Archive | Lisson Gallery RSS feed for this section

Slipping to Galleries on a Rainy Day in London

13 Jul

I was reticent to return to the BP Portrait Award this year as it’s become so predictable.  But, having attended a lunchtime talk downstairs it seemed churlish not to have a quick whizz round.  Now in its 33rd year at the National Portrait Gallery, the BP Portrait Award once again presents us with a selection of great portraits – great in the sense that these artists are obviously technically advanced and can paint well but the works don’t blow you away.  Portraiture does not have to resemble photography though and this is an important issue that the prize should remember – on this note, there’s slightly less photorealist work than usual which is refreshing.  This exhibition proves the age-old mantra that size isn’t everything and some of the smaller works capture remarkable intimacy and should be afforded more attention that their larger rivals.

BP Portrait Award at the NPG. Own photograph.

Painting portraits of unknown figures is a challenge; we demand an insight into the lives of complete strangers.   This year’s winner is American artist Aleah Chapin for her large-scale nude of a family friend – Auntie.  Chapin views the figure’s body as a map of Auntie’s life journey, she sees this woman as a strong role model, accepting and unguarded.   No doubt she is a talented artist but I’m not quite sure what Chapin was trying to invoke.  The stretched skin becomes almost repulsive while she smiles out at us.  This is not a sympathetic image.  Is she really content?  We don’t know what she’s doing, who she’s addressing.  It is, however, a great painting – one filled with empathy and emotion but the message seems diluted and somewhat confused.

Aleah Chapin, Auntie, 2012. Image via www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Having missed Tuesday night’s PVs I had some catching up to do and so I headed over to Edgware Road for the Lisson Gallery’s latest double whammy.

My next comment may be a bit controversial as I know not everybody feels this way but I love Julian Opie.  I vividly remember seeing some Opie works during sixth form at school and devoting a section of my sketchbook to them and his practice.  Ignoring the rest of my beautifully executed sketchbook and all the work I’d done, my art teacher asked if I was taking the piss.  The Opie stayed in the sketchbook.  I most certainly wasn’t!

Julian Opie at the Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

Famous for his portraits of Blur that now reside in the NPG, Opie’s work is easily recognised, looking at ideas of representation through the reinterpretation of the vocabulary of everyday life.  For this exhibition, Opie has returned to walking figures, working unusually to capture passers-by rather than using subjects he knows personally.  The apparent visual simplicity of the pieces is always striking and these new works are particularly effective looking at the idiosyncrasies of individual figures.

Julian Opie at the Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes two major new bodies of work; first, a group of mosaic portraits bringing his portraits more into the realms of sculpture.  I have to say I don’t like these works and the idea is further extended with a series of painted busts.  For me, the exhibition would have been stronger without these.  I think Opie should have stuck with his bread and butter.  However, I still adored the show.  Also exhibited are six digitally animated landscapes on LCD screens that reminded me of Hockney’s recent iPad drawings at the RA.  Still using his trademark simplified vocabulary, the works offer an idyllic picture, enhanced by the calming soundtrack.

Julian Opie, Summer, 2012. Own photograph.

Outside in the courtyard are two more LED works; mounted on a plinth is a galloping horse so high that it can be seen from the street, referencing other equine monuments around London.  Next to it and on a vastly different scale is Peeing boy – the works couldn’t be more different in subject; the horse powerful and dominant while the boy quietly urinates alongside him, oblivious to anything else.  It is this juxtaposition that shows off how well Opie’s distinctive style can translate to different subjects.  You can’t help but smile.

Julian Opie, Galloping horse, 2012 and Peeing boy, 2012. Own photograph.

In Lisson’s other space is an exhibition of works by Ryan Gander.  My advice would be to read the press release before you go round.  Without knowing what this exhibition stands for, it comes across as rather bland but the concepts behind the work move the pieces to a whole new level.  The exhibition is about visibility and invisibility, Gander is the ultimate magician and joker, only revealing what he wants us to see, when he wants us to see it.  The Fallout of Living recalls the moment in an artist’s life when, having become so fluent in visual language, life and practice becomes indistinguishable.

The main gallery of Ryan Gander’s The Fallout of Living at Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

One room is filled with a giant ball of discarded pieces of stainless steel but the work blocks the door and we can’t get into the room.  We have to leave the gallery to see it properly.  Equally, a sculpture of Gander’s nose in a glass cabinet turns opaque if we approach.  Gander holds all the control.  Upstairs, The Best Club encourages us to pull back the curtain but, of course, there’s nothing there.   The exhibition subtly explores the relationship between spectacle and spectator and, as ever, Gander knows how to make us think through layered systems of meaning that elude and obstruct the viewer.

Ryan Gander, More really shiny things that don’t mean anything, 2011. Own photograph.

Leaving the gallery and knowing I had a bit of walking to do, I changed into flipflops which seemed to trigger the heavens to open.  As I walked into Edgware Road station, I had to grab a post to stop myself going flying (I reckon the bruise will get more colourful today). This should have been my cue to change back into my far more reliable heels but for some reason, partly due to a lack of seats on the tube, common sense temporarily abandoned me.  I was in Oxford Street when I slipped for a second time. Thank heavens a kindly tourist caught me (I kid you not) or I’d have been on the floor in a giant puddle.  I changed back into my stilettos and feeling shaken but not deterred I continued on my gallery adventure.

I wanted to pop to Blain|Southern to see a work by Amelia Whitelaw.  I first met Whitelaw a few years ago when she installed a piece as part of our East Wing Collection VIII at The Courtauld, a mighty installation  of falling dough that explored the fragile balancing act between life and death, between stabil­ity and flux.  The flesh-like dough seeped through a labyrinth of nets at a variety of speeds, the dough constantly morphing and evolving along its downward path.  Whitelaw has a new work in Blain|Southern’s Gravity and Disgrace.  Based around a similar premise, a solid rock anchors a rope that, via a pulley, suspends a net of raw salt dough.  Both sculptural and performative, the organic material ends its journey on the gallery floor where it dries out leaving twisted, elongated shapes in stark contrast to its initial bulbous, clean appearance.  I would have liked to see the work at the very beginning but it is still effective and still manages to present the same unusual medium in a new guise.

Amelia Whitelaw, There are no Accidents, 2012. Own photograph.

The show also includes work by artists Jane Simpson and curator Rachel Howard, focusing on pieces where materiality is key.

It was time for a rest and I managed to resist strong alcohol and head to Joe & the Juice for a ‘stress down’ and a sit down.  Next stop was Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street showing a series of new works from Simon Patterson – the man famous for The Great BearUnder Cartel (a historic term regarding the status of exchanged prisoners of war or hostages) is a series of photographs of equestrian statues from around the world.  Each statue is paired with another, suggesting ideas of bartering or exchange.  The proposed swap is illustrated by flashing neon arrows that indicate the journeys the sculptures will take.  Additional photographs rest on the floor on foam blocks, waiting in reserve in case one of the first choice works was ‘unavailable’.

Simon Patterson’s Under Cartel at Haunch. Own photograph.

It’s a truly brilliant exhibition raising questions of ideological, historical, political and cultural values.  Patterson asks if we would notice if these works were swapped?  Are these statues and their ideas outmoded?  Opie obviously thought not with this modern version of an equestrian statue but maybe they are indeed relics of another time, relics that we would not want to live without and that form part of the heart of, not only London but, cities across the world.

Simon Patterson’s Under Cartel at Haunch. Own photograph.

We sheltered outside waiting for a taxi as no way was I risking another slip and we headed to White Cube, Hoxton Square for an exhibition of cast iron blockworks by Antony Gormley.  Now, of course, we knew what to expect – the gallery was filled with sculptures of the artist himself.  I joke but I do really like him and his work.  These pieces show a new direction in Gormley’ sculpture as he uses the blockwork to attempt to describe the internal mass and inner state of the body through architectural language.

Antony Gormley’s Still Standing at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. Image via www.antonygormley.com 

The 17 figures on the ground floor gallery are each composed of small rectangular iron blocks that map the body’s internal volume, investigating the verticality of the human form in spatial and conceptual terms.  Upstairs is a work from Gormley’s Proper series which continues these ideas.  Here, the body is made playful and elongated, recalling childhood Jenga or high-rise towers.  The austere geometric blocks are remarkably emotional and receptive considering the formal nature of their construction.

Antony Gormley at the State Hermitage Museum in 2011. Image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishcouncil/6194705382/

I was getting hungry and it was time to pop to the final gallery of the evening.   Celebrating the launch of Dennis Morris’s photo essay of The Stone Roses, the Londonewcastle project space (where I spent most of June) has been temporarily transformed into a music festival.  With dry moss on the floor (that wasn’t easy to walk on), dim lighting, stage areas and loud music, the space is unrecognisable.  I’m not a big festival fan and I’ve never really seen the fun in standing in a muddy field and queuing for dirty toilets.  I think last night was the closest I will get as Londonewcastle even had the dodgy portacabins so I could truly do the festival thing.

Crowding in at Londonewcastle. Own photograph.

Morris’s works showing The Stone Roses live at Spike Island and Glasgow Green are projected onto the gallery walls.  The photographs offer a glimpse into the world of the band, showing their timeless image and the hysteria of their fans.  The atmosphere was electric.  It was no longer a gallery.  My stomach won and we popped across the road to the Albion for dinner but we couldn’t resist heading back for another look.  It was even louder, even grimier and generally what a festival should be at the mid-way point!

BP Portrait Award 2012 is at the National Portrait Gallery until 23rd September 2012, www.npg.org.ukJulian Opie is at Lisson Gallery until 25th August 2012 and Ryan Gander: The Fallout of Living is at Lisson Gallery until 24th August 2012, www.lissongallery.com.  Gravity and Disgrace is at Blain|Southern until 25th August 2012, www.blainsouthern.comSimon Patterson: Under Cartel is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street until 31st August 2012, www.haunchofvenison.comAntony Gormley: Still Standing is at White Cube, Hoxton Square until 15th September 2012, www.whitecube.comDennis Morris: This is the One will be at the Londonewcastle Project Space until 19th July, www.londonewcastle.com.

Advertisements

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.

Laden for Lisson’s Latest

21 Mar

A free hour during the afternoon is always somewhat tempting and yesterday, when a meeting was cancelled, I afforded myself the opportunity to go shopping to peruse the spring collections.  Well, a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do!  I ended up arriving at the Lisson Gallery laden with shopping – something I generally try to avoid.  This did mean that I needed help with photography as my hands were full and given the choice of carrying my shopping or the camera my very able companion opted for the latter which helped me no end (thanks go to him).

Coming out of the Bakerloo Line station exit at Edgware Road makes getting to the gallery much simpler and I was there in seconds, joining the masses who were already congregating in the courtyard, gossiping and drinking.  Lisson Gallery is currently showing three exhibitions across their two spaces on Bell Street.

In the first gallery is Dan Graham’s Pavilions which includes a range of pavilions and models as he explores the relationship between these architectural environments and those who inhabit them.

Dan Graham, GRAD 1 10004-1, 2011. Own photograph.

It is difficult to establish whether these are fine art sculptures or architectural installations, whether they are functional or purely aesthetic but there’s actually no reason why they can’t be both.  The pavilions are made of steel, mirror and glass, creating disorientating spatial effects as one sees ghostly figures stuck between the prison-like walls.  The spectator is implicated here as our own reflections become manifest in the installation as well as indulging in the voyeurism of watching others glide through the pavilions.  This effect is created by Graham’s use of two-way mirror glass that is both transparent and reflective.  The physical reality of those around us becomes blurred with the reflections as Graham’s pavilions create shifting perceptions where we lose ourselves in these semi-virtual spaces.

Dan Graham, GRAD 1 20001, 2011-12. Own photograph.

The work outside was particularly striking, seen in the darkness of a spring evening it perfectly captured the mix of virtual and real, earthly and ethereal.  The boys enjoyed posing in the works which became playpens as well as pavilions.

Dan Graham, GRAD 1 20002, 2011-12. Own photograph.

Also in this gallery are drawings by Jorinde Voigt.  In contrast to the intrigue of Graham’s works, at first sight I thought these lacked imagination.  The large-scale works on paper are composed of intricately drawn networks of sweeping arcs, arrows, lines and labels recalling written recordings of sonic vibrations.  However, they are not as simple as they initially appear and Voigt makes use of a unique visual language to create her own complex score that attempts to record the physical world in intense algorithmic detail.   The concept behind the drawings is intriguing but the mystique and skill required here and the aim of the works is not apparent without explanation.

Jorinde Voigt, VOIG 100001, 2010. Own photograph.

It was time to follow the trail of people, walking from gallery to gallery with beer in hand.

The second gallery is entirely taken over by Spencer Finch who wished to get back to basics, making something from nothing.

This new body of works explores his focus on light and colour.  The exhibition certainly covers a wide-range of media and, for me, this meant the show lost some of its focus although it does illustrate Finch’s skill and diverse training.  Ex Nihilo is different to his previous work as Finch explains that he was trying to find a middle ground between representation and abstraction.

Spencer Finch, Paths Through the Studio, 2012. Own photograph.

Darkness, seen in the ground floor gallery, really does test the viewer’s sense of space.  A lightbox is used to create darkness, which Finch feels is a form of light, and it takes a few moments for your senses to re-adjust to this new glowing form of dark light.

Spencer Finch, Bee Flight Patterns, 2011. Image via www.lissongallery.com

The works really do lead us through Finch’s studio routine; one lightbox shows the view across Brooklyn from his studio, one work plays with the fallen flower petals that lay on his kitchen counter and another traces the flight patterns of some bees who took residence under the porch near his studio.  Studio Window (Infrared, January, 25 2012, Morning Effect) considers the temperature changes and follows the sun’s journey that day as Finch attached 69 thermometers to his studio window.  There is no doubt that these works are quirky and have an inherent connection to Finch’s life.

Spencer Finch, Paper Moon (Studio Wall at Night), 2009. Image via www.lissongallery.com

Upstairs in the gallery is an installation that re-creates the effect of the night-time shapes and shadows caused by the reflections of the street lamps that appear in his studio.  The car headlights from the street create a bright, fast-moving, blue light that Finch finds mesmerising and he has conjured a work that is both theatrical and playful while not taking itself too seriously.

Spencer Finch, detail of Paper Moon (Studio Wall at Night), 2009. Own photograph.

These three exhibitions are certainly varied in subject and form.  There have been more striking shows at Lisson in the past but these are interesting, if not edgy, and show the range of their artists.

Dan Graham: Pavilions, Jorinde Voigt: KONNEX and Spencer Finch: Ex Nihilo are all at Lisson Gallery until 28th April 2012, www.lissongallery.com.

What a Year! A Summary of 2011…

24 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also with podium finishes were:

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

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

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

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

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

Lee Baker, Refractive Monolith, 2011. Own photograph. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost in China: The Absence of Ai Weiwei

13 May

On 3rd April, as he was about to board a flight to Hong Kong, Ai Weiwei was arrested.  He has not been seen since.  Ai has become the most high-profile victim of Beijing’s crackdown and heavy-handed suppression of political dissidents.  

Where is he?  Unconfirmed reports refer to his torture and the world fears the worst after the state-run newspaper wrote that he “will pay a price for his special choice”.  His disappearance has certainly made us more aware of the atrocities that occur in China.  Between 7 and 8 million Chinese are held in prison or camps, enduring torture or enforced labour with around 5,000 suffering the death penalty every year.  More than the rest of the world combined.  This behaviour is ‘impossible’ – a term Ai himself coined last year in his criticisms of China’s authoritarian government.

Ai Weiwei.  Image via www.frumforum.com.   

Recently acclaimed for his Turbine Hall installation, Ai is a polymath – an artist, architect, designer, activist and blogger.  His work at Tate Modern consisted of one hundred million porcelain sunflowers seeds all made and hand-painted in China.  It’s easy to read this figure and not realise the gravitas of such a number – one hundred million is five times the population of Beijing.  Each seed is unique, deeply symbolic, representing food, comfort and social interaction; sunflower seeds saved many from starvation and despair during the Cultural Revolution.  As in many of Ai’s works, the seeds explore ideas of mass production (we live in an era where everything bears a Made in China sticker) challenging traditional craftsmanship and the importance of individualism. 

Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, The Unilever Series, 2010, courtesy of Ai Weiwei.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

When the work was first installed in the Turbine Hall, visitors could walk, lie, sleep on and dance in the installation but, ironically, after only two days, Tate was forced to cordon off the work due to lung-damaging dust, depriving visitors of all that the seeds represented.   Ai can now be compared to one of his seeds – unique as an individual who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind, he has been ‘cordoned off’ for fear of the damage he may cause.  Before this work opened, the state police beat Ai for condemning the government’s reaction to the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan resulting in a life-threatening brain haemorrhage that required emergency surgery.  Yet, Ai was never afraid.  As a tribute, Tate plan to create a giant stack of the sunflower seeds on the 5th floor of the gallery, in the way Ai used to display them.

In light of what has now become one of the Chinese regime’s most controversial arrests, the two exhibitions of Ai’s work that open in London this week are particularly provocative.

Own photograph.

Twelve traditional Chinese animal heads stand in the courtyard at Somerset House.  These oversized bronze replicas of the zodiac sculptures that once adorned the fountain clock of Yuanming Yuan, an 18th century imperial summer retreat of the Qing dynasty Emperor Qianlong, are installed in an arc around the fountains, displayed in a close recreation of how they originally stood.  In my opinion, had the sculptures been placed within the fountains there would be a heightened drama but there is no denying that they look brilliant.  Through the oversized scale (the head and base together are approximately 10 feet), Ai focuses on the fake and the original and on issues of looting and repatriation (only seven of the original heads have been found).  These are hefty bronzes dealing with hefty issues and the works have a powerful impact.

Own photograph.

Since studying at The Courtauld Institute, I have always had a soft spot for the courtyard and, with this beacon in the teaching of art history just a stone’s throw away, the positioning of the sculptures could not be any more fitting.  This is the first contemporary exhibition within the magnificent, 18th century surroundings and the sculptures rise majestically alongside the spurting fountains, tranquil despite their somewhat alarming expressions.    

Own photograph.

The animals of the Chinese zodiac are thought to influence personality and destiny.  2011 is the year of the Rabbit – ambitious and confident.  A cultural insider and political outsider, Ai has never been afraid to speak out against injustice; confidence and ambition is needed by us in the campaign for Ai’s release.  Indeed, there has been an overwhelming response to Ai’s capture with worldwide protests, petitions, artworks, dedications (Anish Kapoor opened his Paris exhibition this week in dedication to the artist), demonstrations, and so on.

Own photograph.

The second London exhibition of sculpture and video is at the Lisson Gallery – the works fill both the echoing galleries perfectly.  The Chinese government’s CCTV cameras have monitored Ai’s comings and goings for years and a marble sculpture of such a camera is included in the Lisson exhibition facing a real surveillance camera on the exterior of the gallery.

Own photograph.

The theme of absence is omnipresent here; on entering the gallery, visitors are greeted by empty marble chairs.  Ai may have foreseen his fate, the chair awaits his return, and the question of where he is now is made unavoidable.

Own photograph.

His political opinions cry out from these deceptively simple yet beautifully crafted works.  Through saturating ancient Chinese vases with garish colours, he questions the opposition of commercialism to traditional values.  His works are subtle in their subversiveness, full of hidden meanings.  The extraordinary range of his practice blends traditions, cultures and media. 

Ai Weiwei, Colored Vases, 2006, Neolithic vases (5000-3000 BC) and industrial paint, 51 pieces, dimensions variable, Courtesy the artist.  Image via Lisson Gallery.

At the Lisson private view, guests were given the opportunity to be photographed with a sign declaring ‘Free Ai Weiwei’, uniting us in our support.

Own photograph.

To show the art world’s solidarity and as testament to Ai’s stature all planned projects are going ahead.  Ai’s detention is illegal even under Chinese law but, ironically, he is probably more dangerous now.  The Chinese government have failed to be culturally aware and his arrest has shocked the world.

Would these exhibitions have such poignancy if it wasn’t for Ai’s disappearance?  It is hard to say but that Ai’s whereabouts are still unknown gives gravitas to his work.   He is an artist of great talent but now his art stands for something far greater.

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads is at Somerset House until June 26thhttp://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual_arts/1326.asp.

Ai Weiwei is at the Lisson Gallery until July 16th, http://www.lissongallery.com/.

Sign the petition calling for the release of Ai Weiwei – http://www.change.org/petitions/call-for-the-release-of-ai-weiwei.

%d bloggers like this: