary function is not walking but the sexual charge they contain. As everyone knows, footwear can be highly erotic.”

 

Special effects at the Design Museum. Own photograph.

One area of the exhibition is devoted to fetishes although my personal opinion is that most of these shoes look more painful than erotic.  I found the shoes in the main exhibition more sensual and sexy than those in here.  Displayed on pedestals in this dark, prohibited space, alongside photographs by David Lynch, the fetish shoes are not meant to be walked in; they are subversive objects designed to fulfil dark fantasies.

Fetish shoes. Own photograph.

For me, this exhibition could so easily have been better; the shoes are beautiful but I could visit the Mount Street store to see them anytime to better effect.  Overall it was a bit underwhelming; it does reveal Louboutin’s character and the history behind his now world-famous brand but I left disappointed.

The story of Christian Louboutin. Own photograph.

I don’t think the exhibition did the shoes justice.  There is no doubt that people who would not normally visit the Design Museum will rush to this show and I was surprised by the lack of merchandise in the shop.  Other than the quite pricey catalogue and a few bits and bobs (including fake tattoos) there are no postcards or greetings cards specific to the exhibition.  I felt they were missing a trick or two.

I know not everyone agrees with the concept of women in Louboutin’s or like them but I not only find them divine, classy and elegant, but also comfortable!  They are exquisite and if you like shoes then you will probably enjoy this show but I expected to enjoy it a lot more.  Writing this and visiting the exhibition has certainly given me a serious yearning.  It may be time for a visit to Mount Street!

Christian Louboutin is at the Design Museum until 9th July 2012, www.designmuseum.org.

Flash Bang Wallop, What A Let Down…

21 May

I was not the only one expecting big things from the re-launch of The Photographers’ Gallery which has been closed for two years for a mega £9.2 million restoration programme.  The obvious ‘big’ is that the building now features a two-storey extension that doubles the size of the old gallery.  Designed by Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, the original Victorian red-brick warehouse is linked to the modern steel extension by an external sleeve of black render, terrazzo and Angelim Pedra wood.  There is no doubt that the exterior is striking.  The design is all about the importance of linking exterior and interior with picture-perfect windows punctuating the building that provide amazing views onto surrounding Soho.

The ‘new’ Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery space itself is stunning but this is yet another slick building with no heart.  The opening exhibition mounts a selection of works by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, showcasing over thirty images from his series OIL that looks at the mechanics of the manufacture, distribution and use of this highly controversial resource.

Edward Burtynsky, Highway #5, 2009. Own photograph.

Reading Adrian Searle’s review on Guardian online I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the obnoxious comments that had been posted in response to his description of the exhibition as ‘so-so’.  In this instance, I think Searle is spot-on.  Any photography fan will have seen these works before.  Any photography fan will appreciate the visual dynamism of these works.  Any photography fan will think this is an unadventurous choice of artist.  I thought the gallery would have taken more risks.  With low-level lighting (another gallery falling going down this gloomy path), the works aren’t shown to their full potential and I’m far more excited to see the display of his works at Flowers that opens later this week.

Edward Burtynsky photographs at The Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery does have some interesting features.  The Eranda studio includes its own camera obscura (offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area which visitors can see by using a rotating turret in the window) plus there’s an environmentally-controlled floor which will allow the more extensive exhibition of works from archives and museum collections.  There is also The Wall on the ground floor which is part of the new digital programme – this particular display will present guest-curated projects, artist commissions and collaborative photographic work.   Currently The Wall is showing The Animated GIF, featuring over forty GIF images by practitioners from a range of creative disciplines.  The GIF was first created in 1987 and this display seeks to celebrate its history and the aesthetic qualities of this medium, looking at the wide variety of approaches using this restricted palette of 265 colours.

The Wall on the ground floor. Own photograph.

There was still a lot of snagging to do when I went round although I’m sure this would have been righted before doors opened to the public.  The stairs are rather hidden and use of the lift is being encouraged but it is so slow; make sure you’ve got ample time, not to walk around the exhibition, but to actually get up to it!

When we found the stairs…. Own photograph.

This is one of those spaces that will, no doubt, change drastically for each exhibition and I will be back for the Deutsche Börse prize in July to see if different works can spice up this attractive warehouse.  I think it’s easy to get these spaces right but, seemingly, it’s even easier to get them wrong.

Burtynsky: Oil is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1st July 2012, www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

Works on Paper Win the Day: Picasso at the BM and Leonardo at The Queen’s Gallery

16 May

The British Museum’s latest prints and drawings exhibition is designed to show off their incredible new acquisition of the 100 etchings, generously given by Hamish Parker, comprising Pablo Picasso’s Vollard Suite.  While some of these works are synonymous with Picasso many of the prints have rarely been seen and certainly very few people have seen the set exhibited like this, in its entirety.

The story behind the acquisition is like a fairy-tale; the BM already owned seven etchings, one of which was put on show at a small viewing for patrons by Coppel, the exhibition’s curator, who said he hoped that one day the BM would own a series.  Three months later Parker e-mailed to say he’d help and just three months after that he had £900,000 (the BM had been offered the series for only £1,900 in 1955) in place when a complete set serendipitously came on the market.

Picasso’s The Vollard Suite at the British Museum. Own photograph.

Commissioned in 1930 by Ambroise Vollard, Picasso executed the majority during a creative flurry in the spring of 1933 although the series took seven years to complete.

The wall labels here guide us expertly through the show.  The BM has not tried to be flashy; this show is about the works and they are allowed to speak for themselves as we follow them around.  On first glance it is easy to mistake this as a dull-looking and uninspiring exhibition but this could not be more wrong.  The Vollard Suite is shown alongside examples of the classical sculpture that inspired Picasso as well as Ingres drawings, Rembrandt etching and Goya prints.  This also allows the BM to highlight their varied and exemplary collections.

Picasso’s The Vollard Suite at the British Museum. Own photograph.

What is important to remember is that the Vollard Suite is a series and should be viewed as such – as a story and a single work which drastically changes our impression of both the work itself and the exhibition.  Picasso didn’t title the works as they are not individual and only elements of the whole.  Instead they are dated to show us the order and the progression of the creative journey.  They can be read as the story of Picasso’s life, a story of his originality and sexuality which we can see through his depictions of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his muse and lover, at first drawn with life, light and beauty but, over time, becoming less playful as Picasso, often shown as a minotaur, becomes more bestial and vicious as problems with his wife Olga become more apparent.  Even the way he has scratched at the surface of the etching plate shows the darkening situation.  It is not a simple or kind story to follow.  The series ends with the minotaur, a blind and impotent creature, led and cared for by a girl resembling Marie-Thérèse – the world had changed and fascism and civil war were rife across Europe.  The Vollard Suite is an emotional overload of Picasso’s internal conflicts and desires; at this point we aren’t far away from the anguish he expressed in Guernica.

Pablo Picasso, Reclining Sculptor before the Small Torso, 30 March 1933, Paris. Own photograph.

This set of the Vollard Suite is in pristine condition, coming directly from the heirs of dealer Henri Petiet who handled the distribution of the works in the 1950s.  I was shocked that visitors were being allowed to use flash photography in the gallery – the BM should demand that works on paper are treated with more respect.

These prints are so forceful that it is impossible not to engage with them.  Picasso was a truly great etcher and pushes the artform to a new level, mastering every aspect of the medium.  Aside from the snap-happy people, it was wonderful to see others engaging so actively with works on paper.

I decided to stop for lunch in the Court Restaurant which has just been taken over by Benugo.  I hadn’t been here in a while but used to love their long leisurely lunches.  Sadly this was not one of those lunches and I was left disappointed by poor, luke-warm food and a menu that hints at tapas without going the whole way.

The Great Court at the British Museum. Own photograph.

To cheer myself up, I headed over to Buckingham Palace to see some more works on paper (though it’s always a bonus to see the Guards outside as well).  You may have thought we’d had our fill of Leonardo da Vinci last year with the National Gallery’s blockbuster exhibition and, indeed, many of his drawings included in that were on loan from the Royal Collection (although they were hard to see in the dark and crowded galleries).  But, here is another show of his works – the largest group of his anatomical drawings ever exhibited (the Royal Collection holds all but one of da Vinci’s surviving drawings – the other is in Weimar).  Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist is a splendid display of 87 pages from his notebooks, 24 sides of which have never been seen before.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Muscles of the Leg. Own photograph.

During the Renaissance, in order to paint the body correctly, the artist had to understand its structure.  In 1489, Leonardo began working on ideas for a treatise on human anatomy; while some of his notes are clearly intertwined with his artistic needs, his ideas go above and beyond the basic requirements of a painter.  Leonardo was not one to do things by halves.   During winter 1510-11 he is thought to have worked with Marcantonio della Torre, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Pavia, who gave him access to dissected humans which he illustrated in great detail, drawing most of the major muscle groups and every bone except the skull.   Leonardo looks at the body as an architectural form with elevations, plans and sections; he follows an artistic approach with a scientific mind.

Leonardo da Vinci, The Lungs. Own photograph.

The systems of display of this and the Picasso exhibition could not be more opposite – the Royal Collection’s approach is much jazzier and brighter but both work equally well due to the different styles of works on display.  Leonardo’s works are intellectually demanding but are presented in a way where they don’t seem exhausting or overbearing.  There is an amazing amount of information provided about the works with enlarged details printed on raised wall sections enabling visitors to analyse the drawings more thoroughly.  They have really brought the intricacies alive for the general public.  Some of the boards include pictures of the drawings in ultraviolet light offering a clearer look while some show translations of Leonardo’s notes so that they can be appreciated and understood.  This exhibition has involved a lot of work and it certainly pays off in leaps and bounds.

Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at The Queen’s Gallery.

Across three main rooms with smaller offshoots, the drawings are displayed with projections, anatomical models and explanations.  Where necessary they are displayed in cases so that the recto and verso can be seen; the curators have understood perfectly the space and attention these drawings deserve.  The beautifully produced, and very reasonably priced, hardback catalogue is also a revelation with incredibly detailed entries on all the drawings.

Leonardo’s drawings alongside modern anatomical models. Own photograph.

In September 1513, Leonardo left Milan for Rome where he tried to resume his anatomical research but he was accused of unseemly practices.  He moved to France in 1516 and never continued these studies; due to their dense and unorganised content they were never really appreciated.  If Leonardo’s work had been properly handled there is no doubt it would have been greater than Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica of 1543.  Leonardo’s work would have been unquestionably the most important document on anatomy in history.  It wasn’t until 1900 that his works were finally published and understood but, having been lost to the world, it was too late to affect change.  Their power and insight is still evident.

Leonardo da Vinci, The throat, and the muscles of the leg. Own photograph.

It is clear that Leonardo was a scientist as well as an artist.  His discoveries, if known at the right time, would no doubt have influenced the course of science.  The Royal Collection’s exhibition offers a very different viewpoint to the aforementioned NG show.  Leonardo’s highly detailed and sensitive scientific drawings show his artistic skill at its most advanced – these are subtle and spellbinding and I personally find them more engaging than his paintings.  This is a really beautiful exhibition of works by a sensational draughtsman that will enrich our knowledge of Leonardo and help us to understand his incredible mind.  It’s worth the security queue to get in!

Picasso Prints: The Vollard Suite is at The British Museum until 2nd September 2012, www.britishmuseum.orgLeonardo da Vinci: Anatomist is at the Queen’s Gallery until 7th October 2012, www.royalcollection.org.uk.

Size Isn’t Everything: Josh Lilley and Lisson

13 May

As there was only a week or so left of Josh Lilley’s latest exhibition, I decided to pop in to see their presentation of sculpture by a trio of artists – Bryn Lloyd-Evans, John Nielsen, and Jonathan Trayte.

The exhibition is quite a mixed bag, highlighting the variety of sculptural practice that exists in the contemporary art world at the moment – some playful, some serious.  These works are designed for presentation in a gallery such as this and are intrinsically aware of their audience, made with us in mind and moulded for us to look.  They wouldn’t exist without their audience.

Downstairs at Josh Lilley Gallery. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

The works are not as simple as they first appear.  Nielsen, in particular, presents domestic objects, based on recognisable objects, that aren’t domestic at all.  The works’ overt self-consciousness takes us by surprise as the artist’s personality and process is evident.  His works are intended to function in conversation with one another.  Nielsen wants us to regard his sculptures of historic artefacts from another time or place rather than modern sculpture, provoking questions of interpretation, narration and fiction to become embedded in their meanings.

John Nielsen, The Means of Separation or Common Ground for Strangers. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

All three artists present very contrasting pieces.  Trayte’s works have a surprising delicacy considering their highly stylised colouring inspired by the glossy packaging of modern-day products.  Yet, the works originate from organic objects that are cast in bronze and then painted in meticulous layers.  The contradictions inherent within the works present a state of fragility.

Jonathan Trayte’s works at Josh Lilley Gallery. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

This exhibition takes an interesting look at young artists who are already making a rapid impact on the art world.  Although the individual pieces didn’t cry out to me, they work as a collective group, showing the artists’ acute engagement with the parameters of gallery display.

From there, I headed to the Lisson Gallery for the opening of two new exhibitions.  Jason Martin’s paintings are intoxicating, focusing on the purity and mesmerising power of paint itself.  Applied in thick brushstrokes, sweeping arcs of colour dance dynamically across Martin’s canvases.  Martin plays with paint – for him it is not just the tool with which he creates a work but the core of his practice.  He pushes the boundary of the medium, sculpting his pigment to create densely-worked surfaces.

Jason Martin, Rumi, Camber and Rugen. Own photograph.

In Behemoth, Martin has transcended the two-dimensional, creating a monumental work comprising layers of stacked virgin cork coated in black pigment.  This is a radical departure for Martin and shows his theatrical use of pigment in a new, unruly manner.  Behemoth is a mythical beast mentioned in the Book of Job that has become a metaphor for any large entity.  The work’s physical presence in the gallery almost denotes another being; around which we are forced, simultaneously inspired and intimidated.

Jason Martin, Behemoth. Own photograph.

Across the road in Lisson’s second space is an exhibition of works by Richard Deacon.  Again, it is the monumental that makes the most impact.  Congregate is a large stainless steel sculpture with interlocking frames that come together to form an intricate and challenging single entity.  The work is playful and vibrant, challenging the viewer mentally to untangle its intrinsically linked, individual elements.

Richard Deacon, Congregate. Own photograph.

Fold, the second of the monumental works, is a glazed ceramic sculpture hypnotic in its design.  Once more, the work is composed from multiple elements that come together to form an oversized piece, foreboding in size yet inviting in form.

Richard Deacon, Fold. Own photograph.

The remainder of the exhibition consists of smaller rectilinear works, interesting in their intimacy and not at all what I have come to expect from Deacon.  They, however, lack the impact of the larger works.  I know that size isn’t everything but for me they seemed to be the forerunners to the overall construction of the larger pieces.  Deacon has always been fascinated by construction and the exhibition furthers these preoccupations, analysing how single objects unite to form a whole.

Richard Deacon at Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

Although I wasn’t able to afford them huge amounts of time, both exhibitions at the Lisson were worth the dash down the Bakerloo line – they are reflective shows concentrating on the progression of two artists who present interesting cross-overs in their radically different practices.

Bryn Lloyd-Evans, John Nielsen, Jonathan Trayte is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 18th May, www.joshlilleygallery.com.   Jason Martin: Infinitive and Richard Deacon: Association are both at Lisson Gallery until 23rd June 2012, www.lissongallery.com.

The Eyes Have It: Catlin Art Prize Exhibition 2012

4 May

The Catlin Art Prize is now in its sixth year.  Where has time gone?!  It seems like only yesterday that I attended the bustling prize ceremony at the Tramshed which, incidentally, is now about to reopen as a restaurant.

The prize presents some of the best graduates from art schools across the UK, one year after their degree shows where they were first spotted by curator Justin Hammond.

Tom Howse, Spherical Manoeuvres and Lemuria. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

This year’s exhibition has taken over the Londonewcastle Project Space on Redchurch Street (I’ll be there a lot next month for the debut exhibition of Gérard Rancinan’s Wonderful World) with works by finalists Greta Alfaro, Gabriella Boyd, Poppy Bisdee, Jonny Briggs, Max Dovey, Tom Howse, Ali Kazim, Adeline de Monseignat, Soheila Sokhanvari and Julia Vogl.  Each artist had to create a brand-new work, or works, for the show to demonstrate their progress.

Julia Vogl, Let’s Hang Out. Own photograph.

This Project Space is extremely versatile and, once again, it has really been transformed with amazing low-level lighting and new walls.  There’s something mysterious about the ambience of this hang and the exhibition makes use of the space in a way that I haven’t seen before.  I was lucky enough to be shown around by the curator when I had a sneak peak yesterday.

I remember Max Dovey from Wimbledon, where he had created a performance piece about social media.  His ideas were great and he was an obviously flamboyant character but I wasn’t 100% sure what to make of him.  Here, he has produced a physical work rather than a performance, a more sedate piece looking at The Last Day of TV through a series of five box sets containing the final analogue broadcast from each terrestrial channel recorded live on 3rd and 17th April 2012. The work is a final riposte to all the recent exhibitions inspired by the digital switch-over.

Max Dovey, The Last Day of TV. Own photograph.

The piece that I couldn’t stop looking at was Hairy Eye Balls (her nickname for the work) by Adeline de Monseignat.  I glanced at it and was about to hurry past until Hammond told me to take a closer look; “Did you see it move?”  he asked.  The fur is motorised and this ‘figure’, stuffed in a glass sphere, seems to be breathing, surrounded by eggs.  Once you realise what’s going on it’s mesmerising.  Even though it evokes ideas of something being trapped, I didn’t find it threatening or suffocating.   Mother HEB/Loleta also references Hoffman’s The Sandman where a madman steals children’s eyes after blinding them with sand, but I found it calming and restful – maybe I’m a tad odd…   If anything, for me, it’s too subtle and if I hadn’t have been told, I’m not sure I would have noticed or fully appreciated this ‘creapture’.

Adeline de Monseignat, Mother HEB/Loleta. Own photograph.

Greta Alfaro’s photographs show the results of her recent installation in Mexico City.  Hammond explained how Alfaro recreated a chapel in a former Church which she then covered with meringue and invited people to eat from the walls, exploring our perception of permanence and vanitas.

Greta Alfaro, Invencion 1,2,3. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

I actually loved nearly everything in this show – Jonny Briggs and Tom Howse both deserve attention and it will be interesting to see where they go next.  Poppy Bisdee’s This Time Yesterday shows a video of what occurred in the space one day previously.  Anyone walking round the exhibition this afternoon will have seen me taking a look yesterday – I’ll be part of the piece (for one day only).  Hammond says that by being displayed in a room between the two main exhibition spaces he has encouraged visitors to pass through.  He likes the idea that the piece will ultimately function as a diary of the Catlin Art Prize.

Poppy Bisdee, This Time Yesterday. Own photograph.

Finally, I think I have to mention Julia Vogl’s Let’s Hang Out, a communal area created by coloured tiles that visitors can stick to the wall.  The area will change and evolve – although I can’t help thinking that the walls will always be predominantly mustard in colour.

Julia Vogl, detail of Let’s Hang Out. Own photograph.

The only slightly strange thing about this show (call me old-fashioned) are the QR codes, rather than printed information, on the wall labels.  Now my Blackberry doesn’t yet have a QR scanner so this wasn’t that useful for me.  Maybe I need to download an app before my next visit.

This is really good art and all the finalists have shown thought-provoking progressions since their graduate displays.  It’s also a beautifully curated exhibition showing off Hammond’s skill and eye for picking the talent.  This is one that I will return to and is a must-see for this month.  Make sure you vote for your favourite artist in the ballot box at the entrance to the venue to help someone win the inaugural visitor vote.

The same evening I popped into Haunch at Eastcastle Street to see The Observer which, in comparison, proved to be a rather bland show.  Bringing together six artists, the exhibition looks at how they use fragments of existing images to create new realities.  Maybe I’m being unfair and too harsh, but I don’t think these works went far enough to engage with the shared sense of crisis they were meant to discuss.  For me their tensions were too surface-based.

Patricia Piccinni, The Observer. Own photograph.

Well worth seeing, however, are the two works by Uwe Wittwer that convey an ephemeral atmosphere, an idyll perhaps on the verge of tragedy.  They’re hard to read but really express the ideas that this exhibition seeks to explore.

Uwe Wittwer, Caravan. Own photograph.

Wittwer’s works apart, if I had to choose I’d scurry back down to Shoreditch anytime for another look at the thing buried in the sand.

The Catlin Art Prize 2012 is at the Londonewcastle Project Space until 25th May 2012, www.artcatlin.comThe Observer is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street, until 7th July 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.

%d bloggers like this: