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From Stella to Champagne: Haunch of Venison and PAD

10 Oct

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

Ascent in the Mezzanine Gallery at Haunch. Own photograph.

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

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

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

Frank Stella, Djaoek, 2004. Own photograph.

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

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

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

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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Messing About in Boats: A Day in Greenwich

2 Aug

I’ve a confession to make… Today’s outing necessitated wearing flip-flops due to the crazy humidity that has suffocated London and the vast amounts of walking I knew we’d end up doing.  The flip-flops were co-ordinated with my neon yellow nails though so at least I was wearing flats in style.

Parliament from the Thames. Own photograph.

In my opinion, the best way to get to Greenwich is by boat.  River travel used to be the predominant means of transport up and down the Thames and we often forget what a great and quick method this is.  Thames Clippers, our commuter boats, are London’s vaporetti and I disembarked at Greenwich Pier.

Tower Bridge. Own photograph.

Approaching from the water, the view of the Old Royal Naval College majestically fronting the Thames is unsurpassable.  Originally the Royal Hospital for Seaman – the Greenwich pensioners used to wear blue coats like the red ones of their Chelsea counterparts – and later the officer training centre for the Royal Navy, these 18th century Christopher Wren buildings, on the site of the former Greenwich Palace, are stunning.  Wren’s symmetrical arrangement of courtyards, domes and colonnades works around a central axis and the buildings stand virtually unchanged from his original plans.  Even if you’ve not visited before they probably look familiar having featured in so many films and period dramas, most recently in The King’s Speech (wonderful by the way).

The Old Royal Naval College from the water. Own photograph.

The Old Naval College now houses Greenwich University and Trinity College of Music – jazz melodies from the summer schools floated out across the quads.

Part of the Old Royal Naval College. Own photograph.

My first, and most important, stop was The Painted Hall.  One of Europe’s finest banqueting halls, this took Sir James Thornhill 19 years to paint.  Supposedly he was paid £3 per square yard on the ceiling and £1 for the walls making a grand total of £6,685.  And that was then!  The artist’s skill is remarkable and his use of trompe l’oeil and grisaille is most realistic.  The Vestibule entrance includes three fascinating plaques listing donations towards the cost of the building.  The paintings reference the Hospital’s Royal patrons and the importance of the Navy, interwoven with stories from Classical mythology.  The main theme tells the triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny, paying tribute to William and Mary and British Maritime Power.  The Naval College’s own website has a wonderful analysis of the paintings.

The Painted Hall. Own photograph.

A particularly nice touch, and the quirky sort of thing that makes me smile, is a facsimile of the original An Explanation of the Painting in the Royal Hospital at Greenwich written by Thornhill himself that they have on sale for only £1 (they don’t have this in the shop and don’t really have a float so make sure you have change).

You couldn’t go to Greenwich and not visit the Painted Chapel.  In fact, if you only have time to visit one thing here then make sure it is this building (admittedly, this is coming from a slightly biased 18th century art historian’s point of view).

The Painted Hall. Own photograph.

Next, and directly opposite, is the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, a neo-Classical chapel built by James Stuart and William Newton and finished in 1751.  The Chapel contains a beautiful mix of Greek and naval imagery that covers nearly every surface.  If you don’t have a neckache from staring at the ceiling in the Painted Hall, you will have by the time you’ve finished gazing up in here.  The ceiling design of squares and octagons with centrally positioned ornate details were carved by a master plasterer – it is truly fabulous and a testament to the craftman’s skill that this looks like painted wood.  The colour scheme is Wedgewood-inspired contrasting with the beautiful black and white marble floor.

The Chapel Ceiling. Own photograph.

Above the altar hangs a work by Benjamin West showing St Paul’s Shipwreck on the Island of Malta.  It is one of West’s only paintings to remain in the place for which it was commissioned.

The Chapel showing West’s painting. Own photograph.

The World Heritage Site at Greenwich is full of places to visit and things to do.  After a pub lunch at the Trafalgar Tavern (as depicted by Jacques-Joseph Tissot), we headed off to the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, which tells the story of Britain’s maritime past.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot, The Trafalgar Tavern, 1878. Image via www.portcities.org.uk.

I don’t wish to do the museum an injustice and I’m sure it is brilliant but maritime history isn’t really what lights my fire and this was quite a quick visit.  But, suffering a moment of madness, I went in a simulator for the Volvo Ocean Yacht race.  Now, I hadn’t heard of this race but after my ‘extreme’ experience of the dangers of being at sea I had a google.  This race is exceptional – the Everest of Sailing – and takes nine months to complete where crews of only 11 sail 39,000 nautical miles around the world’s most treacherous seas.  It is thought to be one of the most demanding team sporting events in the world.  I was exhausted after my 4 minutes so I don’t think I’ll have an invitation to crew on the next race.

The Simulator. Own photograph.

Also nearby and well worth a visit is The Queen’s House, commissioned by Anne of Denmark, and the Royal Observatory (be warned this is up a fairly steep hill so thank heavens I wasn’t in the heels), home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World.

The Observatory at Greenwich. Own photograph.

It probably goes without saying but the views from the Observatory are stunning (it has a great view of the Equestrian area for the 2012 Olympics).

Looking down from The Observatory. Own photograph.

Having crammed in quite a lot for one day, I headed back to the Clipper where a welcome splash cooled me down as we pulled away.  I’ve always loved being on the water and “simply messing about in boats”.

www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org and www.nmm.ac.uk.

Lost in the Light: Anthony McCall at Ambika P3

16 Mar

This morning, I decided to visit the much-talked about Ambika P3 and it certainly didn’t disappoint.  My first challenge was to find the actual space.  It’s important to bear in mind that I’m not the most geographically savvy person but, luckily, google maps came to the rescue and I made it (although I did nearly wander off in the wrong direction – an occurrence that is becoming scarily regular, third time this week in fact, oh dear).  For those without a compass at the ready, you’ll find the entrance hidden behind a red gate on the right hand side of Westminster University in Marylebone Road (opposite Madame Tussauds). 

Own Photo

It is here that the adventure begins and it certainly is an adventure, a magical mystery tour of sorts.  Head down the metal staircase, past entrances to various warehouses and loading bays until a black door marks the entrance to this unique gallery space – the biggest in London. 

Own Photo

Originally the construction hall of Westminster’s Department of Engineering, Ambika P3 is now a 14,000 sq ft art gallery.  Perfection!

 A sign in the lobby warns that it will take a while to adjust to the darkness but I still had no idea what to expect.  On first entering, you find yourself on a pitch black balcony which affords a wonderful view of all the Anthony McCall works on display.  Convinced that I was going to fall Alice-in-Wonderland style to the lower level, I stumbled around as if blind (to the great amusement of the gallery assistant), arms outstretched until I reached the edge and could safely hold on.  Once again, maybe those stilettos weren’t the best thing to wear to a dark art installation but I just can’t help it!  After a few minutes my sight adjusted (and then the initial stumbling and groping seemed rather embarrassing) and I ventured down the staircase into the cathedral-like, cavernous space that houses the McCall light sculptures, Vertical Works, being shown in the UK for the first time. 

Image via http://www.telegraph.co.uk

 The works are a combination of cinema (the pieces are slowly moving), sculpture (3D works) and drawing (animated lines of light on the floor, housed in a room full of mist).  The experience of walking through the actual sculptures was surreal.  I approached the first work quite nervously, unsure of what to expect.  I felt I was trying to pass through a solid form, a sheer waterfall of light.  Hands once again outstretched, my fingers pushed through this invisible barrier and voilà…  The feeling is amazing as you can, of course, walk straight through the shafts of light but, at the same time, you feel you are being transported to a new place as you cross through the works. 

 

Own Photo

Your whole body is affected by these giant monochrome installations.  Light appears solid.  It is intriguing to pause and watch other people interact with the works, also hesitating as they walk through the sculptures, expecting something to block their path.  Visitors were lying down in the centre of the beams, becoming part of the works.  I felt miles away from the hustle bustle of Baker Street as I lost myself in the light. 

Image via http://www.richpepper.com/blog

Vertical Works are created by projections from the ceiling which form 10-metre tall conical ‘tents’ of lights.  The floor drawing acts as the footprint of the work with the 3D body of light rising and narrowing from its projection point.  In simple terms (I’m an art historian, not a scientist), the sculptures are formed by light bouncing off the mist in the room.  Folds of light create mesmerising shapes that are truly effective. The supernatural effect gives the works a spiritual, other-worldly feel.  They have been likened to shafts of light in a cathedral, yet there is something quite pagan about them as the simple white floor drawings are reminiscent of the chalk shapes you see on English cliffs. 

Image via http://www.dontpaniconline.com 

Unless you watch intently, you could miss the fact that the works are actually moving.  Like you, they journey across the floor in a slow rhythmic pattern asking to be explored and offering visitors a sense of freedom as they become familiar with this adult’s playground. 

 

Own photo

Both the space at Ambika P3 and the McCall works themselves are unbelievable .  It’s a rare treat to experience something like as unique as this.  The installation is only on for one more week but do go and stumble around, journey through the room and move into McCall’s Narnia-like, parallel universe of light.

McCall is also working on an Olympic commission: in Column a spinning column of cloud will rise magnificently from a dock in Merseyside.  The work will respond to the weather around it, sometimes appearing as a white line against the bright blue sky, other times as a dark shadow when it’s overcast.  Approximately 20m in diameter, it will bend, disappear and re-appear.   It will, no doubt, be another McCall work for us to fall in love with and I can’t wait!

Image via http://www.guardian.co.uk/ 

A sister exhibition of McCall’s drawings is on display at Sprüth Magers.  Vertical Works will remain in situ until 27th March at Ambika P3, University of Westminster, www.p3exhibitions.com.

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