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Sunday morning at Tate Britain with the Turner Prize and the Pre-Raphs

11 Nov

Early this morning I popped in the car and, managing to skirt around the very impressive Remembrance Sunday crowds and consequent road closures, I headed to Tate Britain.  Comfy clothes and comfy shoes (sorry but even I’m not that committed to my heels) were the order of the day for a weekend gallery outing.

Remembrance Day services.  Image via www.itv.com

I’m not a huge Turner Prize fan but it’s still nice to have it back in London (last year it was in Gateshead marking the start of its biennial staging away from Tate Britain).  The Turner Prize takes over the downstairs space at Tate Britain but is hung differently to usual with the entrance being where we used to find the exit.  This seems to work much better though I can’t quite fathom why.

Unusually, all of the shortlisted exhibitions that led to these nominations have taken place in Britain so many of you may well have seen the works before.

To start, we are greeted by Paul Noble’s drawings.  I blogged his exhibition at Gagosian earlier this year, where we saw his sprawling drawings detailing the minutiae of Nobson Newtown.  I’m a fan!  But, the exhibition at Gagosian was far better and maybe this is a larger problem with the Turner Prize – it fundamentally reproduces shows from the last year but diminishes them so they aren’t normally as good.  For me, the marble sculptures are slightly too crude and provide an unwelcome distraction from the densely fabulous pencil drawings.

Nobson Newtown at Tate Britain.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

Luke Fowler’s film is a full-length documentary but I did not have 93 minutes to spare this morning.  Whether or not I will return to watch in full remains to be seen.  The film is about RD Laing and the anti-psychiatry movement but, unlike a normal film, it does not have a narrative.  Instead, it is a collage of short scenes and snapshots that come together to tell its strange story.  Is this art that is film or a film masquerading as art?

Still from Luke Fowler’s All Divided Selves.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I wasn’t able to watch Elizabeth’s Price video work as there was a technical fault this morning but, from what I understand, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is an overpowering piece in three acts, bringing together old photographs, archive footage, rhythms, words and sound.  The piece is an act of commemoration, exploring the horror of the fire in the Manchester branch of Woolworths.

Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Finally, we reach Spartacus Chetwynd’s work but I wasn’t around at the correct time to see one of the actual performances.   Chetwynd’s work seems intended to shock; Tate describes her team as an energetic “16th-century wandering troupe”.  What makes her work stand out, despite its silliness, is that Chetwynd’s commitment to her absurdity is entirely sincere – a contradiction in terms perhaps but one with often spectacular results.  I never made it to her 2011 Sadie Coles show but have heard it was far more dramatic, exciting and fun.  These feelings are nowhere to be found at Tate.

Spartacus Chetwynd with co-performers as part of Odd Man Out 2011.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Tate has gone for non-traditional media this year.  I’d like Noble to win but I imagine one of the video artists will take the prize.

Although I walked around the whole exhibition, I left feeling I had seen very little of the Turner Prize and didn’t really know what to make of this year’s submissions.  The winner of the prize will be announced live by Jude Law(!) at the award ceremony on Monday 3rd December 2012.  I worry that Tate may be going too far to popularise the Turner.  Before long the artists will have to do live tricks on air to cement their win.

Elizabeth Price – not working. Own photograph.

 The main reason for today’s visit though was to see Tate’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.  By 10.30am it was already packed out although the guard told me that what I thought was busy was in fact quiet.  As snobby as this will sound, I do find it hard to enjoy exhibitions that are flooded with people.  I began to regret not wearing sharp stilettos that would have helped me to encourage people to move out the way (don’t worry, I’m only joking).  Luckily, I was very familiar with most of the works here so didn’t feel I was missing out when I couldn’t get near to them.  Walking through the seven rooms, was like reliving my Courtauld first year survey course with Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd, Ford Maddox Brown’s An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead – Scenery in 1853, Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents and many more besides.

William Holman Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd, 1851-2.  Image via www.artchive.com.

Visitors to the show are heading straight to the work hanging opposite the entrance – Millais’ Isabella that created rather a buzz in the press before the opening.  One of the curators spotted that the foremost figure has a large erection.  He leans forward, with his leg stretched out in front of him and, although his groin is covered, a shadow is cast on the table.  It’s unmissable, yet we have missed it since 1848 when the work was conceived.

John Everett Millais, Isabella, 1848-9.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

The Pre-Raphaelites’ recognition of women as sensual and sexual people is obvious and one of their defining features.  Desire pours forth and we know that many of these artists were enjoying themselves and their models.

We can feel the curators’ passion as we walk around the show.  With 180 works, they’ve certainly tried to cram in all their favourites (although a few notable works are missing).  Now, the Pre-Raphaelites may not be to everyone’s fancy and I have heard some describe their work in horribly derogatory terms.  But, whatever you may think, all opinions are subjective and however ‘bad’ some of the works are it’s important to remember that everyone has different tastes.  As such, the popularity of this period reigns supreme and there are some fabulous works included here.

Ford Madox Brown, An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead – Scenery in 1853,1852-3.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Many of the works do merge into one – partly because the Pre-Raphs often painted with a prescribed artistic formula and relied on this through and through.  The works don’t often take too long to look at, they initially captivate with their bright and bubbly colours but their joy can fade away quickly when we start to note their cramped scenes, sickly colours and lack of perspectival understanding.  Some of the works are moving and many, like Ophelia, are so familiar that they are part of our everyday life.

 

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-2.  Image via www.tate.org.uk.  

I don’t think the exhibition has managed to prove anything new academically and, in fact, I disagree with the arguments that encourage us to view the movement through the eyes of Modernism but it’s a beautiful exhibition, presenting a well-known story and some well-known paintings alongside a mix of Victorian works.  Although it is a neatly summarised show, this is also its main problem.  Chronology has been abandoned here and themes imposed on the work often lead to confusion rather than distinction, such as Salvation, Beauty, Mythologies and History.  This does make it difficult to follow the progression of individuals as they get lost in the melée.

The exhibition doesn’t end on a bang and the last two rooms lose something for me – perhaps because this is actually no longer Pre-Raphaelitism but Arts and Crafts.  They clearly intend to show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites on the later movement of Arts and Crafts but Tate fail to separate the two.

William Morris, Peacock and Bird Carpet, 1885-90.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

I certainly don’t loathe this period.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the exhibition and, although there are a lot of works shoved in this space, I do think it’s a very well-curated show with great wall colours and good lighting (something I don’t often say about Tate).

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat, 1854-6.  Image via www.wikipedia.org

The curators have taken care to stress the female artists from the circle with Julia Margaret Cameron and Elizabeth Siddal making bold appearances.  This is a very British show and we’ve had a very British year so Tate could not have timed this better.

One thing that still upsets me is the lack of an artist-designed Christmas tree at Tate.  Although the rotunda is no longer visible due to the major building work currently in progress I fail to believe that there is no room anywhere in the gallery to have kept this tradition alive.  The rest of London once again embraces Christmas while Tate stays in the dark.

Turner Prize 2012 is at Tate Britain until 6th January 2013 and Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is at Tate Britain until 13th January 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

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Frieze Fever and Frenzy: Too Many Galleries to Count

14 Oct

The week just gone is affectionately known by the art world as Frieze week – it is when Frieze (and this year Frieze Masters) takes over Regent’s Park and art lovers flock to London from across the world.  Frieze is accompanied by a host of other fairs (my favourite, and the most stylish, being PAD) as well as gallery openings that compete with each other on every night of the week.

Monday night saw the opening of PAD – the most chic and classy fair by far.  As I don’t ever write about fairs all I will say is that, although we were there for a considerable amount of time, I felt I needed to go back.  I also fell in love with numerous pieces including a Gerrit Rietveld Billet Chair from 1927.

Gerrit Rietveld, Billet Chair, 1927.  Image via www.pad-fairs.com

From PAD, we strolled out the square planning to go to Gagosian.  But the opening was at Britannia Street not Davies Street.  Oops!  Peering through the window we could see the Penone exhibition but not get near the works.  One black cross for me.  Next we tried Ordovas which my Frieze companion assured me was open.  One black cross for him.

Post PAD… Own photograph.

So, with very tired feet (well mine were already and it was only Monday) we went to Stephen Friedman who are exhibiting works by Tom Friedman (no relation).  Friedman’s work explores everyday objects, elevating the mundane beyond its original purpose to extraordinary new forms.  He deconstructs ideas and materials, rebuilding them into sculptural or artistic forms with a new level of genius.  What we think we see and what we actually see are very different things.

Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery.  Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

The main gallery space holds the biggest and the best work in this exhibition – a mass of tangled wires that take over the entire room.  As we move around the installation, we can see the hidden silhouettes of human figures and faces trapped within the forms, interlocked within the wires, emerging and evaporating depending on our position.  Friedman is obsessive and, for every piece, he distils each material back to its essence and rebuilds it, presenting a new structure that crosses between the mundane and the magical.

Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery.  Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Everyone is opening a blockbuster this week (which makes this time of year both amazing and horrendous) and the National Gallery has gone for Richard Hamilton who was still planning this exhibition days before his death last year.  The painted white walls present a very modern space in the middle of this traditional gallery.  Previewing on Tuesday, the same day as Frieze, the exhibition is a powerful statement of intent – this is Hamilton challenging the art world.  It traces several themes of Hamilton’s career from the 1980s until his death, showing how he was moving towards a more traditional iconography at the end of his life.

The exhibition allows us to study his engagement with Marcel Duchamp, particularly in his works looking at the nude descending the staircase (addressed here in two works).   The works are perfectly executed but have a sense of disquiet; they are quite hard to read, it is often very ambiguous as to what we are looking at.

Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

Hamilton was one of the great experimenters with the computer, creating images that were entirely new, clean and crisp.  This exhibition of his work shows areas of interest that had obsessed him for so long.  One series of works remained unfinished at the time of Hamilton’s death – a trio of inket prints that visualise a moment from Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, telling the story of a painter who loses his mind trying to achieve the perfect nude.   Hamilton knew he would not live to finish the work and made the decision that the exhibition would culminate in the initial presentation of these three large-scale variations.  We will never really know what Hamilton intended and this makes us sombre and reflective.  Each work features Courbet, Poussin and Titian contemplating a reclining female nude.  For me, these works would still be mysterious even if they were finished but, in this state, they just leave us to wonder.

Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

These later paintings aren’t my favourite Hamiltons – they are quite clinical in parts – but there is no denying that this is a beautiful, and surprisingly moving, exhibition.  Seemingly simple, there is so much going on; the paintings lead into one another, as the ideas progress from work to work.

Next, I headed down the road to Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly who are showing Fire by Days – paintings by the New York-based Rita Ackermann.  The idea for these resulted from an accident, a paint spillage on the floor of her studio that she was hastily forced to clean.  It was through these splurges of paint that she began to see suggestions of forms, abstracted but also figurative.  The works are very striking in this space, their strong and vibrant colours complementing the style of the room.  The pages from Ackermann’s sketchbooks, upstairs on the wood panelling of the American Room, look as if they have always been there.  There is nothing wrong with this exhibition but it failed to move me or make enough of an impact (rather like several things recently).

Rita Ackermann at Hauser & Wirth.  Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Continuing down Piccadilly to White Cube Mason’s Yard, I popped in to see Magnus Plessen – another artist who oscillates between abstraction and figuration.  Figurative elements cry out to us but they are juxtaposed with abstract passages that seek to disorientate the viewer.  Plessen’s techniques are the most interesting aspect of his work – he often physically turns the canvas to reposition and confound the arrangement of the piece.  It appears that he has scraped away the paint in parts using gestural washes of colour over heavier oils to muddle the picture planes.  With psychedelic acid yellows and hot pinks, there is often too much going to fully understand his intentions.  The show is well-curated and the works are afforded a lot of space – they need a white cube to shine which is exactly what has been allowed to happen here.

Magnus Plessen upstairs at White Cube.  Own photograph.

My list was looking daunting as the day hurried by and I headed up to Pace, the newly opened New York gallery which is now housed in the west wing of the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens’ space.  They have juxtaposed the paintings of Mark Rothko with the seascape photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto.  The eight Rothkos included here make use of a limited palette of predominantly black and grey while the Sugimoto’s use a similar grey-scale colour scheme.  The artists form an aesthetic and quite superficial dialogue that, at times, becomes more of a battle.  It is a stunning exhibition that prompts interesting comparisons – another simple show that achieves its aims stylishly without any fuss.  Pace claim not to have opened in London sooner as they hadn’t found the right person to run the gallery or the right space – well they certainly seem to have hit the nail on the head here and I’m sure they will prove themselves during their four-year tenure.

Pace London. Image via www.manoelabowles.com

After visiting a few shops on Regent Street (to give my brain a well-needed art break), I headed to Savile Row where Thomas Houseago has taken over both of Hauser & Wirth’s gallery spaces there.

Heading to Hauser. Own photograph.

He has chosen not just to split the works between the two galleries but also to give the two spaces different titles: I‘ll be Your Sister (in the North Gallery) comes from a very raw Motorhead song while Special Brew is a strong beer that Houseago used to drink every day before school, getting drunk and avoiding normal school-time activities.  It allowed him to step outside the box.  The North Gallery presents his monumental sculptures, intentionally big and messy, these works have the wow-factor.  His works are brutally straightforward but still manage to appear mysterious and unworldly.  Houseago spends a lot of time drawing and planning the process of his work and this is evident in the highly-textured surfaces that resemble sketching.  The scale in the North Gallery is far more impactful than that in the South and the works are actually causing passers-by to stop and gape.

Thomas Houseago’s I’ll be Your Sister. Own photograph.

By nature of the sheer overload that is Frieze week, I’m having to be brief in my descriptions.  Most of these exhibitions deserve more time and attention but this overview of my mad run around London should give you a taster.

Just over the road, Ordovas are presenting Painting from Life: Carracci Freud, a tiny exhibition that brings together a group of head studies by Annibale Carracci and Lucian Freud.  This is a beautiful juxtaposition – intimate, simple and stunning.  Ordovas knows how to get their shows right and this rare collaboration between them and a public art collection (Dulwich Picture Gallery has loaned a work) shows the esteem in which this gallery is held.  The connections between Freud and Carracci have never before been explored but comparisons reveal intriguing affinities in technique, style, viewpoint and subject.  This isn’t the gallery’s first show of this type as they previously juxtaposed Bacon and Rembrandt and attracted over 10,000 visitors in their first month alone!

Ordovas. Image via www.ordovasart.com

The second of three New York galleries to open in London is David Zwirner (I’ve still not managed to pop into Michael Werner but hope to do so next week).  The gallery has certainly chosen a statement show of Luc Tuymans’ work with which to open their 18th century Grafton Street townhouse.  What a way to inaugurate this space.  Again, the gallery knows how to keep it simple, allowing the paintings space to breathe and space to be viewed.  Tuymans has lacked a proper presence in London since his 2004 Tate Modern retrospective but things are changing.  Allo! is inspired by The Moon and Sixpence, a film loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin.  But Tuymans’ interest in this topic has to do with a general negation of modernism and Hollywood’s long-standing idealisation of the artist as a romantic savage.  This gallery adds a frisson of excitement to the already vibrant area – Dover Street and Grafton Street only continue to improve.

Luc Tuymans’ exhibition at David Zwirner’s new gallery.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

After a very late lunch, I headed to Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street to see the Giuseppe Penone exhibition I’d planned to see on Monday night.  I seem to have seen a lot of Penone recently.  Here, he has engaged with the long narrow space of the Davies Street gallery, filling it with Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato, a large-scale standing sculpture comprised of delicately arranged tree branches and leaves defined in bronze.  Positioned to conceal a human face, two long branches jut outwards in place of the eyes in a projective act of looking, recalling Penone’s long-held fascination with the process of seeing.  It’s only a small show but, if you like Penone, then it’s worth popping in.

Gisueppe Penone, detail of Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato.  Image via www.arttribune.com

Further along the road at Gimpel Fils is Shana Moulton’s Preventation, a series of news videos in the on-going saga of Cynthia, her alter-ego.  The films are accompanied by a number of the artworks that feature in her films.

I was nearly all art-ed out for the day but had a final stop for the opening of Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable at The Piper Gallery.  This exhibition is definitely worth a visit partly to see how paintings need to be appreciated first-hand for the full experience.  Jaray has always maintained a fascination with geometry, pattern, colour and repetition culminating in her distinctive, subtle yet penetrating works.  As with many of the works I saw on Tuesday, Jaray plays with a carefully wrought tension between opposites: serenity and intensity, silence and sound, stasis and motion and two and three dimensions.  The exhibition includes over twenty identically-sized works from Jaray’s recent series, After Malevich; inspired by Malevich’s Red Square, they have an energy and intensity that grabs you as soon as you enter.  Despite the vast number of openings on Tuesday night, the gallery was packed!

Peaking into Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable.  Image via www.thepipergallery.com

Wednesday was my fairs day and, as well as a return trip to PAD, I spent time at Frieze and Frieze Masters which took up most of the day and evening.  But, I did make a small window to pop to The Courtauld for a private tour of their Peter Lely exhibition.  Lely is an important artist in British history but I don’t actually think very many people are familiar with, or excited by, his work so this is a brave choice of exhibition from The Courtauld.  Lely was appointed Principal Painter to Charles II in 1661 and his paintings define the glamour and debauchery of the period.  The works in this exhibition, however, concentrate on the period in the 1640s and 1650s when he was working in England, painting pastoral landscapes and large-scale narratives.  The exhibition is organised around The Courtauld’s own unfinished The Concert – originally thought to depict Lely and his family, it seems to be a highly personal and allegorical interpretation of Music in the service of Beauty.  This particular piece hasn’t been on display for a while and it’s nice to have the opportunity to view it in the context of other similar works.

Peter Lely, detail of The Concert. Own photograph.

The Courtauld is making the most of this exhibition with a Lely-fest; two other Lely’s are on show downstairs and room 12 boasts a display of drawings from Lely’s own celebrated and rare collection.

What this week has proved is how effective simple exhibitions can be.  Exhibited on putty-coloured walls with beautifully focused lighting, this exhibition gets it right.  Lely is a confusing artist with a mixture of styles that often betray his Flemish origins.  The paintings on show here are far more powerful than his Court portraiture of later years and this is another winner from The Courtauld.

Lely exhibition at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

Thursday was my final day of rushing round fairs and exhibitions and the evening saw two conveniently close openings on Riding House Street.  You may remember that I wrote about visiting Nick Goss’s studio a while ago.  I popped back a couple of weeks ago to see his new works and, as a result, was ridiculously excited by the prospect this exhibition.  The works here concentrate on portrayals of two different kinds of space – rehearsal spaces and the artist’s studio – where Goss seeks to investigate the detritus associated with the spaces used when playing in a band.  Cheap and simple, the limitations of these rooms allow creativity to flourish which promulgates the development of musical ideas.  Yet, devoid of players and instruments, the spaces have an uncharacteristic, melancholic atmosphere.  Goss has developed the theme of the shabby rehearsal space in a study of fakery and idealisation, filled with a sense of nostalgia and an elusive sensibility.  His are beautiful works, subtle paintings that pull you into his unique world.

Nick Goss’s new works at Josh Lilley. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Over the road at TJ Boulting is an exhibition by Juliana Leite; her new work stems from consistent investigations into the physical action of her own body in space.  The centrepiece is a large sculpture, of two separate latex forms joined in the centre; describing the artist’s movement up and down a staircase, the piece strikes a resonance with Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase (a common theme this week).  The two parts were cast from a large mould composed of a set of stairs covered with a wooden tunnel, slowly lined with clay.  The work is immense and we are drawn to walk around it, exploring its textures and crevices several times before we feel we have understood its form.

Juliana Leite’s impressive new sculpture.  Image via www.tjboulting.com

Even thinking about the week just gone slightly exhausts me.  I have seen such a wealth of incredible art (some not so incredible too) and I have the sorest feet to show for it.  I still have 12 exhibitions to cover that I didn’t manage to have the time for, I’d have loved to get to the other art fairs and I would have relished more time at the fairs I did explore.  But, there are only a set number of hours in the week and I think I didn’t do badly!

Tom Friedman is at Stephen Friedman Gallery until 10th November 2012, www.stephenfriedman.comRichard Hamilton: The Late Works is at the National Gallery until 13th January 2013, www.nationalgallery,org.ukRita Ackermann: Fire by Days is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 3rd November 2012, www.hauserwirth.comMagnus Plessen: Riding the Image is at White Cube Mason’s Yard until 10th November 2012, www.whitecube.comRothko/Suginoto: Dark Paintings and Secrets is at Pace London until 17th November 2012, www.pacegallery.comThomas Houseago: I’ll be Your Sister and Special Brew are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 27th October 2012, www.hauserwirth.comPainting from Life: Carracci Freud is at Odovas until 15th December 2012, www.ordovasart.comLuc Tuymans: Allo! Is at David Zwirner until 17th November, www.davidzwirner.comGiuseppe Penone: Intersecting Gaze / Sguardo Incrociato is at Gagosian Davies Street until 24th November 2012, www.gagosian.comShana Moulton: Prevention is at Gimpel Fils until 17th November 2012, www.gimpelfils.comTess Jaray – Mapping the Unseeable is at The Piper Gallery until Friday 9th November 2012, www.thepipergallery.comPeter Lely: A Lyrical Vision is at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January 2012, www.courtauld.ac.ukNick Goss – Tin Drum is at Josh Lilley Gallery until Friday 23rd November 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.comJuliana Cerqueira Leite: Portmanteau is at TJ Boulting until 10th November 2012, www.tjboulting.com.

More Surprised than Shocked – Hirst Takes Tate

4 Apr

There is a tendency to Hirst-bash which seems more prevalent since Gagosian recently oversaturated the public consciousness, concurrently displaying Hirst’s spot paintings in all of their galleries.  An alarming amount of negative press has led up to his Tate retrospective and, from conversations I overheard, people had turned up to Tate Modern on Monday morning determined to criticise.

I wasn’t expecting any surprises with this exhibition as we all know Hirst’s work inside out, nor was I aiming to analyse the individual pieces; this has been done before and I know what I like and what I don’t like.  I was more interested to see how these works had been collectively displayed.

Damien Hirst, Spot Painting, 1986. Own photograph.

The exhibition brings together works from across his entire oeuvre with over 70 pieces ranging from The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (his large shark in formaldehyde) to his notorious diamond encrusted skull.  Of course, the exhibition doesn’t seek to show everything he has ever produced and his paintings that were briefly shown (and slated) at the Wallace Collection are notably missing.

Damien Hirst, detail of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991. Own photograph.

Hirst first hit the art scene in 1988 when he conceived and curated Freeze, an exhibition of his own work and that of his fellow students from Goldsmiths.  Many of the works shown there are included in this exhibition for only their second public showing.

Damien Hirst with For the Love of God, 2007. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Hirst once said that ‘becoming a brand name is an important part of life’ and he has certainly achieved that.  He does not deny the importance of money and the exhibition screams of blatant wealth; For the Love of God, a platinum cast of an eighteenth-century human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, sold in 2007 for £50 million, has its own security guards and is displayed in isolation in the Turbine Hall.  For the first 12 weeks of the exhibition, his iconic skull stands as a distinct element to the main retrospective, a free display illustrating Hirst’s ideas of mortality and value that will tempt people to head upstairs and pay admission.  It’s harder to get in to see than the Crown Jewels.

The skull’s special exhibition room. Own photograph.

The wow factor and status associated by many with owning a Hirst overflows into the exhibition shop where they clearly believe people will pay £36,800 for a limited edition plastic skull!

Hirst’s shop at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Hirst’s works present a study of the transience and frailty of life – areas with which he has been obsessed over the years in a repetitive process that can sometimes be tiring even for the most ardent fans.  But, whatever you think of him, everyone knows Damien Hirst and he has marked our culture like no other contemporary artist.

The exhibition is beautifully presented and the curators have succeeded in showing Hirst at his best.  Hirst has never been one to follow conventional artistic paths; in 2008, in an unprecedented event, he sold 244 of his works through Sotheby’s rather than through a commercial gallery, engaging directly with the art market in a method that enraged many.  The walls of room 13 are clad with wallpaper derived from the covers of catalogues from this sale and it is this sort of curatorial spark that excites the exhibition.

Room 13 at Tate Modern’s Damien Hirst retrospective. Own photograph.

My main criticism and dislike, however, is the room of live butterflies – a recreation of In and Out of Love, his installation from 1991 that was shown at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery where one floor contained five white canvases embedded with pupae from which butterflies hatched.  They then spent their lives eating, feeding and breeding.  Downstairs in the gallery, dead butterflies were pressed onto brightly covered monochrome canvases.

Damien Hirst, detail of In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies), 1991. Own photograph.

The butterfly installation can now be seen in a very humid room six which has been specially designed for this purpose.  Tate are quick to point out that the butterflies are all sourced from reputable UK butterfly houses and are known to thrive in these conditions (overcrowded galleries?).  They are also working with a professional consultant to check that the butterflies are comfortable.  There is no doubt they are stunning specimens but I found this work horrific.  Let Hirst play with dead animals but leave the live ones alone (I know I’m a hypocrite but I don’t feel as strongly when he kills flies).  Although there is a strict one-way system that allows staff to check that no one leaves with butterflies clinging to their clothes, the butterflies are still escaping all the time;  I saw several being returned on Monday morning, one even carried back to its habitat by Nick Serota.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this room has to shut; it is in a ridiculous location, forcing people into a hot room filled with live insects who keep flying towards the plastic sheeting in a bid for freedom.

Damien Hirst, detail of In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies), 1991. Own photograph.

Moving on, Pharmacy takes over an entire gallery with drug-filled vitrines and colourful jars creating an ecclesiastical aura.  Hirst’s art continues to become bigger, bolder and brasher.

Damien Hirst, Pharmacy, 1992. Own photograph.

Although it is a powerful work, I’ve never been keen on A Thousand Years.  When it was last shown at the RA, I found the smell quite nauseating.  But even worse was Crematorium, an oversized ashtray filled with cigarette butts and ash, a contemporary memento mori – a lifetime’s accumulation of the debris of smoking that also parallels the cremated remains of the human body.

Damien Hirst, Crematorium, 1996. Own photograph.

A Thousand Years shows Hirst’s overt debt to Bacon and, of course, this is not the only work that alludes to his greatest influence.  The Acquired Inability to Escape plays on Bacon’s methods of enclosing figures within cage-like lines.  The objects suggest a human presence within the vitrine while the structure generates a sense of confinement and distances the viewer to another remove.

Damien Hirst, The Acquired Inability to Escape , 1991. Own photograph.

The very clever titles that Hirst uses give his work more gravitas than it would otherwise have and they do not require too much close attention so the crowds may be more bearable than at most of the other London blockbusters.  Instead, this exhibition is about the concept of the retrospective and overall impression of the exhibition aesthetic as a whole.  Whatever you think of Hirst, he has made his mark on art history.

Hirst’s spin paintings at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

I was surprised by how good the exhibition is; in parts, it presents Hirst as a serious artist and shows a progression in his thinking.  It is generating a love/hate response but, this is what he does and really I don’t think he would want things any other way!

Damien Hirst is at Tate Modern until 9th September 2012 and For the Love of God can be seen in the Turbine Hall until 24th June 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

(I’ve come down with the dreaded lurgy so I’m sorry that there will only be one post this week.  Happy Easter!)

A Very Eventful Evening with Eight London Galleries

9 Mar

Today (well yesterday by the time you are reading) was hectic and ridiculous even for one of my mad private view evenings.  Even before I began the openings, I’d been at Somerset House, where the courtyard is currently being turfed for a brilliant-looking art installation, and visited Michael Ajerman’s studio where I was allowed a look at his amazing current work.

Somerset House. Own photograph.

His studio is only a five minute walk from Flowers on Kingsland Road.  With some of the PVs opening at 4pm and with such a long to-see list, I popped into Flowers for an early sneak peek while they were still setting up and plugging in the works.  The artist very kindly got everything going for me so I could have a look.

I first met Tim Lewis at another Flowers opening and had only seen one of his works first-hand before this show but they are hypnotic.  Mechanisms takes over the downstairs galleries at Flowers with a huge range of Lewis’s works, bringing together some of his most progressive and challenging pieces.

Tim Lewis at Flowers, Kingsland Road. Own photograph.

His kinetic sculptures are a marvel and require great skill and dedication to make; the electronic programming and physicality entails an extensive period of development for each individual piece.  This is Lewis’s passion and he has been making mechanised works since the age of eight so no wonder his ideas are now so advanced.  All the works are mesmerising but two stood out for me – Jetsam, a large mechanised bird-like creature, fixed to a robotic arm, is programmed to attempt to build a nest.  The creature picks up objects which it stumbles upon moving them to a specified point.   It is not affected by human interference and must work within the limits set by the artist.  I could have stayed and watched this sculpture on its heart-wrenching, continuous journey for hours.

Tim Lewis, Jetsam. Own photograph.

Pony is one of Lewis’s more well-known works; an ostrich-like form, constructed from three mechanical arms, moves across the floor towing an empty carriage.  It is an independent entity, slightly alarming but beautiful and reminiscent of a scene from a fairy-tale.  Lewis’s works capture a spirit unlike any other – they are fun yet wistful, pondering on the transience and difficulties of life through self-contained forms on pre-determined journeys.  Fundamentally, they are just beautiful.

Tim Lewis, Pony. Own photograph.

I was loathe to leave but felt I should let them finish setting up and I had eight galleries to get to.

My next stop was White Cube, Hoxton Square.  All three London White Cubes were opening tonight with LONDON PICTURES by Gilbert & George.  The series consists of 292 pictures in their largest project to date.  It is typical Gilbert & George and if you don’t like them (I do) then it’s too late to be converted.  Although using their expected formula, these works are approached from a new angle.  They make use of nearly 4,000 newspaper headline posters which the artists stole, collected and classified over a period of ten years.  Using the language of the media, they present a survey of modern life making us aware of its violence, destruction and terror.  Of course, Gilbert & George appear in all the works, staring at us, watching the world go by, haunting the streets of London.

Gilbert & George, Tube. Image via www.timeout.com

They are huge, striking works using predominantly black, red and white.  They do not show a pleasant London but one of which we should be fearful.  It was somewhat strange seeing the beer buckets outside in the square during the afternoon  but, by the size of the crowd gathering, everyone was quickly adapting to this new style PV.

Gilbert & George, Money. Image via www.hubmagazine.co.uk

I continued to White Cube in Mason’s Yard to see some more of the exhibition where the harrowing topics continue – brawl, kill, deaths, jail, paedo.  Gilbert & George themselves were at Mason’s Yard chatting happily to visitors along with Jay Jopling and the usual White Cube celebrity crowd.  The works are more ‘in your face’ than usual; however blunt the truth is present in every work.  Brooding and violent, they show what contemporary society is really like in a collective portrait of London.  All this does sound very depressing and while the works may give a powerful message I think it’s important to remember how lovely London is and that we don’t need to fear every step we take.  Not that this is the intention of the works, but it’s easy to get weighed down by the violence.

Gilbert & George, Burglar Straight. Image via www.whitecube.com

As I was running to schedule, I hopped in a cab to the Josh Lilley Gallery to see their Sarah Dwyer exhibition which opened at the end of February.  Dwyer’s works have incredible painted textures where the surfaces resonate with movement and energy.  Through painting in layers and constantly revising her compositions, Dwyer pulls together inchoate shapes and ambiguous forms to suggest something unknown, a manifestation of her subconscious in other-worldly scenes.  Her mark-making echoes the stream of consciousness writing of James Joyce with its lyrical forms and ambiguous allusions.  Obviously, all art is subjective but these will speak to different people in very different ways as the shapes are open to so many interpretations.

Sarah Dwyer, Saudade. Own photograph.

Her works hold many influences and the shapes of Soutine and Gorky are evident but the list is endless.  Seven large canvases are on show downstairs – the gallery isn’t overloaded but cleverly filled so that the works are allowed room to breathe and space to speak.

Dwyer’s paintings are very powerful, fighting for attention with their bold colours and intriguing shapes.  This is another winner at a gallery who are consistently showing great talent.

Sarah Dwyer’s Falling into Positions at Josh Lilley. Own photograph.

It was already proving a good afternoon/evening and I was finding the art energising.

Next up was the new Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street, another area that is becoming a new art hotspot.  This is quite a small space with only two main rooms.  We are so used to Haunch’s mega-spaces that everybody kept looking for more but with the crisp Haunch-style aesthetic that we’re used to it’s a great second gallery.  Their opening exhibition is Katie Paterson’s 100 Billion Suns which presents a selection of her recent projects where, using a series of sophisticated technologies, she transforms distant occurrences in the universe into objects that we can comprehend on a human scale.  One such work is The Dying Star Letters; every time a star exploded, Paterson wrote and posted a letter to communicate this.  Through a range of everyday formats, Paterson reduces these distant occurrences into a medium we can easily understand.

Katie Paterson, 100 Billion Suns. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com

This is a very subtle exhibition and one that was slightly lost tonight due to the heaving crowd celebrating Haunch’s opening.

The new Haunch. Own photograph.

Initially, I decided to give Paradise Row a miss and headed to the station.  But, after 20 minutes of waiting outside Oxford Circus, due to overcrowding, I decided to walk back to Paradise Row to see Birdhead’s new large-scale black and white photography.  The artistic duo are known for looking at daily life in Shanghai; their snapshot-like images form a passage of thought and we are able to follow the artists through their day-to-day activities.

Birdhead take over Paradise Row. Own photograph.

Downstairs, is an exhibition of work by Justin Coombes.  In complete contrast, these are colourful over-saturated images that fuse the fantastical with the everyday.  Lots of people seemed to be moving from Haunch to Paradise Row, happy that they only had to walk round the corner for a second helping of art.

I did pass other openings in the taxi on my way to Gagosian but, although I tried, I had to admit that I couldn’t manage every gallery opening in London tonight.  Britannia Street is showing new works by Thomas Ruff.  Ruff seeks to test the limits of photography and, over the years, his subject matter has varied hugely as has his form of image-making.  But astronomy has always been a source of interest and this latest body of works contemplates Mars using images sourced through the public Internet archive of NASA.  Ruff transforms the fragmentary representations with saturated colours that alter the feel of the landscapes.

Thomas Ruff, m.a.r.s. 15, 2011.  Image via http://blakeandrews.blogspot.com.    

He has also worked with 3D-image making and on entry to one side gallery, you can pick up a pair of specially designed 3D glasses.  All these did was make me rather dizzy and I preferred the viewing experience without them.  These are not photographs as we would expect.  The works are impressive, transforming strange and foreign landscapes into a minefield of even more distorted scenes.  We are encouraged to look from both near and far, studying the pixelated colour patterns as well as the scene as a whole.  As impactful as they are, I didn’t find them particularly exciting – I could take them or leave them and they certainly weren’t as moving as some of the exhibitions I’d just seen.

Thomas Ruff’s new works at Gagosian. Image via www.artlyst.com

Gagosian on Davies Street is also showing Ruff’s work but a series of unique monumental nudes.  I had to admit defeat and accept this wasn’t one I could squeeze in tonight, unless someone knows how to teleport me from place to place.  All galleries now seem to be using their multiple spaces as a whole which means I will probably spend many more nights running across London to get the proper atmosphere of an exhibition.

It was time to shrink.  All the walking was taking its toll and I had to sacrifice my stilettos for some more practical footwear so that I could get to my final stop in one piece.

I couldn’t end my evening without seeing the third London White Cube – Bermondsey was packed.  It was important to visit all three spaces to get a full sense of the scale of the project.  Only visiting one of the galleries felt like walking into a blockbuster show and only bothering to look at one room.  The scale of LONDON PICTURES, as always with Gilbert & George, is mind-blowing.   Yet, the exhibition at Bermondsey only uses the South Galleries, flowing between three connecting rooms, which shows quite how enormous this gallery is.

Gilbert & George, Schools. Image via www.whitecube.com

Like me, Gilbert & George were moving between the different White Cubes but they looked more awake than I did.  I was ‘done in’ and it was time to buy a weighty, but great, catalogue and limp back to London Bridge to call it a night.  I could easily wax lyrical about many of these exhibitions and there are truly some gems here.  The brevity of some of the reviews certainly does not reflect their quality but more the quantity I crammed in to one evening.

If I’m going to have another night like this I may need to sacrifice my stilettos for skates!

Tim Lewis: Mechanisms is at Flowers, Kingsland Road, until 14th April 2012, www.flowersgalleries.com.  Gilbert & George: LONDON PICTURES is at all three London White Cubes until 12th May 2012, www.whitecube.com.  Sarah Dwyer: Falling into Positions is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 30th March 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.com.  Katie Paterson: 100 Billion Suns is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street until 28th April 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.  Justin Coombes: Halcyon Song and Welcome to Birdhead World Again are at Paradise Row until 7th April 2012, www.paradiserow.com.  Thomas Ruff: ma.r.s. is at Gagosian Gallery until 21st April 2012, www.gagosian.com.

Holes Under My Heels and Spots Before My Eyes

12 Jan

Sadly, councils do not take stiletto-wearers into consideration in failing to repair London’s streets.  The sea of holes I encountered on the way to Davies Street was quite alarming and so walking in my killer stilettos (the first London PVs of the New Year called for statement shoes) required more concentration than usual.  I confess to resorting to the safety of taxis for the second half of my evening.

Damien Hirst, Methoxyverapamil, 1991.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

Hirst’s dots are dominating tonight with worldwide openings across all 11 Gagosians (rumour has it that there may well be a third London space opening this year).   Conceived as one exhibition over a multitude of locations, the works range from the smallest, comprising a half spot measuring only 1 x ½ inch, to a monumental work over 60 inches in diameter, as well as the most recent work with 25,781 spots, all in different colours.  No-one, not even the most ardent Hirst fan, could argue that these are exciting.  With more than 300 of his Spot Paintings on display across the two London galleries, the works become a blur.  Rather than maintaining Hirst is a skilled artist, Gagosian are merely illustrating his (and indeed their own) commercial magnitude.  There’s no stopping the Hirst mass-marketing machine and it will continue throughout the year as he takes over Tate in April.

Damien Hirst, Levorphanol, 1995. Image via www.independent.co.uk

I wandered round the Davies Street gallery with a collector who has loaned a painting to the exhibition and he couldn’t even spot his own work.  We finally limited it down to three possibles, all of which seemed to be hung the wrong way up.  That, for me, summed up the problem with these works.  See one and you’ve seen them all.  While I love some of Hirst’s works, these lack the excitement and controversy we have come to associate with him.  He simply claims they are works to pin down his joy of colour, creating a structure in which to explore the full spectrum.  He has no pretensions about them and that, I suppose, is the perverse beauty of Hirst.  He once said he wanted to make art to get rich.  He does what he says – nothing more, nothing less.  The spots are his way to explore the potentials of the palette.

Damien Hirst, Bromchlorophenol Blue, 1996. Image via www.independent.co.uk

Just around the corner at Sprüth Magers is an exhibition of Donald Judd’s working drawings from 1963-93.  Do familiarise yourself with Judd’s work before visiting, otherwise his artistic vocabulary will be meaningless which would be a shame.  The drawings are all preparatory, bearing some connection to Judd’s three-dimensional objects.  They present a script of the artist’s thoughts and calculations, most apparent in the works in the glass desk where the intensity of his thought process fights for room on the page.

Some of the larger ‘working drawings’ in the show were made after the actual works; they are an act of documentation, of re-thinking, charged portraits of what Judd has created.

Donald Judd Drawings at Sprüth Magers. Own photograph.

From holes in the pavements to cobbles in Fitzrovia, I headed to the Josh Lilley Gallery who are back on top form with a UK premiere of works by Matt Lipps.  Lipps’ work exists within the realm of photography but he is far from being a standard photographer.  Instead, he extracts images from a diverse range of source materials, re-organising culture into his own compositions, often with a range of unusual juxtapositions.

Upstairs, there is a gentle introduction to Lipps’ work with a series from 2008, showing photographs from his childhood home, montaged against the dramatic landscapes of Ansel Adams.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Stove), 2008. Own photograph.

HORIZON/S, his new series seen downstairs, transcends time, location and culture.  For this work, he took images from the first ten years of Horizon Magazine, a bi-monthly arts journal that aimed to present high culture to those who weren’t in the know.  After producing these almost sculptural collages, Lipps re-photographed the work, sealing the image onto one plane.  When finished, the works look as though they have been achieved in Photoshop but the very art of these works is the manual appropriation and re-mixing to form a unique vocabulary.

Matt Lipps, detail of Untitled (Women), 2010. Own photograph.

The work is organised into basic categories such as Women’s Heads or Men in Suits.  Boundaries of time and scale are ignored and distinctions between those pictured are eradicated.   The art world, and Horizon magazine, is often forced to organise objects.  Here, Lipps questions the logic of this through a different system of categorisation that includes an element of disorganisation.  Visitors to  the gallery were trying to identify the figures, to force them back into their normal social groups.  It’s absorbing to observe the need to understand and soak up culture in the way we have been ‘taught’.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Men in Suits), 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Lipps’ reassembly of imagery comes together in carefully-balanced compositions.  Untitled (Horizon Archive), the centre point of the exhibition, is a complex tableau looking at the politics of organisation.  The six panels form an on-going image with a jumbled conglomerate of figures from various ages and cultures.  All are connected by the magazine-style stereotype which they embodied.  The fascination with these works is the act of encountering a dislocated image, transformed in size, that is designed to surprise.  They are particularly effective.  Are they sculptures, photographs, or found images?  They are not one thing, nothing with Lipps is meant to be that simple.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Horizon Archive), 2010. Own photograph.

Talking to an artist outside the Josh Lilley Gallery I was directed to Gallery Vela (not one I’d heard of before), only a few minutes away.  Although a relatively small space, it has a welcoming atmosphere – a traditional gallery with dark wooden floors.  Focusing exclusively on the charcoal drawings of Matthew Draper, they are displaying two bodies of work, both very distinct in style.

Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

The first room shows Draper’s study of interiors where he plays with spaces and hidden depths.  The thoughtfulness of the framing enhances the effect of the drawings.  The darkened rooms are momentarily lit in his exploration of illusion. There is something quite primitive and basic in his style but the works have a lot of depth to them.

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

Like Lipps, Draper also experiments with collage by drawing on montages of found materials.  In contrast though, he enjoys the random nature of selection and there is no specific intention in his choice of news story – newspaper is just a material that allows him to create a composition.

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

To go full circle, I headed to Britannia Street to get a bit more dotty.

I can’t remember when the gallery was last extended to this size but it is stunning.  They have opened all their rooms to show the large-scale paintings.  There is no doubt that this is a beautifully hung exhibition, showing Hirst’s tried and tested formula at its best.  The colours shine from the canvases in the way Hirst intends.  Show me one of these works and I’ll think it’s quite ‘pretty’ but show me 300 and they become monotonous.  Hirst has done some nice variants on the spots theme but basically they’re still all spots; there are no surprises here.  Instead, the works begin to resemble pages from a child’s colouring book.

Damien Hirst exhibition at Britannia Street. Image via www.artnet.com

Gagosian have made a joke of the 11 exhibitions by offering a prize (a signed Hirst print) to those who make it to all of them.  I guess if you could afford to go to all those galleries in the first place then you could easily afford to buy a print or even pop to one of his many studios and make your own.  He’s always generous enough to sign them for visitors!

Even without drinks, Gagosian always pulls in the crowds but they are there for a good gossip and to people-watch rather than spot watch.  Gagosian’s shop has gone dotty too with mugs, bags and badges, pushing the commercial nature of their brand to a dumbed-down extreme.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Hirst hater.  In fact, I rather like him but, for me, this is overkill and dilutes what was once quite a good idea.

 

Hirst in New York, in front of Minoxidil, 2005. Image vi a www.independent.co.uk

It’s been a good art start to the year and the 2012 London programme looks exciting.  Although not the best art of the night, Gagosian was certainly the place to be spotted.

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986-2011 is at both London Gagosians until 18th February 2012, www.gagosian.comWorking Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963-93 is at Sprüth Magers until 18th February, www.spruethmagers.comMatt Lipps is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 17th Februayr 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.comMatthew Draper is at Gallery Vela until 11th February 2012, www.galleryvela.com.

Imagination Runs Wild – Noble’s Newtown at Gagosian

19 Nov

Nobson Newtown is an imaginary town that was first conceived by Paul Noble in the mid-1990s and has been growing ever since.  Noble’s imagination seems limitless; his latest exhibition of works plays on a new ‘civic monument on the roundabout at the outskirts of town.  The monument is a large, vertical structure that spells out the friendly message “Welcome to Nobson”’ that is also the title of the exhibition.  This is not just an idea, Nobson is where Noble’s artistic personality resides – a town comprised of labyrinths and often deserted, densely covered areas of land.

Paul Noble, Cathedral, 2011, pencil on paper. Copyright to Paul Noble, image via www.gagosian.com

Noble even wrote an introduction to his town in 1998 – a parody of a heritage guide book, describing the history of the area, even discussing geology and religion, up to the planning of the new town looking at the residential accommodation, the leisure areas, the shopping mall, and so on.  The depictions are all grey because, as the book explains, ‘there is no chemical industry in Nobson, and virtually no light…’.

As you enter Gagosian’s main gallery space through a curtain of hanging beads, you leave the chaos of London and enter the grey-scale calming dystopia of Nobson Newtown.  But, it is far from a conventional dystopia, the inherent contradictions of this place constantly confront us.  It is a perfect wasteland but how is that possible?

Entering the exhibition. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The main piece here, and the penultimate drawing in the project, is Nobson.  The work is immense: seven metres high, it is made from 20 sheets of paper.  The sheer scale actually makes you dizzy and to study it closely you’d need both a ladder and the confidence to squat on the floor of Gagosian.

Paul Noble, detail of Welcome to Nobson, 2008-11, pencil on paper. Copyright to Paul Noble, image via www.gagosian.com

The drawing maps and marks the entrance into Nobson Newtown and two towering marble sculptures – Couple and Three – act as the sentries to the exhibition and to Nobson itself.  The huge central courtyard is fenced off, enclosing Noble’s public toilet, a separate drawing from a number of years ago.  In fact, many of the drawings focus on waste – Nobson is filled with endless rubbish sacks and turds that are also recreated in the marble sculptures.

Paul Noble, Public Toilet, 1999, pencil on paper. Image via www.frieze.com

Despite the disagreeable subject matter, the sculptures are beautiful.   The immediate comparison with Henry Moore is intentional as Noble had the marble cut from the quarry that Moore used.  I found they lack the delicacy and intimacy of the drawings but the Tetrus-like quality of the interlocking shapes is quite hypnotic and they felt like fitting custodians of the town.

Paul Noble, Couple and Three in the current Gagosian exhibition.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The works around the room are isolated, magnified from the main drawing.  Heaven, a walled rectangular space with no entrance or exit, seems more like hell. With broken glass on top of the walls, the scene isn’t very idyllic.  This macabre style is not out of keeping with Noble’s oeuvre.  In fact, Hell seems more like Heaven – Noble loves confusing us with incongruities.

Paul Noble, Heaven, 2009, pencil on paper. Copyright to Paul Noble, image via www.gagosian.com

One other work, A+B=C, shows two slides on a tiled floor – one has a normal gradient but, the other is too steep to be safe and, no doubt, would cause an unhappy ending.  Again the contradictory nature of Nobson rears its head as Noble depicts a malicious idea in a calmly picturesque way.  Nobson is an unsettled and unsettling place.

Paul Noble, A+B=C, pencil on paper. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

At one point, while I was walking around, I was in the room with four security guards.  There is no doubt the works are fragile but this seemed slightly OTT – maybe they, like the sculptures, were guarding the gateways to Noble’s imagination.

Paul Noble, Family is Infinity (or, Hard Labour), 2009-10, pencil on paper. Copyright to Paul Noble, image via www.gagosian.com

Many of the drawings are made from sheets of paper pinned together; they are so vulnerable, yet the drawings are incredibly solid visions into another world.  Noble apparently starts in the top left-hand corner of the paper and lets his imagination play havoc, developing his city as he goes along.  Nobson Newtown plays on the eccentricities of human life – it is a remarkable vision that is unrivalled elsewhere, one that is easy to get lost in as the viewer’s imagination mingles with that of the artist.

Paul Noble: Welcome to Nobson is at Gagosian, Britannia Street, until 17th December 2011, www.gagosian.com.

So many galleries, so little time…

8 Apr

Yesterday was definitely a mega gallery trawl.  Having spent a few days in bed suffering from the dreaded lurgy that I always seem to get at this time of year, I was suffering art withdrawal symptoms.  Heels at the ready (although having regard for my frailty I had a pair of flipflops in my Mary Poppins- like handbag just in case), I set off.

My first stop was Parasol unit on Wharf Road whose current exhibition, I Know Something About Love, includes works by Shirin Neshat, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Yang Fudong.  Each artist explores the theme of love in various times and cultures reflecting on their personal experiences.  I went as I am a huge Yinka fan; for this exhibition he has re-configured his installation Jardin d’amour originally shown in Paris in 2007.  The works are housed within an evocatively romantic maze of ivy-covered trellis filled with secret walkways and mysterious turnings. 

Own photograph

You come across the three Yinka installations after losing yourself in the work. Please note, this was the only time that evening I got lost but that’s probably due to the fact that later I was with “the boys”!  I felt like a child again, on a treasure hunt and these works are indeed buried treasure.  Peepholes in the maze mean you see the installations of The Confession, The Pursuit and The Crowning before you find them. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

There is an exciting sensation as your pace quickens trying to reach the goal – hunting for the mystery of love.  Ironically, you encounter lots of dead ends in the process!  Beautifully complemented by the maze, Yinka playfully applies a political perspective by looking at love in eighteenth-century Rococo France.  The three scenes resemble Fragonard paintings with elegantly dressed, affectionately intertwined (headless) couples.   

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

One of the installations, surrounded by fritillarias, has a bench enabling the spectator to become part of the scene.  No-one is indifferent to love and Yinka’s garden will bring out the hopeless romantic in even the most cynical of us. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

The other artists’ works are in the upstairs gallery – three striking video installations that are all powerful in different ways.  To be truthful, I hurried through the upper galleries still lost in Yinka’s magical mystery tour so I didn’t afford these works very much time.

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

As I was next door it seemed opportune to pop into Victoria Miro where they are showing ‘new and recent’ paintings by Chantal Joffe.  As you enter the ground-floor gallery space you are confronted by seven large-scale paintings in a muted palette of black, red, blue and white. 

Own photograph

This limited palette is very effective, creating a sombre and dignified feeling.   The paintings depict portrayals of Joffe’s heroines, both imagined and real (painters and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries).  The young women, isolated against dark backgrounds, are trapped within the canvases; their bodies are in awkward or sexual poses, distorted or kneeling, conveying a sense of vulnerability.  The works are untitled to denote a lack of specificity but this reading is meaningless when looking at the works and the artist’s intention isn’t helpful.

Image via www.victoria-miro.com

The works left cold rather than feeling sympathetic or empathetic – they just had no impact.  However, I love this gallery and large works look good in this cavernous space.   In all Joffe’s paintings the figures gaze away from the viewer, maybe looking into the future or reflecting on the past.  Who knows?  And, sadly, who cares?  I felt the works were bland and, unfortunately, this didn’t change as I walked around the exhibition

Upstairs, smaller works are overpowered by the architecture.  Being familiar with Joffe’s earlier works, to me these new canvases seem hurried and I didn’t sense how these women felt or how Joffe herself  felt. 

 

Own photograph

Time to move on…

I met with ‘the boys’ and we headed to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery for the opening of an exhibition of new works by Harold Cohen.  Cohen, who represented the UK at the 1966 Venice Biennale, is undoubtedly a well-known artist – a pioneer in applying computing to the arts having created a unique technique.  These works are created with his celebrated program AARON which here forms the digital equivalent of underpainting the canvas.  Cohen then works over this underlayer with oils creating the finished works we know today.  I was fortunate to chat briefly to Cohen at the gallery; even during our short conversation, his passion and pride for the works is evident.  They are vivid and make good use of the upper gallery space.  For me, the works reflected the gorgeous weather outside.  As simplistic as this may sound, they were happy abstract canvases – the perfect antidote to the Joffe. 

Image via www.jacobsongallery.com

By now we were getting conscious of the time and, with my flipflops on, dashed up to the Lava Gallery for Page Tsou’s opening.  Although I’m a regular to Carnaby Street and the surrounding courtyards, I’d never noticed this gallery before which I think is a large part of its problem. 

Own photograph

This is a small space in a great location but there is nothing that exciting about the set-up to draw people in.  Tsou’s exhibition is only on for a week but it’s definitely worth a visit. 

He has flipped traditional portraiture – drawing the back of heads to form unidentifiable portraits. 

Image via www.rca.ac.uk

It’s a clever idea.  Tsou said he began this project as he realised it’s the back of the head that we look at every day, walking down the street, on the bus… and he didn’t know why people always focus on facial features when the hair and skull can be just as interesting.  These portraits are semi-figurative and mysterious.  Tsou’s technique is unquestionably good and the intricacy of his drawings is fascinating.  He has an unusual vision whilst upholding original techniques – certainly one to watch. 

Own photograph

And, he was giving away free combs – a nod to the hair-themed exhibition.  Love it!

 

Own photograph

As we legged it down to White Cube it was time for the heels to go back on.  I have a reputation to uphold after all and what fun would a PV be if I wasn’t tottering around.  Also the boys are all rather tall (they cheekily say I’m rather short) and I can see them better with my heels on.  Mason’s Yard was mobbed!  It was as if someone had sent an e-mail out earlier in the day offering sunshine and free beer after work and the whole of Mayfair had turned up. 

Own photograph

I doubt that many of the people there actually saw New Order as when we ventured inside it was blissfully quiet in comparison to the people-packed courtyard.  White Cube has to be the only gallery I know that operate crowd control with an in-out system in use for the PVs.  Classic and something only they could pull off. 

Apparently, the works in this exhibition share ‘a focus on the transformation of social or ideological structures that shape experience and, in different ways they explore existing communal, political and physical constructs of the everyday’.  A suitably broad and all-encompassing statement that enabled White Cube to shove in whatever they wanted.  There is no denying that the individual pieces in this show are great but, overall, I don’t feel there was any formal coherence to the show and the pieces don’t come together well. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

If I didn’t know better, I’d say these works had been pulled out of storage to fill a gap in the exhibition schedule.  The Balka work on show downstairs was generating a lot of attention but that was partly because, after a few beers and too much sun, people were enjoying the interactive element.  It is actually a very poignant work: a long tunnel with five coloured threads hanging and intermittently rotating, recalling wartime atrocities in Poland. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

By all means go to see the pieces and admire them in their own right but, for me, the theory does not make this a cohesive show. 

Time was getting tight and we were forced to sacrifice openings at Simon Lee and in Hoxton Square and hail a cab to the Britannia Street, Gagosian. 

This is another space that I adore and I particularly admire the versatility of the layout.  For this exhibition of works by Philip Taaffe, the gallery has returned to the format I like best, the one that was used for their wonderful Bacon/Hirst exhibition in 2006 and many more besides, with the main room as a huge rectangular space and a side room on the far left.   

Taaffe’s first solo show in London was one of the best of the evening.  The main room is filled with intoxicating triangular canvases – their kaleidoscopic shapes produce a trance-like mesmeric state.  The works are full of contradictions: the near violent use of clashing colours is still harmonious (or, perhaps, the fashion for colour blocking makes it seem so), the works are both filled with control and abandon, figuration and abstraction.  Considering this, they are very powerful pieces. 

Image via http://1.bp.blogspot.com

The second room is very different in style and, for me, not as exciting; here, Taaffe focuses on the interrelation of forms and images across art, nature, architecture and archaeology, recalling masks from Greek tragedy, ornamental friezes and late-antique stone carving. 

Image via www.gagosian.com

These are more muted than the stained-glass effect of works in the first room.  Although the works are aesthetically pleasing and this is a nice exhibition it is nothing outstanding.

An exhausting, but kind of wonderful, gallery overload and I couldn’t have planned a more diverse route if I’d tried.   I changed back into my flipflops outside the gallery and the security guard actually came out to tell me how clever he thought that was.  He laughed at me so much as I shrank a good four inches that I decided to call it a day.

Next stop … next week … Miró at Tate!

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