Tag Archives: Damien Hirst

More Surprised than Shocked – Hirst Takes Tate

4 Apr

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

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

Damien Hirst, Spot Painting, 1986. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

The skull’s special exhibition room. Own photograph.

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

Hirst’s shop at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Damien Hirst, Pharmacy, 1992. Own photograph.

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

Damien Hirst, Crematorium, 1996. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Holes Under My Heels and Spots Before My Eyes

12 Jan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donald Judd Drawings at Sprüth Magers. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

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

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

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

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Contrasting Cultures at Somerset House – Amazon and Dazed & Confused

10 Dec

I’m particularly interested to see what’s going on in the new East Galleries at Somerset House as they will be hosting the London show of In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe from July 2012, with which I’m very involved.  Well, I wasn’t disappointed.  Aesthetically, the new galleries look stunning – with their 18th century features and-low level lighting, the space is wonderful.

Amazon in the East Galleries at Somerset House. Own photograph. 

For the inaugural exhibition in this space, Somerset House is showing Amazon,  in aid of Sky Rainforest Rescue, showcasing works by award-winning photographers, Sebastião Salgado and Per-Anders Pettersson.

The exhibition is intended to draw awareness to the plight of the Amazon which covers over 6.7 million km2 and comprises 40% of the world’s remaining tropical forests.  The information panel at the beginning states that every minute, an area of Amazon rainforest the size of three football pitches is lost to deforestation.  The statistics continue.  The impact is immediate, this exhibition is designed to shake us and make us realise the severity of the situation.  The Sky Rainforest Rescue is a three-year project that aims to save one billion trees in the State of Acre. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

Pettersson presents photographs from his recent visit to Acre, documenting the shocking deforestation in progress as well as showing those who are benefitting from the Sky Rainforest Rescue.  His images aim to show the stark reality – both ‘beautiful and heart-breaking in equal measure’ – and the effect that these changes are having on local communities.  His recent trip to the area gave him ‘a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the work that is being done firsthand and to help showcase it’, looking at how Sky, WWF and Acre State Government are helping the area. 

Per-Anders Petterson, An aerial view as sun rises over the rainforest in Amazonas state, Brazil on June 21, 2011.  Image courtesy of the artist and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

In striking contrast, Salgado’s works, from his on-going photographic essay Genesis, portray Amazonian landscapes in their most pristine state and give a rare insight into the lives of two Amazon tribes.  His often-monochrome images try to show the environments that remain intact despite the scale of destruction, aiming ‘to highlight the beauty that must be preserved.’  His works are beautiful, reminding of us the rich habitat that can still exist in this area. 

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009 – fishing in the Piulaga laguna during the Kuarup of the Waura group.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk.   

It always bothers me that charitable organisations produce such elaborate and OTT promotional material, like the lavish book being handed out here.  Are they getting enough of a return to make this worthwhile?

However, it is a very moving exhibition .  The two photographers could not be more different in their styles but, between them, they highlight the severe scale of devastation.  It’s always good to get these issues into the public eye and Amazon succeeds in a breathtakingly beautiful manner.

Sebastião Salgado, The State of Amazonas, Brazil. 2009.  Image courtesy of the artists, Amazonas and nbpictures and via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Just next door in the main building of Somerset House, stretching across the courtyard and terrace rooms, it could not get more different, with an exhibition celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magazine, Dazed & Confused.

Dazed & Confused has been gracing our bookshelves since its inception in 1991.  Dazed aimed to strip away artifice and show ‘real’ life.  They weren’t a normal fashion magazine; they were shocking and, at times, alarmingly honest, in their portrayals.  The magazine is not to everyone’s taste and has provoked controversy and polarised opinions over the years.  Although it started in one room, 20 years later a measure of its success is that about 65 people work on the Dazed team.

Jubilee, October 2000, photography by Paulo Sutch, styling by Katie Grand. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

Jefferson Hack, co-founder of the magazine, deserves an exhibition about his extraordinary life. But, in a way, I suppose this is his life – the eccentricity, excitement and wildness of the magazine is Hack on paper.   Hack met Rankin on a journalism course at the London College of Printing.  Rankin, on a break from a photography degree, was running the student magazine and, together, at weekends, they began producing this.  Untitled won three Guardian Student Media Awards and they took their vision and passion over to Dazed, the magazine which became a ‘social scene …  a conceptual thing for young creatives’.

Pulp – It’s a Wrap, 1995, Photography by Rankin.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk

The exhibition presents highlights from a new book about the magazine.  Curated by Jefferson Hack and Emma Reeves, it features a range of work that includes ground-breaking photography by Rankin, Nick Knight, David Sims and Terry Richardson; specially commissioned projects by artists Jake & Dinos Chapman, Damien Hirst and Sam Taylor-Wood; cutting edge fashion pages by stylists Katie Grand, Katy England, Alister Mackie and Nicola Formichetti; and specially selected designs by fashion giants Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and Gareth Pugh.

The curation of the exhibition reflects the nature of the magazine, immortalising its most infamous visual stories.  Dazed sought to publish unheard voices and new talents – quirky, fashionable, extraordinary and different.

20 Years of Dazed & Confused magazine at Somerset House. Own photograph.

The exhibition is surprisingly extensive but, then again, Hack has never done anything by half.  It celebrates what Dazed is all about and what makes Dazed so wonderful is that it doesn’t fit a mould.  Hack and Rankin have never tried to conform.  When they started, they didn’t really know what they were meant to conform to.  The magazine took off, people loved the freedom of expression it allowed and, as they connected, the creativity burgeoned…and still does to this day.

Amazon is in the East Galleries at Somerset House until 18th December.  20 Years of Dazed & Confused Magazine: Making It Up As We Go Along is in Somerset House’s Terrace Rooms until 29th January 2012, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

I could have danced… Degas at the Royal Academy

17 Oct

Degas is loved the world over so there has been much excitement around the Royal Academy’s latest exhibition.  So much so, that they have even changed their admission system whereby friends of the RA now also have to book tickets to avoid over-crowding and ‘enhance their experience’ (really?).

The exhibition focuses on Edgar Degas’s preoccupation with movement, the obsession that led him to concentrate on the ballet imagery which made him famous.  These iconic images range from rehearsal scenes to innovative pastels produced towards the end of his career.

Edgar Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage, c. 1874.  Image via www.artandarchitecture.org.uk.

Degas was yet another artist who was meant to pursue a different path.  His father, an art lover and collector, had earmarked his son for a career in law, and Degas had to persuade his father to let him attend the École des Beaux-Arts.  He was fortunate enough to receive advice on drawing from J.A.D. Ingres but was largely self-taught, travelling extensively and gaining experience by copying the works of the great Renaissance artists.

This exhibition follows Degas’s attempts to capture movement similarly to photography of the time.  The concept behind the show is brilliant and really reveals the artist’s pioneering ingenuity but, at times, the exhibition becomes more about movement than Degas and a number of key masterpieces are missing here.

Edgar Degas, Dancer Posing for a Photograph, 1875. Image via www.topofart.com.

The exhibition opens with projections of a ballet dancer, shown on the blackened walls.  There is no doubt that this is an unusual start but presents a fascinating beginning, revealing that, as important as Degas’s paintings are, the key focus is movement – the graceful, elegant dance of a beautiful ballerina (I’ve always liked tu-tus).

The RA has erected temporary walls to encourage flow and movement around the exhibition.  Their gorgeous putty colour and the dim lights do make this very dark (I almost needed a torch) but this is for conservation reasons, so unavoidable.

Sometimes, we peer into dancers’ classrooms, at other times we, too, are watching a performance on stage; Degas’s vivid realism, seen through both his finished compositions and preparatory drawings, is intriguing.

One entire room (with atmospheric, murky cassis walls) is focused around Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, the largest sculpture Degas made and the only one displayed during his lifetime.  Degas made 26 figure studies providing a comprehensive study of the girl in the round, analysing the figure in a way that was easy to translate into three dimensions.  Unusually, it is apparent that here the artist moved while the model remained still.  Some of the sketches, consisting of only a few fluid chalk lines, tell us that Degas was moving quickly.  Degas had an innovative approach to representing modern individuals and the power of these drawings shows that there is no one way to see this figure.  This sculpture was based on Marie van Goethem, a dance student at the Paris Opera School.  Modelled in wax, supported by a metal armature, the figure is dressed in a muslin skirt, lace-trimmed bodice and ballet slippers.

Edgar Degas, Little Dancer, Aged Fourteen, 180-81. Image via www.tate.org.uk

The work caused a sensation when exhibited in the sixth Impressionist exhibition in the spring of 1881.  The dancer appeared so real, that people were shocked, commenting that she looked like a horrible, repulsive guttersnipe.  We have seen this piece so frequently, and in so many forms, that we are no longer as struck by it as we should be.  But it’s important to remember that for its time, it was shocking.  It is the forerunner of many contemporary works that initially provoke dramatic reactions.  Remember the torn opinions caused by works
such as Damien Hirst’s shark or Tracey Emin’s bed.  Now we are used to them, we are immune to their shocking nature.  The same goes for this work, we have become over-familiar, which is a travesty as this sculpture is far from boring and deserves all this attention.

The exhibition also presents Degas’s work juxtaposed against the photography and film of the day, primarily by photographers Etienne-Jules Marey (a leading French scientist specialising in movement) and Eadweard Muybridge.  By doing so, the curators have attempted to show that, as well as being an artist known for his beautiful images, Degas was modern and radical – fully attuned to the developments of his time.  This is really a second exhibition and, in one sense, it was fascinating.  In another, it rather got in the way.  I’d come to see Degas, we’ve seen plenty of Muybridge recently with Tate’s large-scale retrospective.

Eadweard Muybridge, Woman Dancing (Fancy), plate 187 of Animal Locomotion, 1887.  Image via http://makingamark.blogspot.com/

The exhibition includes a series of six wide, narrow canvases from the 1870s which are extraordinary, not least because they are such unusual works.  The curators here suggest that they may have been inspired by photography of the time showing panoramic scenes.  The works mostly depict wide exercise rooms where the dancers are positioned rhythmically, in rehearsal.  The viewer is invited to scan the scene as one would have with popular panoramas.

Edgar Degas, detail of The Dance Lesson, c. 1879. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Continuing with the theme of photography, the exhibition focuses on Degas’s own photographs. Having bought his first camera in 1895 (when he had just turned 60), Degas became an instant enthusiast and his photographs reflect the compositions of many of his paintings.  Several of the self-portraits are startlingly intimate, focusing on the solitude of his later life.  Although his own photographic equipment was unable to capture movement, he used his photographs to make drawings.

Edgar Degas, detail of Dancer Adjusting Her Shoulder Strap. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

We became fully aware of quite how busy the exhibition was when we went into Colour and Dynamism – a dead-end room that traps visitors on one side.   Here, pastels from later in Degas’s life have been showcased.  The ballerinas, who we saw in such active and lively poses, seem to have aged along with Degas and these works are have less movement, but the highly saturated colours of the pastels help to animate the dancers.

A room full of pastels. Image via www.timeout.com

The last room contains a video work but it was absolutely freezing and, not having dressed for the Arctic, I was forced to hurry out rather than watch.

The exhibition is actually not as extensive as I anticipated although it did allow me to indulge and study many of Degas’s exquisite drawings. Hung here en masse the works do, for me, lose some of their charm and intimacy but this is a remarkable, and very focused, exploration of a great artist.  Degas was unusual as an Impressionist, his preoccupation with movement setting him apart from the others, whose concerns centred around the transient effects of light and atmosphere.  Degas’s ballet scenes and passionate focus on contemporary subjects is wonderful and this show re-teaches us to appreciate his genius.

Edgar Degas, Three Studies of a Dancer in Fourth Position, c. 1878–81. Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement is at the Royal Academy until 11th December 2011, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Octoberfest – Tuesday of Frieze Week

12 Oct

After visiting the Royal Academy Degas show (which will be the subject of a later post), we went for a brilliant lunch at Cecconi’s to sustain us for the busy day ahead.  With openings and art parties all across London, I wanted to see as much as possible and, although, I didn’t make it to everywhere on my to-see list, I did pretty well.

We began at Selfridges’ Museum of Everything.  Launched by art collector, James Brett, in 2009, this is the 4th incarnation of this Outsider Art charity installation.  This weird exhibition has taken over all the store windows (which are completely product-free for the first time ever) and a space on the lower ground floor, normally the Ultralounge, and now unrecognisable.

The Museum of Everything #4 at Selfridges. Own photograph.

Although I love the idea, and I’m pleased that Selfridges are embracing charity exhibition opportunities and exposing unknown artists, the art isn’t great.  In parts, it’s downright creepy and I wish they’d used this opportunity to unearth some real talent.  With over 400 works on display, nothing really struck me in a positive way.  I love the concept of the Museum of Everything and believe it has great potential which I hope they will better fulfil in their next exhibition.

The Museum of Everything #4 at Selfridges. Own photograph.

On to 20 Projects at 64 Margaret Street, who are showing a series of new sculptures by Alex Hoda based on small pieces of nicotine gum – chewed, used and spat out by the artist.  Installation hadn’t really finished when we arrived at 6pm and they were still stencilling the title onto the wall, strangely oblivious of the fact that they had guests.  Hoda’s works reminded me of Alina Szapoznikow’s chewing gum photographs that we exhibited in The Courtauld’s East Wing Collection VIII which concentrated on temporality and the act of leaving some form of mark, making something that is intrinsically rubbish into a work of art.  Obviously both artists are approaching their work from different angles, but the choice of subject is interesting.  Hoda uses a special machine to scan and then enlarge the bits of gum to ensure 100% accuracy when making the pieces in bronze. For him, the sculptures also represent the human form responding to Jean Fautrier’s Hostage series of the 1940s. The sculptures are beautiful but somehow the chewing gum detracts from this for me.

Alex Hoda’s Hostage at 20 Projects. Own photograph.

Moving on, we headed to the Josh Lilley Gallery who are showing Incredulous Zealots – works by four artists from Los Angeles.  Regular readers will know this is one of my favourite spaces in London (and the secret is out after an article in last weekend’s newspapers) – this is another brilliant show which presents the next generation of LA art and shows that the talent there is certainly not diminishing.  The works of two artists immediately grabbed my attention.  One of the girls in my group was so entranced by Annie Lapin’s work that we almost had to drag her away to a different part of the gallery.  Lapin is now exploring the abstract image, using colour and shapes that recall primitive art forms.  Her palette is luminous, using browns, creams, Courbet green, small doses of deep reds and sky blues.  Lapin’s paintings harness monumental experiences, drawing the viewer closer into her work, looking at the depth of layers, like a coloured fog over a hidden scene.

Annie Lapin. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Analia Saban, one of the other LA artists, burns, cuts and destroys her paintings, almost to the point of annihilation before pulling them back to a supreme delicacy.  This destruction of an art form shows Saban’s desire to stand alone and take complete control of her practice, resulting in a re-assessment of the history of painting through a minimal, but beautiful, object.

Incredulous Zealots at Josh Lilley Gallery with Analia Saban work in the distance. Own photograph.

The gallery has been transformed to a more traditional, white contemporary exhibition space, allowing the individual works room to breathe and to be examined in a contemplative space.  Incredulous Zealots seeks to draw on the passion of Los Angeles painters who demand that painting be taken to a new level, persisting with, torturing, and ultimately loving, their chosen art forms.

I was also lucky enough to be able to take a peek at a new Nick Goss work, unusually (for him) painted on board.  Although his act of mark-making continues in the same mould, the painting is in a wholly new style, evoking a completely different feel to his usual works.  Brilliant!

Our feet were already starting to feel sore and, with more galleries still to go, it was taxi time. Have you ever tried to get a taxi in London, in art week, at about 7pm?  It’s impossible.  Finally, we saw one and hailed it, only to have it nabbed, from under our noses, by a ‘taxi thief’.  After my fairly loud comments of shock and belligerence, the driver decided to take pity on us four girls and, much to his surprise, the ‘taxi thief’ found himself moving over, sharing his cab and also letting us use the internet on his iphone (Blackberries still being dead, of course).  So, chivalry is not dead after all.  I have no doubt he was amused by the giggling and gossiping but he made our lives a lot easier and, we are grateful for his generosity.  Thank you, ‘taxi thief’.

Having been dropped at Dering Street, where we briefly, coincidentally coincided with ‘the boys’, we went to Blain Southern to see Rachel Howard’s Folie à Deux. The title is the clinical definition for a shared psychosis, where two or more people enter into a delusional belief induced by an intimate relationship.  Howard’s works play on the minds of people who have wandered far from reality and reason.  Technically, the works are very good – making use of media, including household gloss paint, oil, acrylic and varnish, Howard doesn’t overplay it.  Her paintings are strong and striking but seem to be more subtle variations on her normal work, exploring the intricacies of the human condition.

Rachel Howard’s Folie à Deux at Blain Southern. Own photograph.

The clock was ticking and it was time to head over to the new White Cube at Bermondsey.  Now, as any Blackberry user will know, and as I mentioned before, we’re not having much luck at the moment – unadulterated hell in fact – which meant I was without the internet or my trusty google maps app.

Following advice of ‘the boys’, we headed to Southwark station – not the closest tube as it turns out.  So much for me being geographically challenged.  A short cab ride (no helpful man this time though) took us to the end of a very long queue down Bermondsey Street.  No!  This couldn’t be right.  Sadly, it was.  As our stilettoed feet began to throb, we queued and moaned.  Security guards came down the line telling us to give up, I tried to phone friends who may already have been inside but to no avail.  We waited!

The queue. Own photograph.

And, our waiting paid off.  It felt like we deserved a prize where we finally made it into the forecourt where a thronging mass of people lunged towards the crowd prevention barriers that surrounded the gallery.  I’m not joking.  White Cube has taken hype to a whole new level, as they do so expertly.

Jay Jopling ‘walking’ around the new gallery. Image via www.metro.co.uk

At one point a security guard, atop an office chair, somewhat ironically yelled out, ‘This is not Titanic. There will be a way in. Stop shoving’.  But, of course, people didn’t.  Being small and in sharp shoes had its advantages though and, before too long, we were waiting our turn at the front of the mob.  When at last we got in, I felt slightly underwhelmed.  At 58,000 square feet, this White Cube is the largest commercial gallery in Europe and the space is obviously gorgeous – beautifully lit white boxes much like their other two spaces but on a mammoth scale – though after so much hassle and fuss I had expected more of an opening spectacle.  There seemed to be more private spaces than open gallery rooms so it is hard to gauge the enormity of the gallery.  With 2,000 people supposedly inside, and who knows how many in the courtyard, this was the place to be.  But, aside from serving mini hot dogs (possibly to appease those stuck outside), it wasn’t that different from any other White Cube PV.

Outside the new White Cube. Own photograph.

While many galleries are struggling in the current financial climate, White Cube has defiantly shown that these problems do not affect them or the upper echelons of the art world.  The new gallery is extensive and goes on and on with doors everywhere.  So endless, in fact, that we, along with many others, mistakenly wandered straight into the loos – the entrance looks like just another gallery. Ooops!  The Bermondsey space is stunning with wonderful floors of polished concrete, or something very akin to it.  It is, of course, a triumph.

White Cube on Bermondsey Street. Own photograph.

I’m not going to talk much about their opening exhibition which gets lost among everyone clammering to explore the space, although a smattering of their famous names are included – Gary Hume, Gabriel Orozco, Damien Hirst, Andreas Gursky and so on.  It’s a great show, with a monochrome chic feel running through.  It’s very impressive – the third hub in their never-ending expansion programme.  Where will White Cube turn up next?!

Andreas Gursky, Dusselstrand, 1996, is reflected in Damien Hirst’s Neverland, 2002. Image via www.metro.co.uk

Hobbling out of White Cube and changing, at last, into ballerinas, we stumbled on The Hide where we were able to rest our weary limbs and sink into their comfy sofas with big glasses of wine and dinner.  What a day!

The Museum of Everything #4 is at Selfridges until 25th October 2011, www.musevery.com or www.selfridges.comAlex Hoda: Hostage is at 20 Projects until 23rd October 2011, www.20projects.co.ukIncredulous Zealots: 4 Painterly Interrogations from LA is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 19th November 2011, www.joshlilleygallery.comRachel Howard: Folie à Deux is at Blain Southern until 22nd December 2011, www.blainsouthern.comStructure & Absence is at White Cube Bermondsey until 26th November 2011, www.whitecube.com.

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