Tag Archives: champagne

The lights are on but nobody’s home

15 Jan

Burlington Gardens has currently been taken over with a solo exhibition by Mariko Mori, the first museum exhibition of her work in London in nearly 15 years.  It’s nice to have the RA back in the Burlington Gardens’ space.  They will be using this building in a regular exhibition programme over the next six years before David Chipperfield excitingly joins this with the main building on Piccadilly.

Mariko Mori aims to inspire people in a new consciousness that celebrates our existing balance with nature, and reflects on universal themes of life, death and rebirth.  Fittingly entitled Rebirth the exhibition will start and end with the death and birth of a star, raising questions about the cycle of life.  Poignantly, the show opened when the Ancient Mayans had predicted the world was coming to an end.  So, the exhibition was aptly timed to mark either the end of the world or the birth of a new era.

from bbc

Mariko Mori’s Rebirth at the Royal Academy.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk

This exhibition certainly makes an initial impact.  Popping in late one afternoon, I was guided by an attendant with a torch into the first room where I was confronted by an amazing globule of light – a five-metre high glass monolith, standing in isolation in a simple white space (I believe the colour of the light changes).  Another visitor was interacting with the object, moving closer and then edging back, seemingly unsure as to how the light was working.  He seemed convinced that he was activating it as he pranced around the room.

But, Tom Na H-iu is lit from within by hundreds of LED lights and is operated in response to real-time data from an observatory at the University of Tokyo.  Now I’m not really up with the scientific lingo but apparently the observatory detects neutrinos emitted by the sun, the earth’s atmosphere and, during a supernova, the work reflects these, in constantly changing light patterns.  As my fellow visitor showed you can still enjoy this work without any understanding of Mori’s principles.  The pieces are mesmerising and the fading light captivates us but we can make our own decisions and assumptions about rebirth and the universe.   This powerful start raised the bar for the remainder of the exhibition.  Then nothing quite matched up to my expectations.

Tom Na H-iu, from The Times

Mariko Mori, Tom Na H-iu. Image via www.thetimes.co.uk

The exhibition was practically deserted and my stilettos reverberated on the wooden floors.  I think the silence and lack of people helped to create a mysterious atmosphere and the dim lighting enhanced the supernatural feel.

The paintings and drawings fall short throughout; it is the installations that are fairly impressive.  Transcircle is Mori’s own Stonehenge with nine totemic objects arranged in a circle.  The glowing colours of the stone are seen at varying levels of brightness and the colours change depending on the position of the planets in the course of the year.  We’re meant to be made to feel something, to have an experience; other artists have been much more successful in moving me though.  There’s not enough power here.  Let’s be honest, people like this kind of art because it’s aesthetically pleasing and a bit twee.  In terms of comparing it to things I’ve seen recently, it’s not quite there.

from Ultra Vie

Mariko Mori, Transcircle 1.1.  Image via www.ultravie.co.uk.  

There’s an optimistic feel to the spiritual reasoning behind the exhibition.  The RA hopes this exhibition will make people slow down and contemplate our responsibilities.  Mori wants us to stop and think.  We’re Londoners – are we really going to slow down and give these sculptures the time they deserve?  Probably not.  I know I wasn’t able to spend more than a few minutes with the light sculptures.

white hole u tv

Mariko Mori, White Hole.  Image via www.u.tv/ 

For me, Mori’s works and this exhibition are lacking.  The works are aesthetically beautiful but they do not have the roughness and awe that I get from seeing the real Stonehenge.  There’s no sense that I’m viewing something truly incredible.  This exhibition is a bit too neat and clinical.  The works are pretty and leave us smiling; I did enjoy it but possibly not for the right reasons considering how serious Mori wishes to be.

We leave the exhibition past Ring, a Lucite circle which hangs above an artificial waterfall.  The work has a meditative feel and maybe we do slow down and walk back into the madness of Mayfair a little bit calmer.  However, maybe that feeling was down to knowing it was time for a Friday evening glass of champagne.

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Mariko Mori: Rebirth is at The Royal Academy until 17th February 2013, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Ditzy and Disorientated in Fitzrovia

9 Dec

After having popped into The Piper Gallery, I decided to meander down Eastcastle Street before heading to my next set of meetings.  This is an area of London that I know well – after all I’m here most days.

I intended my first stop to be Haunch of Venison and as I opened the door to the gallery I thought how different the space looked, they’d completely gutted it.  And, as I walked further in, it seemed they’d even excavated and added a basement floor.  Yet alarm bells weren’t going off in my head and I even sent a text to a friend informing him that Haunch had opened up their basement!  As I wandered back upstairs it finally struck me that the whole aesthetic of the show didn’t really seem in keeping with Haunch’s normal style.  I picked up a press release and the reason became all too clear – I had unknowingly wandered into Carroll/Fletcher, which is a few doors down the street.

first blog

Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

I don’t really have a bona fide excuse for these five minutes of sheer ditziness.  But, it did allow me to explore a gallery I hadn’t previously visited and discover that it is a beautiful, and large, space.

Carroll/Fletcher is currently presenting the first solo exhibition of Manfred Mohr, a concise survey of his fifty-year practice.  Mohr makes use of the automatic processes of the computer, uniting his interests in music and mathematics to create minimal but lyrical works.  He claims his key influence is the composer Pierre Barbaud who is responsible for introducing Mohr to the innovations of computer programming.  As such, the artist works by a set of restrictive rules that culminate in abstract shapes often formed using a plotting machine.  Although many of these works are similar and related to one another they are not the same.

cubes

Manfred Mohr at Caroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

In 1972 Mohr began to work with the cube, exploring a rigorously methodical system of art-making often comparing the cube to a musical instrument.  Using a simple shape (perhaps comparable to a musical riff) he is able to improvise endless possibilities.   Upstairs, Morh’s obsessive experimentation with cubes is demonstrated in every possible configuration and distortion, progressing into hyper-cubes with multi-dimensions and elements.  These hard-edged systems and codes show a growing interest in systematic art.

Downstairs, his early works are displayed in a scatter hang.  This is effective to gain an overall impression but it is impossible to see the detail in some works; sitting on the gallery’s bench allowed me to soak up the ideas and concepts (well, some of them) behind Mohr’s practice.

downstairs

The hang downstairs. Own photograph.

The final room of the exhibition plays his film Cubic Limit through an old-fashioned juddery projector – the film constructs and deconstructs the cube, outlining the limitless variations that can be created.

After having worked in monochrome for nearly forty years, Mohr returned to the use of colour in 1999 to emphasise and distinguish subtleties in spatial relationships.  Some of the concepts here no doubt went way over my head – especially as I’d struggled even to walk into the right gallery – but the subtlety of his work made the exhibition very palatable.

cubic limit

Mohr’s Cubic Limit. Own photograph.

As I headed out of Carroll/Fletcher I realised quite how many times I’ve walked past it.  It’s definitely going on my Fitzrovia list for the future.

Finally, I headed into Haunch (looking as it normally does) who are showing Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State, a body of work that explores the physical and metaphorical enormity of landscape and the sublime.

haunch from outside

Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State at Haunch. Own photograph.

Greenfield-Sander uses vintage slides as the starting point for her multi-layered paintings.  The imagery is easily recognisable but the paintings are expanded, physically referencing the magnitude of the subjects.  But size alone cannot illustrate the sublime.

Using the power of painting to convey the sublime is a tricky business to say the least.  The sublime represents nature at its grandest scale and is both powerful and awesome although remains an indeterminate concept.   In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement of 1790, he divided the sublime into two types:  the mathematical sublime deals with size and the immeasurable and refers to something huge beyond all comparison, in particular the majesty of nature; and the dynamic sublime deals with the incomprehensibility of the great power of natural forces.  Experiencing the mathematical sublime makes all else small and insignificant; it is a magnitude that cannot truly be experienced and, therefore, reminds us of the limitations of our own relationship with nature.  The mathematical sublime overwhelms our mental faculties so that we are unable to comprehend fully what we see.   Traditionally, an example that inspires awe due to its magnitude is an ocean or a mountain range, but Kant also relates to ideas of reason such as absolute totality and absolute freedom.

greenfield-sander

Greenfield-Sander works. Own photograph

While the mathematically sublime is based on the incomprehensibility of an infinite measure, the dynamically sublime is based on incomprehension of absolutely great power as produced by the vast forces in nature. This is exhibited by the power of a hurricane, a tumultuous ocean, a high waterfall or a mountain range in relation to which we realise our own physical powers are puny yet are forced by our insignificance to try to understand the faculty of practical reason.  Both types of sublime are complex feelings of frustration at the inability to comprehend such absolute vastness, but the mathematically sublime takes pleasure in the ability of imagination, while the dynamically sublime takes pleasure in the superiority of reason.

Probably the best representation of dynamic sublime in art is Turner’s Snow StormSteam-Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth of 1842 where the whirling boundaries between the chaos of the sea and sky are totally confused.  Turner tied himself to the ship’s mast to experience at first hand the powerful forces of nature; viewers of the painting are not in danger but appreciate the magnificence and power knowing that from their vantage point they are safe.

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

JMW Turner, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, 1842.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

With this in mind, I think claiming that Greenfield-Sander’s works explore ‘the power of painting to convey the sublime’ only confuses matters.  Taking this element out of the equation, her use of a bright tonal range and abstracted areas is very effective.  Overall, for me, there’s some excitement lacking and this exhibition doesn’t quite live up to Haunch’s usual standard.

Across the road Scream are showing Greg Miller work which make use of the diverse cultural and geographical make-up of Miller’s American roots, exploring the contradictions between urban streetscape and history.  These works have a huge energy to them, montaging different images that Miller has collected over time, layering meanings, stories and narratives into a dense melée of artistic factions.  His use of resin to glaze the works preserves their history and transience, saving these otherwise impermanent memories.  The nostalgia of these works is poignant despite their busy and bold constructs – the personal touch recalling the artist’s youth and fonder memories from his upbringing in Northern California.

Greg Miller

Greg Miller at Scream. Own photograph.

To finish the day off I went for a marked contrast, popping into the Piacenti Art Gallery for a glass of champagne and their winter exhibition of old Master works.  Sadly this was a short run and has now shut but it’s a lovely space to visit in the New Year.  Although be warned with all those galleries on Duke Street, who knows where you’ll end up.

shoes

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at The Piper Gallery until 21st December 2012.  Manfred Mohr: one and zero is at Carroll/Fletcher until 20th December 2012.  Isca Greenfield-Sanders: Second State is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street, until 25th January 2013. Greg Miller: Four Corners is at Scream until 5th January 2013.

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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