Tag Archives: Cork Street

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman and a handful of other Mayfair Mentions

15 Apr

Last week I was charged with the responsibility of showing someone a few Mayfair Galleries.   This should have been an easy task really considering the amount of time I spend in and out of these places but the sheer volume of galleries in Mayfair did present me with a challenge.  However, with set start and finish times, a time restriction and a list of that evening’s private views, the journey mapped itself out with relative ease.

It was a luxury to spend the afternoon, strolling through these galleries and seeing the enormous diversity of brilliant art that such a small section of London has to offer.   We began at Alon Zakaim’s new space on Dover Street, currently displaying a mixed presentation of 19th century works.   Next, we dipped in and out of galleries on Cork Street including their original space as well as Flowers and Alan Cristea.

Marc Quinn, Sunspot (In the Night Garden), 2011 at Alon Zakaim, Cork Street.  Image via www.alonzakaim.com

Hooking round into Old Burlington Street, we visited Stephen Friedman.  To be honest, having missed the PV, I had forgotten what was currently on show here.  As soon as we walked in we were both struck by the power of the canvases – eight large paintings by Li Tianbing in his debut UK exhibition.  Friedman is known for having an eye for the crème de la crème and Tianbing is rightly regarded as one of the best Chinese-born artists of his generation.

Li Tianbing, Bullet holes, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

These semi-biographical works recall the artist’s upbringing under China’s one-child rule.  Introduced in 1979, the policy restricted married couples in urban areas to having only one child.  Families still find the emotional consequences of this legislation too difficult to discuss – Tianbing’s own parents, despite having seen his works, find them too painful to talk about.  It is thought that, since its inception, the one-child policy has prevented 400 million births as well as causing a serious increase in female infanticide, forced abortions and under-reporting of births.  Second children are often registered as someone else’s or not registered at all, creating a whole group of people who do not officially exist.  Those who are discovered are denied promotions, suffer benefit and pay cuts, are fined and are often made homeless.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman. Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

When Tianbing moved to Paris at the age of 22 he took with him an album containing five slightly blurred black and white photographs – the sole memento of his childhood.  Even this in itself is rare and the images were taken on a camera that his father had borrowed from the People’s Army propaganda unit.  These images still have a profound effect on him, transporting him back to the lonely isolation of his youth.  The multi-layered paintings are instantly comparable to the monochrome detail of these photos and show an imagined upbringing with fictitious brothers and playmates – the ones he was never allowed.  Despite the multitude of figures often seen in these works, the children always seem alone, staring wide-eyed from the canvases, lost in their own thoughts.

In addition to his photographs, as a child, Tianbing only had one toy.  Don’t Touch my Dog shows a group of boys holding their toy dogs, a reminder that Chinese children hardly ever owned playthings.  The main figure holds his toy above his head and the others all look towards him.  The fragmentary nature of the work, enhanced by the use of a mixed palette, highlights the nature of these broken and adapted memories.

Li Tianbing, Don’t Touch my Dog, 2011.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

A mixture of abstraction and portraiture, Tianbing’s works use his own strong visual language which draws on Western contemporary art and traditional Chinese techniques.  Visual motifs recur repetitively such as his haunting use of staining which represents the corrosive power of political dictatorship.  There is no doubt that these pieces are striking.

The one-child system meant that Tianbing had an extremely lonely existence whilst growing up and, for him, art was the lifeline he grasped to survive this reality, taking refuge in his imagination and inventing his own life.  As well as showing the playmates he longed for, his works also show the hidden children of the regime.

Being able to spend time as a family is something that many Chinese never knew.  Tianbing, who now lives in Paris, already has a son and his second child is on the way.  This is something that we take for granted and don’t even consider but Tianbing feels as if he has won a prize.  His works are very moving and thought-provoking; they make us look at the cosy nature of our own existence and acknowledge the trials that Tianbing and others like him had to endure growing up under the oppressive Chinese administration.

Li Tianbing, Reverse Walk, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

Now that Tianbing is less lost and has found what he missed during his youth, his works have become more grounded with a glimmer of happiness.   Although the memory of the one-child policy will always be omnipresent, he has moved on to look at other issues affecting the Chinese economy.  Tianbing’s works have a powerful hold on viewers and, because they have room to breathe and are not over-crowded in the gallery, the children’s intense gazes do not let you go.

We wandered up Bond Street, past Sotheby’s who were preparing for the Munch viewing, to Opera Gallery where, for us, the highlight of their mixed contemporary show was two photographs by Gérard Rancinan.

Gérard Rancinan, On the Way Back from Disneyland, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.operagallery.com

For the first of our private views we headed back the way we’d come and turned onto Bruton Street.  Trinity Contemporary is tucked away upstairs and would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there.  We chickened out of going in the very creaky old lift and climbed up the stairs to their surprisingly light and neat space on the third floor to see a solo exhibition of drawings by Emma McNally.  Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is inspired by the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and these works show the artist’s extensive working with graphite made of carbon which reflects her interest in philosophy, science and music.  McNally’s pencil works are highly detailed looking as if they may well be the result of scientific readings – their vocabulary has been compared both to musical scores and computer coding, due to its rhythmic and harmonic activity.  In some of her new works, McNally has turned drawing into a sculptural process, pouring pure graphite powder onto large surfaces and then hammering nails into them.  The works shimmer, forming an intricate network of lines and marks.

Emma McNally at Trinity Contemporary. Own photograph.

Back to near where we started, we popped into Simon Lee which has to win top marks for being the buzziest private view of the evening.  It was packed with people drinking and gossiping for Paulina Olowska’s first solo show here.  Her new works continue her exploration of feminist and socially-engaged themes, often channelling or paying homage to other women artists.  Here, she plays with the rudimentary idea of the muse and the imagined, or remembered, image of a mother.  The images have a sense of fragility, trying to preserve a moment in time as it passes by.

Paulina Olowska at Simon Lee. Own photograph.

My feet were now starting to suffer and as I limped to Sarah Myerscough I had a feeling that this may well have to be our final stop.  Tucked away on Brooks Mews, the gallery is presenting an exhibition with works by 11 artists on the subject of monochrome.  There is no pretension, just a few really nice works in black and white.

B&W (Monochrome), Sarah Myerscough Fine Art. Own photograph.

A simple one with which to finish but I couldn’t face walking another pace to another place.  I hobbled round the corner, changed into ballet pumps and scurried home.  The other three galleries on my overly ambitious list will have to wait until another day.

Li Tianbing is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 21st April, www.stephenfriedman.comEmma McNall: Selected Drawings, Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is at Trinity Contemporary until 27th April, www.trinitycontemporary.com.   Paulina Olowska: Mother 200 is at Simon Lee Gallery until 26th May 2012, www.simonleegallery.com. B&W (Monochrome) is at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art until 5th May 2012, www.sarahmyerscough.com.  For more information on the other galleries mentioned please see www.alonzakaim.com, www.flowersgallery.com, www.alancristea.com and www.operagallery.com

Well Heeled in Dover Street

30 Mar

This is not a piece about specific exhibitions, more about the gallery spaces on a certain, very fashionable road – Dover Street!

Dover Street is happening.  It’s always been on the right side of trendy but now the art market is really moving in and it’s another enclave of galleries, fashion, clubs and restaurants.   Dealers and business owners must be waiting eagerly for leases to become available.

Dover Street. Own photograph.

I first began working on Dover Street at the Air Gallery for Rob Ryan’s The Stars Shine All Day Too at the end of 2010.  Unfortunately, due to rising rents, the Air Gallery has been taken over by Wolf & Badger (which will open shortly).

Wolf & Badger. Own photograph.

So, although I know this street well, I wanted to have a stroll to see how it’s developing.  Starting at the Piccadilly end, I popped into Alon Zakaim’s new space.  Zakaim opened his gallery on Cork Street in 2006 at the address of Peggy Guggenheim’s first London gallery.  His second space shows the gallery’s development; a good ten times bigger than Cork Street, Zakaim has transformed what used to be Alexia Goethe into a striking new gallery with dark walls, wooden floors focused lighting and a reflective atmosphere.  Although it’s too big to have the intimacy of his first space, the gallery does envelope you in a private, but friendly, atmosphere.  It has been designed to show off top quality art and it does just that.  Their opening exhibition covers 100 years of art history including a handful of top names to demonstrate their prestige.

Alon Zakaim Fine Art.  Image courtesy of Rob Ewen and via www.alonzakaim.com

Directly opposite is Clarendon Fine Art where I was greeted warmly on arrival and complimented on my shoes.  I knew, at that point, that I’d struck a winner here.  Their space is also stunning but about as different from Zakaim’s as possible with split levels and bright lights.  Clarendon tend to follow a pattern of solo shows to highlight one of their established gallery names, interspersed with two-week mixed exhibitions to show off their less prominent stable of artists.  It’s an elegant space with a tempting looking bar installed at the back.  They aim to introduce contemporary art to a wide-ranging audience and their artists include the likes of crowd-pleaser Rolf Harris.

A mixed exhibition at Clarendon Fine Art. Own photograph.

Heading up the street I passed the Arts Club, still the hot spot of Mayfair since its refurb and relaunch and the current place to be seen and sip a drink watching the gliteratti and the art world elite.

Next up, occupying the space where Richard Green used to be, is another newcomer  – Gazelli Art House, run by a dealer from Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan has been in the arts press recently, since the launch of the 012 Baku Public Art Festival at the end of February where 20 local artists are working on site specific projects across Baku, presenting newly-commissioned, public work.  The works will be unveiled every Friday until September, embracing Baku’s heritage through contemporary culture.   Most of us cannot even spell Azerbaijan on first attempt, let alone explain where it is so it’s bizarre to see its art suddenly being propelled into the public horizon.  Azerbaijan will also be more press conscious as hosts of the Eurovision this year and wish to send out a very positive image of their city.

Baku. Image via www.en.99ys.com

Since moving to London, director Mila Askarova ran a number of pop-up spaces and has now launched Gazelli’s first permanent London space.  The actual gallery space is quite small; most of the building seems to be closed off for private viewing.  Gazelli’s inaugural exhibition includes a mix of six international artists one of whom is Shan Hur, a young Korean artist who I spotted at his graduate show in 2010 and picked as one to watch.

Gazelli Art House. Own photograph.

Crossing the road again and walking up past Dover Street Market and Brown’s Hotel, I arrived at Philip Mould – one of the original incumbents of Dover Street and a leading specialist in British art and Old Masters.  Mould always has an impressive display and his 18th century works – including a rather lovely Gainsborough and Kauffman – made me swoon.

Philip Mould. Own photograph.

Passing Hay Hill, which offers yet more galleries, I headed up the street.  As Dover Street turns into Grafton Street, Spruth Magers crowns the street.  Housed on Dover Street since 2003, the gallery represents a handful of internationally-renowned artists and their current Boetti show complements Tate Modern’s retrospective.

Spruth Magers. Own photograph.

Two more prestigious dealers are set to open here and, this October, the 18th century townhouse at number 24 Grafton Street will be taken over by David Zwirner.  This will be another gallery with an historically important location; prominent past residents include Lord Robert Cecil, the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury (who was twice Prime Minister) and Helena Rubinstein.  Spread over five floors, the gallery will have almost 10,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Grafton Street. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Of course, just a stone’s throw from the wonders of Cork Street, Old Bond Street and Savile Row, the development of Dover Street is only natural.  There’s a real buzz building and it’s not to be ignored.

It was time to stop for tea at Aubaine, a contemporary French bistro, boulangerie and patisserie, recently opened in the place of Chez Gerard on Dover Street.   It’s a bit quiet and lacking atmosphere at the moment but, no doubt, in time it will become more popular as they are serving the most amazing Nutella crème brûlée pots that are guaranteed to tempt even those without a sweet tooth.

In-Out Exhibitions: David Spiller and Gary Hume

30 Jan

David Spiller’s works always manage to make people smile – playing with images from popular culture such as Popeye and Olive Oyl or Minnie and Mickey Mouse that are often graffitied with his uniquely personal language.  The paintings are always filled with joy, vibrancy and passion.  They are frequently romantic.  There was no information available in the gallery and, when I asked about the exhibition, the gallery attendant wasn’t able to proffer anything except the prices but the website tells us that the show presents 25 new works in which Spiller has, supposedly, started to move away from his trademark style to a more reflective and elusive way of painting.

David Spiller at Beaux Arts. Own photograph.

Indeed, the paintings have become a bit darker in tone and lost some of their dynamism and energy but it’s not as if Spiller has broken free from the mould.  They are fairly good works (if you like Spiller) but what’s great about Spiller is the fun factor and it would be sad if he decides to move away from this.

David Spiller, No Words, 2011. Own photograph.

The Beaux Arts’ dog was napping quietly in the gallery which is always a nice reward.

Still the only Dog in the Blog. Own photograph.

Just down the road from Cork Street, White Cube has mounted another double exhibition – that uses both Mason’s Yard and Hoxton Square – a stunt which seems to be all the range at the moment.  One of the original YBAs, Gary Hume’s career took off straight after finishing at Goldmsiths when Saatchi bought two of his paintings and commissioned a further four.  He’s always been famous but he’s never had the celebrity profile of some of his peers.  But, then again, he’s never been quite as radical.  There is the feeling that Hume was in the right place at the right time and benefitted from the go-get-it attitude of some of the others.

The ground floor gallery presents a range of paintings of flowers and plants, suggesting innocence and newness.  They’re nice, but not exciting.

Gary Hume, Ground Floor at Mason’s Yard. Image via www.whitecube.com

Hume’s works are all about the painted surface as the shimmering quality of his paint takes on a lacquered appearance.  His favourite medium, as reflected by this show, is gloss paint on aluminium and he has no plans to change his working style.  Although they look like painting-by-numbers canvases, the process is complicated with a system of tracing the image from acetate, transferring it to aluminium when he is finally happy and then building up the lines with draught excluder.  Then they are painted and the lines cut away to create sharp edges.  He enjoys the reflective nature of this type of paint and how it imposes multiple levels on his work.

Gary Hume. Leaves in grey, 2011. Image via www.whitecube.com

His paintings are decorative, making use of pretty colours; they’d be well-suited to an interior designer working with a colour chart.  The downstairs works are more interesting but this is partly due to the brighter, better space and the interplay of sculpture and painting.

You’d be easily forgiven for not really knowing what these paintings depict.  They look like blobs, brightly coloured masses that didn’t demand my time or my attention.  A large problem with these works is that they deserve more explanation than we’re given in the gallery.  A one-sided press release is on offer to give us some background about the work but, when you skim the surplus, there are only three paragraphs with any substance and they seem to miss the points about which Hume labours when interviewed.

Gary Hume, Paradise Painting Two, 2010. Image via www.whitecube.com

The sculptures downstairs at Mason’s Yard look like giant worms, waiting to be eaten by the birds in the paintings on the walls.  But, Hume describes the ‘birds’ as ‘pubescent girls’ shown in some strange sexual paradise.  Seen in this context, the sweet worms take on a phallic presence with a more dominating tone.  But, this sort of idea doesn’t shock anymore.  I don’t think Hume is trying to shock us either.  He’s just doing what he knows with a slightly warped sense of humour.

Installation shot of downstairs at Mason’s Yard. Image via www.whitecube.com

The Indifferent Owl just isn’t exciting.  It’s an in-out exhibition that didn’t really merit the time I had allocated for it.  I wasn’t looking forward to heading to Hoxton but felt maybe this would complete the picture for me; I far preferred browsing stock in other Mayfair galleries that I passed.

Anyway, off I went on the tube to White Cube part two.  The works in Hoxton Square are a bit grittier. The Playground, a large-scale black canvas, really sums up what Hume is trying to achieve through the use of his reflective medium.

Visitors to White Cube with The Playground in the background. Image via www.facebook.com/whitecubegalleries

Upstairs, Hume has installed a rainbow into the small gallery, aluminium fragments placed high up on the walls.  The colours aren’t displayed in the conventional order and the work feels a bit lacklustre.  A rainbow is meant to invoke happiness and joy – this just felt a bit bland.  I could take it or leave it.  There is one great drawing here, though, that seems at odds with the rest of the exhibition and is definitely worth climbing up the stairs to see.

Hume’s rainbow. Image via www.whitecube.com

The show’s title, The Indifferent Owl, refers to an epiphany Hume experienced in New York when, one evening, he heard an owl hooting.  The next day he found a silver party balloon semi-deflated in the mud and reflected that the owl must have seen it with total indifference.  For me, this bears no relation to what’s on show here and is somewhat ridiculous.

Hume himself is described as being remarkably dishevelled and generally a bit of a mess which is surprising when looking at the clinical neatness of his paintings.

As is so often the case, Hume is another artist whose work doesn’t reproduce well.  The paintings are not that much better in the flesh but the boldness and brightness of the colours is, at least, given the opportunity to radiate from the walls.  The works are elegant but they don’t take long to admire.  Hume himself says he’s only ‘creative for half an hour a day’ using the rest of the time ‘to make that creativity visible.’  Maybe he should try to spend a little longer being creative and then I’d want to spend a little longer in the exhibition.

David Spiller is at Beaux Arts until 18th February 2012, www.beauxartslondon.co.uk.  Gary Hume: The Indifferent Owl is at White Cube Hoxton Square and Mason’s Yard until 25th February 2012, www.whitecube.com.

Good Things Come in Small Packages – Flowers’ Christmas Show

1 Dec

I had been looking forward to seeing Small is Beautiful at Flowers since I first received the invitation which stated that works were guaranteed not to exceed its own size – 9 inches by 7 inches.

Small is Beautiful at Flowers. Own photograph.

I know things like this have been done time and time again (the RCA secret postcard show being a prime example) and this is something of a tradition for Flowers but that didn’t stop me feeling a frisson of excitement.  I was interested to see if all the works conformed and, although I resisted carrying my invite around and sizing up, I reckon most of them did.

Small is Beautiful at Flowers. Own photograph.

The private view was bustling and, with works by 80 artists, that was hardly a surprise.  The pieces couldn’t be more varied, ranging from small-scale paintings to moving sculptures.  Most of Flowers’ big names make an appearance – there’s a Richard Smith work and a Patrick Hughes.  A gorgeous Nicola Hicks’ bear stands proudly on a plinth, reminding everyone of her recent exhibition on Kingsland Road.

Nicola Hicks, There is no moral high ground between a bear and a dog, 2010. Own photograph.

As is so often the case, my time was limited last night (dinner at The Zetter beckoned) and I didn’t get a chance to push past everyone to look closely at all the works but two stood out for me.  Maybe I’m predictable but I loved number 76 – Julian Opie’s Catherine Dancing (pink).  I have long admired Opie.  I remember seeing some of his work at the National Portrait Gallery as part of my AS-level art project.  And, when I returned to school with all my write-ups and drawings, the art teacher scornfully told me that all I had deliberately picked the easiest artist to copy.  No artist is actually easy to copy as anyone who has studied art (except forgers) will know.  I picked Opie because I think he’s wonderful but it certainly antagonised me enough to make me continue looking at his work.

Opie’s works are, of course, instantly recognisable and his career has been preoccupied with the investigation of representation through his own reductive, formal language.  Catherine Dancing is a three-dimensional exploration of a typical Opie figure.

Julian Opie, Catherine Dancing (pink), 2011. Own photograph.

Another highlight for me was displayed just behind the Opie.  I met Tim Lewis a few weeks ago at another Flowers’ event but wasn’t familiar with his work.  Lewis’s Pann is a strange mechanical creature who paces across a platform.  All the pieces in this show are typical snapshots into the artists’ working styles and Pann is no exception.  Lewis’s anthropomorphic entities mix intricate mechanics with a dextrous appreciation of both art and artifice.  His creative drive and obsession with form is apparent but it is contagious; I was quickly captivated, following Pann’s journey, back and forth, back and forth.

Tim Lewis, Pann, 2011. Own photograph.

Normally, at such a busy opening it is inevitable that I will be trodden on but this didn’t happen yesterday as I had decided to don a new pair of shoes. The first comment when I bought them was that they look like a lethal weapon.  If the stiletto is good for moving others’ feet out the way then why not take the theme to the rest of the shoe! Don’t worry, I’m not that vicious but they certainly provoked a reaction.

Small is Beautiful XXIX is at Flowers, Cork Street, until 1st January 2012, www.flowersgalleries.com.

Tuesday is the new Thursday – Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth and more…

15 Nov

Winter has certainly arrived and, after a quick amaretto latte at Caffè Nero (my winter essential), I was grateful to take refuge inside the first gallery of the evening. Tuesday seems to be the new Thursday and with openings all across London, I selected four within easy walking distance of each other.

I began at Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly to see one part of their current Paul McCarthy exhibition which is spread over both their gallery spaces and St James’s Square.  Not Paul McCartney – this is an art blog!  As everyone will know, Paul McCarthy, is, of course, one of the world’s most celebrated living artists.  Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently travelled to Los Angeles to visit McCarthy and was overwhelmed by the vastness of his studio – the size of the operation is not just a Hollywood essential but is vital to his work as the exhibition fills three spaces (four if you count the Savile Row split) with huge ambitious pieces.  He’s also currently showing in their New York gallery and his daughter, Mara, has curated their Zurich exhibition – Hauser seem to like keeping it in the family.

Paul McCarthy, The King, 2006-2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Presiding over the ground floor at the Piccadilly space is McCarthy’s The King, a monumental installation raised on a platform and surrounded by large-scale airbrush paintings, supposedly created on the easel which stands on the said platform.  The main focus here is a silicone model of the artist – naked.  Slumped on a wooden throne, wearing a long blond wig, his limbs are partly severed, his eyes are closed (possibly in pain).  He is grotesque.  And, as is so often the case, we cannot help but look.  Church pews have been arranged in front of the piece so that the space becomes a chapel where visitors can worship at the shrine of the artist.  Incredibly, this created an almost holy hush across the gallery particularly noticeable to regular Hauser PV guests.  The King had cast an intense spell and everyone seemed intoxicated by his power.  There are other works in the vault rooms downstairs and the gallery spaces on the top floor but they didn’t have quite the same impact as the resonance of the initial piece. Neither, was it easy to access them; ascending or descending the stairs involved getting far too ‘up close and personal’ with the other guests.

Paul McCarthy, Mad House Jr., 2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Next, I wandered along Piccadilly to Beaux Arts who have an exhibition of paintings by Jonathan Leaman.  There is no doubt that his skill as an artist is exemplary and the paintings are good but, for me, they were not sensational (maybe this is unfair considering the act they had to follow).

Jonathan Leaman, The Great Pipe, 2006-2011.  Own photograph.

Leaman is visibly inspired by narrative works from the 17th and 18th centuries and he saturates his works with meanings and emotional incidents.  Beaux Arts had one particularly special visitor in the gallery, intent on cleaning his paws whilst offering the occasional greeting to anyone who intruded on his space by the bar.

Beaux Arts’ dog and the first dog in the blog. Own photograph.

Cork Street was awash with visitors and I passed at least five other tempting openings as I headed to my number three.  But, alas, there was no time.  Well, I say that but an enticing display of shoes distracted us for at least ten minutes.  Research for Artista, of course!

Kurt Geiger. Own photograph.

TAG Fine Arts have taken over the Air Gallery on Dover Street with an exhibition of maps.  Map-making is an ancient art form that has helped to form a coherent geographical image of the world.  But, maps are no longer merely useful objects to be used for navigation and this is often the last thing on the mind of the cartographer.  This exhibition shows how traditional topography has evolved into territory for imaginative exploration.  These are not just two-dimensional pieces but windows into imagined lands.

The Art of Mapping at the Air Gallery, Dover Street. Own photograph.

The Art of Mapping celebrates cartography as an art form in which artists use maps to respond to their environments, creatively register ideologies, emotions and ideas and present selective records of real or fictitious worlds.  Highlights are new works by Stephen Walter and Rob Ryan but the exhibition showcases a number of contemporary artists concentrating on these themes including a range of new works as well as old favourites like Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear.  From Google’s controversial Street View project, to the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition, cartography is increasingly in the public eye.  One vodka tonic and lots of chatting later and time seemed to be running away with me…again!

Simon Patterson, The Great Bear, 1992. Own photograph.

My final stop was part two of the McCarthy exhibition at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row.  The North Gallery is taken over by Pig Island, a work that took seven years to complete, filling McCarthy’s studio, blurring the boundaries between a work and the workplace.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Own photograph from the viewing ladder.

The sculpture combines political and popular figures, placing them in a morally deviant world overrun with images of reckless abandon.  Constructed and raised on blocks of polystyrene, the work is littered with wood, cast body parts, clay, spray paint and old fast-food containers.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Pig Island looks intentionally unfinished – a raw and never-ending work that could expand into infinity.  There is something in every nook and cranny but the state of the piece means we can see McCarthy’s thinking and the development of his skewed ideas.  Stepladders are placed around the work to allow visitors a better view of the piece.  But, stilettos and a short dress meant I didn’t dare embark on this particular climb.  Instead, my loyal friend ventured up the ladder for me (and for you) with the camera and somehow managed not to fall headfirst into the island.

The ladders/viewing platforms for Pig Island. Own photograph.

The South Gallery presents some of the offspring of Pig Island which McCarthy himself has described as a sculpture machine.  Train, Mechanical shows two pot-bellied caricatures of George W. Bush, sodomising two pigs.

Paul McCarthy, Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

As perverse as it sounds, once again, it was impossible not to stop and stare.  The sculpture was intriguing and the audience were in no hurry to move away.  The work certainly brings out the voyeur in everyone.  I dare you not to stare at the rhythmic motion of the arses of presidents and pigs alike.

Paul McCarthy, detail of Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

Round the corner of the gallery, I gave in and changed into flats for my journey home.

Regent Street.

Walking down Regent Street, I had my first glimpse of this year’s Arthur Christmas Christmas lights – the countdown has truly begun.

Paul McCarthy: The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship is at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, Piccadilly and St James’s Square until 14th January 2012 (Paul McCarthy’s outdoor sculpture Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools will be on view until 15 February at St James’s Square), www.hauserwirth.com.  Jonathan Leaman: As Above So Below, 5 Years in the Making is at Beaux Arts until 17th December 2011, www.beauxartslondon.co.ukThe Art of Mapping is at The Air Gallery until 26th November 2011, www.tagfinearts.com.

The Positive in Plath: Her Drawings at the Mayor Gallery

2 Nov

Sylvia Plath is one of the literary greats from the 20th century.  Married to Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, Plath tragically committed suicide at the age of 30.  The themes of her work, with its often-alarming frankness and confessional nature, came to influence an entire generation of artists and writers.  Plath’s renown stems mostly from her poetry, rather than her art.

Sylvia Plath, Bull near Grantchester, 1956. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

The Mayor Gallery are showing 44 never-before exhibited drawings by Plath, accompanied by an exhibition of 18 works by Dadamaino, one of the key artists of the Zero Group, characteristic of her style: cut-out monochromatic canvases and stretched, perforated plastic works.

Dadamaino, Volume, 1959. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

Plath travelled in Europe and recorded it all through keenly observed drawings, many of from her time in Paris.  These carefully constructed pen and ink drawings depict a relatively serene world where Plath seems to have enjoyed natural beauty and stillness, finding incredible harmony and precision in the everyday.  There is a childish simplicity here that is certainly never evident in her writing.  The drawings have an incredible feeling of purity with no trace of despair.  They are not to be over-analysed but should be looked at in contrast to her written works; they take the form of escapism, showing a happier side to her character.

Sylvia Plath, Tabac Opposite Palais de Justice, 1956. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

Art had always been important to Plath and she received private tuition as a teenager.  The drawings focus on an art form that gave her pleasure and inspiration.  It was a form of passion that allowed her to flourish in a positive way in contrast to her decline into mental illness.

Sylvia Plath, Curious French Cat, 1956. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

Her early letters, diary notes and poems were often heavily decorated, and she hoped her drawings would illustrate the articles and stories that she wrote for publication.  Ted Hughes mentioned Plath’s art in his last collection of poems, Birthday Letters where he directly refers to her drawings of Paris roofs, a traffic bollard, a bottle, and himself.

Sylvia Plath, Beaujolais bottle, 1956. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

Art features in Plath’s own poetry too and, in 1958, she wrote eight poems inspired by the works of her favourite artists, Klee, Rousseau and De Chirico. She admired, what she called, their primitive forms and was greatly motivated by their works.  Plath described her imagination as visual and these paintings helped to spur her on.

Plath’s semi-autobiographical work, The Bell-Jar, is seemingly referenced in one of the drawings by the same name.  The BellJar tells of Esther Greenwood who travels to New York to work as a guest editor on a magazine.  Far from being a routine coming-of-age story, Esther regresses into madness.  For Esther, the Bell Jar itself symbolises madness.  The drawing depicts a pair of red patent shoes (I’ve always rather fancied a pair myself) that recall a passage in the book, “I had removed my patent leather shoes after a while, for they foundered badly in the sand. It pleased me to think they would be perched there on a silver log pointing out to sea, like a sort of soul-compass after I was dead.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, 1963. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

Plath’s written work is often permeated with themes of death, redemption and resurrection.  Here too, she uses details from everyday life as the raw material for her writing but transforms the mundane into actions charged with meaning, overwrought with images of rage, despair, love and vengeance.  It is difficult to understand her work unless you understand her life.

Sylvia Plath, The Ubiquitous Umbrella, 1955-56. Image via www.mayorgallery.com

The main question here is would these drawings been so admired if they were not by Plath?  I think probably not but I don’t think that matters.  They are not outstanding works of art in their own right but, this aside, they are beautiful.  This simple exhibition is well-curated, showing a range of gorgeous and life-affirming works – everything that we would not expect from Plath.

Sylvia Plath: Her Drawings & Dadamaino: Volumes are at The Mayor Gallery until 16th December 2011, www.mayorgallery.com.

Naked or Nude? The Simplicity of Mona Kuhn

7 Oct

Wednesday night was one of those mad evenings of PVs across London; my main aim was to get to Art London – the first of the October art fairs – but, on the way, I decided to pop into Flowers to see their new exhibition of works by Mona Kuhn.  I’m familiar with Kuhn’s photography by sight but don’t maintain to have had much, if any, knowledge of her actual practice before this.  Her photos struck me in a way that made me want to find out more.

Mona Kuhn, Portrait 33, chromogenic print, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Each year, Kuhn, a Brazilian artist living in Los Angeles, heads to a remote area of France, near Bordeaux, where she lives with no electricity or unnecessary distractions.  She takes on a simple life and, instead of valuing worldly possessions, she concentrates on, and cherishes, the people with whom she surrounds herself.  This is the parallel reality in which Kuhn is able to work, where she is influenced by her surroundings and the calm state she is able to invoke (I don’t think that living with such bare necessities would inspire me in the same way).

Mona Kuhn, Paysage 5, Silver gelatin fibre based paper, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Amusingly, the reason why Kuhn chooses France as her hideaway is that, in France, people are very casual about being naked, and the nakedness is probably the first thing that one notices about the work.

But her models aren’t naked.  They are definitely nude…  Although Kuhn is a contemporary artist, her use of the nude has an overriding Classical feel (Kuhn is a classically trained artist and has studied art history extensively).  Nakedness as such did not exist in the Classical period; nearly all the sculptures of that era were nude.  This is a debate that I have always relished and, as an art historian, was something we delved into quite early at The Courtauld.  Although nude and naked are officially synonyms, in art they have subtly different connotations; nude is an ideal form of nakedness that has been prepared in some way, whereas naked is more of a startled appearance.  The nude, implying a suggestive display, has no discomfort to it whereas the naked has a sense of embarrassment.  Naked tends to connote vulnerability at being found undressed, or deprived of clothes, whereas nude is often posed or modelled nakedness, designed to be aesthetically pleasing especially in artistic contexts.  Nude is the body re-formed that stands proud and prosperous, the body on display, and this is exactly what Kuhn powerfully presents.  Due to the complexity of the English language, these charged words add a confusing dimension to the discussion that we project onto works of art.  German art historians, for example, only have the word ‘nackt’ to describe the naked state, which limits the confusion surrounding this argument.

Mona Kuhn, Portrait 14, chromogenic print, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Kuhn rarely looks at the fact that her models are naked.  She only photographs them in this way as she does not wish them to be limited by clothes, wanting them to be more timeless than fashion allows.  The body is a place where our mind resides and that is what Kuhn’s work focuses on.  For her, nakedness or nudity is a form of abstraction.  She is interested in the body as an element of culture rather than a gender.  Her works request that we look at the compositions and relationships in the image rather than studying individual elements.

Kuhn is a figurative artist and only works with models who are her friends and family.  This latest body of work shows these people posed against a red-patterned drape with nothing else but a chair.  The simplicity of the surroundings forces us to concentrate on the composition and Classic approach of her work.  Bare natural light floods in, no artificial lights are used, no distractions can be found.

Mona Kuhn, Portrait 34, chromogenic print, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Kuhn doesn’t dictate to her sitters; instead, she allows them to move around freely, finding a position that makes them comfortable.  This means the works truly express the sitters’ characters.

For her, photography is fast and fascinating.  Kuhn’s works are intimate and natural explorations of compositions.  You can’t just look at the photographs, which however beautifully executed and interesting, lack something.   When you know more, they come to life.

Mona Kuhn at Flowers. Own photograph.

So, now that you understand Kuhn’s incredible working environment, enjoy this exhibition in a different light.  Don’t just view, understand.

Mona Kuhn’s Bordeaux Series is at Flowers, Cork Street, until 29th October 2011, www.flowersgalleries.com.

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